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Wrap up of Restaurant Festival

It’s been ages since I last posted, mostly due to a trip back to the US and attempting to navigate my way through the UK Visa process – absolute nightmare. But now all is sorted, stress has been lifted and it’s time to get back into this backlog of posts that has been building up.

So yes – Restaurant Festival. I was really looking forward to taking part in the festival this year, as last year I had overstretched my already tight student budget on travel. My first step was booking a table at Gauthier Soho for their festival menu, and I was particularly excited to find out that the menu I had blindly booked was full of truffle and one of my favorite desserts – Louis XIV. But more on that later…

Disappointing was how this festival failed to sweep London in the same manner the NYC Restaurant Week manages to take over the diaries of almost all New Yorkers and suburbanites. The LRF seemed to maximise its efforts on organising and publicising events that attracted people into London for a splurge and minimal effort was focused on selling the festival to Londoners. This would have been a great opportunity to attract many of the people whom I know, (mainly young professionals with disposable income) but this was missed. Completely missed. Perhaps that’s because it was more profitable to focus on the expensive events organised by the festival team, rather than publicise menus at some great London restaurants. From what I heard from friends and family, it appears that if you weren’t a ‘foodie’ or a suburbanite who attended for the sole reason to later brag to friends that they ate X amount of Michelin stars, then this wasn’t an event for you. Handing out tiny, ticket stub-sized flyers at Liverpool St station halfway through the festival was just pitiful PR for what could have been great meals for so many people.

With such high price tags placed on some of these events, T and I couldn’t justify the costs – even though he’s gainfully employed, unlike yours truly. I’m not entirely sure why the Big Guy was shining on me that week, but I was lucky to win tickets to two events: Gourmet Odyssey and The Big Quiz at Le Cafe Anglais.

Gourmet Odyssey Cost: 135 pounds. For 3 courses. More than the tasting menus at some of my favorite London and NY restaurants. So you may ask, who paid such a high price for these 3 courses? Londoners? – Nope. Food writers/bloggers? – Negative. Chock full of suburbanites. Hailing from some Desperate Housewives, New York suburb myself, I don’t have anything against people from the ‘burbs. I can understand that perhaps this event was cleverly targeted toward individuals from out of town willing to splurge to try these great restaurants. We met some lovely people, who were genuinely interested in having a good time and trying some great food. But then, there were people in attendance who made it very clear they were in attendance solely to return home and brag to friends about the experience. The couple who bragged that “they once knew the chef from Scott’s because she [wife] once worked in event planning ten years ago with a woman from Caprice Holdings and they had to go say hi before they left, because otherwise, the chef would JUST not forgive them”.

T and I weren’t fans of the champagne ‘reception’, which involved crowding most attendees into the lobby of the Metropolitan Hotel, (not the relaxing bar) whilst we spent most of our time trying to attract a refill from the one waiter with the bubbly. But, thank goodness for the good food. Enjoyed a great starter of scallops with garlic and sausage at Scott’s, followed by mutton three ways at Benares, (although mine was only two ways, as a clever cook forgot to complete my plate) and a great dessert quartet at Theo Randall, including a grapefruit sorbet, lemon tart, some sort of deathly-rich chocolate cake and a Grappa pannacotta. We loved how classic Scott’s was – both its interior and seafood menu – and would gladly return.  And it was great to see Niamh again – it’s been far too long!

 

A much better, more London-focused event was the Big Quiz at Le Cafe Anglais, hosted by Anne Robinson and with an appearance by Rowley Leigh.

A St Germain cocktail was the perfect start to the evening, and we loved how the elderflower liqueur added its sweet kick to an otherwise ordinary champagne cocktail. T and I found ourselves seated with a lovely crowd of fellow London food bloggers, restaurant owners and drinks enthusiasts, which led to an evening neither devoid of conversation or great wine. Starters were served on sharing platters and ranged from grilled peppers to the most AMAZING parmesan custard with anchovy toasts. Our table couldn’t get enough of the creamy, salty custard paired with the slightly fishy and crunchy bread.Mains of roast chicken were served individually with sharing platters of potatoes dauphinoise and assorted vegetables. Whilst the roast chicken was sufficiently juicy with crispy skin, it was just roast chicken and nothing more. I know that Rowley Leigh is acclaimed for much more, so we’re hoping to head back and order dishes of a more complex nature. Dessert of grilled pineapple with chili flake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream was again, simple, but nonetheless enjoyable. And throughout the meal Anne Robinson delivered the quiz questions with all the charm we see as she hosts the Weakest Link. Sadly, our team didn’t come in the top 3, but perhaps that can be blamed on the wine maximising the difficulty of the questions?

To finish up LRF, T and I finally got ourselves over to Gauthier Soho for their restaurant menu. A fantastic deal at only £25, we feasted on four courses with some champagne and a lovely bottle of red from one of my favorite AOCs, Madiran. Our starters of Scottish Scallops & Girolles and Foie Gras Apple-Sultanas were of utter perfection, and we both really enjoyed the sweet, apple notes that shone through in our dishes. The only fault T could attach to his Foie Gras was that it was too large for a starter, but he certainly had no trouble polishing it off! The rest of the menu can be viewed here on Gauthier Soho’s blog. I wish we had photos to share of the evening, but the dimly-lit dining room of Gauthier was neither of the appropriate light to take photos, and most certainly would have ruined the serenity of the room.

I’m looking forward to next year’s LRF – perhaps the organisers will take a lesson from London Cocktail Week and make LRF 2011 more accessible to Londoners. Increase promotion of the week’s festival menus to those who have money to burn – it would be silly not to take advantage of this! And organise events that don’t carry prohibitively expensive price tags – wine pairings, cheese tastings, beer and food pairings…the list goes on. T and I were so grateful to be able to take part in so much of LRF, thank you to Niamh and Euwen!

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