Taste of Winter 2014 

Food Festival

With a VIP pass hung round my neck I walked into the buzzing tobacco dock.  This was the opening night for Taste of Winter.  We had arrived later than anticipated as we had walked from Westminster and as we approached to cross Tower Bridge it opened for an illuminous gummie bear to pass under?! I know, Random!!!!

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Tower Bridge opening

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Gummie Bear?

Turns out it was Nicole Scherzinger promoting Candy Crush

Anyway, we headed straight for the Electrolux chefs secrets theatre hoping to get a place on the cook along and luckily there were a few spaces left! The chef hosting the cook along was Rakesh Ravindran Nair from the cinnamon club.

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Me & Rakesh Ravindran Nair

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We made lamb kebabs with mint and cucumber yoghurt.  This is something I often make at home so it was good to be instructed by a professional and to get some tips.  This was really good fun, my husband and I were quite competitive, even though we were cooking together, we both think we’re head chefs! Haha!

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The host was John Quilter, The Food Busker and he was really fun and a great motivator as he walked round poking fun at everyone’s efforts.

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Chef with Food Busker John Quilter

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Our efforts were judged and the winner was rewarded a bottle of Vodka, it wasn’t us, but we were all winners as we got to eat our delicious kebabs.

Next stop was the VIP lounge to collect our complimentary glass of champagne and a copy of The Incredible Spice Men cookery book.  The Assado stand was directly outside the lounge so we got our books signed by Cyrus Todiwala, who was a pleasure to meet.

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Me & Cyrus Todiwala

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Belly of Pork

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Ostrich Bhuna

We ordered the Belly of Pork Assado on Shredded Red Chilli Risotto and Ostrich Bhuna.  The chef even came over while we were eating to see if we were enjoying our dishes, which we thoroughly were.

Whilst walking about we saw DJ BBQ, who I recognised from Food Junkies and Alex James, one of my husbands idols, more photo opportunities!

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Alex James with Hubby

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Me & DJ BBQ

My husband went to the Hixter stand and ordered Yorkshire pudding with whipped chicken livers.

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Yorkshire pud & whipped chicken livers

Next stop was Club Gascon one of our favourites! We ordered the Duck & Dog and the Squirrel Terrine.  Chef Pascal Aussignac served the dishes, and posed for a pic.  The duck and dog was my favourite dish of the night, this restaurant frequently win best in taste award at these events, this was my winner.

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My Husband with Chef Aussignac

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Duck & Dog

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Squirrel terrine

We took our dishes into the Electrolux Taste Theatre to watch a demonstration by Atul Kochhar of Benares Restaurant.  He was cooking with Brussel sprouts.

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Atul Kochhar

To be honest we left early as time was running out and we had loads of crowns to spend!

Kurobuta was the next stand we visited, this was the most popular stand, but they had a very organised system.  So after a short wait I received my BBQ pork belly in steam buns with spicy peanut sauce and Miso Grilled Hot Wings, the food was definitely worth the wait.

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Pork Belly Bun

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Miso wings

We made a return visit to Club Gascon for the Gascon Mess, Chef Pascal was in a playful mood and greeted me through the ‘O’ hanging from his stand.

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Gascon Mess

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We were both absolutely stuffed now, so we frantically went round trying to use up the crowns on our cards but unfortunately the stalls we has visited did not have the terminal for the taste club cards.  Some were only accepting cash too.  Fortunately now you can apply online for a refund for any unused crowns, which was not possible with the paper crowns.  The card is a much better way to pay and it made the transaction quicker, rather than having to stand counting out the paper crowns.

So the time had slipped away, the session had flown by, tobacco dock is a great location although it did take a while to get to know the layout it was very cosy and really suited the winter theme.  There is so much to do and get involved in, so many food outlets and stalls to browse.  There are lots of free samples too, so it can be as expensive or as cheap as you want, it’s great for foodies or just a great night/day out.  Its a great way to meet and interact with the chefs.  Taste of London and taste of winter, as a foodie, are by far my favourite food festivals.  So I look forward again to the summer and Taste of London in Regents Park.

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Unique dining experience in The Garden Room

Dining with the Husband, Pop Up Experience

I was extremely privileged to attend AEG’s The Garden Room pop up restaurant event at John Lewis’ Roof Garden, not once but twice!!! This pop up was a unique event held to celebrate John Lewis’ 150th Anniversary.

