In most countries, we have four seasons. Autumn is when the weather turns cooler and the leaves fall off the trees. Winter is when the days are short, the nights are long and you can see your breath in the air in the early mornings. Spring is when the trees start to blossom and the weather warms up. And summer is the time of long, lazy sunny days. But here in England (in 2016 in any event…) it’s not quite that simple. We’ve had snow and sleet in April and now thunderstorms and torrential, tropical rain in the middle of June. In fact, my best advice is not rely on the English weather to give you any sort of indication of what season it is. A far better barometer of whether summer is here is the arrival of the traditional events of the English summer calendar, like Ascot, Henley, Wimbledon and of course Taste of London. This annual foodie fest in Regents Park started back in 2004 and has been a London summer fixture ever 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. It’s a hub for like-minded people who are passionate about good food and drink, and a showcase of foodie excellence in every sphere from producers to chefs, restaurants, foodie travel, and retailers. I have previously written about my top tips for visiting Taste London, but today’s post is a look back my personal highlights of Taste of London 2016.
CELEBRITY CRUISES LAWN CLUB
First up, once again, was the brilliant Celebrity Cruises Lawn Club, one of the regular fixtures at Taste. This year there was a petanque lawn as seen aboard their cruise ships, live music and a stylish white oval tasting bar where taster sessions were being held pairing some dishes from Celebrity restaurants with wines available on board. Executive Chef Tato Garcia was on hand to talk us through the dishes together Celebrity’s wine expert Oz Clarke. Although the perfection is often that mass-catered food on a large cruise ship cannot match the quality of a find restaurant on dry land, chef Tato was keen to dispel this notion with the dishes that had been chosen for the day. We started with Jerusalem Artichoke veloute with black truffle, mushrooms, violets and toasted sunflower seeds, from the Celebrity suite-class restaurant Luminae. This was a spectacular dish in every possible way, from its good looks to its silky textures and intense flavours. The wine chosen to match it was the Jean-Luc Colombo “La Violette” Viognier from the Languedoc and there were indeed floral violet notes in the wine that followed through the violet notes in the dish. Nest up was corvina sea bass with sage brown butter, cavolo nero, heritage carrots and asparagus from Celebrity Xpedition, Celebrity’s 100-berth superyacht that sails to the Galapagos Islands. This was another visually arresting dish, with the crisp-skinned fish atop a carrot puree and topped with crunchy shaved heritage carrots and asparagus. It was matched with my favourite wine of the day, the exceptional New Zealand (Marlborough) Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, packed with passion fruit flavours and freshness. The final dish was from Blu, celebrity’s exclusive “clean cuisine” restaurant for Aqua class passengers and consisted of pistachio-crusted lamb loin with juniper rhubarb jam, mushroom and Savoy cabbage – a superb dish with interesting and balanced flavours (lamb and rhubarb – who knew?), matched with a Chilean MontGras Carmenere Reserva from the Colchagua valley. And to finish, we had a mini-lemon meringue – the perfect end to a perfect tasting which dispelled all notions of Love Boat-style mass catered cruise ship hell.
AEG TAKE TASTE FURTHER
From there I headed on over to main event sponsor AEG’s Take taste Further experience which was divided this year into an impromptu movie screening room where the taste-along screenings of the four Tasteology documentary short films were being screened (you can read more about the Tasteology films in my previous post); and a cook-along demo kitchen where various chefs were hosting sessions to put the AEG convection hobs, steam ovens and other appliances through their paces. We attended a session by Jeremy Pang of the School of Wok and learnt the finer points of “keeping the sizzle” in a wok while making healthy lettuce wraps filled with vegetables and scallops.
GREAT BRITISH CHEFS TASTE OF BRITAIN
We also popped into the Great British Chefs “Taste of Britain” pop-up – their first stand at the show where they were showcasing the talent of three great British chefs over the course of three days, namely Adam Grey of Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings; André Garrett of Cliveden House and Andy MacLeish of Chapter One. It was the latter who was cooking on the day we visited and we sampled three of his four menu items. We started with treacle-cured salmon with ginger purée, spring onions, radish and sesame soya dressing. This was heavenly with fat, silky slices of salmon , crunchy vegetables and a truly magnificent ginger puree (more of a gel, really). I also tried the unusual combination of a terrine of pig’s head, crispy smoked pork jowl croquette, pickled cockles, capers, gherkins and anchovy mayonnaise which was also great, especially the croquette. And to finish we tried the beautiful vanilla cheesecake with Gariguette strawberries, balsamic gel and meringue – a beautifully balanced and oh-so-pretty dessert.
When you mention vegetarian restaurants, many people still think of sandal-wearing, dog hair sweater-knitting beardy types eating vegetable and tofu curries while a sitar plays in the background. Scrap that vision at once and get thee to Vanilla Black, one of the city’s finest vegetarian restaurants. Established in 2004 by chef Andrew Dargue, the restaurant focuses on stylish and contemporary vegetarian food, redefining non-meat cuisine by experimenting with original flavour combinations and modern techniques. Their website apologises in advance in advance for not having no pasta bake or vegetable curry on the menu 😉 After chatting to the engaging and delightfully quirky Chef Andrew, we tried two dishes from their menu: the chilled pea purée with pea & mint cake, peanuts and vanilla oil. This was a gorgeously green and summery bowl of food, making the most of the sweetness of the peas by pairing it with vanilla oil. But it ws the second dish that I fell in love with: goats’ milk and tomato shortbread, broccoli, gem lettuce and egg yolk fudge. What had sounded like a rather disparate selection of ingredients on paper turned out to be a glorious plate – the broccoli appeared both as a vibrant green purée and as little chargrilled florets; the egg yolk “fudge” was intensely eggy and rich; but it was the thin shards of umami-rich tomato shortbread that really had me swooning. I can’t wait to visit the restaurant now!
68 AND BOSTON @ THE VIP LOUNGe
Our final stop of the day was at the VIP bar which was being run this year by London wine bar 68 and Boston. I loved the tropical theme that they had chosen for the decor this year and a couple of glasses of chilled Laurent Perrier Champagne, expertly poured by The Wine Sleuth, provided the perfect end to the day.
Image courtesy and © Rosana McPhee
And as an added bonus, here are my 2 Snapchat videos of the days I visited (do you follow me on Snapchat? I’m Cooksisterblog!), together with some other snaps of Taste, including my and Rosana’s weather optimist and weather pessimist footwear 😉
Image courtesy and © Rosana McPhee
For another perspective on Taste 2016, see Rosana’s post; or check out my previous Taste posts:
If you missed the summer edition of Taste, the Taste of London Festive edition returns to Tobacco Dock in London from 17-20 November 2016.
DISCLOSURE: I attended Taste as a guest of AEG and Great British Chefs but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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