As I mentioned in my chocolate cherry trifle post last week, 2004 marked the launch of this blog, Gmail and the Queen Mary II cruise ship. I didn’t realise that it also marked the launch of the Taste festivals, the best known of which is of course Taste of London. Back then, the event was boutique enough to fit into Somerset House but it was so successful that it moved to roomier Regent’s Park the following year, where it has been hosted every summer since. It has also spawned a family of Taste festivals around the world, including Taste of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Sydney, Melbourne, Milan and Dubai to name but a few. But for some reason, despite being a food blogger, it took me a long time to get round to visiting – nine years in fact! Yes, it’s true – my first visit to taste of London was only in 2013 – but I was hooked at once. So much good food and so many passionate and like-minded people in one place, rather like my idea of heaven! Sadly, my Taste career was hampered last year by my broken leg – I was still walking with a stick in June and the idea of being jostled by crowds did not appeal at all. But to my great relief, things are much improved this summer and next week I shall once again be venturing forth to Taste of London (sponsored for the first time this year by AEG) to enjoy some of the capital’s best food. If you are planning to visit too, here are some tips that I have put together from my personal experience to help you make the most of your visit – plus a chance for you to win two tickets to the 2015 Taste of London!
1. Wear comfortable shoes. Like with all UK summer events (yes, Henley regatta, I’m looking at you!), the temptation to wear kitten heels will be great but will probably not result in your sustained comfort and happiness! Firstly, if you are arriving by Tube rather than limo, then it is a fairly long walk from the nearest station to the Taste of London entrance in the park; and secondly, there is quite a bit of walking on grass involved, and the last thing you want is your heels stuck in the turf! And last but not least, you are going to be spending much of your four hour time slot on your feet, so the more comfortable your shoes, the more you will enjoy the experience.
2. Bring a roomy bag that you can either carry as a backpack or a messenger bag. Inevitably, you will start collecting stuff as soon as you arrive at Taste – either free samples or goodies that you buy – and there is nothing more annoying that trying to juggle a glass of wine, a goodie bag and a camera while trying to reach for your umbrella! So do bring a bag that can be slung over your shoulder so as to free up your hands for more eating and drinking.
3. Buy more Crowns as soon as you arrive. Crowns are the currency of the festival and must be used 1 and they are non refundable, so make sure you spend them all before you leave. To give you an idea, dishes from the participating restaurants cost on average about 4 Crowns but can reach as much as 10 Crowns.
Image credit: Annie Mole
4. Plan ahead and sign up for some live cooking demos and classes There are a number of opportunities to see some of the capital’s top chefs in action at Taste. Some of them do cooking demos on exhibitor stands while others do live cooking sessions on the main AEG Taste theatre stage – sessions are free and you can sign up on a first come, first served basis. This year there are also the AEG Let’s Taste Live Cooking sessions which give visitors a chance to cook alongside a leading chef in a hands-on session (also free but you need to sign up). In addition, there are also tastings and pairings at various exhibitor stands that you could attend – and the more you plan ahead, the more you’ll get to see and do!
5. Try dishes from all the restaurants you’ve been dying to visit. Dozens of the city’s hottest restaurants attend Taste London and each offers a small menu of 3-5 small plates of their regular dishes. Hand over your Crowns and a plate of heaven could be yours! When I last visited, I had not been to Duck and Waffle and their spicy ox cheek doughnut with apricot jam and smoked paprika sugar ROCKED MY WORLD and made me book a table. The ceviche and corn cake from LIMA came a pretty close second though… Restaurants tickling my fancy at the 2015 Taste include Roka, Ember Yard. SushiSamba, MEATLiquor, Tredwell’s and LIMA Floral. If the restaurant has an iconic dish, this will often feature on their Taste menu – for example this year Duck and Waffle are serving their eponymous confit duck leg on a waffle with mustard maple syrup.
6. Get up close and personal with chefs. Taste of London is positively awash with chefs, from A-list celebrity chefs to young up-and-coming chefs, and they are mostly very happy to chat to visitors and share a few tips. We spent ages chatting to the lovely fellow-South African Grant Hawthorne of African Volcano who showed us how he was making mini bobotie bites (genius!) and choc-chip malva pudding. We also had a chat with one of the on-board chefs from Celebrity Cruises who hosted a sushi demo and tasting (more on that below!). This year’s Taste of London features a host of stellar chefs, including Pascal Aussignac, Ben Tish, Michel Roux Jr, Francesco Mazzei, Marcus Wareing, Nuno Mendes, Theo Randall and Vivek Singh.
7. Try some new products. The range of non-restaurant exhibitors is huge and there is something for every taste. Almost everyone is offering free samples, so step out of your comfort zone and try something you would not normally buy. When we visited, South African tourism had a stand and people were going mad for biltong and Mrs Balls Chutney. This year you can try Jimini’s edible insects, Lickalix gourmet ice lollies, Lithuanian groceries from Lituanica or tea-infused vodka from T.E.A. to name but a few. Go on – you know you want to!
8. Don’t miss the Celebrity Cruises Lawn Club! For the past two years, Celebrity Cruises have had a stand at Taste inspired by the real grass lawns on their Solstice Class ships. Last year they recreated the Lawn Club Grill on dry land and when I visited in 2013 they recreated the funky Qsine on-board restaurant. Chefs and wine experts from their ships are on hand to host tasting sessions where you can sample food that passengers enjoy aboard – on our visit, we had a tasting of Qsine’s superb sushi lollipops (my favourite being the salmon lollipop rolled in crushed spicy Doritos – suspend your disbelief!). Our tasting finished with coated strawberry, rather like the ones that you could “pick” for yourself from the hostess at the entrance wearing a grass “dress”. I can’t wait to see what they come up with this year!
9. Don’t forget the wines! Apart from the food on offer, there is also rather a lot of wine, either accompanying tastings or from wine producers or merchants that are exhibiting. Last time we got well and truly stuck at Brazilian winery Casa Valduga, apparently one of the first Brazilian wineries to master the art of making method Champenoise sparkling wine. This year I am looking forward to meeting Hof wines, a merchant dedicated to sourcing undiscovered South African wines and making them available here in the UK.
10. Come hungry. Obviously. It’s going to be a food-filled four hours – bring a big enough appetite to make the most of it!
NEED TO KNOW:
Taste of London 2015 takes place in Regent’s Park from 17-21 June 2015. There are 2 x 4 hour session on the 18th, 19th and 20th, and 1 x 4 hour session on the 17th and 21st. Standard tickets (£16-27 depending on day) include entry to the festival only. Premium tickets (£33-44) – include entry to the festival plus £20 worth of Crowns. VIP tickets (£52-70) include entry to the festival, access to VIP Lounge, a glass of Laurent-Perrier Champagne, a recipe book and £20 worth of Crowns. New for 2015 is the Taste Lovers Ticket which includes discounted entry to the festival for two sessions, one which must be on Wednesday or Thursday. For full details, see the Taste of London website.
If you enjoyed this post, you can also find me tweeting at @cooksisterblog, snapping away on Instagram, and pinning like a pro on Pinterest. To keep up with my latest posts, you can subscribe to my free e-mail alerts, like Cooksister on Facebook, or follow me on Bloglovin.