Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Trifecta

This is a week of tri-fold culinary goodness: London restaurant festival, national cocktail week, and London chocolate week. The overlapping timings are just planning coincidences but the combination is excellent for a London foodie on a budget. Restaurant festival is basically like restaurant week in the states but better! The festival lasts for two weeks and is sponsored through a website,, which is similar to Open Table. The website organizes the hundreds of participating restaurants by price point, ranging from 10 pounds to 30 and also my neighborhoods and types of food. The large number of choices and price points made the decision more challenging for me, being as indecisive as I am, but the option to sort by neighborhood and food allowed me to narrow down my choices more easily. We decided to eat at Piccolino in Exchange Square which is near trendy East London and the City, the financial center. The outside bar area was filled with young professionals grabbing a drink after work when we arrived around seven. The inside of the restaurant was very modern  with dark ambiance lighting and a large glass wine cellar functioning as a main wall. The restaurant was featuring a two-course 15 pound menu so we either got to choose a starter and main, or main and dessert. Before we even had the chance to order, our waiter brought over focaccia bread and olive oil, something you usually need to pay for in English restaurants. After ordering a bottle of Pinot Grigio, which was great for the price, I ordered a primavera risotto to begin. The risotto consisted of asparagus and fresh goat cheese, which melted into the risotto as I ate. It was a perfect balance of flavors with the tartness of the cheese, richness of the risotto, and crisp crunch of the asparagus. The portion was huge and big enough for a main! One of my friends ordered the mushroom risotto which was also very good. For my main, two of us ordered the steak and one ordered an “Italian burger.” The steak was very thin and unfortunately, rather dry and overcooked. Despite the steak’s disappointing flavor and consistency, it was served with a juicy and flavorful portobello mushroom and stewed and seasoned tomato, which were both very good. It also came with chips (fries), which were thin, crispy, and delicious. The burger however, was very good, well cooked and full of flavor. For dessert, we ordered a tiramisu to share which was delicious! Although the steak was disappointing, the risotto was satisfying and delectable enough to make it a good meal. The restaurant festival is truly a great deal and especially when you work as a group, for example two of us ordered starters to share and one ordered dessert, it is a really good way to try several of a restaurant’s signature items. I want to dine out at another restaurant festival venue before it ends next week and because they offer so many price points, I think I will!  

For cocktail week this week, I meandered through the food halls of Selfridges where they were sampling a variety of cocktails. Most samples featured Beefeaters, which meant a lot were not to my liking, but a few were good and it was still a fun atmosphere and environment. Chocolate week includes many events this week including tours of several chocolate factories and a lot of gourmet chocolate stores offering samples. I hope to stop by Harrod’s tomorrow and sample some mouthwatering chocolates but in case I don’t make it there, I already stopped into a small shop and enjoyed the benefits of chocolate week. 

Even though I am not participating in any larger events of chocolate or cocktail week, I really like the way the entire city is just as into food as me! But on a more serious note, it says a lot about the business and community values of London for a city of this size to be teaming together for such a range of community events: all types of restaurants from local chains to incredibly expensive locales, neighborhoods, liquor stores, food halls, and shops are participating the culinary festivals this week. The city’s ability to team together for events uniting people all across London is really unique.  

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