Taste of London 2018: Showcasing the capital’s top restaurants and the world’s best chefs
Strolling through Regent’s Park this weekend, through the Instagram-friendly wicker sculptures, past the sounds of live music and the tantalising smell of barbecued meat, you could be forgiven for thinking you have mistakenly pitched up at Glastonbury – albeit in the glamping section. But any doubt as to your whereabouts will be dispelled when the first morsel hits your tongue, for only Taste of London, a microcosm of the capital’s high-end culinary scene, could pamper the palate with such finesse.
The event plays host to a selection of the capital’s best restaurants, some of the world’s top chefs, and a number of innovative food and drink brands, promising to serve up cutting-edge flavour combinations in taster-sized signature dishes using the best of British produce. And is there a more fitting way to begin our virtual tour around the city than with the invigorating sip of a grapefruit G&T?
One of the finest experiences is the Laurent-Perrier masterclass. The session is centred on the tasting of the renowned Cuvée Rosé, which celebrates this year its 50th anniversary. Introduced by a light clear champagne La Cuvée, the countryside-inspired club hosts a delicate meal to accompany the protagonist of the tent: the tangy and delightfully sparkly rosé. Today the food is provided by West African restaurant Ikoyi, whose head chef and co-founder Jeremy Chan presents the three courses of the night. First, a sweet octopus tentacle steamed, caramelised and then rested in shito source. Then, a spicy jollof rice with cured prawns, strongly flavoured with smoked ginger. The real gem, though, arrives with the sweet and delicious dessert: tomato ice cream with hay rice mousse, with a surprising flavour very similar to raspberry, but more balanced. This is indeed the perfect matching partner for the delicate brut. Respect for nature and organic choices were central concepts, as Laurent-Perrier took the chance to promote their partnership with food waste farming organisation Indie Ecology, whose founder, Igor Vaintraub, was also present at the night.
On Thursday there will be the head chef from Frog by Adam Handling; on Friday Roganic; on Saturday The Modern Pantry; and on Sunday Club Gascon.
The Residence is where you can meet and be served food by some of the world’s top chefs who are doing one-hour, four-course meals in partnership with Zacapa. It’s run by food mogul Andrea Petrini who brought to the event Magnus Nilsson, Niklas Ekstedt, Manoella Buffara, Sean Gray and Greg Marchand; they will take turns between Wednesday and Sunday.
On top of this, all weekend The Fire Pit will house some of London’s greatest barbecue chefs, who will cook up delicacies in front of the crowd, all hosted by fire chief-in-residence DJ BBQ. Headlining is Michelin-starred Swedish chef Niklas Ekstedt, whose re-imagining of traditional Nordic cooking techniques has put him at the forefront of the open-flame cooking revolution.
Then there are all the restaurant stalls. Pop Brixton’s Smoke & Salt, a restaurant specialising in the arts of curing, smoking and preserving, furnish us with experimental flavours from the other end of the spectrum. Chalkstreams Farm Trout, served ceviche with Sriracha mayonnaise and Jalapeño salsa, is not a combination that springs naturally to mind, but the bold spicy finish provides a delightful kick. Of course, this is only a small sample of a variety of citywide restaurants featuring plates originating from all corners of the globe.
From Boa’s ever-popular Taiwanese steamed buns to reimagined ice cream sandwiches from Hoppers – Soho’s ode to Sri Lankan cuisine; from Basque wonder Sagardi to the ever-glamorous gourmet hot dogs & champagne of Bubbledogs, the event really does showcase the diversity of the city’s vibrant and eclectic food scene. On top of this, world-class chefs are in attendance to perform live demonstrations on stage as well as offering bookable interactive experiences.
Though unexpected in a park, a boat restaurant is recreated by Celebrity Cruises, where former Michelin-starred chef Cornelius Gallagher showcases his new culinary journey Celebrity Edge, officially launching in November this year. Catering for a state-of-the-art cruise liner still currently in the shipyard, the team offer an exclusive tasting of their accompanying (though perhaps less groundbreaking) menu. We try two of the concepts: Normandie and Cosmopolitan. From the former, a comfort dish of Alsatian Potato and Gruyère Tart, paired with Vermentino di Bolgheri, and then a melt-in-your-mouth Lavender Roasted Salmon; from the latter, a smoked trout with grilled carrot and pleasantly rounded slices of mozzarella. This was paired with Alsatian pinot blanc and followed by an exquisitely executed New York steak loin on parsnip purée. We spoke with the chef, who told us how he “a restaurant experience is like a song, and each note in a song is like a detail in a restaurant experience. If the details aren’t right, if there is one detail that is not right, it is like hearing to a sour note in a song: it flows you out of the experience.”
On top of these environmentally focused partnerships, the many dietary options available (with more than 200 vendors are on site to cater to all requirements) speak to the industry’s changing focus on within a more eco-friendly and health-conscious age. Among the interesting discoveries at the festival – and even more appealing with the summer approaching -–there is dairy-free ice cream by Blue Skies. With a taste very much resembling the traditional version, the company is proud to source their ingredients directly from Ghana, supporting the local communities and guaranteeing, in doing so, the full and rounded flavour of coconut milk. And though the vegan revolution may not be to everyone’s taste, the generous free offerings of Hippeas chickpea-based crisps – the hipster’s Wotsit – are welcome, if slightly too welcome, their moreish nature perhaps heralding the generation which will finally crack the code for successful and convincing food substitution. The future, it seems, lies in ethical, responsible cooking.
Self-proclaimed the “highlight of the foodie calendar”, Taste of London doesn’t sell itself short. With 55,000 visitors set to attend, the event is surely the forward-thinking Glastonbury of the food world – only a damn sight classier.
Rosamund Kelby and Cristiana Ferrauti
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina and Maria Barrios