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Taste of London 2010, Part 2

The best part of going to Taste is the chance to sample restaurants: small dishes on whose merit my interest in a restaurant is made or dismissed in a given year. Here's what I ate this year.

Action against Hunger, a charity, featured a different chef or restaurant each day of the show. On Thursday, the chef was Simon Rogan of L'Enclume, an extraordinary restaurant up in the Lake District. Having seen its show menu on the website the day before, this was the one dish I'd decided on in advance. As a result, I headed right over there, once the show opened, for the Set lovage cream with ‘Tornado’ tomatoes, jellied Holker Estate lamb and chive blossom. I was so prompt, I was their first customer, and Rogan delivered my set cream to me in person. It was exquisite, a delicate layering of smooth tomato, jellied lovage, and a dollop of courgette cream freamed by the earthier tastes of a crisp, airy cheese biscuit on top and the slightly too fridge-dry cubes of moderately tender lamb in a meltingly soft meat jelly. The best dish of the day.

At the Odette's stand, I had a dish which was excellent in concept, but didn't quite work out as well as it could in practicality: Whipped goat's cheese, pickled beetroot, and Regent's Park honey. The three primary ingredients worked beautifully together, a fluff of cheese on three small roundels of elegantly-veined beetroot, the contrast softened by the extremely-local honey. The quantity of fairly sour cheese was such, I ate in it smaller nibbled, and the beetroot was not feasibly divided into more than the three slices it came as. The cheese really needed the balance of the beetroot, and it was not to be had for most of the eating.

Working my way through some of the lighter dishes, I continued with two tuna dishes. At Sake no Hana, the seared tuna and green tea soba salad was a delicate salad, less than half soba, more than half greenery with a touch of soy in its citrus dressed and a scattering of sesame seeds. Searing is hard to get right, and the interior was slightly more cooked than would have been ideal. It was nicely balanced, but ultimately a minor dish, not more than the sum of its parts.

Mennula was no more convincingly successful with its Carpaccio of line-caught yellow fine tuna with fennel blossom salt crust, served with toasted almonds, currants, and sweet and sour red onions. Again, I liked all the elements well enough, with the accompaniament of pine nuts and raisins in the cooked onion mix a highlight. But it was no more than its pieces.

I admit, I am cautious when it comes to scallops. I rarely order them because they are so often overcooked and tough. From Asia de Cuba, I gambled on the Jumbo sea scallop with sweet and sour plantains and habanero corn crema. These vividly-spiced, tender (but not quite tender enough to be meltingly soft) three scallops were brightened with extremely fresh notes of micro coriander on the sweet-and-sour bed of delicate plantains, with the spice of jabañero lingering in my mouth afterward. A good dish.

From Trinity, I tried the roast belly of middle white pork, smoked apple, watercress and shallot salad and crackling. As I was waiting for the dish, customers bought long thin strips of perfect-looking crackling. The version on my dish was competent, but not as sublime as the sold-separately strips looked. The lovely smoked apple sauce dominated, with dense, substantial lump of tasty, tender pork. It had a salty tang, not overdone, and raw onion and watercress for contrast.

Despite a not-very-appealing look, the Almeida ginger crème brûlée with poached rhubarb and muscato was really quite good. It has a tasty gingery crispness to its crust which was drowned under the thin, watery poaching muscat, with raspberries and rhubarb bits floating in the liquid. Crème brûlée just doesn't retain its visual appealing when sunk beneath the waves. Still, it left me with a nicely rounded linger of ginger with which to remember the dish as I continued my wanderings.

From Theo Randall, I had a torta al cioccolato con crema di mascarpone. It was pleasantly chocolately and comfortingly soft, but didn't achieve much more of interest than that. Equally, the Argentine Flan with candied hazelnuts from Gaucho was competent, but not particularly memorable. Clearly, not enough work is being put into desserts at Taste.

I finished with a savory. Each year, Taste has a section of its booths devoted to the food, culture, and Tourism Agencies of a particular country. This year, it was Malaysia. I gambled on the Classic vegetarian noodles with coconut fritters, bean curd, bean sprouts and egg from Tukdin. It was fine. It was nothing special. It felt generic, among the ambient creativity and occasional perfectionism of the food presentations around it. The sharp spice of chili pepper slices on top of it gave it some life, but it had no real nuance and gave me no real insight, I thought, into Malaysia.

Based on these, Asia de Cuba is the restaurant I would most like to try, and l'Enclume is (still) the restaurant I would most like to revisit.