Free gin, tempura chicken and two-year-old cheese: Twisted at 'Taste of London'
As a rule, winter is not the ideal time to go festival-ing. It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s nowhere near as tempting as a cosy afternoon in. However, if there is one thing likely to move a dedicated foodie from their winter torpor, it’s a festival dedicated to food. “Taste of London” is just that, showcasing the best food and drink that the UK has to offer.
Located in Wapping, the "Festive Edition" is the little sister of a larger summer event that takes place in Regent's Park. Having recently played host to prosecco and gin festivals, the Tobacco Dock warehouse in which the event is held is certainly no stranger to food and drink enthusiasts.
Our first target was the aptly named “drinks cabinet”. Here we were presented with a selection of gins, prepared with a twist. The rhubarb variety has a sharp and distinctive taste, but the star is the elderflower infused offering - sweet, ephemeral and totally delicious. Breaking our rule to get as much free stuff as possible, we bought both bottles.
Next up was the “great gallery”, offering free crisps, cheese and olive oil-soaked bread. However, the first proper food stop was at Bao. Since finding a permanent home in Soho in 2015, Bao has gone from strength to strength, serving Londoners sensational steamed buns. Here, however, the buns appeared to be more burger-y, perhaps due to the demands and limitations of the event space. Despite the bun, our baos were delicious - boasting fried chicken, Sichuan mayo, kimchi and coriander. A trip to Soho may soon be on the cards.
“Little Gallery” boasted more free cheese including an arrangement of 6-month-old, 18-month-old and 24-month-old comte. All were sampled and all were delicious. Cheese was a definite highlight of the event, as the World Cheese Awards 2017 had been hosted on site earlier in the day. We were even able to find and purchase a hunk of the newly crowned “best cheese in the world” - Cornish kern, courtesy of Lynher Dairies.
Nordic cookery specialists Rok offered a soused mackerel fillet which was exceptional, with a subtle acidity from the fish and pickled veg that brought the dish to life. With locations in both Islington and Shoreditch, Rok specialise in Scandinavian smoking and pickling techniques. Equally delicious was the festival special of semi-cured duck breast with smoked bacon and lingonberry jam. If these are anything to go by, the restaurants themselves make a strong case for a visit.
Part of the new wave of exceptional Thai cooking now common across the capital, “Farang” is the brainchild of Seb Holmes - former head chef at the famous Smoking Goat. If this résumé and the queue for the stall were anything to go by, we were in for a treat. Our first choice of beef cheek curry with jasmine rice, while delicious, was not perhaps as mind-blowing as one might have hoped for. What was genuinely life-altering, however, was the Gai Prik - crispy tempura chicken with a burnt scotch bonnet glaze. Sticky sweet heat and incredible crunch made this dish the highlight of the show.
Full of chicken and happiness, we wound our way back up the stairs to conclude the evening. Stopping first for samples in the Green and Blacks tent and then gin courtesy of The Botanist, we had our eyes on a cheesy prize. The Cheese Bar specialises in creating an array of snacks with some award-winning British cheeses. Now beginning to feel full, we rounded off our festival with smoked mozzarella sticks with chilli jam and a quatro formaggio truffled mac and cheese. The mozzarella sticks were delicious, especially paired with the smokey sweet jam, but the mac and cheese was a different level of gooey heaven - nutty and heavily spiced with an incredible depth of flavour from the truffle. Thoroughly defeated, we scraped our cheesy bowls and trudged for home.
Taste of London is truly a foodie haven. Beyond the exceptional chefs and restaurants on display, the festival is simply a great place to indulge all your foodie inclinations. Businesses specialising in everything from knives to peanut butter set up shop, making the event the perfect place for a food-focused potter. Winter may not be ideal for festival-ing, but with this much tastiness on display, who are we to argue? Bring on 2018.