I’m sure you all know the format of the Taste of London festival by now – a selection of London’s top restaurants serve up miniature versions of their dishes for Monopoly money (festival currency or ‘crowns’ – £1 for 2) and hungry punters like you and me snap up as many as possible while swanning around Regent’s Park in the sunshine. So, on Sunday, the final day of the festival, a group of us hungry bloggers did exactly that. Here’s my pick of the dishes that wowed and those which could have done better…
No sooner had we walked through the gate than Fino sucked us right in with their impressive paella pan brimming with arroz negro – deeply satisfying rice cooked with squid ink, which packed a hefty umami punch and bore treats of prawns and squid in its rich, murky depths. Their lamb cutlets with ajo blanco were also spectacularly juicy and tender. Both simple dishes but both packed with flavour.
Seven hour braised lamb with balsamic onions and mash (Tom’s Kitchen) was another stand out dish and apparently the most popular at the festival on the previous day. Heavenly melty tender pulled meat with sweet and sharp onions and the lightest cloud of mash. A bit of a gamble serving up roast meat and tatties on a summers day but one that clearly paid off.
Another honourable mention must go to this seared marinated salmon with fennel and grapefruit salad from Boxwood cafe. I can’t really be bothered with cooked salmon but adore it raw and this generous portion was just lightly seared without and raw and silky within. Perfect. Slivers of wafer thin fennel and a citrus burst of grapefruit freshened the dish.
My highlight of the day (from my favourite restaurant overall) was this strawberry and hibiscus bellini from The Ledbury. A fragrant hibiscus mix lay underneath the most intensely fruity strawberry foam. For me, this drink was perfect in every way. We started giggling with our very first sips and didn’t stop oohing and aahing until the whole thing was gone and we walked away giddy with pleasure. It was served with a freshly fried jammy doughnut which satisfied the inner child but seriously, it was all about that bellini.
The Ledbury’s main course was also a winner – celeriac baked in ash (made using hay apparently), with hazelnuts, summer truffle and a kromeski of wild boar. The kromeski turned out to be a little fried parcel with a super crisp outside encasing deep, rich, tender boar meat. The celeriac was totally transformed – slightly bitter, slightly sweet and visually unrecognisable although, it has occurred to me since that it isn’t in season. Still, whatever, I really don’t care because it tasted great and I am now saving furiously (as are my festival companions) for a full on dinner at The Ledbury (that’s their starter at the top by the way).
And here are the dishes I felt were disappointing…firstly, this tomato pasta from L’Anima was just rather boring. Perhaps at a different time and place it might have been ambrosial (e.g. your mate’s house on a weeknight) but in the midst of all the exciting flavours at Taste, it was simply lost. I’m sorry to say their chicken alla Romana also fared quite badly with our group for the same reason. Perhaps we just had palate fatigue. That said, their offering of fettucine with wild mushrooms and summer truffles was spectacular (it carried a price tag of £24 crowns (£12) to match).
And finally, probably the worst dish of the day for me – sweetbreads and lamb’s tongue from Hereford Road which sounded fantastic but in reality was absolutely crying out for seasoning. The accompanying parsley salad was also a let down. It was just all parsley but not in the same way as the vibrant, piquant salad which comes with roast bone marrow at St. John is all parsley – it was just dry and uninspiring.
Happily, most of what we ate at Taste was delicious but, at £25 per ticket before you’ve even bought any food, you’re really crossing your fingers that it will be. On this occasion, The Guardian dished out press passes to readers and bloggers as part of their #tastefringe event, which allowed us free entry in exchange for tweeting in tandem with our munching (read our collective tweets here). The festival provides the opportunity to sample dishes from many different restaurants and of course I thoroughly enjoyed doing just that but I must admit – without the privilege of the press pass, the cost of Taste of London would have been a prohibitive one for me this year.
You can see the full extent of our gluttony in my Flickr set here.