Taste of London (Winter 2014)

I’ve been living in London since September 2012 and this is my first time attending Taste of London. It’s a food festival which happens twice a year (summer and winter) in London and gathers many of the top chefs in country under one roof, to show off some of their finest dishes and desserts. Not only do you spend a day tasting incredible food, cheeses, dips, snacks, and chocolates but you also find many wine, champagne and liqueur merchants showcasing their wide range of products. It’s practically food heaven for people who really enjoy trying different flavours, and who are all about quality over quantity.

We began our day at the taste theatre with Peter Sanchez-Iglesias (co-owner with brother Jonray of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Bristol called Casamia) showing us how to cook venison alongside parsnips cooked 3 ways: pureed, poached in water and butter and fried into crisps. These demonstrations simply inspires you to try different ways of cooking some dishes you normally wouldn’t be so adventurous with. He insisted on the fact that we should really try to cook and eat produce that are in season because that’s when they simply taste the best.

We then wandered around, trying to explore the different stalls in order to decide what to start eating. I was on a mission to see some of my favourite chefs, and passing by the stands of my favourite restaurants. I was excited to see Raymond Blanc (Michelin-starred chef and owner of Le Manoir aux Quat’saisons) but sadly he didn’t make it to the show today. Youssef had booked us VIP tickets so that gave us access to a special VIP lounge, a glass of Laurent-Perrier Champagne each and a recipe book each. It was pretty exciting for me because the recipe book we were given was one of Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh, two chefs I actually followed on the BBC for a while (their show was called: The Incredible Spice Men). I found the spices they used so fascinating and I’ve wanted to try their food since then. Well today was my lucky day because Cyrus had his stall serving some dishes from his restaurant Assado . Not only that, I actually bumped into Cyrus and got him to sign my recipe book for me! From his food, I had the Ostrich bhuna, which was probably the tastiest curry I’ve had in my life! I don’t know how to begin explaining all the flavours and the heat I was getting from every bite I had. The Ostrich fillets simply melted in my mouth and the sauce was from another world. I hope that someday I learn to pack so much flavour in the food I cook at home.

Another highlight of my day was the fact that I watched Ping Combes (winner of Masterchef 2014) cook live at the Malaysia Kitchen stand. She was so humble, gave lots of good tips and was simply fun to watch. She gave me lots of ideas for upcoming dinner parties we’re having.

I couldn’t wait to taste her food so I didn’t even take a picture of what she made but I’ll try replicate it soon and share the recipe (if I manage!). She made a minced turkey stir-fry with crunchy vegetables and glass noodles, that she served in gem lettuce leaves topped with crushed peanuts and crispy shallots. Once again, I don’t know how she managed to pack her food with so much flavour when she used very similar ingredients to what I cook with but clearly I’m not doing it right. After watching her do it today, I should know how to introduce more aromatics to my food and that’s my plan.

Our day did not end there. We walked around and sampled a lot of sweet and savoury food, and it was great! From different types of cheeses, dips, and sauces to puddings, brownies, and chocolates. The number of exhibitors was unbelievable and it was so hard to decide where to even start from. We realised that Barbecoa, Jamie Oliver’s butchery and steak house, had a stand there. We went to see what they were serving and decided to try the burger. It was AMAZING! After the disappointing burger I had a couple of nights ago (I should probably write about it at a later stage), this one just gave me hope that perfect burgers can be found in London.

It was cooked to perfection (pink in the middle and brown on the outside), served with gruyere cheese, salad covered in a deliciously creamy secret sauce and all put together in between a freshly baked sesame bun with the nicest shine to it! Writing this is making me hungry so I don’t want to imagine what you’re thinking! I just can’t get over it (we actually went back for more at the end of the show because it was so good). This experience has made me love that restaurant even more!

I can go on and on about this burger but it’s time to move on. A moist, gluten-free salted caramel brownie I tried was from the Bad Brownie company. Also, I think I’ve fallen back in love with Green & Black’s chocolate. Their milk chocolate with sea salt (the one with the light blue packaging) is divine. The balance they have in that bar, between the sweetness of the chocolate and the saltiness of the sea salt is simply perfect. I’m glad I’ve been converted back to chocolates I can buy from supermarkets rather than the ones I’ve been eating recently, which are only sold in department stores. We even got a wine and chocolate pairing masterclass from Green & Black’s in the VIP lounge. White chocolate goes well with a white dessert wine (a sweet wine), whereas the 70% dark chocolate was paired with a Port. My favourite combination was the milk chocolate sea salt with Madeira. I loved it and would recommend it to anyone.

As I have a ridiculously sweet tooth, my tastings did not end there. We spent a little bit of time trying some puddings which were delicious (I personally loved the lemon and lime cheesecake), as well as a quick masterclass which was informative. The chef made whipped cream using coconut cream, which he/we pipped on top of diced mangoes and passion fruit, topped with caramelised rice krispies. It was really nice, light and new to me. I had a go at piping the coconut cream which was sweet of Jerome, the chef.

Besides all the food, we tasted some lovely wines (a rose from Saint-Tropez) and an incredible Champagne. In terms of drinks, that was the highlight of my day. Youssef was not as excited by the Champagne as I was but I thought it was amazing. I had the 2006 Extra Dry Vintage from FrereJean Freres. It was dry but that meant that you couldn’t down it so easily and you actually had to appreciate every sip you took. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who comes across it. The company is owned by the same family who produces Taittinger Champagnes but they are now competitors. I must admit that it was not cheap but definitely worth it. Even its colour was a lot deeper than the commercial ones we drink all the time, which are left to mature for 15 months. This FJF Champagne is left to mature for 8 years! Hence the difference in taste, colour and price.

Today was a miserable day in London but being at the Taste of London festival, which took place at a really nice venue (Tobacco Dock), made up for the lack of sunshine and the constant rain we had. I think I will make it a tradition to attend all their festivals and I really recommend it to anyone who enjoys food and drinks. There’s so much more you can do. We spent 5 hours there and didn’t even manage to do half of the experiences they were offering (cocktail masterclasses, actual cooking classes, other masterclasses and demonstrations). My only advice would be to get there early, book as many masterclasses and demonstrations as possible to achieve the most with your time spent there.