Friday, June 22, 2007

Taste London

Why visit one restaurant at a time, when you can skip around 40 of them in one evening?
Such is the proposition of this year's Taste London festival which has taken over a sizeable chunk of Regent's Park until Sunday. The £35 tickets include £20 worth of "crowns" which you can exchange for glasses of bubbly or paper plates of delicacies served to you by top chefs like Gary Rhodes or Angela Hartnet.

There was a decent haul of freebies to keep us amused as we wondered round the dozens of white tents (I suppose the restaurant equivalent is amuse bouche): pink flip flops, a green plastic piggy bank, three loaves of different types of bread made with honey, three innocent smoothies (won at their village fete by pinning the tail to the monkey - and to the drinks cabinet), glasses of a rather nice Scottish drink that is trying to muscle in on the Pimms market, lots of bite-sized chunks of cheeses and cakes and thimble-sized tasters of beers, wines and ports.

Add to that booty what we managed to purchase for out crowns and we left the festival at kicking out time - tipsy and quite full.

The food though was a bit of a disappointment.
Of the 40 or so restaurants showcasing their signature dishes, I concentrated on the ones which we had not visited and which also had a famous chef and/or rave reviews. It was perhaps not a fair trial, as cooking for thousands of festival goers in make shift kitchens and serving on paper plates with plastic cutlery is not what these guys are trying to do. So it was the simple dishes that worked best.

The highlight for my companion were "oysters with Peter Gott's spiced wild boar sausage" from city institution Scotts. The juicy oysters went surprsingly well with the small, punchy sausages.

Eton Mess from what was the Conran empire was another simple but well executed dish designed to appeal to city tastes and peppered with very good strawberries.

The "grilled organic salmon with summer herbs and lemon" from The National Dining Rooms was beautifully cooked and delicately flavoured, though we left the (bulgur wheat?) salad.

But the more adventurous marinated tuna from The Greenhouse, although beautifully rare, was utterly overpowered by a vinegary salad dressing, capers and anchovies.

Rhodes 24's "white tomato soup" did what it said on the (proverbial) tin, and was nicely creamy and warming in the early evening chill. But as my companion pointed out, it was not radically different (apart from the whiteness) from the stuff that comes out of real tins.

The "balotine of foie gras, chicken and celeriac with truffle mayonnaise" from Galvin at Windows was rather bland, with a stingy chicken to foie gras ratio -- but may be it tastes better when enjoying the view from the Park Lane Hilton restaurant.

Refettorio's "duck ravioli with orange and duck jus" sounded interesting, but the sweet jus and orange peel shavings overpowered the duck, which was probably already struggling to make itself heard from within the large pasta circles.

So there were duds. But with a glass of champagne, it's not a bad way to enjoy a balmy evening, and not bad value either.

Taste London Festival 2007;; Tube: Regents Park (now reopened) or Great Portland Street -- the two stations nearest to the actual festival entrance

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