Real Food Festival on the Southbank

I am something of a fan of the Real Food Markets that take place on London’s South Bank every week, but until now had never been to the annual Real Food Festival. The  last food festival I went to was such a disappointment that it put me off the whole food festival concept (Foodies in Battersea Park).  Today was different. Foodies for example cost £15 a ticket and all the Chef Theatre events had to be pre booked.  The Real Food Festival in contrast is free and the Theatre events are on a first come basis. I actually got a front seat in the Theatre, something I have rarely managed to do at other festivals – it’s so nice to get pictures that don’t involve zooming in, not to mention being in a good postion to sample the food post demonstration before the swarm (see picture).

There were plenty of stands lining the river taking over a fair bit of the outdoor space around the Southbank centre. All nicely laid out, so you could actually see what was on offer. Lots of food festival regulars like The Little Round Cake Company and Outsider Tart were there. Cono Sur had free wine tasting, Thunder Vodka were providing samples of their award winning Toffee Vodka, and I was spoilt for choice on the savory front. I eventually decided to try some Takoyaki (Japanese dumplings) – Octopus, spring onion, Japanese red ginger, tempura topped with takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, aonori seaweed and katsuobushi, they were piping hot and very tasty.

The first event in the Chefs Theatre I attended was advertised as Ben Tish from the Salt Yard restaurant but he could not make it, so his Sous Chef was there to fill the breach. The next chef scheduled was Jun Tanaka, but the timings were a bit off, so instead chocolatier Fiona Sciolti stepped in at literally the last minute to plug the gap with amusing stories of her foraging to get the natural ingredients for her rather special chocolates. She came armed with lots of samples, so we had the chance to try her new Sea Buckthorn chocolates. I had been told that Sea Buckthorn was an acquired taste, and boy did I acquire it – the chocolates are great. The filling has a sharp flavour that is reminiscent of passion fruit and it works very well indeed when mixed with white chocolate ganache.  Other chocolates we tried were spiced masala chai, elderberry & sambuca and garden mint thins (a really good palette cleanser). She also mentioned the new range of ice cream her company have launched this year.  Fiona hit a few problems with the sound system during her session so poor Jun Tanaka ended up going low tech with a hand mic, which he quite rightly pointed out was not designed with a chef in mind, but he took it as a challenge and received a round of applause for his one handed egg breaking skills. He demonstrated how to cook a rather appetizing dish of salt crusted beef, served with potatoes where he added “a little butter” much to the audiences amusement – it was the whole 1/2 lb pack. I had to leave just as he was handing over to Cyrus Todiwala of Cafe Spice Namasti. Which was a shame as Mr Todiwala is always entertaining.

So much to my surprise I have found a food festival I actually would recommend.

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Chor Bizarre – eclectic Indian cuisine

Our visit to Chor Bizarre in Mayfair was by invitation, and we were totally spoilt.  Having the opportunity to try several of the dishes on the rather eclectic menu, which covers feasts like the famous Kashmiri Wazwam, South Indian Tiffin, the quintessential Indian street food Chaat, along with other well known Indian dishes.  I am going to have to use the word eclectic a lot as that very much sums up Chor Bizarre. The decor is both stylish and eclectic (and some of it is even for sale). The  food is equally eclectic covering several Indian regions, we ordered a fairly mixed range of dishes.  Sambar, Gazab ka tikka, a lovely mild dish with very moist chicken marinated in cheese and cream that is also served in Chor Bizarre’s New Delhi branch.  Dakshni crab cakes, light and as spicy as advertised, Lamb Rogan Josh, Pepper Scallops, Baghara Baingan and Palak Makkai a rather delicious spinach dish.

The restaurant has an extensive wine list which they are happy to match to your food, something I always struggle with in Indian restaurants.  For a useful guide on pairing see Charles Metcalfe’s Chor Bizarre Wine and Food matches. We had a nice bottle of Castillo de Clavijo Rioja Crianza, which only really worked with the milder dishes.

I very much wanted to try their Tandoori pineapple dessert, but alas after our feast I had no room, I just managed to fit in some mango sorbet and a nice glass of dessert wine.

Chor Bizarre which translates as Thieves Market has a nice relaxing buzz to it, on our visit it comfortably handled groups, couples and single dinners.

I have indulged at top London Indian restaurants like Benares and The Cinnamon Club, and dined at numerous less expensive establishments. My favorites include places like Dockmasters HouseCafe Spice Namaste and The Mint Leaf, and now I can happily add Chor Bizarre to that number.

Chor Bizarre is managed by Old World Hospitality.  They have several restaurants in London including one of my favorites Tamarai in Drury Lane.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.5

Service 6.5

Ambience 6.3

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