Taste of London
The weather was muggy, and the skies cloudy, but this was far better than the rain we were expecting for this outdoors event.
The Taste of London is in it’s 3rd year (we first visited in 2006, last year we did Taste of Bath), and is essentially a food festival run over 4 days in July in Regent’s Park. It’s an opportunity for some of the best restaurants in the London area to showcase some of their favourite dishes. In addition, there are plenty of drinks to be sampled, and merchants representing the food and drink world. The festival has it’s own currency – the Crown. One crown is equivalent to 50p, and can be purchased in books of £10.
We had purchased VIP tickets at a cost of £50, which included £20 of Crown. This enabled us to join a much shorter queue to get in, and also allowed us access to the VIP tent where we were provided with a complimentary glass of Laurent Perrier. A glance at the drinks menu inside told us that an additional glass could be purchased for a scary 20 crowns. When we first visited in 2006, we were treated to some tasty amuse bouche in the VIP area, so we were a little disappointed that this time the nibbles were confined to olives and nuts.
The other ‘advantage’ to access to the VIP tent was a chance to mingle with the ‘stars’. I spotted Anthony Worrel-Thompson in an early scout for a table, and beat a hasty retreat. Later in the evening, the tent became packed with people eager to listen to a performance by Jazz performer Jamie Cullum. We were fairly close to the stage, so I was able to take a few photographs before escaping the crowds.
There were 40 restaurants represented there, but we were only able to sample a handful. We each tried different dishes each time, and where possible tried different restaurants.
I think one of my favourites was one of the simplest – fish & chips from Tom’s Place. I joined the crowd of people at the stand, but it was obvious what that popular dish was. “who wants fish and chips” was answered with a show of hands, resulting in a quicker service than anticipated. The portion of beer battered red gurnard was generous in comparison to most of the other dishes, the chips were deliciously chunky, and tartar sauce was served on the side. At the next stand, my husband sampled the ‘Seven hour braised lamb shoulder with balsamic onions and mash’ from Tom’s Kitchen. It was worth the crowd and wait – the lamb was beautifully tender, and complemented well with the slightly tangy taste of onion and simple mash.
From the Arbutus stand, I found that the gruesome sounding ‘Braised Pigs Head’ was in fact delicious – moist and tender, though a little fatty. It was accompanied by potato puree and caramalised onion (a popular combination it seems!). Meanwhile, my husband was enjoying Canteen’s ‘spit roasted pork with mash & gravy’.
The only stand where we both tried a dish was Bumpkin – he had the Bumpkin Burger – a lamb burger with rosemary and olives, whilst I tried the Charter Pie. I had no idea in advance what this pie may contain, and found that under the light pastry lid was chicken, ham and vegetables. Later research indicates that ‘Charter Pie’ is the traditional name for this type of pie, and was the dish that Bumpkin manager Dariush Nejad recommended for ‘starving models-‘ Full story here.
Also available was wine and champagne tasting classes, cooking demonstrations and book signings. The chefs demonstrating included Gary Rhodes, Aldo Zilli, and Marcus Wareing, but we did not attend any of these events. At last year’s Taste of Bath event we participated in a beer tasting session, and thought it was a bit of pity that there was nothing similar here.
Despite them twisting our arms (again!) into spending lots of money on wine, I really must recommend Charles Mitchell wine merchants. Not only is Chris Pacey extremely knowledgeable, he is also friendly and happy to help you choose the perfect wine – no matter how many samples it may take!
The atmosphere was laid back, with visitors ranging from the well-heeled to the more casual, and from couples to young families. The dishes generally are quite expensive (and small!), but if you plan carefully you can make the most of your crowns, and take the opportunity to sample dishes that you may not if faced with a larger dish.