Taste of London was a cracking day last year, so I was delighted to attend a couple of sample tastings in the run-up to the 2010 festival.
You might know the deal at Taste already. A hefty contingent of the capital's best restaurants set up tents in Regent's Park to cook some of their trademark dishes for (hopefully) sun-drenched food-lovers. It's a great idea and, if you choose carefully, you experience some of the best eating in the city for a lot less moolah than you would if you visited the restaurants themselves.
So, the other day I had a brilliant time visiting the following three restaurants:
This is one of Richard Corrigan's places, and the scene of a first-class Dine With Dos Hermanos last November. We started with some beautiful oysters on the half-shell, remarkably sweet and ungooey for this time of year, then a bit of proud Irish smoked salmon on sour, biscuity soda bread, and a little taster of exemplary fish and chips in a cone with a wooden fork and a dollop of tartare sauce. Unbeatable.
I'd never been to this somehow-still-trendy temple of expensive dim sum. Upstairs is a gentle, almost staid tea bar, but downstairs is funky and loungy. A chicken wonton was a stunning thing, perfectly seasoned meat wrapped in dough that held a slippery bite, the whole thing licked in shockingly savoury sauce.
Friends of mine adore the Spanish restaurant Salt Yard, but it's not somewhere that's floated my illegal fishing barco in the past. On this visit, I preferred a bavette with salsa verde to the signature of courgette flowers stuffed with goat's cheese, deep fried and smeared in honey. I'd already tried the latter at last year's Taste and wasn't convinced then either. Smoked octopus with crisp shallots was much better, though.
And a few weeks later, I spent an evening visiting three Malaysian restaurants.
This is a smart and well-established joint on Sloane Avenue, decked in teak and with a cocktail bar vibe. The best dish was murtabak, which is a stunning bread stuffed with rich, coconutty rendang. We also had some light roti canai which they flip and stretch in front of you, and a brilliant, unmucked-around-with pomegranate salad.
I've been a fan of the cosy, classic Satay House for years – I used to live off the nearby Edgware Road and had a number of excellent, cheap dinners here when I first moved to London. The eponymous satay are brilliant, with that all-important hint of monster truck tyre – and we also had a vicious rendang and some veggie noodles.
Tukdin Flavours of Malaysia
The last place we visited was something of a curio: not only is it dry, I'm not even sure if you can BYO. After the inevitable satay, which was fine, we had a good chicken rendang, as well as chilli mussels and sweet and sour sea bass, both of which were cooked perfectly. In truth, though, I was full, and I'm going to have to visit Tukdin at Taste to give it the attention it deserves.
I'll be down at Taste on Thursday and hope to see some of you there.
Tickets for Taste of London cost from £22; most sample dishes cost a few quid (or 'crowns' in the esoteric currency of the festival).
The festival runs from this Thursday to Sunday. Sorry for the lack of photos but I managed to forget my camera to both of these events.