Sunday, 17 August 2008

Taste of London

Once a year, food snobs and would be food snobs (me:) from London and beyond gather in Regents Park to taste what the top London restaurants have to offer. It's all great fun with lots of food but tickets do start from about £20 for entrance alone, so it's not the cheapest day out you can expect. This year 40 top London restaurants cooked up feasts and numerous other stalls touted wares from specialized sushi knives to little known village cheeses and everything else in between (almost) - bring large reusable shopping bags, they come in very handy or if you're not planning on wearing those 8inch heels, rough it out and bring a backpack - there are offers aplenty here.

It's a 4 day event and as all of us were expected to slog the week away at work, Saturday was our chosen day. As with any other English summer's day, rain threatened us but we are hardy Londoners :) Armed with umbrellas, cardigans, scarves and even Jo packed a pair of wellies (on my advice, which I later felt very bad about), the positive part of us dressed ourselves in light, short sleeved tops (for heaven's sake... it is summer!). The whole day the sun and clouds played peek-a-boo with each other but no rain (hoorah!)...sigh if only summer ever felt like... summer :)

There was already a crowd by the time we arrived at 12.40pm (gates open at 12.30pm) but the site is large and it didn't feel very crowded until we got to the restaurant stands. And in spite the British being famous for queues, there never seemed like there was one. Lighthearted jostling to see who would get the attention of the waiting staff behind each counter. Food wise, this was a great opportunity try dishes from restaurants normally beyond our means but this didn't mean everything was that good (some downright disappointing, unfortunately) and it was still pricey. £s have to be swapped for crowns, with each crown worth 50p. Dishes cost between 6-10 crowns with each restaurant serving 3 dishes priced at 6 crowns, 8 crowns and 10 crowns. Unfortunately my tummy couldn't quite match up to my legendary greediness but I did try ..very hard!


Norwegian red king fillette and potted confit of Norwegian salmon with sea lettuce butter, soft onsen quail egg, cured lemon and almond cauliflower mousse

This was rich and creamy, perhaps overly so for such a little dish. The crab and salmon was good and quite distinctive beneath all the other ingredients but they should have been left alone a little more to speak for themselves. This is the sort of dish a chef would make to wow a diner - creamy rich poached quail's egg and mousse of any sort would just yell ...over the top!

Coupe liegeoise of dark manjari brownie chocolate, coffee and salt caramel ice cream

Despite not being overly impressed with my first overly fussy dish from One-O-One, I went back to seek out some dessert and this I throughly enjoyed. The little chocolate brownies were dense, bordering on chewy that weren't overly sweet. The salt caramel ice cream was delicious and I loved the how well the salt complemented the normally very sweet caramel. Below there were bits of crushed honeycomb (seen in the 1st photo of the dessert), which lent a nice crunch. The coffee foam (foam was very fashionable this year - last year it was micro herbs) rounded up the dessert very well. The slight bitterness against the sweet crunchy honeycomb, sweet-saltiness of the caramel and the richness of the chocolate. Very well done, indeed. My only regret would be not asking for more foam when I was asked how much I would like - and there I thought they were offering to top it up with whipped cream. Sigh!


Chicken Tikka

I fell in love with the tandoori lamb that Benares had on their menu at the festival last year and I have been having beautiful dreams of it ever since. Yes, I am that much in love and it is really that wonderful. Beautiful layers of flavours that mingled so beautifully in my mouth. I was definitely looking forward to what this stand had to offer this year. The chicken tikka was good. Lovely flavours and cooked just right but ..... it just didn't... couldn't... match up to the lamb. The lamb was tender, juicy...and the chicken, well chicken is chicken. If I wasn't such a scrooge, I would cough up the dough to pay full price to eat at the restaurant.. maybe next year...

Imagine my excitement when when I saw the man behind Benares - Atul Kochhar. Definitely more exciting than spotting Gordan Ramsey last year! :)

Aiden Byrne

Line caught sea bass with shrimp chorizo and saffron pickled vegetables

Nice fresh succulent flesh with a crunchy skin. I only had a bite of this but there were no complaints from those who ordered it. Fresh, light and unfussy; very well executed.

Confit chicken with white onion and parmesan soup

It didn't blow me away but it was tasty. The chicken was well cooked, the potatoes ... forgettable, the Parmesan soup was an indistinguishable bit of foam, and foam was what the onion soup was as well... but here the chefs got it right. Sweet onions with a slight caramelized edge was tasty stuff. Now if they had just forgotten about the Parmesan foam, this would have been a really delicious dish.

Beer Battered Red Gurnard and Chips with Tartar Sauce

The nation's favourite dish made beautifully by Tom's Place. Thin, crispy batter encased wonderfully succulent bits of fish. Chunky chips that were surprisingly crisp and light. Generous portions that left us wanting more but ... as there's usually a but.... the tartar sauce was flat to the point of it being pointless of it being served and a little more seasoning on the fish and chips would have gone down a treat. Otherwise, two thumbs up.

Salt Yard

Courgette flowers stuffed with monte enebro goats' cheese and drizzled with honey

The lone vegetable of the day. As I never see many courgette flowers served or sold (and my home grown ones a little too puny to be stuffed), I was rather excited to see some of these being served up. Deep fried in a light batter, the flower encased warm, almost runny, goats' cheese. The sweet to this salty was the honey drizzled over the courgette. I've never had this before so I'll say it was interesting. I'm not hugely keen on goats' cheese - in my excitement I didn't realise the stuffing would be any sort of cheese and it's creaminess left me reeling slightly in the stomach - that and the huge amounts I had eaten and kept eating :) Probably not something I would order again.

Le Gavroche

Braised beef in red wine and creamed potatoes

The one big disappointment of the day. Despite the reputation of the restaurant and the hype behind this dish at the festival, where it's been sold for quite a few years now, I thought it fell flat on its face. The beef, the star of the dish, was stringy and needed more cooking time. The taste, I suppose was fine though now forgettable. The potatoes, well.. it was always just a side dish with no real merits of it's own.

We also had a portion of Classic Lobster Creamed Soup flavoured with Brandy. Of the two dishes, I'm not sure which I would say was the worst. The soup was a cup of brandy flavoured cream with a tinge of lobster essence. Where's the lobster? Ahh... we finally found a tiny centimeter wide nugget of lobster right at the bottom. Despite this, the Le Gavroche was amongst the more popular on reputation alone? I don't doubt that the food at the restaurant is very good but I wish they would put more effort in serving their customers at the festival - 10 crowns still is £5.

Zilli Fish

Surf and Turf - char-grilled marinated lamb chops and spicy tiger prawns

This was one instance where they should have got rid of the surf and just kept the turf. The lamb was tender, juicy and a joy to eat. The prawns, however, were pretty hopeless. Far from fresh, it was soft and floppy. If they wanted to make it ones of the stars of the dish then at least serve fresh prawns that crunched rather than flopped. Very disappointing.

Lobster ravioli and shellfish cream sauce

It sounded good, it looked and smelt good but I can't remember what it tasted like. Very likely not as good as the lamb (or I would have remembered it) and nowhere as bad as the prawns (or I would have remembered it as well). One of those dishes where I would wonder every time I looked at the photo of how it tasted.

Theo Randall

Soft chocolate cake with crema di mascarpone

Chocolate-y with a nice ganache centre. I only had a bite of this and enjoyed my little spoonful very much.

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