saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
Taste of London 2012
21st and 22nd June 2012
I'm not hardcore enough to do real festivals. Sitting in a muddy field for three days just to have the privilege of standing 300 yards from what might be Dave Grohl but looks like an ant doesn't float my boat. But give me a lovely, middle-class food festival, and I'm all over it.
After a Taste of Edinburgh and three Taste of Christmases (Tastes of Christmas?), I decided to give the main event a go for a couple of days. Running from Thursday 21st to Sunday 24th of June in Regent's Park, this year saw 36 of the city's best restaurants pitch up alongside... God, probably a billion-or-so of the country's best producers.
Thursday evening was a bit of a recce mission so we knew what to expect for the morning event on Friday. Popping our heads in for a couple of hours with no plans to eat, I still couldn't resist the lure of ox cheek with apple pomme purée from Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social. It was a fine bit of cooking, very on trend, although compared to Friday's beef cheek from Le Gavroche, a slightly measly portion. A chocolate tart from Gaucho was light, moreish and velvety, and we decided to retreat rather than spoil our appetites for the next day.
Friday, on the whole, was a gloomier affair. Drizzle and strong winds turned the park into that same muddy field I'd tried so hard to avoid thus far. But it did nothing to deter the crowds cramming into the AEG Taste Theatre to see Jamie Oliver. The presentation did nothing to put pay to the old cliché that cooking is the new rock and roll. It was flashbulb madness as Jamie held court, with most people videoing the thing on their phones, probably not able to comprehend seeing the telly man in the flesh, safe behind their screens. Putting together a slow-roasted lamb dish and a Guinness cheesecake, Jamie was a genial and engaging host, with a dry wit far removed from the annoying cheeky-chappie TV persona.
Interestingly, among all of the stargazing of the day (Roux Jr, Gary Rhodes, Atul Kochhar) I did see a rock and roll star. And I resisted the urge to tell Alex James in no uncertain terms how, by accepting a column in The Sun, making odd cheeses and palling up with Cameron, he'd sold out to the man. But I bet he could tell what I was thinking...
After Jamie, it was time to stuff our foodholes until we went blind. Inspired by Jimbo, we headed to his place, Barbecoa, for some pulled pork shoulder with barbecue sauce and coleslaw. Neither element was heavy or claggy, with the tender pork's sauce tasting deep but not at all synthetic or overly sweet. The crisp coleslaw shot through with spring onion was the perfect accompaniment. A mini burger was just that, but a damn fine specimen nonetheless.
Basque spicy confit duck from Pascal Aussignac's Club Gascon was also a delight. The juicy duck fell off the bone, the crispy skin keeping my girlfriend happy. It was advertised as coming with "crazy" popcorn. Perhaps it had identity issues, or was previously certified as criminally insane, as for my money, on the surface, it was just a salty caramel popcorn. But the crunch ensured the whole meal wasn't just sloppy or gummy, and the sweet-saltiness provided seasoning against the rich duck.
Needing a break from being greedy, we joined a San Pellegrino wine and water tasting. Rather unsurprisingly, the three wines, while delicious, were on the tiny side. Perhaps Taste learned their lesson from a couple of years ago, when I managed to consume about two bottles' worth for free. Then something bad probably happened. I can't remember. Tasting a white, red and sparkling alongside some crab, cooked meat and lemon tart, the focus was, unsurprisingly, on the water. What was surprising was the fact that the different waters did dramatically change the dining experience. Presented well by the scary-but-not-really Neil Phillips, it was a welcome break.
You can't come to Taste and not try something from Roux Jr's Le Gavroche, really, can you? The man himself was there, meeting his adoring groupies. After the ox cheek the previous day, I was eager to see how his daube de boeuf à la nicoise measured up. And dish, with its hefty portion size, was delicious. Spicy and sweet pepper chicken and green pea pulao from Tamarind finally finished me off.
As the day was drawing to an end, the inevitable panic of spending the show's currency, crowns, kicked in. Too full to really want anything more, but desperate to unload them, we grabbed a Pilsner Urquell beer, a Purbeck ice-cream and two bottles of extremely hot chilli sauce from the delightful people at the South Devon Chilli Farm. If you want chillies or sauces, this is the place. Very friendly, willing to give top advice in person or via e-mail, I can't recommend them enough.
Leaving Regent's Park about two stone heavier (one with the food, one with the mud) it was clear that in this year's Man Vs Food contest, food won.
Taste of London 2012 ran from 21st to 24th June 2012.
Nearest tube station: Regent's Park (Bakerloo)