So went to this thing called Taste of London last weekend. Low expectations as she who knows everything about food in this city wasn't very encouraging. But it turned out to be alright. Crowded and all but had some pretty good food. Ya, you might have read a slightly different version over your morning coffee so yes, there is a reason why this reads like it does.
Expectedly, London’s diversity in the food scene is unmatched by most other cities in the world - every region that one could think of is represented here. There is also no question that the city has some of the finest restaurants in the world especially if one were to go by the stars that Michelin gives out every year. However, if the city were to be judged by the food that is available to the masses, most Londoners would agree that the city does not score high. There are some very good markets and some amazing street food but for the most part, the “good” food is heavily overpriced that most of us commoners have to be happy with instant kebabs and pasta from the neighbourhood grocery store. So an occasion like the Taste of London, an annual event that Time magazine describes as one of the world’s best food festivals, that brings together more than 40 of the top restaurants in London and offers up fare at a fraction of the cost sounds too good to miss.
Evidently most people in London thought so too, I realised as we joined the crowd right outside the entrance. The Taste is held for four days in June in the leafy environs of Regents Park, a stone’s throw away from home, another reason why I was ready to pay the hefty entrance fee. The evening event was just beginning as we entered, and the Cuban band performing that night was tuning their instruments.
A special draw this year was Taste of China showcasing the regional variety of the country, and we walked in there first to see what was cooking. At the Amoy tent, a musical cooking session was in progress. The travelling cook, after playing the flute for a few minutes taught us how to make real Chinese food. He exclaimed “Real, as in Chinese food where you do NOT call the takeout joint and ask for a number. This is not number 76. This is a real dish!” Then he proceeded to teach a bunch of Britishers (and two Indians) how to cut cucumber. He pulled out a rolling pin and bashed the cucumber a few times and viola, you have bashed cucumbers which actually absorbs sauces. A few bits of the cucumber had splattered onto the front row and our cook profusely apologized blaming it on the Chinese beer he was drinking. Which prompted us to move on to the next tent which was serving cold Harbin beer which we happily sipped while watching an ice-carver carving a dragon.
The best food in the Taste of China section was served up by a Beijing restaurant called South Beauty. The London restaurants such as Snazz Sichuan and China Tang had good food but came nowhere close to South Beauty’s heavenly steamed chicken dipped in fresh chilli sauce and Kung-pao shrimp balls. We left the China section and I was flipping through the booklet to see where we should go next when I realised that I had lost Bill. I looked around but got sidetracked by a cooking event in the Nintendo stand. Nintendo has a Cooking Guide (a satnav for the kitchen!) which tells you how to make fast and tasty food!
Leaving the tent, I ran into Bill; he was busy finishing up tasting glasses of Tanqueray. An avid gin-and-tonic drinker myself, I joined him and we spent the next few minutes between the Tanqueray and the Grand Marnier booths. Happy with our aperitif, we then ventured into Café Spice Namaste, London’s famous Parsi joint for dahi batata poori. I was expecting the snooty Bombay-bred man to turn up his nose but to my surprise, he called it good chaat. We followed it with smoked monkfish from Salt Yard, the Spanish restaurant with the crazy wait lines. The monkfish was good but the best fish I tasted that day came from Launceston Place where the salmon was smoked right in the stall before it was served.
What is a food festival without French food? So we hit that next – seared scallop at Club Gascon and lobster soup at Le Gavroche. Decent stuff but well, French food is always lost on me. We headed to the Wine & Spirit booth where a Spanish wine tasting was starting and spent the next half hour sniffing and swirling and claiming to recognize various fruits. Followed by a trip to Nahm, arguably London’s finest Thai restaurant where we had the best chicken of the day – green curry chicken with thai basil and aubergines.
All in all, the food was great and my stomach was going to burst any moment. I was ready to call it a night after a tiny portion of the amazing Flour Power brownies butBill wasn't done yet. To round off the night, the Bong wanted the Bengali style minced mutton cutlets at the Cinnamon Club. He loved it and so will you. Just make sure you head over to the Taste of London next year.