Sunday, June 24, 2007

Let the gormandising begin!

This weekend saw the 4th annual Taste of London food and drink festival in Regent's Park. Even though it was scheduled to rain, thousands of people turned out for the 12-4pm time slot, on what ended up being a fantastic sunny day.

At the gates we were given a convenient menu, which listed each of the 40 restaurant's three dishes on offer. Oh god...the drooling started about then, and didn't really stop all afternoon.

Cold, fizzy whisky-based drinks were thrust into our hands as we walked past the first tent, and we stumbled into the Alessi Cookery School. A cooking lesson was starting, and we managed to get a couple of spaces.

Minutes later, a loud, bossy but very charming Italian chef was booming at us to switch on the stoves, and said that we'd be cooking a simple creamy pasta in the new Alessi Pasta Pot.

We prepped some peas, garlic, pancetta and threw it all into the pot to cook for a couple of minutes. We were then instructed to throw in the dry pasta and enough water to cover it...all in the same pot. This seemed counter-intuitive, but we were assured the pasta would cook properly.

Sure enough, the water eventually disappeared and we tipped in some cream, salt and pepper. Due to ridiculous health and safety regulations, we weren't allowed to actually eat what we'd made, but it looked pretty impressive for novices!

Having been whiffing pasta for 20 minutes, we were starving and set off in search of Asian-influenced Cocoon, who had Wagyu beef on Hot Rocks on offer. Stupidly, I didn't take a photo of the dish - or any of them for that matter. I was so engrossed in the taste that the idea of taking photos seemed a million miles away. The good people at Cocoon have included their recipe for Wagyu beef though. My obsession with the delicious marbled fatty Australian meat continues.

People mosied round, stuffing their faces with goumet delights and whatever free booze was on offer. Music floated through the air, and it was all very civilised. A foodie's paradise!

Next on my radar was the stall for Knightsbridge-based Brazilian restaurant, Mocoto. Their Moqueca - monkfish and shellfish coconut stew and rice, had caught my eye. It too was fabulous - a creamy, spicy seafood curry, that definitely tasted different from my usual preferred Thai curries. I definitely need to investigate South American cuisine, and have no good reason why I have not done so before. Shame on me.

A coupla dishes down, and we were thirsty. Threshers were sponsoring the Wine Experience, so lurched in to grab two seats, just in time for the Roses from Around the World session. We sampled wines from Germany, Argentina, Chile, Spain and California, with the Chilean Vina Carmen rose my pick of the bunch. At just under £6 a bottle from Waitrose, it was a great full-bodied rose.

At this stage, we may have been slightly tipsy, with a couple of the whisky-based fizzy drinks mixing with the roses and various gourmet meals. Surprisingly no one seemed massively pizzed, although the potential was certainly there.

Being an avid oyster fan, the oyster dish at One o One really took my fancy. Oh, I wish I'd taken a photo of the Cancale Tsarkaya oyster with Ozen quail egg, apple salsa and wasabi flying-fish caviar. It was a little piece of edible artwork. The chef suggested I down the quail egg first, and follow it with the oyster. The flavours were truly amazing...the melt-in-mouth quail egg, with the tang of apple, the creamy oyster, the ping of the flying fish caviar and the firey whiff of the wasabi. Oh my was quite possibly the best oyster I've ever had. And I've had a few in my time.

I just love dishes where the flavours and textures have been skillful combined.

By chance, we stumbled past yet another wine tasting class at the Sud de France Wine Theatre. Perhaps it was because I'd already consumed a bit, but none of the wines that I sampled in that session did it for me. Oh well...each to their own. Some people were raving about the wine.

With a few Crowns (the currency of the festival) left, we decided to try a pudding. Kensington Places' Lime and Basil pannacotta was delicious. I've had a few pannacotta's recently, and I really like it as a dessert. I'm not particularly into cakes and big gooey puddings, but pannacotta seems like a nice way to finish a meal.

Our four hour gorge-fest seemed to fly by and soon we were being ushered out, as a dude from a stall that sold sea-salt scrubs from the Dead Sea snagged us and flogged us a tub of salt that made our hands feel really smooth. How this related to the food festival was beyond both Ant and I, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Taste of London was a fantastic day out, and was a great way to experience some of London's top restaurants. All the stalls at which I didn't get to try something, will go onto my Wish List of Restaurants, as will all of those that did!

We finished the day with a tasty meal in China Town before heading home - stuffed but happy.

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