I wrote this post yesterday, then lost it. After a fierce bout of cursing, nearly throwing my Mac out into the street, and damning technology for all eternity, I went out, had a few glasses of champagne to celebrate a 1st birthday, and returned wondering what all the fuss was about. Here's a truncated version of the original.
The London Restaurant Festival, in its second year, is coming to a close. Bigger and better than ever, it brought together hundreds of the capital's restaurants, each of which offered a special discounted 'festival' menu, and a stellar stream of chefs collaborated, popped up temporary residencies, and emerged from their subterranean sweaty kitchens to lure in the hungry public and tout their wares. Celebrating eating out: Fay Maschler (the festival's founder) hit gold.
One such culinary collaboration brought a silver Airstream caravan filled with seasonal British food to the city's streets, courtesy of two of London's finest chefs, Pearl restaurant's Jun Tanaka and Mark Jankel, chef and founder of The Food Initiative. Aptly named Street Kitchen, it offered a small but perfectly formed selection of dishes, for all tastes and appetites: soup, fish, meat, salad, and sweet, all keenly priced at between £4.50 and £6.50. Visiting them at their final parking spot - Spitalfields Market - we picked up three of their savoury dishes for lunch.
The carrot and rosemary soup with brioche was silky smooth and heavenly, the earthiness of the carrot lifted by the pungent yet fragrant rosemary. An imaginative combination: this is definitely one I'll attempt at home.
The hot smoked salmon was a hefty chunk of tender flaky fish (incredibly generous for £6.50 - it must be the absence of restaurant overheads that makes such pricing possible), sitting on sweet roast beetroot and crushed potatoes. Simple yet refined.
Braised featherblade beef with carrots and celeriac. This dish had already made itself known to me, courtesy of Giles Coren's enthusiastic write-up in last Saturday's Times Magazine. Ripe, rich, and gamey, the meat was outstanding. I haven't had a piece of beef that impressive since my last visit to Hawksmoor. Needless to say, its pedigree was impeccable. The celeriac and carrots complemented it perfectly and made it the standout dish on the menu.
To give my digestive system a final kick in the balls, having overindulged on two main courses, I stopped at the Caravan restaurant stall nearby (their permanent base is on Exmouth Market) to pick up some of their own-blend coffee with a free Anzac biscuit. Both were perfectly made, and being coffee lovers that is not a term we use lightly.
I'd like to appeal to the festival organisers for less high end events in 2011, and more frontline crowd-pleasers such as Street Kitchen, as only those already enmeshed in London's food 'scene' are quick enough off the mark to book the hottest restaurants or buy tickets to the events, leaving the rest of London leering hungrily through restaurant windows, and salivating at enthusiastic blog posts.
It's a shame we don't see more gourmet food vans in the UK. They're a big hit in the States, so perhaps the trend will rub off. London needs decent street food. We are well catered for when it comes to the finery and frippery of fine dining, but finding decent takeaway food is still a challenge (unless you're lucky enough to be near a branch of Leon or Ottolenghi). Word has it that the runaway success of Street Kitchen has made Jun and Mark think about making their temporary venture more permanent. Keep an eye on their website and @streetkitchen to be the first to know, or hot-foot it to Spitalfields before the close of the festival on Monday 18th Oct.