Taste of London 2017 – sampling the best of London’s restaurants

Taste of London was one of my highlights of 2016 (before I boarded my flight to Argentina, that is), and I was hugely excited to return to Regent’s Park this year. The festival fell right in the middle of the June heatwave in London (30 degrees and above!), and sampling a vast array of dishes in the bright sunshine was the perfect way to spend a weekend.

Beautiful Regent’s Park

I’m always amazed at the organisation of such a huge event, particularly how the restaurants manage to produce their signature dishes in makeshift kitchens, in such large quantities, and then portion it all up and serve it at the right temperature. And the staff everywhere was so friendly and happy, despite the sweltering heat!

Roka staff (see special mention below)

I ate a LOT on the two days that I visited the festival. Some dishes definitely stood out, some were a little disappointing, but all were interesting. With around thirty restaurants, countless food vendors, masterclasses, and cooking demonstrations, there was never a dull moment to be had! So here are my highlights…

Best dishes (clockwise from top left):

  • Beef taco, Adam Handling (Action Against Hunger). Perfectly pulled, supremely tender beef, and a perfect combination of flavours within the taco. It was the very last taco they served at the festival (the staff whooped and cheered as they served it to me), and it was the perfect way to end two days of gluttony!
  • 5J Pluma Iberica, piquillo aioli, Little Jose. The meat melted in my mouth, and it was so flavourful on its own that the aoili seemed superfluous. A little pricy at £10 but the quality of the meat justifies it. Their squid ink croquetas were good too, but the beef made them pale in comparison!
  • Tandoori spiced octopus, Cinnamon Club. Tenderness is the running theme here… the octopus broke apart at the touch of my teeth, and I barely needed to chew. The combination with the chutney aloo was genius… I simply couldn’t get enough.
  • Foie gras doughnuts, Club Gascon. A controversial ingredient, a brave combination of sweet and savoury, but a winner all round. The rich foie gras burst out of the deep-fried goodness, and as one of the first things we tried that weekend, it set the tone for things to come.

Most disappointing dish:

Last year, it was Sartoria, whose stall I avoided this year. This year, it was disappointingly the Taste Makers of London’s Icon Dish: the confit duck kibbeh from the #CookForSyria recipe book. I had been looking forward to it ever since I heard about it, but there just wasn’t enough flavour, the contrast of the warm kibbeh and the cold aubergine puree was odd, and I just wasn’t quite convinced.

Duck kibbeh… presentation did not match flavour 😦

Best value tipple:

As with these sorts of events in London, the prices do add up. So we were very thankful for the £3 pint at Doom bar, and the £3 dessert at Les 110 de Taillevent (lemon, passionfruit, meringue, shortbread).

Best producers:

  • Lee Kum Kee, for their ample samples using their great products (I’ve always been a fan, and I’ll be posting a recipe using them very soon).
  • Meridian Foods, for their nut butters – the new hazelnut and cocoa one tastes better than Nutella!
  • A special mention to Monkey Shoulder Whisky Den due to their great set up, friendly staff, free cocktail samples, presents through a hilarious vending machine, and best of all, donating all their proceeds from the festival to the victims of the Grenfell tower fire.

Monkey Shoulder for the win

Best demonstration:

This was intentionally the same as last year, as we signed up for the Grana Padano and Prosecco DOC masterclass again. Plenty of bubbles, a giant cheese wheel, and being called up for the demonstration… how could I resist?

Most disappointing demonstration:

Unfortunately, the AEG masterclass was also just like last year, with no real cooking involved, but a lot of publicity for their induction hobs and steam ovens. We did get to poach an egg ,though!

Special mention to:

  • The unbelievably upbeat staff at Roka – they were crowded around a flaming barbecue in 33 degree heat and were just so happy to be alive!
  • Ametsa with Arzak Instruction – I had their tasting menu last year and loved re-tasting their ‘egg in the leaf’ plus an extra little present of prawns.
  • Senor Ceviche – the little taster of Pisco Sour, and their excellent ceviche, took me back to my recent trip to Peru… I got quite nostalgic!
  • Some of the exhibitions and demonstrations were absolutely fascinating – whole animals grilling in a fire pit, garlic smoking to the heavens…

I cannot wait for next year!

Thanks to Meridian Foods, Lee Kum Kee, Little Jose, Smashing Wines, and Hattingley Wines for the tickets and little extras at Taste of London this year. As always, all opinions are my own.