Our plan for the day was to go to the Taste of London food festival (yes, for the 3rd time in 3 years). But then, what can I say, the Argentine steak is scrumptious to say the least. And of course, where there is a BA event, there is Honey (don’t tell me after the last 3 years of articles you don’t recognize her. She is my mausi). We were to meet her, my mom’s cousins and my cousin at the festival; post which we’d planned to head out to a pub to watch the England vs. Italy Euro cup match.
Not surprisingly, we woke up pretty late. But since pretty late has generally been the time we’ve woken up on these trips, might as well say we woke up on time.
I generally lazed around the house after waking up and finally got my act together around 12:00. I took a quick shower (okay, a full-fledged bubble bath), put on my shirt and jeans and came downstairs. I ate yoghurt for breakfast (eating a heavy breakfast before heading out to a food festival is well, just absurd).
Everyone finally got ready by about 1:45 pm and since it was peak British summer, it was, of course, raining. We got wet in the walk to the bus stop, and had a second round of wetting when we got off the bus and crossed the road to the tube station. We made only one tube change on the way, so we had plenty of time to dry out to coordinate with Honey and our cousins on the meeting point, meeting time etc. We got off at Oxford Street; Regent’s park was then hardly a 10 minute walk from there.
We got off the tube by 2:30 pm. The others were scheduled to reach only by 3:00 and since we were in no rush to reach the Taste of London (ToL) venue, we leisurely strolled down to Regent’s Park, generally clicking pictures, admiring the buildings and taking in the atmosphere of Central London.
The festival was in one of the inner areas of the park (a birthday party was going on in an adjacent area), so we strolled around clicking pictures of the trees and all. Finally we got to the entrance and waited for the others to arrive.
We met everyone by 3:00 pm and proceeded into ToL. This was, as you know (and as I’ve highlighted earlier), my 3rd time there so by now I pretty much knew the protocol – currency to buy food is called Crowns, eat everything in little amounts and try everything, keep a look-out for the big restaurants etc. So while Honey gave everyone else the brief, I was already fantasizing about that scrumptious, soft, medium, chewy, flavourful piece of Argentine steak we’d had there twice, and revelled in the prospect of consuming it within the next 2-3 hours.
We, as always, decided to go to the lounge first – the adults would drink their champagne and we’d plan the day ahead of us and decide which all restaurants we wanted to hit and in what order (I would be handed a can of coke while this all happened, just in case you were wondering)
We started off with the stall closest to us, my second-most favourite stall, Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant – Maze. Now, the real reason I had wanted to eat there was because out of all the names of restaurants and their chefs listed in the catalogue, Gordon Ramsey’s name was the only one I recognized. It’s not like I’m a GR fan or ‘I just love the technique with which he cooks’; I just thought that it might be nice to have tasted his food once at least, so I had something to think of when I saw him on TV.
The queue for that stall was unbelievably long; calling it just ‘long’ would be a gross understatement. A lot of people wanted food from this restaurant, and so it took me a good 20 minutes to get out of there with food in my hands, and those 20 minutes were for this microscopically tiny plate of little strands of crispy-fried pork. It was like a golden fried piece of heaven. It had been deep-fried, thus the bacon had gotten crumpled up, but the flavour of the bacon had been retained. There was an almost silky, foreign taste of the oil used. It wasn’t anything in particular. My first guess was olive oil, but it was somehow tangier than that, with a hint of almost a peppery taste in it. One more plus point was that this one wasn’t too salty at all, which is generally the problem with bacon – usually the salt overrides the taste of the bacon. This was, as previously stated, like a crisp-fried piece of heaven.
Anyhow, we then wandered off in search of more tasty food. We found this other place which had steak on the menu, and since we hadn’t been able to find our Argentine fellow and our hearts and taste-buds were down in the dumps, we thought to ourselves, nothing to pick a man’s spirit up like a good char grilled steak, so we gave the other place a try. It was kinda crowded there (nothing compared to GR’s though), but our order got processed and reached us in less than 5 minutes. It was basically just a rare-medium steak with a side of salad. We weren’t hoping for much, but then we weren’t expecting too little of it either. It was superior to the average steak by any standards – it was perfectly cooked, moist and firm – but it wasn’t anywhere close to that Argentine steak we had two years ago.
By the time we finished eating it was almost 3:40 pm, and it was then that we realised that the four vegans in our group hadn’t eaten anything since we started and so we decided to look for something for them to eat. But as has been the story for the past two years, finding veg food at ToL was hard. Mostly because a host of the premier restaurants of London put up stalls here and each is allowed only four dishes on the menu. This prompts them to put their signature dishes on it, which, in most cases, is not vegetarian. The only place serving veg cuisine was generally an Indian restaurant, so we headed there. Most of you by now know my policy on eating Indian food in any country other than India, but people were hungry, so off we went. The vegans ordered their papri chaat and what not when something caught my dad’s eye on the menu – it was shrimp khichdi (a khichdi is a light dish made of lentils and rice, usually prepared at home if someone is ill or it is served during Durga pooja as ‘Prasad’ – an offering to the deity). My parents decided to give it a try and ordered some. At first the idea of shrimp khichdi did kind of excite me, but I soon realised it was normal khichdi with some shrimp added to it. I had been fooled by the overuse of the word ‘delectable’ in the dish description but now there was no way to return it. So I did the smart thing of picking out the bits of shrimp in it, while my parents ate the rest of the khichdi.
