I’ve been really looking forward to this post, not only because I wanted to share my experience of my first ever food festival, but because of the amount of content. I have so much to talk about, that I decided to split it into 2 parts. I will talk about the different aspects of the event, as well as reviewing all the dishes that I tasted (and there were ALOT!).
What is it? – This festival showcases the best of what London has to offer. Top restaurants and artisan producers from all over London offer taster dishes and samples. There are appearances from some of the world’s leading chefs. Some of the chefs that appeared this year were; Alex Atala, Ana Ros, Tom Kerridge and Cyrus Todiwala.
I was so excited when I came across this event and told my brother and my bhabhi about it straight away. We went on the Friday, but it was span across multiple days with a different itinerary each day, such as the showcase floors (i.e. theatre, taste residence etc.). It was hosted in the beautiful Regents Park in London – and it was sunny!
We were given a map as part of the welcome pack as we entered and planned an “in-and-out” walk path to cover as much as we could. The event was laid out as multiple restaurant zones, with around 4 restaurants in each one. There were supplier and artisan stalls dotted all around so there was always something to do. There was also a theatre, where they had a guest speaker/chef, and you could sit and watch them cook, and even try dishes.
Each restaurant menu was structured in the same way, they would have a range of main dishes and a single “Icon Dish” that was the signature dish for the festival. We literally stayed the whole day, and still didn’t manage to visit all of the restaurant courts.
I’ll be labelling the restaurant with the dish in case you guys want to know where it’s from. The dishes I will be covering in this post will be the following:
- Hot smoked Arctic char, pickled cucumber lemon verbena – Aster
- Manchego churros with quince paste – Balls & Company
- Oven-baked pastry filled with spinach, feta, pine nuts & mint – Yosma
- English Garden – Mövenpick (Ice Cream Supplier)
- Watermelon and masala cashew nut chaat – The Cinnamon Club
- Tandoori spiced octopus with chutney aloo – The Cinnamon Club
- Aubergine taco with sikil p’ak chilli paste and mango pickle – Action Against Hunger
Hot smoked Arctic char, pickled cucumber lemon verbena
So our first stop was at the Aster stall, who are a Nordic-French style restaurant located in Westminster, UK. I had never heard of them before and was keen to try something off the menu. I saw the Arctic char and knew I had to give it a go. Arctic char is an Icelandic fish, closely related to salmon (which might explain why the colour and texture are similar). For me it was a very fresh-tasting dish, the rich, yet light mayonnaise and pickled cucumber was a great accompaniment to the fish. Having some of the fried crisp and sweet and slightly citrus gel added another angle when eaten with the fish. It was a very smart dish, which provided you with enough options to explore different combinations.
Chef Helena Puolakka is the Executive Head Chef of Aster. With a big welcoming smile she approached me asking me what I thought of the dish (maybe because I looked important with my notepad and pen), and seemed very happy when I told her how nice it was. It was nice that she personally came up to me and asked my opinion – it’s the little things…
Manchego churros with quince paste
So this was not one of my dishes but we shared it between us. Manchego churros are like normal churros but with Manchego cheese added to the batter before frying. I’ve never had the cheese on its own so it would be hard for me to judge how much of the cheese taste is sustained in the churro.
Manchego cheese is made from sheep’s milk and has a creamy texture but a sharpish taste, with a sheep’s milk-like aftertaste. The churros had a light sprinkle of salt, which added a level of bitterness when dipped in the quince paste (quince is a fruit from the same family as the apple and pear). It was a pleasure to taste and had a nice crunch when you bit into it, but it was just a churro with a slightly different taste. It didn’t really have that “wow-factor”. One plus point is that the churro wasn’t too oily; some of the times I have tasted churros, it hasn’t been a pleasant experience as when I’ve bitten into them, all I could taste was the oil.
Oven-baked pastry filled with spinach, feta, pine nuts & mint
Generally, there weren’t as many vegetarian choices compared to meat, which is understandable, but it meant that bhabhi had a smaller range to choose from compared to Nishant and I. She came across Yosma (a Turkish restaurant) and saw this on the menu. I was quite underwhelmed at how….”average” this was, it was just a basic filling wrapped in pastry. I guess if you wanted something “safe” then this would be a good choice. I wanted to taste dishes that I couldn’t try anywhere else, something different, and this just seemed a bit out of place. The flavours were very subtle and the pastry had barely any crisp to it – it was much more soft. Overall I was quite disappointed in this dish.
So this isn’t exactly a dish from a restaurant stall, but actually just one of the supplier stalls. This is a Swiss ice-cream from a company called Mövenpick. It was a really hot day with a lot of walking around, when we saw an ice-cream stand giving away free samples, we jumped on the opportunity with no expectations but having a nice cold treat. The demonstrator showed us quickly what it composed of before handing out some samples. This sample composed of a flavour they called “English Garden”, this composed of some Vanilla Mövenpick ice-cream, lime syrup and a sprinkle of dill. It was so fresh, I was surprised at the use of the herb, but it really was “Dill”-icious.
Watermelon and masala cashew nut chaat
This was another one of Nishant and bhabhi’s choices. It was definitely an interesting combination. I liked the fact there were lots of different flavours and textures – the spongy dhokla (Indian spiced cake), crunchy seeds and boondi (a Rajasthani snack food made from sweetened, fried chickpea flour), and smooth watermelon. The watermelon added a welcoming freshness with every bite once all the different spices are mixed in your mouth.
Tandoori spiced octopus with chutney aloo
This was one of the more adventurous dishes that I tried. Generally when I eat non-veg food, its usually just chicken or lamb – maybe the occasional fish, but nothing to eccentric. I saw this on the menu at The Cinnamon Club stall and thought to myself, “I have to try this”. As soon as it arrived, I was in awe at just how pretty the dish was. The bright colours just stood out for me, the bright orange of the tandoori sauce and fresh green in a white bowl just screamed, “look at me!”
There was the signature tandoori flavour when I bit into the octopus. It was a slightly chewy texture with a slight bite to it, but it wasn’t at all an unpleasant one. The aloo (potato) was average. The octopus was definitely the star of the dish, and it was a lot nicer than I thought it might be.
Aubergine taco with sikil p’ak chilli paste and mango pickle
This was part of the Action Against Hunger stall who are a global humanitarian organisation committed to ending world hunger. They had a selection of taco’s inspired by famous chefs such as Rick Stein and Adam Handling.
We went for Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian taco. I was very disappointed with it. It just tasted like a bland, wet taco. There was no flavour in the aubergine, it was under-seasoned and the only taste I got from it was the chilli paste and mango pickle, which were only meant to be accompaniments to the dish.
That’s all for now – Stay tuned for part 2!