Taste of London double up, returning with a two-week extravaganza celebrating the capital’s diverse culinary soul
Finally, Taste is back. Following 18 months of struggle for the hospitality industry, Londoners can finally meet again at the capital’s signature food festival, where some of the best restaurants in town serve a selection of their signature dishes.
It’s opening night, and we are on a mission to explore 2021’s long-awaited offerings.
After a couple of glasses of champagne at the VIP area – we are that glamorous – and canapes from Arros QD – the sea bass ceviche is delicious – we begin our journey through the maze of stalls at Regent’s Park with a classic destination: Burger & Lobster. The famous makers of buttery brioches filled with bits of the iconic crustacean are jubilant because the restaurant finally have their own grill and can serve half portions of lobster – which we try immediately.
This year, don’t expect the usual crowds: “thanks” to covid restrictions you will actually be able to sit on the benches without needing to wait and guess who is about to leave their seat.
Over at Sartoria, celebrity chef Francesco Mazzei gives a show – as usual – with his Black Truffle Fettuccine, mixed in a carved wheel of parmesan cheese. Mazzei hails from Calabria in the south of Italy and it goes without saying that one of the dishes features the local speciality n’duja, gently spread over juicy pieces of chicken.
We happen to reach Tamarind of Michelin fame just after they have claimed this year’s prize for Best in Show – and they quickly prove themselves more than worthy of the accolade. Head chef Atul Chochhar serves up a few of his vibrant staples, from conical Allahabadi Baked Samosas bursting with fragrant filling to tangy Rajasthani Churi Chaat embellished with jewels (or the closest edible alternative, pomegranate) and tender Grilled Lamb Chops in a lip-smacking marinade.
Arros QD, Quique Dacosta’s project in London, aren’t finished with their offering just yet. The Spanish stall is at Taste with an array of paellas: Valenciana, Basque Cod and Black Ink, Vegetable and the special Cornish Queen Scallop. The selection includes the most adorable one in a mini, yet authentic, pan imported from the Iberian Peninsula despide Brexit hurdles. Head chef Richard de la Cruz also oversees the wood fire at the Fire Pit while guest chefs ignite crowds – and food – with their demonstrations.
We also try a couple of dishes from social media sensation MOB Kitchen, whose goal is to help students and young professionals cook quick, high-quality meals. The Bombay Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich is a hearty two-hander, finished with curried mango mayo, while the Harissa Courgette Grain Salad with Tahini Dressing makes for a light veggie alternative.
There are a lot of friendly faces at Taste of London (everyone is beaming from the sheer joy of face-to-face contact) but the most welcoming have to be Temaki, who are the new kids on the block. This Brixton joint serve up sumptuous Temaki (Japanese hand rolls) in three equally flavoursome varieties: Prawn Tempura, Akami (tuna), and Unagi (eel). Despite opening last week, they are earning their stripes already, and a complementary shot of margarita seals the deal.
Continuing our sushi roll (if you’ll pardon the pun), we sample Chotto Matte, a Japanese Peuvian fusion that proves to be as delicious as it is intriguing. The incredibly fresh yellowtail and salmon in the Nikkei Sashimi sing alonside a burst of yuzu, and the signature Wagyu Gyoza might be an unconventional in its choice of beef filling, but boy does it work.
Sweets and drinks
When it comes to pudding, we are lured over to Crème by the smell of freshly baked cookies. The Soho bakery offer up five different varieties, from classic double chocolate and milk chocolate chip to the more cutting-edge miso white chocolate and dark chocolate banana. Gooey and decadent, these are a real treat – and even come with instructions for reheating in the oven. Other sugar-coated offerings are available from vendors including Doughnut Time, Baked By Delice and T’s Fried Scoop – deep-fried ice cream, no less.
One of the hidden gems for the sweet-toothed has to be the Marsala Tiramisu from Sartoria, a must-have for the lovers of the most classic Italian dessert: soft, intense and with an aftertaste of sweet marsala wine.
There is also an enticing array of drinks stands to keep customers quenched, from Ashley Palmer-Watts’ Artisan Coffee – perfect to seal a meal but you could just as easily enjoy their espresso martini – and premium mixer brand Two Keys to award-winning Newport-based brewery Tiny Rebel and rose wine and gin makers Maison Mirabeau.
Stages and tents with a programme
On top of the myriad stalls, there are also lots of activities to get stuck into. Foodies can find out about the next generation of culinary heroes at NEFF Cook & Connect stage, while caffeine addicts may want to get involved in De’Longhi Coffee Lounge coffee-infused workshops, tastings and demonstrations, which will keep them buzzing all festival long.
ALL are providing Limitless Masterclasses for the ultimate edible education, or for those who want to sit back and relax, the Laurent-Perrier Prêt-À-Porter Experience is serving up a champagne edition of The Berkley’s iconic afternoon tea, pairing couture cakes with Rosé Cuvée.
Budding cooks might be tempted by a personal tutorial from top chefs at Chop It Like It’s Hot, an intimate cooking class, while The Fire Pit is perfect for pyromaniacs and grill enthusiasts, providing flame-fuelled chef demonstrations and delicious barbecued plates. There is also a Daily Specials stand courtesy of Just East, which will welcome 20 different restaurants across the two weekends.
Meanwhile, Aspall Picnic Meadow are serving up five dishes inspired by the cider, one of which is created by Michelin-starred chef James Knappett, accompanied by live music. London REIG will be providing the soundtrack to the festival, hosting DJs and performances throughout the day. Check out the full timetable here.
The editorial unit
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina and Azhul Mohamed
Taste of London is at Regent’s Park until 18th July. For futher information or to book tickets, visit their website here.