Saturday, 23 June 2007

Taste of London: The Aftermath

As I suppose is only fitting during the Glastonbury weekend, we were rained on during the Taste of London festival. With the jazz in the background and people walking on the rain-proof platforms or huddling under free umbrellas, the experience felt like a posh-ified Glastonbury. But like our compatriots in Somerset, we had a thoroughly good time, reveling in that which delights our senses and getting as much of a fill of what was on offer as we could.

There were three of us at the festival: myself, my husband Tom, and my friend Sophia. Luckily, we all had similar ideas of what we wanted to eat, so we avoided the too-many-foods/too-little-time crisis by pooling our tickets. We managed a total of 15 dishes amongst the three of us, almost all of which we shared and all of which we enjoyed in varying degrees. As expected, there were many 'signature' dishes around: scallops, foie gras, lamb, and seafood featured heavily, with vegetables getting short shrift (presumably in the belief that people wouldn't want to waste their money eating humble veg). Everything was cooked and presented reasonably well, with some dishes showing the strain of cooking for masses of people at very quick turnovers. There wasn't much of a glance in at the kitchens behind the scenes (perhaps hiding the ugliness of mass catering from view), but I would have liked to seen the frenzy of many kitchens at work.

On to the highlights of the night, then. I could go on at length (I've taken pictures of each of the things we've eaten), but I'll list the stand outs in no particular order:
  • Sea bass and shitake mushroom from Sumosan - high quality fish, but a sauce made up of fish stock, lemon balm, orange zest and tarragon really made the dish. Sticky, viscose, delicate but very tasty, it was completely more-ish.
  • Lamb barbecue, piperade and coco beans from Club Gascon- posh baked beans and lamb, but whatever barbecue spices and smoking technique the used for the lamb made it a stand-out
  • Tandoori lamb chops in a fennel-scented marinade from Benares - small, very tender lamb chops helped along by some very finger-licking coating
  • Smoked chicken and foie gras terrine with lentils and truffle vinaigrette from Le Gavroche - Tom wasn't as impressed by this as I was, but I thought it excellent. There were a lot of strong and delicate flavors battling for supremacy in this but none were lost on you, with the lentils emerging as the surprising winner by tying everything together.

We had our first taste of Wagyu beef, served on a hot rock, but I was underwhelmed. It may not have helped eating the beef directly after having some spicy curried fish, but even the much-vaunted delicate texture of the beef didn't come through. The little rock was lovely, though, and I wanted to take it home.

As expected, there were some proper chefs running about. Anthony Worrell Thompson was cleverly manning his own stall and serving slices from roasted whole Middlewhite pig, and there was a crowd clamoring for him to serve them. I found myself standing in one of the food lines next to this year's MasterChef winner Steve Wallis and even though I didn't want to come across as too chef-dazzled, I couldn't resist saying hello and telling him I enjoyed watching him cook; he was there because he was training at Le Gavroche and was just taking a needed food break.

The evening ended at 9.30 with the stalls packing up very quickly and ushering everyone out. On the way to the exit, we passed by a stand with some very beautiful and tantalizing cakes, which I couldn't resist approaching to stare out. When we were there, the stall-holders handed over a knife with the explanation that they weren't able to sell or cut the cakes, but if we wanted some we could use the knife as we saw fit. Although we were all stuffed with 2 desserts each under our belts, we couldn't resist a final moment of gluttony and walked out forcing - yes, forcing - ourselves to eat more food. Every bite for me was an exquisite struggle between me, chocolate, and hazlenut, and I carried my portion through the park until I had to admit to myself that I would be physically sick if I challenged myself to eat it all (but oh! I was ready to take up the challenge). In some ways, the final cutting of the cake was the most enjoyable part of the evening, since we all un-ashamedly admitted to each other that we were equal parts gourmand and gourmet when the situation called for it.

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