Taste of London Food Festival 2015

Apologies for the lack of posts recently! It’s been a busy few weeks with lots of things happening, I just wanted to switch off and totally relax and encouraged hubby to do the same.

One of the fun things I was looking forward to was Taste of London. I had first visited two years ago when hubby was extremely lucky and won an Evening Standard competition that not only gave us VIP tickets to Taste, but also a meal out every month at some of the finest restaurants in London, truly an absolutely amazing experience!

Last year Taste fell when hubby was away for work, so I took one of my best friends along with me and we had such a blast. She was the perfect person to go with. I’m usually a reticent attendee and rarely go for samples, but my marvellous friend ensured we tried EVERYTHING! We left with ginormous bellies filled with delights from around the world!

Taste of London 2015 ran from 17th – 21st June and we visited on a Thursday after my friend, her boyfriend and hubby finished work, arriving just after 6 pm. You buy your tickets for either a lunch/afternoon or dinner/evening session. Luckily the sun was shining and we were treated to one of those balmy, warm London evenings. We walked right through, there were no queues and decided where we should start, but not before grabbing our crowns. 馃憫馃憫馃憫 No, not that kind. Crowns are the alternative currency at Taste. We purchased 拢20 worth, which meant we had 20 crowns. Not everyone accepts crowns, most will accept cash and some will accept card. Crowns are non refundable, so ensure you use them all up; with most dishes priced around 3 – 6 crowns that should be easy.

The sun sets on Taste of London

聽We proceeded forth and started sampling some delicious wines. This was a terrible idea of course as I seem to have no tolerance to alcohol, having only really started drinking in the past two years. For the most part I still prefer to drink water and being someone who likes control I dislike the woozy, delayed-time feeling of being inebriated. I know my limits and have never drunk more than three alcoholic drinks in a sitting, EVER. This didn’t stop me paying a quick visit to the Sipsmith bar. They’re gin gurus, based relatively locally and have a beautiful distillery in Chiswick that you can book to visit. It’s definitely something I want to do. A word to the wise: if you like a Pimm’s you’ll LOVE Sipsmith’s Summer Cup. I tried a sample of it with lemonade and it tasted so much more flavorful than Pimm’s. Really fruity and refreshing. Definitely one to go on the shopping list. I’m gutted I didn’t get any there and then but didn’t want to walk around all evening with a bottle!

Thankfully the nibbles and samples were setting me to right within minutes and we continued our quest through the little corner of Regents Park. Now, I don’t know if it’s just me being weird, but it felt much smaller than in the previous two years. I’m sure some restaurants were missing, and some areas on the fringes felt sparse. The usual huge Thailand area was compressed into a small gathering of stalls and in it’s place were areas for food and wine theatres. Personally I felt this was a real shame as a lot of the suppliers that made our trip last year so delicious had disappeared.

The great draw to Taste, apart from all the samples, is that for a fraction of the price, you can eat food from Michelin starred restaurants and chefs for a fraction of the cost. Big names such as Roux at Parliament Square, Theo Randall at The Intercontinental, SushiSamba, Duck & Waffle and Roka all feature with mini versions of their famous dishes. I’d recommend braving the waiting lines for the big names if you’re a first time visitor.

There’s plenty of new wave burger options should you choose, but I reckon why use your limited time here for something you can get everyday? I’ve not been one of the people to embrace the burger trend, personally I think it’s bordering on ridiculous having so many layers to a burger than you can barely fit it in your mouth and have spill all over your plate. Plus I dislike most sauces and detest the smell of fried onions, so the plainer the better for me! As it was my third visit and I was craving seafood, we ended up getting two main dishes, both featuring octopus – I think I was getting in the holiday mood!

First dish from Jose Pizarro –聽Grilled octopus, creamy potato, piment贸n and egg caviar for 5 crowns. Delicious and I’d never had egg caviar before. It’s basically the egg white boiled/poached, but I’d love to know how they actually make it. It added a lovely lightness to the dish to balance the warmth of the piment贸n.

Grilled octopus, creamy potato, piment贸n and egg caviar

Carving the Iberico ham

Second dish from Artusi –聽Octopus, potatoes, parsley for 6 crowns. This was special. It was homely and comforting and tasted like my mum’s best stew. Super simple, but nourishing, it took me to a happy place. I loved it, I really, seriously loved it.

Octopus, potatoes, parsley

I’d thought coconut water was pretty well established in London, but you would’ve thought it was brand new to the health drink market; it was EVERYWHERE! It became a running joke with our little group. There were also loads of weird tea drinks (which I’m not a great fan of) and quite honestly you can pour your foul matcha/soy/kombucha/not-worth-the-water-to-boil-it disgustingness down the drain. Give me a decent cuppa and I’ll be a happy bunny.

Thankfully I stumbled across the brilliant London Tea Company who had a refreshing pot of Peach & Rhubarb on the go – a lovely alternative to a juice drink on a summer’s day if left to brew overnight and kept in the fridge. They were ever so generous with their samples and I can’t wait to try the rest, especially the lemongrass!

selection of teas from The London Tea Company

I’d heard good things about beef jerky, but my interest was piqued when I saw a coconut meat alternative from Mighty Bee. I know, sounds really weird, but was absolutely delicious. Available in teriyaki and barbecue flavour, I picked up a teriyaki bag which made a perfect beach time snack. They also had some lovely coconut protein balls that were tasty rather than cloying like others available. Wish we had bought some of those too!聽I don’t like stepping on the health food bandwagon but when I finally tried some Chia and mango, I fell in love! It’s such a weird gelatinous consistency, but rather moreish. There were some brilliant offers at the Chia stand, and I’m truly sold.

