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     Volume 5 Issue 100 | June 23, 2006 |

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Straight Talk

Taste of London

Nadia Kabir Barb

Living in London definitely has its perks and one of them has to be the fact that it is one of the most exciting places for eating out. The diversity of cuisines and the quality of the food is outstanding. But how wonderful would it be if you could put a whole selection of London's top restaurants in one area and have a sampler of all their signature dishes. Well luckily for us that is exactly what we did last week! We were invited by a friend to go to an event called 'Taste of London' which, in the last few years has brought together London's finest restaurants and the capital's most famous chefs. This year, 40 of London's most prestigious restaurants gathered in Regent's Park to prepare and serve a stunning selection of their dishes over a four day celebration.

Known as the 'jewel in the crown' The Regent's Park covers 410 acres and like most of the other Royal Parks, Regent's Park formed part of the vast chase appropriated by Henry VIII who used it as a hunting ground, which he considered to be a stimulating ride from Whitehall Palace! It is also the largest grass area for sports in Central London and offers a wide variety of activities, as well as an Open Air Theatre, the London Zoo and many cafes and restaurants. I could not have chosen a more perfect day to be out and about and it was wonderful to be able to soak up the sun and feel the warm breeze caress my face. A bit of a rarity in London. As I walked down the designated path towards the entrance of the food fair, I could not help but smile to myself. It was an absolutely gloriously sunny day and Regent's Park was the ideal venue.

As we entered the enclosure, we were hit by the sumptuous smell of food. The various restaurants had set up their marquis all around the perimeter and in the middle there were numerous other stalls displaying food condiments, drinks, world cheeses and a whole myriad of cooking products. The system they had set up was quite useful as one had to buy food vouchers which they called crowns and one crown was equivalent to 50 pence. As you went to the various stalls, you had to pay with the crowns for the different items of food which were all individually priced. I think most of us could hardly wait to embark on this culinary expedition. I had already a fair idea of which restaurants I wanted to try out and to be honest if we were given a choice we could probably have spent the whole day there sampling the mouth watering dishes. But sadly not only was there a time constraint, I guess our stomachs would probably only be able to cope with a certain amount of food. I think we really did have a case of our eyes being bigger than our stomach!

Our first stop was at the restaurant stall called Benares whose owner and chef Atul Kochar had just been participating in a televised competition called The Great British Menu, against several other top chefs to win the honour of cooking for Her Majesty's 80th Birthday. Having made it to the top seven finalists, he missed out on the opportunity in the final round. However the extent of the praise that was showered on him by the panel of judges, especially on his mastery in the usage of spices was lavish. He seemed to have found a perfect balance of British cooking and Indian spices. After this kind of accolade, we had to try out his dishes for ourselves. I chose a fish dish in a coconut sauce served with coconut rice. It was delicious --- the blend of spices was extremely subtle and was a far cry from the standardised fare you get at your typical Indian restaurant.

The compound was bustling with people and the look on the faces of the people as they tasted the different dishes was worth watching. Some had their eyes closed almost in reverence to the food they had just eaten and others were trying to get every last morsel from their small portions. One of the restaurants we were very eager to try was Marcus Wareing at The Savoy Grill. We had been to one of his restaurants a few years ago and it was an experience I will always remember. Not only was the food outstanding, the service was impeccable. He had also been one of the finalists who had been selected to cook for the queen on her birthday. This time I tried the crab salad and believe me when I say I went straight to gastronomic heaven with my first mouthful. I could not have found anything to fault it by except for the fact that our portions were minute and I would have been happier with a plate ten times as large! We soon moved on to try a couple of dishes from a Thai restaurant and one serving British food. How much more British can you get than fish and chips and it seems to me to be the epitome of comfort food? So no guesses as to what we chose at that particular restaurant stall. As far as desserts were concerned, my friend and I went for a hot chocolate fondue with marshmallows, biscotti and strawberry and blueberry skewers! All I can say to you is mmm…Yes I was one of the people who had my eyes closed for this particular experience. Another friend tried a dessert which was delicious and somewhat unusual. It was Fraiche strawberries and coconut ice cream. It was wonderfully light and refreshing and I was surprised to taste both sugar and salt in the dish, however it seemed to go remarkably well together.

As one of our friends had organised the evening and it also happened to be his birthday, we all congregated at a spot which had a seating area and cut a cake and embarrassed him with our singing! This was of course in between sampling the dishes that seemed to beckon at us and call out to be tasted. It was rather nice to take a bit of a breather to make space for yet more food. It also gave me an opportunity to enjoy the ambience around me. It was like sensory overloads as the visual presentation of the dishes were stunning despite being served en masse and the smell and tastes were fabulous.

I think we were all very reluctant to leave when our evening came to an end and I think I would have loved to have tried a vast number of other items from different restaurants but it looks like I may have to wait for another year to do that. But trust me next time I will have a strategy worked out to make sure I get to sample as many of the dishes that I would have liked to this year!

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