Taste of Christmas Review
Friday, December 7th 2012
What should Christmas taste like? Mulled wine and cinnamon? Turkey and cranberry? Or how about celebrity chef demonstrations, free tastings and over 200 fine food and boutique stalls?
Fortunately, these choices aren’t mutually exclusive. Mulled wine and turkey could be found, along with overwhelming food diversity, at Taste of Christmas 2012, a giant, three-day food festival, which also runs Taste of London in the summer.
Opening early on the Friday, the queues moved swiftly as eager foodies poured into the Excel exhibition space, decked out with Christmas trees, sparkles and a band stand, complete with live acts that progressed through a Christmassy repertoire all day long.
Yet whilst organisers understood the need to brighten the room with festive cheer, they did not anticipate the demand to see Jamie Oliver take to the stage, resulting in a confused crowd crushed around seats that were crammed with ‘VIP ticket’ guests.
Any discomfort, however, was soon forgotten as Jamie bounded onto the stage and launched into a live cooking demonstration. With his down-to-earth attitude, it’s easy to see why he is so popular. Only Jamie can make a dish as fancy as beef carpaccio seem accessible, declaring his love for “rustic” restaurants as “it feels more like home”. His dedication to good food is also extremely admirable. He invited his first boss, Gennaro, an Italian chef and pasta expert, to make pasta live on stage, and, of course, they both made it look effortlessly simple.
For Taste visitors keen to get stuck into actual tasting, there were regular, and free, cheese and wine-tasting sessions, and cookery classes with prominent chefs. However, a visit to Taste is mostly – and unavoidably – spent perusing the overwhelming amount of produce, and guilt-free tasting in the name of Christmas shopping. This necessarily involves a systematic sampling of the cheese producers’ goods. Special mention goes to Snowdonia Cheese Company’s extremely garlicky and herby Green Thunder, which is perfect for avoiding kissing relatives at Christmas, and to Khayri Olives’ feta cheese (which I bought at the BBC Good Food Show). Coated in parsley, it’s not too tangy, not too bland, and not too crumbly – it is actually heaven.
Best snack award has to be given to Perry Court Farm’s freeze-dried apple crisps. With the selling points of one of your five a day, under 70 calories and fat-free, it’s hard to refuse. Personally, I think the main selling point is the ease of eating a bag of these compared to a real apple: it avoids the problem of sticky hands from juice.
One of the most prominent foodstuffs of the show was chutneys. These ranged from Indian favourites to British classic; mango chutneys were found alongside piccalilli and red onion chutneys. Mr. Todiwala’s Minted Mango and Ginger Relish and Beetroot Chutney were notably good, but for those looking for something even more unusual, they even sell meat pickles, including prawn pickle and wild boar vindaloo pickle.
In line with this, Indian food is definitely in vogue. As well as chutneys and a range of curry sauces available from stalls, Vivek Singh, founder of renowned Indian restaurants The Cinnamon Club and Cinnamon Kitchen, was presenting on stage. He deftly demonstrated his take on a Christmas dinner – a turkey dressed in a first marinade of ginger-garlic pasts and chilli powder, then coated in a second marinade of yoghurt, chilli, fenugreek, garam masala, fried onions and cashew nut paste. His new book, ‘Cinnamon Kitchen’ delves bravely into fusion cooking, with recipes for Rogan Josh Shepherd’s Pie and Keralan Seafood Pie.
For the sweet-toothed among us, there were plenty of cupcake stalls, with dazzling designs that looked too good to be eaten. Also popular was the chocolate section, featuring all kinds of near-unaffordable but seriously tempting confectionary. A Niche by Aneesh have concocted a dangerously good cardamom chocolate-coated coffee bean, sadly way beyond my means as a student. Fortunately, for visitors on a budget, Ferrero Rocher were showering passer-bys with freebies, including their new coconut and almond, and dark chocolate and almond flavours.
Visitors, who weren’t too stuffed from sampling or were without a dining ticket, could choose to lunch on street food or more upscale dishes from quality restaurants, although the dining setting for both was very much the same – benches and tables scattered around the hall.
Street food options included stews from Jamie’s Fabulous Feasts and tasty meatballs from The Bowler (sampled previously at the BBC Good Food Show). The restaurants section featured Indian cuisine from Cinnamon Kitchen and highly popular duck burgers from Comptoir Gascon. Salt Yard served up a Pedro Ximinez and Raisin Affogato – ice-cream embedded with Pedro Ximinez-soaked raisins, doused with a shot of espresso. It was wonderfully bitter and sweet.
Taste of Christmas is definitely a decadent and indulgent day out. But with entertaining demonstrations, fantastic quality produce, and great offers and Christmas gift sets, it’s impossible to feel too guilty if you occasionally treat yourselves as well as buying for others.
Check out the photos: