Saturday, June 19, 2010

Taste of damned good decadence

Cakes from Bea's of Bloomsbury

Another year, another Taste of festival, but unlike last year when I was at Taste of Dubai this year I was back in the hometown and loving Taste of London. What was not to love? It was 6pm on a summer's day, the sun was shining and many of the city's most famous chefs conglomerated for what can justifiably be called the London foodie festival event of the year...

Taking a turn around the event with food-lover and very-well-connected-man Adrian Bevan was always going to be pretty exciting. Within five minutes of arriving, we were chatting to Roast (and we all know how much I love Roast) head chef Lawrence Keogh and British Airways's Global Food Design Executive (read head honcho) Mark Tazzioli about the challenges of creating restaurant-styled and standard cuisine at 35,000 feet.

I have to admit that I think a lot of plane food is fairly grim, even after the so-called revolution started by Emirates in the last decade. On the KLM flight back from Tanzania I didn't even bother eating the plonk that they put in front of me... But talking to those two definitely gave me a pause for thought. Of course the airline is thinking about quality but there are so many other factors - this is food that has to fit into a tray, be tilted at take-off and be able to be produced on a mass scale that's unthinkable to most restauranteurs, which also causes a problem with sourcing produce from suppliers.

If you do get a chance to try the joint efforts of these two on the London City-Shannon- New York City Route, let me know what it's like. I'm itching to combine it with a cheeky four nighter trip to New York but might have to put it on hold for a while.

I digress, Keogh was refreshingly honest about the challenges he had setting up the much-loved Roast, overcoming the problems of a fully seasonal menu and a large number of interesting facts about Borough Market (did you know that Borough Market bought the Floral Hall that Roast now lives in from Covent Garden in the 1990s for the bargain price of £1).

Having had enough of talking about food, it was high time we went out and tried some. First on the list was The Cinnamon Club where we bumped into founder and executive chef Vivek Singh. The Spiced Sea Bream went down a real treat, it's always hard to maintain the fresh and delicate flavours of the fish while ensuring that the spices come into their own - it's not hard to understand why Singh has been and continues to be one of the leading protagonists of London's Indian dining scene.

Now that Singh has his hands full with the newish Cinnamon Kitchen too, we were particularly surprised to find that he still spends quite a lot of time cooking the food in his kitchens and overseeing every aspect of the food to the finest detail. We like.

Light and spicy was all very good but our next dish was the antithesis of both these words: Tom Aiken's Foie Gras parfait with onion marmalade. I didn't get a picture, I was too busy stuffing my face with what I can only describe as lashings of foie gras. As portions go, it was huge and I'm ashamed to say that I didn't get to finish it.

The next hour passed in a whirlwind haze of tasting far more than my stomach could comfortably handle... highlights were

Bife de chorizo steak with chimichurri at Gaucho

Tuna and soba noodle salad at Hake no Sana

F**k off huge oysters at Bentley's. freshly shucked and down the gullet.

And meeting The London Foodie, Luiz, who remains a source of inspiration, information and about a million reasons why I spend the majority of my waking life eating, thinking or talking about food.

Of course, half the fun of Taste is wandering around and finding out about millions of small suppliers for all your fave things. I now have a list about a mile long of where I need to buy produce from (goodbye holiday money, hello crazy online food shopping addiction) and will be working through a few of these in future posts. Keep your eyes peeled.

The Barbados food stand

The bread shop

The bread shop

Mad about millet?

Never in my life did I think I would become a fan of millet. As a fairly adventurous eater, every time I've tried it, I've realised where exactly the line needs to be drawn. That's at bland, flavourless grain that's bleaker than England's chances of winning the world cup this year.

Until Tuesday when Kristina of Conscious Food whipped up a batch of gorgeous dishes in which millet played one of the starring roles. Just thinking about that meal makes my stomach rumble. We started with a range of millet crackers (believe me when I say that these are actually very very good) and a lentil dip, along with a healthier version of Masala Mix.

It's always good to meet other food bloggers and put some names to faces and the blogs that continually distract me from working throughout the day (in this case Catalan Cooking, Tasty Diaries, Huma Qureshi and Slow Food Kitchen) so the conversation was pretty lively. But for such talkative ladies, I can tell you that there wasn't much chat for the first few minutes after the mains were served up. There was a spicy lentil daal,a millet tabbouleh, raita and a meltingly tender spiced shoulder of lamb.

I'll happily eat my words if it means I can eat more of that tabbouleh. Apparently the secret is to toast the mustard seeds, cumin and cardamom, add some butter then add millet and cinnamon powder, coat in the spicy butter then add the water, cook, steam and fluff. After that, just mix it with some freshly chopped coriander, tomatoes and grilled aubergine. It sounds so simple but tasted so delicious...

Dessert was one of the strangest but yummy dishes.

I know in the pictures it might not look like much, but it was a spiced sweet millett pudding. On first taste I wasn't too sure but about two bites in, I decided that it was a real winner. If I can lure the recipe out of Kris I will. But for now, here's the lamb shoulder recipe - enjoy!

Slow roasted spiced lamb shoulder
1tsp mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek, black pepper, coriander seeds,
5 green cardamom and 2 black cardamom,
a piece of cinnammon bark,
5 cloves
5 cloves garlic
2 or 3 red chillis
organic greek yoghurt
lamb shoulder

First make garam masala - toast the following seeds/spices in a frying pan a teaspoon each of mustard, fennel, cumin, fenugreek, black pepper and coriander seeds
5 green cardamom and 2 black cardomoms, a piece cinnamon bark and 5 cloves
Then grind in pestle n mortar or use a coffee grinder
Make paste of good knob of ginger, 5 cloves garlic and 2 or 3 red chillis (depending on how hot you like it)
Add all of garam masala and chilli, garlic, ginger paste to a tub of organic greek yoghurt.
Take a 3 kg shoulder of lamb and make some piercings with a knife. Smother marinade all over and leave overnight (or min 5 hours).
Set oven on to 160c and bake for 2 hours then reduce to 150 for next 3 hours.