Taste of Christmas, Tobacco Dock, 24th November 2013
After my visit to the Real Food Festival earlier this year, I jumped at the opportunity to attend another, widely publicised foodie experience: The Taste of Christmas! Thanks to my Tastecard subscription, I got a discount on tickets and headed over yesterday with my flatmate, an empty belly and plenty of anticipation.
What can I say? The Tobacco Dock is a brilliant location for such an event, with a myriad of nooks and crannies to explore and a seemingly never-ending stream of sights, smells and tastes. The day started off perfectly, as the Olive Oils Spain food truck offered us a ‘breakfast’ of patatas bravas. The staff was very friendly and told us all about how they were promoting Spanish olive oil in the UK, as we dipped some bread in their signature olive oil, mixed with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
Before we entered the venue, we were offered ‘crowns’ (1£ each), which we were told could be used at the stalls and restaurants inside. We purchased some, but later found out that most food vendors preferred taking cash, as the festival seemingly takes a percentage whenever customers use crowns, leading to price hikes when paying with crowns, which seemed an unfortunate customer experience!
Describing everything we tasted and every stall we saw would be impossible, so instead I have decided to award distinctions to those that impressed us most. So here we go!
Most appealing products: The Garlic Farm
If you’ve read any of my many recipes on this blog, you may have noticed that I like garlic. A lot. I put it in everything, and when I find a recipe that calls for a certain amount of garlic, I usually double the quantity. So when I spotted a sign for The Garlic Farm, I almost ran towards it. And I was not disappointed. Ropes of garlic bulbs were hung behind the counter, and countless garlic-stuffed condiments lined the tables. Personal favourite: the Vampire’s Delight Hot Apple Chutney, which you can find here along with all their other products. Another thing I’m looking forward to tasting is the garlic beer that we purchased…
Best presentation: Flora Tea
I’ve seen jasmine flowered tea before, but not like this. As the boiling water was poured into the overly large wine glass, the bud opened slowly and then suddenly, a full-sized flower burst out of it! It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed, and I cannot wait to recreate it at home. An ideal present for tea lovers, and as we were told, the flowers can even be used ornamentally, as long as you change the water every day – they last for up to 2 months! You can find out more about Flora Teas here.
Best (unofficial) demonstration: Kelly Bronze (turkey)
Kelly Bronze had several gigantic roast turkeys resting behind their counter and carved them right in front of our eyes, giving us a taste of both the dark and light meat. It was amazing to see the ease with which the carver separated the different parts of the turkey and laid them out in bite sized chunks for everybody to taste. I have only once been privvy to a turkey carving, so for me, this was the best unofficial demonstration of the festival. He joked that he normally wouldn’t share, but was being generous in the spirit of Christmas. We were very glad he did, as the meat was so tender and flavourful, even without any sides or gravy! We were also completely enamoured by their other product, the turkey sausages with redcurrant, which we tasted over and over before finally buying a packet, which we cooked for dinner last night (read about that dinner here).
Friendliest service: The Garlic Farm and Olive Oils Spain
Whilst many vendors were eagerly greeting customers and recounting their stories, others were less enthusiastic despite their premium offerings. We were particularly charmed by the service we received from Olive Oils Spain, as it was a great beginning to the festival (mentioned above), and The Garlic Farm (mentioned above) employees, who were very helpful in explaining all their products to us, and even gave us a special deal when they saw how much we were buying!
Sweetest delight: Ganache Macarons and Auberge du Chocolat
Buy 3 get one free? With the immense array of flavours on display at Ganache Macarons, it was hard to resist. We couldn’t help but be tempted by the salted caramel, so we chose to have 3 of those and a lemon flavoured one, and we were not disappointed. We spotted a few other macaroon stands floating around, but they weren’t presented quite as beautifully, so we were very glad we opted for Ganache, particularly as their service was just as delightfully sweet as their treats! Find out more about their flavours here.
The product that was on display most throughout the festival was inevitably chocolate, in every shape and size imaginable (special mention here to Choco Passion, who managed to make an extraordinary array of household tools using only this cocoa delight!). Our favourite chocolate stall, though, was the award-winning Auberge du Chocolat due to their smiling service and fantastic array of flavours. Christmas chocolate, anyone? With a hint of clove, cinnamon and orange, it was like imbibing mulled wine, but better!
Special mention: Club Gascon lunch
Amidst all the nibbling and tasting, we felt we should have a somewhat fixed lunch to make sure we didn’t stuff ourselves with samples. There were a number of restaurants on-site, but as we leafed through our guide, we saw that Club Gascon was offering foie gras burgers and ‘duck and dogs’. Intrigued, we made our way there and got one of each to share. Whilst the foie gras could have been either slightly hotter or cold altogether, both were exquisite (the ‘duck and dog’ was obviously a hot dog stuffed with shredded duck), and it was lovely to sit down for a few minutes and watch the festival go by whilst munching on Michelin-starred dining!
Pros and cons of the festival overall
Pros: The Taste of Christmas was incredibly well organised, as there was a multitude of staff helping visitors and directing them (frustrating at times with one-way systems, but entirely understandable due to the number of people present). All vendors sourced were of the highest quality, and many of them can be found at Borough Market on a regular basis – so if you didn’t get a chance to attend the festival, head over there as soon as you can! The Tobacco Dock venue was very well chosen, and I am looking forward to whichever event will be there next!
Cons: The crown system was slightly frustrating, especially as it wasn’t clear that we could pay in cash just as easily. A bit of advice for future festival-goers, bring a bottle of water! We quickly got very dehydrated, as we tasted many salty, sweet and spicy products, and alcoholic drinks aren’t ideal for rehydration!