Taste of London

A London summer can be a fleeting thing – a couple of weekends of gorgeous sunshine before the leaves turn and the familiar cold drizzle returns. What better way to spend one of these precious sunny days than in Regents Park with Britain’s finest chefs? Taste of London, now in its 11th year, brings together over forty top restaurants for a celebration of anything and everything to do with food. Alongside the main stalls there are plenty of bars, shops and smaller producers all touting their wares. After paying for entry to this culinary eden there are plenty of free samples – but to actually get your hands on the restaurant grub requires ‘crowns’, the festival currency. Each is worth a pound, but since you can’t turn them back into sterling, it’s worth planning your meal choices carefully. Over two days I sampled a decent amount of the food on offer.

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Five Star Haute Dog – Action Against Hunger
A charity collaboration between James Knappet (Bubbledogs), Brett Graham (The Ledbury), Anna Hansen (The Modern Pantry), Mark Hix and Tom Parker-Bowles – this is no ordinary hot dog. Top quality British pork sausage in a brioche style bun with smokey tomato and tamarind relish, piccalilli, scrumpy cider sauce and pork crackling. All to raise money for the marvellous Action Against Hunger – properly tasty.

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Xacutti de Cordeiro com arroz de alho – Assado
This is a searingly hot lamb curry from Goa, made with over twenty ingredients. It was rich, elegantly spiced and very tasty. I also liked that they included a decent portion of rice.

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Amadei White Chocolate Panna Cotta, Wild Strawberries, Champagne and Basil – Barbecoa
I adore the desserts at Barbecoa, their calvados panna cotta has become a dinner party staple for me. This was a wonderfully rich panna cotta with a lovely champagne foam. So good that it got eaten before a photo could be taken….

Po’ Boy “Tunisienne” – Bar Boulud
Crispy soft shell crab on a roll, served with cucumber-mint salad, fresh lime and harissa mayonnaise. If that combination doesn’t excite you then I don’t know what will. The crab was red-hot, fresh from the fire on a fantastic roll and garnished with a lovely crisp salad. It had fantastic contrast: hot-cold, spicy-mild, and crunchy-soft. One of the best dishes I ate.

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Crispy Barbecued Foie Gras – Club Gascon
On Sunday afternoon – much like at the Chelsea Flower Show – the top dishes of the festival are given rosettes, this was judged the best in the festival. A very generous slab of foie gras, crisped and cooked to perfection, served in a thin crunchy roti. It was wonderfully rich and decadent.

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Fried Chicken Necks – Duck & Waffle
One of the chef favourites – this is exactly what it says. Chicken necks, gently fried and doused in a lovely chilli rub. They’re quite difficult to eat (given the hordes of tiny bones) but the meat is richly flavoured and the spicing fantastic.

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Smoked Chilli Braised Ox Cheek served with Cheesy Polenta and Fried Pickles – Duck and Waffle
Fall apart beef in a rich, savoury sauce on a pile of cheese – what’s not to like? The polenta was a revelation – incredibly smooth and with a real cheesy hit.

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Roasted Pork Belly Mustard Miso and Pickled Green Apple – Flesh and Buns
I love char siu bao and this is very much a tribute to the great David Chang’s. Fluffy steamed clamshell style buns filled with tender pork and lovely dressings.

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Grilled Sea bass, coriander miso and Kimchi – Flesh and Buns
I’ve never considered serving a fish bun like this but it was absolutely gorgeous. The kimchi was really restrained, which suited the fish.

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Churrasco de chorizo – Gaucho
Spiral cut steak, marinated for 48 hours in garlic, parsley, aji molido and olive oil, served with humita stuffed baby red peppers. Gaucho have a good reputation, but I wasn’t impressed by this steak. The marinade was almost non-existent and there wasn’t the kind of outside char I’d expect from a steakhouse. I got to sample a bite of the Barbecoa steak and it was much better. The maize filled pepper was just okay as the filling was far too sweet.

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Joue et poitrine de pork braise sauce au whisky Balvenie et polenta – Le Gavroche
Very similar to the offering at duck and waffle – slow cooked cheeks with heavenly polenta. The whisky went really well with the rich pork, definitely a combination I’m stealing. Michel Roux Jr was on the stand all weekend which was a really nice touch, like a lot of the chefs he was happy to chat to fans and pose for photos.

Szechwan Salt and Pepper Squid – Maze
One of the better portion sizes, a mound of hot fresh squid, nicely crisped and well-seasoned.

Iberico Pork and Foie Gras Burger with Manchego Cheese – Salt Yard
I’ve been desperate to go to Salt Yard for a while and after this burger I’m very keen. Rich, moist and beautifully put together. The pickled chillies were just delicious, cutting through the sweetness of the meats.

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With Love from Rio – Sushisamba
Valrhona Macae ‘Pure Brazil’ dark chocolate ganache, coffee mousse, tonka bean ice cream – served with caramelized macadamia and lemon sorrel. This was easily the best dessert of the day – beautifully balanced chocolate and coffee with lots of lovely textures worked through it, beautifully presented and reasonably priced.

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Pudhina Chops – Tamarind of Mayfair
Welsh lamb cutlets, ginger, mint, crushed peppercorns and a summer salad. While the lamb was obviously good quality, it had been rather overcooked, not even a hint of pinkness inside. The spice mix was nice, but the salad felt like a bit of an afterthought.

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Thai Fish Cakes – The Begging Bowl
Freshly fried and fabulously fishy – these are some of the best fishcakes I’ve had.

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Banh Mi – The House of Ho
A traditional Vietnamese dish of warm French baguette, thinly sliced pork shoulder, pickled carrots and daikon, drizzled in a chilli and cilantro dressing. It was a lovely sandwich, but the chilli dressing brought it to life – hot, sharp and very moreish. I could have sat there all day mopping up the last remnants with the French bread.

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Dim Sum Platter – Yauatcha
This was a combination of their other three dishes – Scallop Shui Mai, Venison Puff and Wild Mushroom Dumpling. The scallop was beautifully presented and utterly delicious – fresh, well cooked and delicately spiced. I’ve never seen puff pastry used in dim sum but it really worked – the venison was wonderfully rich and tender. I was also impressed by the wild mushroom dumpling – rich and savoury without being too earthy.

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I ate some fantastic food – the po’ boy and sushisamba dessert particularly stand out – but for me, the highlight was seeing the chefs at work. I got to fulfil a lifelong ambition of hugging Tom Kerridge and see him do wonderful things with squab pigeon, turnip and orange. Ashley Palmer-Watts broke out the Big Green Egg and cooked some superb looking lamb while Gizzi Erskine introduced hordes of people to the wonder of Korean food. I certainly picked up plenty of ideas and will definitely be slow cooking some cheeks with cheesy polenta this autumn. I also saw several people cooking with watermelon – expect to see that popping up on menus everywhere soon.

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It’s a great chance to try out the food and some of the restaurants that you’ve been meaning to go to for ages. I definitely need to pay Sushisamba, Bar Boulud and Yauatcha a visit. Duck and Waffle probably deserve another look-in too…

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Taste of London is a wonderful day out – yes it is expensive, but good food so often is. The chance to try a huge range of dishes, chat to people who are incredibly passionate about food and drink an awful lot of cocktails in the sun can’t be missed. While I’d have liked some slightly cheaper prices and bigger portions – I definitely wasn’t hungry at the end! It’s very well organised and I loved that you could by Voss water everywhere for a pound a bottle. If the line-up is as good next year – I’ll definitely be heading down.

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