Sunday, 19 June 2011

Taste of London

On Friday evening, armed with an umbrella and a steely resolve, I made the muddy pilgrimage to Taste of London. On arrival at Regent's Park, I was surprised to find an army of umbrella-wielding foodies blocking the entrance. The fact that so many people had ventured out in the torrential rain is a testament to the British resolve. Were we all brave or just bonkers?

This was to be my first taste of Taste. Two years ago I'd luxuriated in the Scottish sunshine at Taste of Edinburgh, where I ate enough pork belly to have me oinking all the way home. Taste is an experience that lends itself to sunshine. Eating in the rain is odd and unpleasant. But with the near biblical torrent showing no sign of stopping, I was determined to squeeze some enjoyment out of the experience, if only fleeting. Soggy map in hand, I hoofed it to the Bocca di Lupo stand, where I paid six crowns (Taste currency) for their shaved radish and celeariac salad with pomegranate, pecorino and truffle oil (below), which, mercifully, was sensational, and worth braving the rain for alone.

From the crunchy radish and tangy pecornio to the juicy pomegrante pips that glinted, ruby-like on the plate and the final flourish of truffle oil that I could taste in my mouth the next morning, the salad was a symphony of flavour and texture. I was off to a good start. While waiting for the dish, I got talking to the guy on the neighbouring Gelupo stand - Bocca di Lupo's sister ice cream parlour. Unsurprisingly, sales were slow, but the Hendrick's granitas were proving popular due to generous gin pours. Desperate times call for disparate measures.

Still hungry, I moved swiftly on to Opera Tavern across the park. Having circled the icon dish in my programme earlier that day, by the time I arrived at the stand I was dribbling in anticipation, having read Marina O'Loughlin's paean to the pork burger a month before in the Metro. It sounded sublime, and I was about to get a slice of the action.

I eagerly handed over my 14 crowns (£7) and waited, whetting my appetite further by watching the bad boys being made in the open plan kitchen, their tops white from a dusting of Manchego. Finally it arrived. I ate it in three bites. It was every inch as good as the review – mixed in with the pork, the foie gras gave it exquisite richness, juiciness and depth of flavour, while the Manchego made it unmistakably Spanish.

On a food high, my next stop was due to be at Gauthier Soho to try their Top Dog Deluxe – a smoked Strasbourg sausage served in a pain au lait filled with honey bacon and mustard mayo, but my mind kept wondering back to the Bocca di Lupo balls. The trio looked so tasty, I got plate envy from those around me enjoying the spherical treats.

Unstoppable in my quest, I squelched through the mud – Taste by this point had become something of a gastro Glastonbury, back to the Bocca stand, where 12 crowns got me three deep fried delights: olive stuffed with veal and pork, tomato risotto and mozzarella; by far the best of the three. Biting into it, the warm white goo quickly cascaded down my throat, serving as central heating on this shiver-inducing night.

Having enjoyed so many savoury snacks, I was craving something sweet to end the evening on a sugar high. The Asia de Cuba Mexican doughnuts had earlier caught my eye. I thought they would be long, Churros-like tubes filled with butterscotch sauce, so was slightly disappointed to find them perfectly round. And while they were fluffy and light, the centre wasn't nearly sticky enough. The accompanying Motijo sorbet however was on the money. Sharp, smooth and with an alcoholic kick, it proved the ideal palate cleanser, though my lack of crowns forced an early exit.

Trudging out of the park, the rain still pouring, my thoughts turned to the Top Dog Deluxe. Should I buy some more crowns and have one last taste? I decided against it. Sometimes the idea of a dish is just as sweet, if not sweeter than the reality...


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