The annual London Taste Festival celebrates all that is good about food and cooking. Sarah Juggins paid a visit to the event
Taste of London is in its eighth year, and since its first foray into the restaurant and foodie culture of the UK, it has grown into a must-attend event in the capital’s listing of festivals.
Not that the event is limited to London, there are now Taste festivals across the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. Little did those first pioneers of food exploration, who set up their stalls at Somerset House in 2004, realise what a phenomena they had started.
No raining on the food parade
This year’s event was possibly the best to date. The weather was poor – all four days of Taste suffered wet, windy conditions and the gangways between the rows of stalls became increasingly slippery, but with a typical stoicism, the Brits and the tourists donned the free pac-a-macs they were handed at the entrance gate and ignored the mud that splattered up their summer clothes and squelched between the open-toed sandals.
But the quality of food on offer, and the sheer range of culinary experiences was more than enough to compensate. The young chef-groupies were able to hang onto the words of Michel Roux Jr, Marcus Wareing, Atul Kochhar, Jason Atherton and Helena Puolakka. Not only did a number of the renowned chefs run coking masterclasses throughout the day but they were there, on their stalls, cooking for the customers and chatting with the public.
A chance to try
The obligatory book signings by the chefs, made popular by programmes such as The Great British Menu and Masterchef, were taking place, but the true beauty of this event was the ability to try food from restaurants that are often out of price range or availability. For all those who can not wait for the excitement over Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social Club to die down so they can finally get a table – well here was a chance to try some of the food that appears on the pages of the broadsheet food revues.
So what stood out? Among the restaurants, Launceston Place, run by Tristan Welch, was serving some very special suckling pig and black truffle burgers. These were served in a brioche roll and would add a special twist to any hog roast or barbeque. For lovers of Asian cuisine, Atul Kockhar’s Benares was serving chicken tikka pie with a spiced berry compote, while those really wanting a taste of luxury could enjoy Wagyu beef at L’Etranger.
And it was not only the swanky London restaurants who were giving hundreds of visitors a glimpse of food heaven. Also displaying their wares and offering generously-sized free samples were food producers, wine merchants and breweries.
A rum show
Almost the first stall the visitor sees is the Caribbean Mount Gay Rum stall. Generous measures leave a good first impression. Not to be outdone, the Trinidad and Tobago tourist board had a stall, fuelled by rum flavoured with Angosturas Bitters. The story of why the bottle has an over-sized label is one that the tourist board representative will have repeated many times over the course of the festival.
Laverstock Park Farm, near Hampshire, has launched its own range of buffalo products and it was possible to get a meal by walking around its stand. Biltong as a starter, mozzarella cheese and basil to follow and a buffalo milk ice cream to wash it all down.
One very popular stall was the Clonakilty stall, selling both black and white pudding. While the popularity of black pudding has been steadily rising over the past few years – again thanks to the prevalence of cooking shows in the UK – while pudding is a gentler, and lesser known variety. Certainly, for anyone squeamish about eating its bloody cousin, the white pudding is a more refined taste and proved popular among visitors.
While the glamour of the Taste Festival belongs fairly and squarely with the well-known restaurateurs and Michelin star chefs, the bigger benefit for the food industry may well be the chance for the local producers to display their goods.
Chilli Pepper Pete, Holly Cupcakes, Radnor Preserves, Styles Farm Ice Cream – all names that may one day follow in the footsteps of the Innocent drinks group or Rachel’s yoghurts and become household names. The tickets to Taste Festivals may be sold on the back of the illustrious end of the food chain, but it may be the smaller members of the food-producing industry who get the benefit.
Taste of London takes place in Regent Park in the middle weekend of June.