The downside to starting with exploring is the freebies. That's the upside too. From gin samples to Yo!Sushi handing out free sushi samplers in advertisement of their picnic line, there were no lack of things to consume. Slices of Jazz apples competed with the people handing out entire Pink Ladies. Stilton (which would have been better if warmer). Beautiful strawberry-pepper truffles from Ooh La La Chocolaterie. Swedish flat bread with wild blueberry jam. Small portions of veggie curry and a Chinese chicken with noodles variant. Samples of Almondy's cozy-and-sweet frozen layers cakes. Turkey sausages. Previously unknown-to-me fruit, the longong, whose taste - somewhere between lychee and apple - convinced me to buy a bunch of them. And that's just what I can remember off the top of my head.
With our appetites partially pre-sated, we settled down with glasses of Pimms and started to consider the menu itself. Thanks to chilperic counting as a civil servant, we ended up umbrella, chairs, and table service. Very civilized! Last year, going by myself, I focused on eating as many lightweight dishes as possible, avoiding the mains. This year, I found myself erring on the side of meat.
I started with Sumosan's duck breast - somewhat dry - accompanied by an entertaining and appealing sticky-sweet buckwheat risotto, possibly with soy and tamarind in it. (It would have worked nearly as well as a savory dessert.) Pied-à-Terre's pickled crab with a chilled pumpkin and ginger soup was lightly complex, a well-balanced offering. L'Atelier du Joël Robuchon's Foie gras burger was an exemplary miniature burger: the bun had confidence and structure, the beef was robust and flavorsome, the tomato and lettuce helped balance the weight of the meat. The foie gras was almost incidental, but it was an excellent little burger nevertheless. Cinnamon Kitchen's "Coorgi style" stir fry of pork and chile had real heat. The pork was nicely caramelized, and the teeny passionfruit caiprinha that came with it was a token effort to counteract the fire of the chiles. The glass Pimms was even more useful for this.
For dessert, Ristorante Semplice's offering was a standout - and that's now the restaurant, of all of these, I would most like to try for a full meal. Ethereal, lightly-flavored liquorice foam was punctuated with soft, transparent bitter almond gelatine squares and the rare crunch of salted almonds. morganlf treated me to my second dessert with her spare tickets: another confection from L'Atelier, this one a handsomely-presented layering of chocolates in a glass, with dark araguani pudding layers alternating with white chocolate ice cream. It was topped with finely-powdered Oreos, and the bottom layer might well have been chocolate-covered puffed rice - it certainly had the texture for it.
This year, Taste has introduced high ticket dishes, a fourth, in addition to the usual three choices which each restaurant can offer. I didn't have any of them, but was more impressed with, say, the prospect of a reasonably-priced braised wild rabbit with fennel and Old Spot bacon from Hereford Road than I was with, say, a chocolate dessert from Le Gavroche which game with a commemorative Royal Stafford china plate. (Who wants to go home with expensive dirty dishes?)
Speaking of going home, I did buy things too: olives and a nice assortment of Fudges products. The highlight, however, was morganlf's acquisition of two enormous bulbs of elephant garlic, which, several nights later, we wrapped in tin foil and roasted in the coals in the fire pit for an hour. They emerged soft and spreadable, partially caramelised, the essence of garlic, each lobe the size of a normal bulb of garlic. Highly recommend with potatoes baked in the same way.
And so, another year of Taste of London passes. I'm looking forward to next year!