London's outdoor food fest is something of a Mecca for committed restaurant-lovers - but is it worth the wonga?
Next month, Taste of London – which claims to be ‘the world’s greatest restaurant festival’ – starts in Regent’s Park. From 16th June to the 19th June, the park is set to be transformed into a carnival of gourmet delights – a Gastro-nbury, if you will. Or not.
London’s finest and flashiest chefs will erect temporary temples to their more permanent restaurants, the idea being, I suppose, that punters can yomp Michelin-starred food without paying Michelin-starred prices. Under the late spring sun you can sample dishes from the likes of Le Gavroche, Gauthier, and The Ritz, avoiding the starched dining rooms themselves and instead galumphing around getting hosed on cocktails. Good fun, undoubtedly, but worth the pelf?
“Yes,” says restaurant blogger and all round oracle when it comes to London dining, Chris Pople; “if you have £150 to spaff on eating cold scallops from a paper plate in a field.”
A glorified picnic?
In my opinion, Chris has hit the nail on the head. Because as soon as you eat standing up from a paper plate, Michelin-starred food it ain’t. It’s a glorified picnic. And one that costs the same as a small puppy.
For a much larger hound you could, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphors, go the whole hog and eat ‘The Menu’ – a five-course meal cooked by five of the capital’s top pot-flippers, including Pierre Koffmann and Michel Roux Jr. ‘Goodness, what an amazing opportunity,’ you think, until you find out it’s £395 plus VAT per person.
That’s about £80 a course.
And that’s the sound of your jaw hitting the floor.
But if Michelin star box-ticking isn’t your game (and it isn’t mine), then you can do quite well at Taste.
If the weather is fine, and you’ve made your peace with the fact that this won’t be the cheapest of days out, there is plenty to keep you amused.
There are cooking classes to get involved in, while the AEG Taste Theatre gives you a chance to see some chefs actually cook, as opposed to prance around in front of their stalls – last year folks like Rick Stein, Heston Blumenthal, and Richard Corrigan performed demos in front of hungry audiences.
This year’s line-up isn’t confirmed yet, but with Rene Redzepi in town there might be something pretty special going on.
I’m quite intrigued by the Taste of Jamaica section of the festival. For some time now there’s been talk of a Caribbean boom in this country, but it doesn’t seem to have happened in the same way that, say, Malaysian or Middle Eastern food has. This might be the springboard it needs, though considering it’s helmed by not-so-authentic-Jamaican chef Martin Blunos perhaps you shouldn’t hold your breath.
Also intriguing is the British Airways ‘Height Cuisine’ tent, in which punters can get involved in ‘interactive experiments’ highlighting difficulties of eating at altitude.
Rumours that this will involve sitting next to an enormously fat person while a baby screams in one ear and a toddler beats you over the head with Lego remain unsubstantiated.
And let’s not forget that you can eat some outstanding dishes here, too. Last year I ate a stonkingly good (and indeed piping hot) scallop from Atul Kochhar’s almost universally panned Colony, a desert island pork belly from Trinity, and some sort of heavenly, truffley bucatini from God-knows-where.
So it’s not a total waste of rations if you’re selective and willing to take the odd financial hit, but don’t go expecting to have your socks knocked off at every turn.
If sock-knocking is what you’re after, save your money and go and have one truly special meal somewhere. I’ve heard Noma’s quite good…
Taste of London will run in Regent’s Park from 16th-19th June. http://www.tastefestivals.com
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