Don’t believe the hype

by Sam Bilton on April 28, 2013 4 comments

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Sometimes you have to grab the bull the horns.

Take Jack for example. A good looking, polite young chap who asked to borrow a pen on the District Line on Thursday night somewhere between Monument and Victoria. In a carpe diem moment he’d decided to give a leggy brunette in red his number. Good for you, I thought. I really hope she gives him a call but I fear she was more interested in playing Candy Crush than being wooed by a fellow commuter.

This is so often the case. We go for something we really want only to be disappointed when we achieve our goal. On this particular evening I misguidedly thought I would be witnessing how the maestros from Noma work. But sadly my evening didn’t go quite as I had planned.

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Lars Williams, Head of Research & Development at Noma

When I received the original e-mail promoting Noma’s appearance at The Lab I was quite excited. I had tried and failed to get tickets for the Taste of Noma at Claridges last year, so this seemed like an ideal opportunity to get a small experience of the world’s number one restaurant. So yes, I grabbed that bull by it’s horns without giving any consideration as to whether this event would really be worth the investment of £75.

The corridor of disappointment

The corridor of disappointment

But let’s focus on the organisers of this event for a moment. The Taste Festivals have been running for several years now based on the premise that you can sample lot of the capital’s finest restaurants in one place for a minimal outlay. I went to one in Regent’s park a few years ago. The food was pretty average as mass catering food so often is. It was certainly far from the gourmet experience it’s billed to be. Food writer and blogger James Ramsden summed the Taste Festivals up well in this article “as soon as you eat standing up from a paper plate, Michelin-starred food it ain’t. It’s a glorified picnic. And one that costs the same as a small puppy.”

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From my previous experience of Taste Festivals I should have known not to get swept away by the hype. I admit I was dazzled at the prospect of getting within an inch of sampling Noma’s cuisine. Tickets for the event, I was assured, were extremely limited. We arrived at Tobacco Dock to find the place buzzing and filling quickly with hundreds of people. We were warned to turn up early for the masterclass slots but despite arriving just after 6pm (when the event opened) and queuing up shortly after we were told all of the slots were full (there were only three masterclasses run each evening). Those of us unlucky to get a place on the masterclass were invited to watch from the back but this was rather like standing at the window of your local watching your mates merrily drinking knowing full well you hadn’t been invited.

The chosen ones

The chosen ones

There was nothing for it but to head to the Dishes section for the four courses included in our ticket. We had been promised they would “challenge and tantalize” our tastebuds. The stench of disappointment in the lengthy queues was palpable. I suspect many of the guests felt cheated like me but at least we had the dishes to look forward to. At their inception they may well have tantalised but served on a paper plate they became pretty ordinary (and were probably not a fair reflection of what these restaurants can offer). They were also not so much courses as meagre samples designed, I’m sure, for the weight conscious in mind (Gregg and Patsy could happily have indulged in seconds without any fear of ruining their WeightWatchers diet). The best of the bunch was Kensington Place’s fresh tasting mackerel tartare with crispy croutes, beetroot and horseradish. At the bottom I would place Sartoria’s vivid green vegetable risotto with quails egg, parmesan and some kind of slightly bitter substance drizzled over it (I’m being deliberately vague here as no description was provided. If you guessed the main ingredients correctly you were in with a chance of winning a bottle of champagne). Somewhere in between were Skylon’s pork belly with smoked eel and The Blue Print Cafe’s slow cooked lamb with grilled aubergine puree.

Open venison sandwich by the Wild Game Co

Open venison sandwich by the Wild Game Co

Now I realise I sound like a petulant toddler throwing my toys out of the pram because I didn’t get what I want. So to prove that it’s not all sour grapes I will admit there were a couple of positive things about the event. There was a lovely guy donning a kilt from The Wild Game Company selling open sandwiches made with venison. These were simple but deliciously succulent and gamey. I would have gone back for more but good news travels fast and the disgruntled masses were queuing around Tobacco Dock to get some. Equally delectable was the whisky and salted caramel ice cream from Lick Me I’m Delicious. I also hope Action Against Hunger, who were running the cloakroom, did well out of the event because this is a worthy cause.

Lick Me I'm Delicious in action

Lick Me I’m Delicious in action

So the moral of this story is that bulls with horns have an unnerving way of goring you where it hurts. If you want to experience the top restaurant in the world or even good London restaurants you have to cough up and go to the real mcCoy. You’ll get a far better deal in the long run and will be more satisfied with the end result.  The next time I receive an exclusive offer from Taste Festivals I will refer back to this post to remind myself that sometimes it’s better to ignore the hype. I only hope Jack had more luck in his endeavour with the lady in red than I did.

Sam BiltonDon’t believe the hype

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  • Valentine - April 28, 2013 reply

    Mmmmm interesting. My personal opinion and I realise not everyone’s point of view, any place like Noma and its respective peers around the world are not transferable. They are, and rightly so individual, idiosyncratic, and highly personal. Surely the tag line “Time and place in Nordic cuisine” on Redzepis book gives it away. Noma 2 just doesn’t sound quite right
    ,does it?
    I take nothing away from anyone who participates in any of the periferal ‘business’ these groundbreaking, imaginative and dedicated Chefs pursue, as we know the financial challenge of what they seek is a massive burden and they deserve all and any other gains rhey can make.
    I do however personally feel that all of these outstanding food experiences are only really available in situ. Of course this makes the opportunity to experience something we desire minuscule but personally I think I would rather still have the idea of that desire at its height than have it dampened by a poor misrepresentation of what they truly are.

    admin - April 30, 2013 reply

    Hi Valentine. Yes I agree, you can’t beat the real thing. I don’t object to Noma being involved in the Taste Lab at all (as you say they deserve all the financial gains they can make). I’m more cross at myself for being taken in by the marketing hype. They are also involved in a presentation on the Deliciousness of Insects tomorrow which I am attending so I expect I will get more out of that experience. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

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