Taste of London 2014: the capital’s food festival is back in Regent’s Park
Take the location for example: Regent’s Park is an idyllic stretch of parkland that’s ideally suited to hazy afternoons spent in the sun. An impeccable blend of relaxing countryside and city convenience, you’d struggle to think of a better place to hold this festival. Many a happy worker has spent their lunch breaks lounging here in the sunshine, enjoying a fresh piece of patisserie in a waxy paper bag or a hog bun from the nearby Ginger Pig. With local standards so high, the food at Taste needs to be exceptional.
It is exceptional of course, as if there were any doubt. Stalls can be broadly split into two groups: produce and dishes. The former offers a wide and relatively exciting selection of high quality goods, like Black Bomber cheddar and Iberico chorizo. It’s in the latter category however, that this festival really shines. Some of London’s top bars and restaurants, including the likes of La Gavroche, have set up stalls selling bite-sized versions of their famous dishes. Crispy Pigs Ears from Duck and Waffle are a particular treat, and the meltingly soft Pudhina Chops from Tamarind Mayfair are so perfectly spiced that they remind us why it was the first Indian restaurant to attain a Michelin star.
In terms of price, the whole event is on the upper end of the scale. High quality and high prices often go hand in hand, so it isn’t surprising to see slight mark-ups. Some stalls push their luck to the limit though: £3 for a minute custard tart devoid of any nutmeg is bordering on the absurd. These events are meant to be about celebrating good food and letting people expand their culinary horizons, not making a cheap buck, so credit must go to the likes of Woodall’s Charcuterie who sold their goods at retail price.
We finished our evening with a 30-minute masterclass hosted by the chef patron of Osteria Francescana, which holds no less than three Michelin stars and has consistently been ranked as one of the world’s top restaurants. We awaited his arrival with baited breath: this is the step at which so many events falter. It’s a challenging task to turn the talent of an excellent chef into something that is both accessible and engaging. Would Taste fall short at this final hurdle?
From the moment Massimo Bottura first stepped on stage, full of passion and easy Italian amiability, the answer became clear. As his sous chef prepared two of his signature dishes in the background, Bottura weaved a compelling tale of Italian ancestry and its culinary evolution, of nostalgia’s value and its inherent constriction. It was a rare insight into the creative process of an avant-garde chef and easily the highlight of an excellent evening.
Taste of London remains a showcase of culinary excellence and enthusiasm. Its unabashedly bourgeois nature is a refreshing contrast to the veils of false modesty worn by its competitors and, free from such constraints, the trailblazing quality of the event shines all the brighter.
Photos: Alessio Paratore (except 25,26)
Taste of London is at Regents Park until 22nd June 2014, for further information or to book visit here.