Saturday, 1 August 2009

Taste London: Our favourite things

Alternative title I toyed with was Mama's making May wine... but figured so few of us would get it that I'd stick with the obvious.

OK, I hold my hands up to this one and am guilty as charged. This post is overdue by 6 weeks, which is, quite frankly inexcusable. However, if you understand Guiding then you know that the summer term is the busiest term, Pack Holiday and camp have taken up pretty much the last fortnight of my time and the prep for them is easily double that. Thank heavens for unit teams. And yes, I do mean you!

On a sunny day in June, (midsummer's day no less) I was given a lovely treat of tickets to the Taste Festival. I had thought about going earlier in the year and ex wasn't too keen, but clearly the fates had decided I was due something special. The glorious weather aside, I met my friend Jess (who writes Dreaming Wide Awake) who is Olly Smith's PA. Now as well you know I normally reserve my fangirling for musical theatre actors, and am fairly well behaved when faced with the object of my current affection. However, Saturday kitchen is my regular introduction to the weekend, allowing me to wake up to the dulcet tones of James Martin (who I lived on the same road as, at university, and much squeeing took place when his Porsche was seen racing off - presumably to the Hotel du Vin) and also Olly's wine recommendations. He is incredibly entertaining, with levels of gusto and enthusiasm previously reserved for Children's entertainers and Guiders alone. That said the week he visited Romford (home to my horrendous teenage years) and still managed to find wine to recommend to the nation, I started to really pay attention.

I should admit that I am pants at wine. I will typically look for a brand name, know how much I roughly want to spend and have an idea of what I want to eat it with. This doesn't add up to a successful formula for buying wine - that would be faar too easy.

For years I was a Bridget 'chardonnay only' Jones, and have spent far too many evenings drunk on Pinot Grigio in Islington bars to ever consider consuming a glass of it with an evening. Not being someone that (these days) drinks a great deal I find myself bemused; I know I don't want something that makes me suck my cheeks in while my eyes stream and I have to nod and pretend to be polite, and I know I don't want something that tastes a bit like I'm drinking golden syrup. But slowly and steadily I'm starting (with Mr Smith's help) to extend my boundaries beyond the "Wolfblass thingy with the yellow label I'm sure that must be nice" And I don't know about anyone else but there is just SO MUCH wine to choose from. So on a Saturday morning I now scribble down recommendations in my notebook and then naturally forget to take it with me (most of the time, I am learning to pick it up).

So, as I'm sure you can understand the prospect of meeting him was very exciting. We're not quite talking Jonathan Groff, but definitely up there. However, before the meeting, Jess and I perused the stalls at Taste; food after all, being what I'm much more at home with.

Like the Good Food Show, or any big food show, some of the same names pop up, and some of the stalls have a dull familiarity to them. That said the interesting thing about Taste, is the way that you can purchase taster plates from some of the Capital's best restaurants. Theo Randall, Angela Hartnett and many others were there (I was sad to have missed the other object of my foodie affections Hugh F-W) with their staff producing dishes that were indicative of their style, varying from Theo Randall's soft chocolate cake to soft shelled crab with citrus dressing from Benares. It was quite strange actually and a little overwhelming, almost in the same way as the sheer amount of wine in a supermarket. I could easily have eaten something from all of the restaurants participating, but in the end, swapped my crowns for two large, very cold, quite alcoholic mojitos. I know, I know... but I would actually rather try a bargainous lunch menu from some of these places than spend the equivalent of £5 on what looked (in some cases) like dollop on a plate. It may have tasted wonderful, but something about the throwing them out style put me off. But then I'm not known for liking large crowds of people which I suspect had a lot to do with it (fainting at stage doors anyone?)

That's not to say that the food didn't smell absolutely enticing, in fact the whole set up reminded me of the kind of Asian food market that you read about. I practically bounced from stall to stall like one of my Brownies when faced with free pick and mix. Cinammon kitchen's strawberry and peppercorn jellies, and Launceston Place's potted 'devilled' brown shrimp were two that really attracted me with their menus and there were plenty I couldn't get near for love, crowns nor money.
A couple of things from the stalls that caught my eyes, were Flavours & Spices India which were a company that put together cute sets of Indian spices with a recipe book that showed you how to use them. To be honest I'm quite happy to chuck things together when cooking Indian food, and am a bit of a stickler for fresh spices, but if just getting into cooking then this would be ideal. There was another similar company, that was going similar but with pre-mixed spices which although ideal for a beginner would raise questions with me about freshness.

SoBo cookies and brownies did (I hate, and am slightly scared to say) surpass The Flour Power Bakery; and you know by now my fondness for their Boroughmarketbrowniemountain (I say it so often it may as well be one word)

I know they're not an up and coming, or particularly innovative but I am in love with Bottle Green's elderflower cordial (I think my brain is going, I feel like I've been talking about this already) which is great just mixed with sparkling water, or prosecco.

Now, Olly was emcee-ing in the Taste theatre, and we were lucky enough to hear his adaptation of My Favourite things. Really! It's as if he knew! (I had hoped that someone had videoed it and uploaded it to youtube, but an afternoon of searching has thrown up nothing relevant) He introduced Angela Hartnett who despite clearly being poorly made some amazing dishes from Murano, and Theo Randall who was utterly fab too. Before I run out of superlatives, I should say that Olly was lovely to meet and very entertaining and engaging when talking to the chefs.

Taste was great fun, I would go again, and do some research beforehand so I could have a think about what I wanted to eat and from where. I would also make sure I saved some of those crowns for another mojito. Seriously good! A lovely afternoon, where I got to sample lots of different foodie odds and sods, and actually realised I know more than I thought about food these days. Olly was lovely, and I will continue to follow him and his recommendations as they are a really accessible way into wine. And anyone with comparable levels of enthusiasm to a Guider can't be bad!

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