I’m at risk of losing favour here, but I just didn’t get this event. The idea of queuing up to get a taster of fine cooking on a paper plate from a prestigious restaurant presented with nowhere to sit seems suicidal. From the restaurant’s point of view.
For those who haven’t been, the system is as follows: for the mere privilege of entering, the fee is £28. To sample any of the cooking at the restaurant stands, you have to buy books of crowns. Each book is £10, contains 20, and any left are non refundable. Most main type items are 10 or 12 crowns. In principle, therefore, you might have to buy 2 books for 2 small dishes. Including the entrance fee, this would be a total cost of £48.
The format suits some restaurants less badly than others. I feared for the classical French offering from Le Gavroche but Bocca di Lupo is known for small plate eating, and so their delectable crisp fried arancini and charcoal-grilled cuttlefish suited the takeaway style. Similarly the revamped Kensington Place was offering beer battered haddock with triple cooked chips. The question is, are you really getting the real flavour of the restaurant?
A memorable lunch experience in the last couple of years has been at Corner Room in the old Bethnal Green Town Hall. I have written about it here. The cooking is extraordinary, and imagination is pushed to new limits. A moose’s head made out of carpet watches you as you enter, and a spiral staircase leading nowhere climbs the wall inside. This is all part of the experience but which could not be replicated under windswept canvas. I chose the Açorda de bacalhau, flakes of ceviche-like cod on a porridge-based sauce, garnished with pieces of crisp cod skin. The main problem was, that after finding even a standing space, the porridge had cooled to become congealed and unappetising.
It’s not as if it’s a huge money-spinner for the restaurants either. The organisers take 40% of the take, and by the time you’ve set up a temporary kitchen behind the tents with all the accompanying adventures of portable power, is it really going to be worthwhile financially? I may be missing a trick here, and would love to have feedback to the contrary.
After an uncomfortable, cold and windy dinner, I made my way to my friends selling bottles of premium grade single estate olive oil from La Bandiera estate in Tuscany for a bargain £10 for 500ml. A chef from the local village of Bolghieri was in attendance, serving up delicious samples of cake made from the oil, using either rice flour or chestnut flour. For the same price as a book of crowns, I had dessert and some wonderful olive oil to take home. For me, no contest.