Taste of London 2012

LONDON, England (eTN) - Once again the British weather took some of the shine off an annual summer event - Taste of London.

Taste of London 2012

LONDON, England (eTN) – Once again the British weather took some of the shine off an annual summer event – Taste of London. The four-day festival is designed to showcase the best of the capital’s food and drinks industry. On the opening day, Londoners braved the rain and wind to sample international cuisine served at some of the city’s most exclusive restaurants.

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We entered to the pulsating rhythm of drums as a trio of energetic dancers entertained the crowds. Despite the light drizzle, two scantily-clad women with glittering headdresses and a man in a white suit kept onlookers warm with their vigorous gyrations, twists, and shakes.

The festival takes place in Regent’s Park in the heart of London. Normally in midsummer, the setting would have been ideal. A section of the beautifully-landscaped park was dotted with white marquees where individual restaurants, and food and drink producers, showed off their wares. Chairs and tables were laid out for visitors to enjoy top-quality champagne, cocktails, wine, and beer, along with tastings of delicious food ranging from Thai, Indian, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, and Greek, to traditional British.

According to the Taste of London website, “40 of the city’s best restaurants will be dishing up their finest in an unbeatable alfresco gourmet feast, while 200 producers will be providing a bounty of the best food and beverages, ensuring that guests sample and shop for a range of produce in the laid-back atmosphere of a boutique food market.”

My husband and I went as guests of the Thai embassy and felt we ought to test what that country’s restaurants had to offer, a decision we did not regret. There were two restaurants which stood out – Busaba Eathai and Suda Thai cafe restaurant – both of which offered mouth-watering menus. Among the memorable dishes were salmon and mango salad, Thai calamari with ginger and peppercorn – utterly delicious, ostrich stir fry, and grilled herb-marinated baby rack of lamb with papaya salad.

We dropped in on a stall promoting food and drink from Wales. A quiz was in progress with enticing prizes on offer. Two cheerful women with strong Welsh accents fired questions at the participants. “We have four Michelin-starred restaurants in Wales, can you name any?” “What was the score when Wales played France in the grand slam?” “Wales won but what was the score?” There was a jolly atmosphere as those taking part struggled to find the right answers and cheekily asked for hints. In the adjoining area, demonstrations of Welsh cooking were in progress.

Another counter displayed products from an organic farm based in Hampshire set up by Jody David Scheckter, a South African former auto racing driver, who has forged a new career promoting the benefits of fresh and healthy food. The man in charge of the stand said there was a mixed crowd at various times of the day. “In the afternoon, you get mainly business people. In the evenings, office workers and others come to relax and enjoy the opportunity to enjoy good quality food and drink.”

One exhibitor was publicizing olive oil from a caravan. To attract customers, he and an associate were handing out free pots of Spanish and Italian bar snacks along with tea towels. He told us he was a travel photographer but work was drying up, and he found that selling olive oil was a profitable and enjoyable sideline; he came every year to take part in Taste of London.

One of the highlights of the festival was the Taste Theatre where celebrity chefs demonstrated their cooking skills. Elsewhere, we came across cookery lessons sponsored by AEG kitchen appliances. The courses are run by Angela Malik, a former chartered account, who has built up a successful cookery school. She outlined her vision, “We have five flavors in every dish, inspired by Asia. Our intention is to change relations with food – the way you cook, eat, and shop. We need to move on from restaurants, cook in people’s homes, re-create the quality of food.”

We met a charming mother and daughter, originally from Pakistan, who started their business from scratch, making fresh chutneys. They described how their modest venture was now growing in popularity with their produce flying off the shelves.

By late evening, the dizzying choice of champagne, cocktails, beer, and wine were having the desired effect on visitors. The rain was beating down harder, a biting wind swirled around the tents, but all one could hear was the chatter and laughter of Londoners unwinding after a hard day’s work, enjoying award-winning food and drink in one of London’s most attractive parks – a food-lover’s paradise.