We arrived at the black door, as instructed, where we were ushered into a lift with a lawn, this took us up to the magic.  It was like the moment from Charlie and the chocolate factory when Willy Wonka opened the door to reveal his world of pure imagination.  We were literally on the roof of John Lewis’ flagship store on London’s iconic Oxford street.  The rooftop had been transformed by designer Tony Woods who became the RHS Young Garden Designer of the Year 2013.  The ground was covered with a bouncy lawn, the walls were decorated with grasses and wild flowers.  There were romantic decked areas, hedge chairs and a buzz of excitement.
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We were presented a glass of champagne and offered delicious canapés. Wow! This evening was already fantastic, I could not wait to get tucked in to the specially designed tasting menu.

The curtain was pulled back and we wandered inside the Garden Room. There was a huge white polo shaped table, growing up through the hole were huge decorated branches accompanied by a scattering of plant pots. The table intimately sat 20 dinners and from our chairs we were able to watch the masters at work in the kitchen. The menus were presented on iPads, which was impressive but they may have had some tipsy photos on at the end of the evening, hehe!

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The chef cooking on our first night was Simon Hulstone, the Head chef of the Michelin starred Elephant Restaurant in Torquay.

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Simon presented each dish as it was served and during the courses made an effort to talk to his diners. As a foodie, for me chefs are like rock stars, so it’s a real pleasure to be in such an intimate setting and have the opportunity to speak with the chef who has created these amazing dishes.

First dish was wild garlic, smoked eel, yesterday’s bread, capers.   I’ve eaten a few dishes containing smoked eel recently and I really enjoy it. The smokey taste is fantastic and the eel is surprisingly subtle.
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Next dish was a salmon, asparagus, lovage and monks beard.   From this dish I particularly enjoyed the raw asparagus shavings as it’s not something I’ve had before.
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Next up was my favourite dish, pigs cheek. It was a slowly cooked melt in the mouth, cut with a spoon, delicious piece of pork, I’m actually salivating remembering the taste! Surprisingly some guests seemed a bit alarmed at the thought of eating a pigs cheek, but the worry on faces soon turned to pleasure after the first mouthful.
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Next dish halibut, with parsnip purée. A beautifully presented dish, thoroughly enjoyed too.
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Desserts were up now, chocolate and coriander! A combination I’ve not tried before but it actually worked really well.
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My favourite dessert was the elderflower, strawberry, lemon verbena. I do love elderflower, it’s a taste I associate with summer and also home as it grows in my garden. This was a gorgeous dessert and the perfect end to a perfect evening.
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The following week I attended a second event on the rooftop and cooking this time was another Michelin starred chef, Atul Kochhar.   I was very excited, I’ve not eaten at many Indian fine dining restaurants and Benares restaurant was on my must go to list.   Atul presented all the dishes at the beginning of the evening and was very focused in the kitchen throughout the night.

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First dish Smoked duck. Wow! This was amazing! This evenings food was as good as anticipated.

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Soft shell crab was the next course. This was my first taste of soft shell crab and certainly not my last. It looked a little scary to be honest and I wasn’t sure how to eat it but once I tucked in I devoured it in a second! I could have easily eaten another one. This appears on the Benares menu which I think I will have to visit just to eat this dish again, it was that good!

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Next course sea bass, delicious!
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Next up lamb, again another delicious dish.
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This food was incredible and nothing like the Indian food I’ve eaten before. The flavours were familiar but not expected from the presentation. By that I mean that I’m used to the typical French fine dining presented in this way but my tastebuds were surprised by the Indian flavours. Elderflower sorbet was presented as a palate cleanser then we had dessert of bhaba doi, served with textures of strawberries. It was a lovely fresh sweet treat to round up an incredible feast of flavours.
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All the courses at both evenings were matched with wines from the John Lewis food hall and each wine complimented the food perfectly. The man responsible for the pairings was Christian. I am always so impressed by sommeliers and their knowledge of wines. I should educate myself with my wine for dummies book which is collecting dust, but I just prefer to trust the sommeliers.

Two incredible evenings, with two highly talented chefs. Such an intimate and exclusive event and I was proud and privileged to be a part of it. Thank you AEG, John Lewis, Simon Hulstone and Atul Kochhar.
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