Sunday, 1 June 2008

Edinburgh taste festival

Well, it has been a long time since my last post again! I must say, however, that the eating British thing is still going on, I've just been far too busy with work and stuff to be able to update the blog for a while.

Anyway, this weekend saw the Channel 4 Taste Festival come to Edinburgh again. Since I missed it last year, I figured that I really should make the effort to go this year. I only went to the evening session, on Saturday, but I think that was enough.

It was quite expensive, I paid £25.00 for a premium ticket, which included £15 worth of 'crowns'. For some reason, none of the stall inside accept (real) money or plastic, so they use their own, internal 'currency'. Strange, but fair enough. I was a bit annoyed that from the outside, there was no way of knowing how much things were going to cost once you got in, so it was quite difficult to work out whether it was worth buying the premium ticket for £25.00, or simple getting a regular ticket for £12.50. Still, that's only a small complain really.

Once inside, the event had a really nice, festival type of atmosphere. There were stands there representing many of the more exclusive restaurants in Edinburgh, such as David Bann, Fourth Floor at Harvey Nichols and Tigerlily, to give just three examples. I suppose the great thing about this festival is that you get the chance to sample the food from such restaurants, for somewhat less then it would cost to actually go there (I assume, I don't think I've been to any of the restaurants that were there). This isn't for free however, the cost of the 'meals' varies from 6 crowns, up to 10 crowns. Many of the main courses cost 10 crowns. I have to say that the portion sizes were extremely disappointing and I heard many people around the festival complaining about that. I guess that it's only supposed to be a taste, but when you've forked out 10 crowns (equivalent to £5) for a dish and you get only two or three spoonfuls, it does rather feel like your being ripped off a bit.

After inspecting all of the restaurant stands, I was quite hungry. I went for three main course options; the braised shin of Ross-shire beef, pearl barley and root vegetables from Martin Wishart. I also had the confit breast of Borders lamb with Ayrshire potatoes and nicoise garnish from Number One at The Balmoral and, for something a bit different, I went for the spicy Thai smoked tofu fritters, with homemade mango chutney, plum sauce and mustard leaf from David Bann. I have to say that they were all very good, although the shin of beef wasn't really anything special. I tried to have a burger from Malmaison, but the queue for these was huge. They were clearly very popular, but I suspect that this was more because people had figured out that they represented the nearest thing to a proper meal at the whole festival, rather then there being something amazing about the burgers themselves.

As well as the restaurant stands, there were also three or four live theatres, where they were holding regular shows on various food topics. I went along to a talk titled "Discover the secrets of Scotland's natural larder" which was given by Sue Lawrence. From the title, I was expecting to learn about great local food, particularly local delicacies that grow here in Scotland. Sadly, the talk itself fell rather short on this front. She cooked (live) a creamy chicken risotto (not exactly a traditional Scottish dish), smocked haddock and black pudding done in the over (I'm not sure what she called this now) and an Orkney fudge cheese cake. They all looked amazing, but guess what? No one got to try them out! This really surprised me, she had easily made enough of each one that everyone who was watching could have had a taste, so I really don't understand why they didn't do that. In terms of the risotto, she added chopped up Ayrshire bacon. Interestingly, she explain that Scotland has only one local cure of bacon, which is the Ayrshire bacon. England, in contrast has many different ones. She finally served the risotto with Parmesan cheese, again, hardly from Scotland's natural larder... But, she did point out that it worked very well with Isle of Mull Cheddar.

The smoked haddock and black pudding was rather more interesting. She was using uncoloured smoked haddock, so not the bright yellow, high visibility variety. She placed these on a baking tray, rolled up slightly and stacked a slice of Stornoway black pudding on top of each one, so at least this was local. She then wrapped each of these in a rasher of Ayrshire bacon. This then went into a hot over, along with some cherry tomatoes, at 230C for around 10 minutes.

The cheese cake was simply made from grated Orkney fudge, mixed with cream cheese and lightly whipped double cream. When left over night, the fudge apparently melts into the other ingredients, making it all smooth and creamy. For the base, she recommended either an oaty biscuit, or a shortbread biscuit. I will have to try this one out next time it's my turn to make cake at work! In conclusion, it was all very interesting, but I felt slightly cheated by the title of the talk!

I also went to a talk by Clare MacDonald, who replaced Antony Worral Thompson. Apparently, he couldn't be there because it was his wife's birthday. Honestly, I'm sure I would have been able to come up with a better excuse then that! :-) Clare talked and talked and talked. Eventually it became clear that she wasn't going to be doing any cooking at all, so people started to drift away. Before I succumbed to the temptation to find something more interesting, she talked about how she considered food to be the central core of family life - a point of communication, and how important it was for everyone to sit down and eat together. She also argued that there are so much 'myth and misery' about food at the moment. We're constantly being told that we mustn't eat this and we mustn't eat that. She pointed out that moderation is the key and that it's much better to enjoy the food you like, but not to eat too much of it, then to eat it and feel guilty. The phrase 'no s**t, Sherlock' sprang to mind. She did, however, also stick up for local food. Interestingly, it was at this point that a noticeable number of people got up and left. She argued that it is vital to support the local economy, something I completely agree with. She particularly mentioned British pork, something that I have written about here already. Now, of course, the people who left at this point may well have simply hit their boredom threshold, but there do seem to be quite a number of people who find this idea of supporting local farmers to be something quite offensive. It's almost as if they consider farming to be something dirty and unclean, which should be done far away in other counties where we can't see it. Strange.

Overall, it was an enjoyable way to spend the evening, especially since the weather was amazing! Typically, there were plenty of lobster pink people by the time I left.

1 comment:

BrokenMountain said...

I went last year, and wouldn't go again. Far too expensive in my opinion. I've no objection to forking out for a good meal and wine (and do so regularly) - but the prices they charge for tiny tasting plates were frankly ridiculous. A bit of a shame since I had been really looking forward to it.

I have heard from friends that the Foodies Festival is much better value - will be giving it a go this year instead.