The annual Taste Festival in London’s Regent’s Park has been hailed as ‘one of the world’s greatest food festivals’ by Time Magazine. Now I haven’t been to every food festival in the world but this one definitely came up trumps. We visited on the final day when the weather was perfect, hot and sunny but refreshed by a slightly crazy wind. The whole place had the air of a super civilised music festival, people relaxing and enjoying the sun, eating, drinking, dancing (yes, really) and generally having high jinks, don’t you know.
Shades on, camera at the ready and beers in hand, we launched ourselves full throttle into the experience. Now, if you are a bit totally skint, the Taste festival isn’t really what you call a cheap day out but we still managed to get by on a budget that went out of the window, emerging fully Michelin star fed and watered. I must say though, the beginning of the month would have been preferable!
The whole idea of the festival is to showcase the food from the kitchens of some of the capital’s best restaurants, among the exhibitors were The Boxwood Cafe, Le Cafe Anglais, The Cinnamon Club, Le Gavroche, Theo Randall and loads more (over 40) together with stalls selling yummy looking produce such as these pies (below) and breads – we bought a white spelt loaf – white bread but with goodness inside? We thought it was impossible!
You purchase mini portions of the restaurant dishes with pieces of paper that someone decided to call ‘crowns’ instead of using real money. Dishes ranged from 6-10 crowns each (1 crown = 50p ). Each restaurant had it’s own stall which basically consisted of a front serving bar and then a screen from behind which you could hear lots of shouting, a fair bit of singing and some serious sizzling. The smells from all these different stalls wafted around the festival and mixed together – all of a sudden that wind would change and you got a full on whack of seared beef or some such – it was fantastic.
So, here’s what we ate! Being on a budget, the idea was to take it easy to start off with and try to choose something we really wanted, rather than just diving in and running out of money, the overall strategy was to buy a different dish each from the stand and then go halvers. We didn’t really manage this as it was all just too tempting. Note to self – take more money next year.
First up, Benares. Being a massive fan of Atul Kochhar, the so-called ‘spice master’ – I just had to try this. We chose the chicken tikka and the squid salad with coconut passion fruit dressing. The chicken tikka was without doubt the best I have ever tasted. I know everyone says this about Atul’s food but you really could taste all the individual spices, none overpowering the other. It was just so flavoursome, I feel sad for my own previous tikka efforts.
Next, the squid salad. We weren’t expecting battered squid for some reason, and this was the least exciting of the dishes we tried. That said, it was perfectly cooked – not a hint of chewy rubber bands here – but the highlight was actually the coconut passion fruit dressing. I didn’t get much coconut but the passion fruit sang through and really lifted everything – cutting through the batter. Definitely one to experiment with.
Next up, Trinity. This I made a beeline for. First, we gobbled pig’s trotters with crackling, pain poilane and sauce gribiche (below). This was my first experience of eating trotters – it was delish, although very rich and a little bit fatty for my taste. One was definitely enough. That crackling was absolutely perfect though, as you can see.
From Trinity we ordered the beef short rib cottage pie – onion, bone marrow and anise carrots. That beef is so succulent with real depth of flavour. I could have eaten mouthful after mouthful but unfortunately had to hand half over to Chris as promised. I was really looking forward to the bone marrow but it didn’t quite deliver for some reason, perhaps our expectations were too high. Nevertheless I was still excited to discover that Trinity is in the very nearby Clapham, a definite must visit in the near future, making the most of British ingredients always gets my vote.
Speaking of British, here’s a classic – fish and chips from Tom’s Place, the much talked about and super-trendy new posh fish and chip restaurant opened in 2006 by Tom Aikens. Chris is a massive fan of this classic combo and this promised to be no ordinary offering but beer battered gurnard and chips with tartar sauce. Now I have a little bit of an obsession with tartar sauce, always dipping both chip and fish into the sauce to get maximum tartar coverage. It was a good one, no doubt about it. The gurnard was also excellent, flaky, perfectly cooked with a light, crisp batter. The chips were less impressive, which is a bit of a shame for a fish and chip joint. Chris and I still maintain that the best chips in town can be found at Gourmet Burger Kitchen – seriously. They are so crispy without and so fluffy within that you will not believe your dancing little taste buds. Their smoked chilli mayo is also a winner. Just don’t order a salad, they are terrible – order a burger and be very happy you did.
Finally, we were drawn to Cocoon, here we ordered wagyu beef on hot rocks with champagne teryaki (that’s the hot rock underneath) – absolutely delicious but not made for two to share! Well, you do get a free rock….Next, we had hoped to indulge our love of dim sum with some prawn hark au, scallop siu mai and squid with superior soy sauce – instead we found they were serving crispy duck rolls with hoisin. They were delicious as it goes, succulent with a crispy casing although I admit to being a little disappointed to be dim sum deprived.
There were so many places that we didn’t get to try. I am totally kicking myself for not trying the beetroot gazpacho with avocado sorbet and vodka jelly from Aiden Byrne and the parmesan custard with anchovy toasts from Le Cafe Anglais. I’m not worried though, Niamh from Eat Like A Girl ate there last night and told me it was delicious it is so I’m going to check it out asap.
To wash it all down we ordered a pint or two or four of this spectacular Sierra Nevada beer. Chris and I both agreed this is the most interesting beer we have tried for ages. I would have put money on the fact that it contains elderflowers but the website mentions nothing of the sort – hmmmm, curiouser and curiouser… Anyhow, it does say it is reminiscent of orange blossoms so that will do for me. It also has a great tang which really cuts the flowery flavour. Ultimate refreshment. I was pleased to learn they are in Borough Market, which I handily happen to be visiting in a couple of weeks time, better make sure I get the shopping done first….
Finally, I want to shout out to all you London based food bloggers! Niamh from Eat Like A Girl and I have started a facebook group so that local bloggers can have a good old mingle. Well, it’s was Niamh’s idea really and I just tagged along…So come on over and join in. Don’t forget that Food Stories has it’s own facebook group too – I’d love to see you all there – not just the Londoners!