Taste of London

I spent most of the weekend at the Taste of London festival in Regent’s Park, twitterreporting for the Guardian. Taste is a big restaurant festival held in various cities across the world (I think NZ has Taste Auckland). In London we are lucky enough to have some of the best restaurants in the world. Basically our task was to use the power of the Guardian press pass to blag as much free food from top restaurants as possible, and tweet about it.

It’s rather lucky I was able to go for free because at £25 entry it’s not cheap – and that’s before the food which is paid for in the festival’s own currency, crowns. 2 crowns = £1. I think if you’re after a Michelin-starred restaurant experience you’re better off just going to a restaurant. The recession has hit restaurants hard, and many are offering diners specials such as Atelier de Joel Robuchon (which boasts two Michelin stars) who are currently offering a pre-theatre special of three courses for £25, or two courses for £19. Of course, they also have a vegetarian tasting menu for £70 which looks well worth saving up for. Unfortunately they were mostly serving up burgers and a salad with tomato jelly (= gelatine = non-veg) at the festival so their vegetarian options were not exactly to the fore. I did sample their dessert which was a layered chocolatey concoction consisting of a chocolate sauce at the bottom, mousse, and a topping of crushed Oreo cookie. It was a little… average. But I’m told the foie gras burgers were exquisite.

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Tiny burgers

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Chocolatey but not life-changing

One interesting experience I had was tagging along to a Laurent-Perrier champagne tasting on the Friday. I arrived to see some very smart people walking in and immediately thought there was no way I would possibly blend in! Then I looked down at what I was wearing, remembered I had been at a job interview that morning, and realised I would be fine. We were taken through the history and Champagnes of the Laurent-Perrier company by a very snobby Frenchman (“some people leave out the hyphen in Laurent-Perrier. BIG mistake”) which was as it should be when discussing Champagne, I suppose! There was much talk of “the bubble” and “how it provokes your inner senses”. When he was talking about the Alexandra Rosé he said “she suddenly will whisper poetry in your head and only you will understand it” and went on in the same vein for a couple of minutes. By this stage I was thinking “oh come ON!” But the people around me certainly bought the schtick, turning to each other and whispering “oooh, we’ll have to have a case of that”.

For the record though we tried the Brut L-P and the Ultra Brut. The Ultra Brut was definitely my pick, with no added dosage (sugar). But I’m afraid drinking Champagne will never be a transcendental experience for me.

My wine pick of the festival is perhaps a little parochial – the O:Tu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I’ve been a little bit over NZ sauvs lately and the record harvest this year seems to have led to a drop in quality, so the O:Tu was a revelation. Extremely crisp and dry, stylistically almost more like a Sancerre than a Marlborough sauv – I will buying some of this! Unfortunately its website provides more marketing wank in the line of French Champagne guy above: “You might even feel a small delightful shiver as the crispness of the mountain air washes over your tongue. Or sense a light ocean breeze brush your cheek”. Don’t listen to that crap and just try it.

Overall food pick of the festival goes to L’Anima for their wild mushroom and black truffle fettucine. It’s making me really look forward to going to Italy in mushroom and truffle season next week. I’m also told L’Anima’s frisella with tomato and mozarella was amazing and now I’m kicking myself for not trying it. Another restaurant on my list to visit.

On Saturday I was joined by quite a few more Guardian foodies as we tweeted and flashmobbed our way around the festival, followed by a picnic (as if we could fit any more food in – although with some delicious dips from my favourite Borough fixture the Arabica Spice Company I did my best) on the good ship Finale, on Regent’s Canal. Many generous companies shared their wares and fare with us, the weather held (just) and it was a fantastic day.

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