December 5th, 2005


BBC Good Food Show, part 2: An accidental feast

The first thing I did after arriving at the show, stowing my luggage, and investing in an overpriced and unnecessary program, was to head over to the ticket booth for the "Birmingham Bites" tasting theatre, starring top B'ham chefs. Tickets, only available at the show, cost all of UKP 3.50. There were only 30 seats available per show, and only four shows a day. I'd missed the morning sales, but came back a good twenty minutes before the afternoon tickets were due to go on sale. It's just as well I did: the two people in front of me claimed the last two tickets... until another couple realized they had a celebrity chef show conflict, freeing up two tickets - one of which as all mine!

The show I lucked into starred the food from Sante Fe restaurant, a Mexican-themed foodery. We gathered at the gate to the fenced-off tasting theatre area a good fifteen minutes before the event was due to start. Round tables were draped with white linen tableclothes, with linen napkins, glassware, real silverware, china, and cheap chairs swathed in fabric and bows to look elegant. Waiters poured our water. By restaurant standards, it was expectable; by the standards of an enormous, over-crowded food fair, it was decadent. Up on a raised dais, our host, a perky media person, interviewed the chef and general manager of the restaurant, providing running commentary on the Santa Fe cocktail scene, Mexican food, and the restaurant's cookery.

Going in, I had my doubts. I have only ever had mediocre to lousy Mexican food in the UK. To my relief, this was some of the best and most interesting Mexican food I've ever eaten. Really. We began spiced tortilla chips, accompanied by a tortilla bowl half-filled with chunky garlic-and-coriander spiced guacamole and rich, spicy, chipotle-and-tomato salsa. Our main was lime, coriander, and olive oil marinated salmon resting on two salads. The slaw salad featured a chiffonade of red cabbage and carrot, among other veggies, tossed with balsamic viegar, brown sugar, and cherry vinegar. The fruit salad was comprised of pineapple, mango, cucumber, red pepper, coriander, and mint. The plating was completed with a sultana-chili-cinnamon-red wine vinegar reduction, a beautifully-balanced set of flavors all together. Finally, our unexpected feast was completed with a mango-and-cinnamon American-style cheesecake with biscuit base, topped with a smooth mango coulis. I liked the flavors, but I've become rather picky about my cheesecake lately, and thought the texture coarser than I liked. But that's a minor quibble in the scheme of things.

The event was meant to be comprised of tasting portions, but our chef hadn't gotten the message. We had full-sized portions, by far the best meal I've ever eaten for UKP 3.50!