When you find yourself devouring chocolate Malbec lamb gratinée followed closely by fois gras and truffle burger and then jasmine tea smoked ribs to finish off, you know that you have made it in life. Or alternatively, that you are at Taste of London.
This year marked the 10th anniversary of the outdoor Taste of London in Regent’s Park and despite the blustery weather, it was a festival that didn’t fail to impress the palates of the thousands who attended the event over the four days.
Over 40 of London’s top restaurants set up shop in the park and the public were privy to food offerings from head chefs Michel Roux Jr (from La Gavroche), Raymond Blanc (from Brasserie Blanc) and Pierre Koffman (of Koffman’s).
The format of the event is that tents are set up all around the park with several stalls in each tent representing restaurants. You can create your own tasting menu by selecting different dishes from different restaurants as each offered up to four of their signature dishes. The food is served on paper plates with plastic forks and is paid for by vouchers called crowns which are bought at the entrance. This makes for a very different atmosphere than dining in the eateries themselves.
The format, which has been exported to other cities such as Dublin, Melbourne and Dubai, worked well in some respects but failed in other areas.
Firstly, an event like this is where fellow foodies converge and the fact that it is held in an outdoor area and involves lots of walking around to different stands makes for a very communal atmosphere. People strike up conversations with ease with complete strangers in a way that doesn’t typically happen in this city. If you see someone eating something you like the look of, you make a beeline for that person and pick their brain on whether it’s worth forking up your crowns.
Two of the best dishes that we sampled on the basis of word of mouth recommendations at the event included Kaspar’s The Savoy smoked salmon hot dog and Alyn Williams at the Westbury braised beef cheek. Kaspar’s dish was an unusual German twist on hot dogs, and was made up of a smoked salmon sausage, apple sauerkraut and horseradish. The sausage meat tasted smoky and the horseradish gave it the right kick. The braised beef cheeks came with grilled runner beans, lemon and baked potato foam. Although the portion was small, the beef was succulent and the potato foam was a welcome light accompaniment to the rich food.
Another aspect that worked well is that it makes the restaurants and chefs accessible. Unless you were a full time food critic, it would be impossible to go to all these eateries and sample their food and it’s a great way to familiarise yourself with the best restaurants in the capital. The cooking demonstrations by chefs such as Roux clan (Albert, Michel Roux Jr and his daughter Emily) and the competitive cook-offs delighted audiences as chefs shared some of their best cooking tips.
There were two areas that the format didn’t work. Firstly, at £25 for the standard entry ticket which doesn’t include any crowns for paying for the food, an evening spent at this event proves costly. Once inside, you need to buy the non-refundable crowns and the dishes typically range from £4-£7. The portions are small and there aren’t any seats. You end up easily paying £50 which could be spent on a three course meal at many of the Michelin star restaurants for a five star experience.
The second issue was the layout. The tents were sprawled out all over the park and even with a map, it proved a challenge to find specific restaurants as the layout was so unclear. While the space between each tent meant that the queues were never too big at any one stand, when it rained it was an unappealing prospect to duck from one side of Regent’s Park to the other on the wet grass to find a particular restaurant stand.
While the food was exceptional, it just wasn’t good value for money. It looks like I’ll have to try and make it in life now to ensure I get to eat chocolate lamb and fois gras burger again in one sitting.