Of course, it’s not all healthy stuff at Taste. Stopping by the Green & Blacks tent meant sampling a chocolate. OK, two chocolates. OK, totally honest,聽four chocolates. I mean five. Whoops. We observed someone making saltwater truffles, basically a glorious mess of melted chocolate and salinated water. The guy describing it made it sound super easy and complicated at the same time, but I’m sure there’s an easy way to do it. They were delicious, so I hope they’ll be worth it when I try!

making saltwater truffles

聽Will we visit again? Most likely. It’s a fun evening out with friends and food and if the weather’s good then it’s great to sit by the bandstand and listen to the music as the sun sets over Regent’s Park. I’ve taken up the early bird ticket offer and looking forward to visiting the Winter version – info available here聽– which should help get me in the Christmas mood! (Oh god I said the C-word!!)

Sam Brookes performing at sunset

Just a small word of warning – if someone offers you beer ice cream JUST SAY NO. 馃槚

We’re jamming…

I have a massive sweet tooth. In fact, I’m pretty sure all my teeth are sweet. I love sugar and sugar loves me – sort of. So it’s no surprise that I like to smother it all over a tasty scone/crumpet/croissant/slice of toast in its most delicious form as J A M.  fig & apricot In the past few years I have eschewed the usual strawberry for different fruits. My favourites of recent times have been fig, quince and apricot.

Figs may deserve a post all of their own, I SO adore this fruit. I have mistakenly gorged myself on one too many once or twice and felt the unpleasant side effects, who hasn’t?! The joy of having a full bowl of recently picked, cool from the fridge, beautifully ripe and juicy green figs is one of life’s simple pleasures. They’re nature’s succulent sweeties. Made into a jam so I can eat them at breakfast is a delight. Honey sweetness, a burnished gold colour, with a little crunch from the seeds. YUM. 

Where to buy: Jamie Oliver did a delicious fig jam, bought from one of his Recipease eateries, but I can’t seem to find a link to the product. My recent taste of it has been the Bonne Maman Fig Conserve, available from all good supermarkets. 

Quince is another beauty of a fruit, looking like an apple-y pear, golden yellow in colour and with a sweet scent. Near my Av贸’s house in Portugal was a school that had quince trees dotted around the perimeter and I remember seeing branches heavy with strange fruit. I can only remember to have tasted quince in preserve form though, or rather as I know it, marmelada. 

“You mean marmalade, right?” WRONG. As a bilingual kid I couldn’t seem to get my head round the difference between the two. One is made from quince, the other from citrus fruits with bits in it. Nope, I don’t mean Paddington Bear’s favourite spread, I mean this: marmelada The above is known in English as a quince cheese and basically is a solid, sliceable form of quince jam/preserve. It’s delicate but has a very slight grainy texture, almost like a dryish pear. It gets its reddy-brown colour from being slowly cooked with sugar for a long time. It has ancient roots too, with a recipe found in a Roman cookbook.

I remember cutting thin slices from a tub and eating in between Rich Tea biscuits, or eating in papos secos but the sweet tart flavour is also delicious with some fresh cheese or a gorgeous hunk of bread. 

Where to buy: available in tubs from all good Portuguese deli shops. Check out Caf茅 Sintra in the Stockwell/Brixton area in South London.

Apricot jam is often overlooked. Sometimes it’s used as a base for sticking marzipan to cakes, so not seen to be as glamorous as its other fruity counterparts. Personally, I love the delicate taste and I like that it’s so versatile. Slightly sweet, slightly tart, for me it’s a lovely balance. 

Where to buy: on a recent long drive to the coast we stopped by the amazing Eggs to Apples in Hurst Green. This gorgeous little farm shop had beautiful fresh products that were either British or locally sourced (try the Cornish mussels and the carrot cake, both divine!) I picked up a Martha and Ed’s jar which was scrumptious. I love their ethos of making smaller batches, thus meaning a higher fruit content without need for additives or preservatives.  We recently picked up a Sunberry jar (a raspberry/blackberry cross) which is gorgeous. 

The holy grail of jams for me is tomato. “What?!?” I hear you say, “what madness is this?!” Tomato is a fruit, n’est pas? It is. The sweet yet tart flesh yields the most beautiful taste. Do莽e de tomate takes me way, way back to my childhood and long summer holidays in Portugal that were filled with food and sunshine. Visits to grandparents and bringing back tomatoes the size of a small loaf, known colloquially as cora莽茫o de boi or Ox heart tomatoes. These giants, grown in the quinta just a few yards away would usually be strange and misshapen, different to the grocers and supermarkets back home in London. Their colours ranged from rich reds to acidic yellows and everything in between. They were perfect for jam making especially as there was always an abundance whenever we visited. 

I can still hear the whistle of the pressure cooker in Av贸’s kitchen. I can still see the pantry cupboard stocked with jars ready for my stay, for me to have with a papo seco roll for breakfast or an afternoon snack (no wonder I’d come back with such chubby cheeks!) and there’d be extra for me to bring back in my suitcase carefully wrapped in newspaper and clothes. 

Where to buy: sadly those halcyon days of being fed sweet treats by my grandma are gone and she’s not made jam for many, many years. I’ve been getting my tomato jam fix from jars bought at Lisbon airport carefully rationing them and saving for special occasions – I have a quarter of a jar left, it’s reaching a critical level!! I’ve not found any tomato jam for sale here yet, only the horrible chutneys that insist on adding chilli, peppers or other nastiness to my beloved jam. I’m guessing it may be on sale in a Portuguese deli shop and when I next visit one, I may need to clear their shelves. However, if anyone wants to either make me some from their large tomato crop, or pick some jars up next time you fly from a Portuguese airport I would be SO HAPPY and grateful!

Let me know if you’ve tried any of the above or have any suggestions for me to try in the comments below!

Catherine x