Saturday, 20 June 2009
Taste of London 2009 - A Visitor's Tale
First impressions of Taste of London 2009 were not great.
Thursday afternoon, Susan Smillie of the Guardian's Word of Mouth tweeted to say that everyone was being evacuated. I rang my friend Lou in the French Flair Theatre to ask what was up - she said nothing was up. Five minutes later she texted me to say "You were right - there's been a security alert" (when I saw Lou later she was mildly outraged that Twitter let me know about the bomb scare before she did).
Anyway, after almost two hours of what Lou calls a "deep routine search", the gates finally opened at 7pm and hubby and I were stampeded by hordes of hungry members of the chattering classes.
After stalking a couple of chefs (step forward Wozza and ze lovely Jun Tanaka), I made a bee-line for Dinings for Wagyu Beef Tataki with Ponzu Sauce and Porcini Oil (£3) and Three Sushi Rolls (£4) ie Foie Gras Roll with sweet soy; Tuna Roll with Creamy Wasabi Sauce; King Crab Roll with Spicy Taramo Sauce.
I'd been looking forward to this the most as I'd heard great things, but it was a bit underwhelming.
For instance, the Beef was okay but there was barely any fatty marbling - I guess my cow wasn't as chilled as it could have been. Neither was there the slightest hint of Porcini, though the sauce was zingy and umami enough that I had to restrain myself from tipping the remainder down my throat.
The Rolls were also a let-down - partly because the word taramo annoys me (why not just use tarako?) and also because I was convinced the King Crab was actually surimi ie crabsticks.
The foie gras was good, but foie gras invariably is.
The Taste of Barbados stand were giving out some delicious titbits like Seared Tuna with Spiced Puy Lentils and Micro Herbs, Coconut Soup and Raspberry Mousse with Plantain.
It was some of the tastiest stuff we ate that day and it was free.
It was so good I even forgave their steel band for playing Coldplay.
Our next stop was Le Gavroche for Ballotine de Volaille aux Truffes et Champignons Sauvages (Chicken and truffle terrine with pickled wild mushrooms).
Michel Roux Jnr was serving in person which is always nice. The chicken breast was too dry, but the flavour was beautifully intense and the mushrooms were perfectly piquant - I would have liked a jar to take home.
At Asia de Cuba we tried Tunapica: Tuna tartare Picadillo style with Spanish olives, blackcurrants, almonds, coconut, soy-lime vinaigrette and wonton crisps (£5) - for blackcurrants, read raisins, hubby's and my pet hate.
Hubby said "I can't eat that", but I scoffed it anyway.
The tuna tasted a little metallic - never a good thing in my book - and the dish was pretty but instantly forgettable.
Miang Crab (£4) at Nahm was next on my hitlist. I've always wanted to try Miang - essentially a Thai street snack of bits and bobs wrapped up in a betel leaf.
It looked and smelled fantastic but AIIIIYEEEEE - SWEEEEET!!!! The other flavours were completely drowned out by sugar and I'm sad to say that I wouldn't try it again.
Nahm was actually part of Taste of Thailand - a subset of the Taste Festival - they even had a vaguely Thai temple up.
Tawana Supermarket was also there, but I resisted swinging by so I wouldn't end up stinking out the Tube with acacia leaf.
Pont De La Tour and Launceston Place vied for my attention side by side.
The latter was showcasing Tristan Welch's Great British Menu and I was sorely tempted by the crab on shingly beach.
In the end P De La T's won with their fine display of Plateau Fruits de Mer on Ice.
This comprised Fines de Clair Oysters, King Crab, Fresh Shell on Prawns and Cockles (£8).
The billed cockles were replaced by a nice fat whelk and brown shrimps, and it was all beautifully briny and delicious.
It also looked stunning on its bed of crushed ice and kelp(?) which I wanted to eat, but my husband wouldn't let me.
Said husband isn't a fan of seafood but he does like fish and chips, so he went for Bentley Oyster Bar's rendition (£5).
Apart from the fact that the portion was a damn sight smaller than the sampuru on display, the fish and chips themselves weren't amazing, though freshly fried.
However, I did get to see Richard Corrigan do a jig for Matthew Fort, so for me it was worth it.
We craved more meat so we popped to Croque Gascon for their Duck Burger Classic and Fries with Crazy Salt.
Together they were only £4, rivalling the Seafood Platter as the best value dish of the day.
The burger was good but not as good as we wanted it to be - hubby said it tasted European but wouldn't elaborate.
Also the fries - not so crazy. Not even eccentric.
More chef stalking - Gary Rhodes and Shane Osborn. It's like a crap safari. Yes!
We were flagging by then, so the last stop was The Grill at the Dorchester for Ballotine of Ham Hock, Apricot Chutney and Country Toast (£3).
Sadly, this was the biggest letdown of the day.
The chutney was too sweet and astringent, the toast like gritty shards of disappointment, and the ballotine tasted of absolutely nothing.
I chewed and chewed and chewed, hoping to tease some kind of flavour out of the strands of ham.
Sadly, I ended up chucking half of it away.
Defeated, we left cold, tired and despondent, but strangely optimistic for the future.
Why so? I was coming back on Sunday and I still had some Crowns*.
Stay tuned for Taste of London 2009 - A Worker's Tale
*Crowns: imaginary, annoying Monopoly style currency employed at Taste because money is dirty where 2 Crowns = £1.