Now that everyone was fed to a sustenance level, we decided to generally roam around the festival and explore the packed and sealed food items like olive oil, pasta sauces, chocolates etc. We chanced upon this Greek stall selling olive oil – this was the first time I tasted olive oil raw. There were these bits of bread laid out on a tray, accompanied by little dip-size bowls of olive oil of different varieties. We were encouraged to pick up the bread, put some olive oil on it and enjoy the taste. While my mausi and my mother were busy debating which type of olive oil is more suited to Indian cooking, dad started chatting up the owner. He seemed like a football enthusiast and so we generally discussed the English team’s performance, Ronaldo’s form, etc. (the Euro cup was on during that time). On the way out, once we’d shopped for the oils, my dad complimented the Greek team’s performance in the last match, and let me tell you – I’ve never seen a man break into a smile any quicker than that. He almost gave my dad a hug! In his happiness he handed us an extra bottle of olive oil ‘on the house’ and called us good men.
We then generally walked around and looked for dessert options. We’d all sort of branched out for a while there, every one going their own ways and eating desserts that they fancied. I decided to play it safe and get just a plain old chocolate truffle cake, and that is what it was – just a plain old chocolate truffle cake – nothing to write home about.
We met up with each other at around 4:40 pm and since the festival ended at 5:00 we decided to head back to the lounge and relax for a bit. We sat ourselves in one of those outdoor lounge-y chairs, with a mini tub of ice cream each, and generally ended the first part of Day 4.
We started planning for the rest of the evening, which was all about going to a pub to watch the England vs Italy game. At first the plan was to meet at the pub in Angel where we’d seen our last football game with Aman (my mom’s cousin) two years ago. It was an English pub called Offside. But then Honey got us into this other place in Marylebone – Sports bar and grill – which was considered to be one of the best in London and so we decided to head there. We asked Aman and his friend Ross to join us there as well. It was a ‘child-friendly’ pub, meaning that they would allow children in with their parents, as long as the children did not go to the bar counter. We finally left ToL by 5:20 pm. Since we had quite a lot of foodie stuff from ToL we decided to hail a cab. And since there were a lot of those typical Black London cabs around, we decided to hail one of those. We loaded our cab with all our stuff and headed to the pub.
It was hardly a 5 minutes ride to the pub and so we arrived almost 2 hours prior to the start. The plus point was that now we were assured to get good seats (these pubs are pretty crowded and getting a good view of the screen is a little tough) but the downside was that now we had nothing to do for the next 2 hours. And since we were coming from a food festival, we weren’t so keen on ordering stuff to eat or drink. The place had 2 levels – one dining area on the ground floor and the bar in the basement. The basement had a seating area complete with a pool table and dart boards, and specially-put-up screens for the match. We went and set up some chairs right in front of the screens, I can safely say that we had the best view in the house. We didn’t get up from those chairs from 5:30 pm till the end of the match (90 minutes + Extra time + Penalties).
We had bought ‘England face paint’ a day or two earlier from Tesco and so, in the build-up to the match, we painted each other’s faces (read that as cheeks and forehead). Aman had arrived by 6:30 pm and so we generally chatted about, listening to the pundits condemn Balotelli.
Finally the scheduled start-time of the match was upon us and the teams started coming out onto the pitch to line up for the National Anthem. As the English Anthem began to play, all of us (out of respect of course) stood up for it. I suspect it would have looked quite weird that a bunch of Indians had risen for the English National Anthem while all the other (almost 200) Englishmen weren’t bothered enough to drop their drinks for 40 seconds and stand up. Anyhow, we stood up for the Italian National Anthem too.
The match began, and then after 90 minutes of pathetic football it ended with the scores tied. It was a galore of missed chances and school-boy style football from the English team. The longest they kept the ball in all of the second half was 5 passes. They either punted the ball to Caroll or lost it to the Italians. Post that, Extra Time started – it was just more of the same for the next half hour. Finally it came down to IT – Penalty Shoot-Out. The Euro 2012 Semi Final was now to be decided by just 12 battered men (5 takers and one goal keeper each), who, after having played for 120 minutes were now tired to the bone (other than Buffon of course. The Italian goal had been threatened so less that he might as well have played some rummy, made little paintings or carved graffiti on the goal posts in the last 2 hours).
The game commenced and as it was England in a shoot-out (as had by now become common practice) they lost. Everyone in that pub expected them to lose, and they didn’t disappoint, bringing an end to another dismal outing for the English side, sparking another set of ‘is the manager out?’ speculations.
Everyone was in low spirits and so we quietly left the pub and took a tube straight back home. It was a good one hour journey and since it had been a long day, we went straight to bed when we reached home.