England be darned. After four straight days of non-stop football, combined with an uneasy feeling that despite my prediction of a win Algeria would provide difficult opponents, it was time to indulge a different passion: food. Months ago I'd been offered a VIP ticket to the Taste of London food festival and nothing - not even England v Algeria - was going to stop my inner foodie running riot. I suspect I may be one of the few people on Twitter lavishing praise on what I experienced that Friday evening.
And, yes, because I like blogging about food - and have been cooking a lot recently as well (prawn massala curry and a delicious moussaka have been particular highlights) - all I really want to do is make a few notes on tonight's food.
Sadly, because I'm an idiot, I forgot my camera. So no pictures.
Easily the best thing sampled was Mennula's handmade egg maccheroni with braised shoulder of Scottish lamb, pecorino and summer truffle. I can still taste it now and, despite being stuffed, could happily wolf down another plate.
Perhaps it's because Italy is still a recent memory in my mind, but this was sensational. The pasta was as good as I've had anywhere and the lamb was so tender it melted into the maccheroni and onto my tongue, while the truffle just rounded everything off. What's more, this was a simple dish with bold flavours that I could imagine tucking into at a decent trattoria. Delicious.
Following close behind was The Modern Pantry's garlic snails with chorizo mash. Frankly, it would have taken some extremely hard work for me to dislike this dish. The snails were perfectly cooked and the garlic sauce slowly seeped into the meaty mash. A complete winner, and one I might try to do myself at some point.
If you're talking desserts, then the torta al cioccolato con crema di mascarpone from Theo Randall was the kind of gooey chocolate heaven that makes sharing seem like a chore. We were practically snatching the pot from each other to lick out every last drop. And I'm not generally a dessert man.
Predictably Gaucho's Argentinian black angus sirlon with humitas chimichurri was exactly what you'd expect from a Gaucho's steak. Tender, grilled to perfection and bursting with meaty goodness. The chimchurri was a nice addition, with a crisp, fresh corn taste that nicely offset the heavier meat. Definitely one of the best steaks I've had over the last year.
The Cinnamon Club's spice crushed bream with masala mash and tomato lemon sauce was the first dish we tried and set the evening up nicely. The flavours were light and playful, while the mash tingled in the mouth and complemented the fish perfectly. It was a delicious concoction, albeit one that would get outshone as the evening went on.
I enjoyed Awana's Malaysian slow-cooked beef curry with coconut milk a lot, and there was a nice delicateness to the dish (plus it was easily the largest portion of the evening). But given other offerings on show, it trailed down into 'quite nice' on the list of dishes tried. A good quality curry, for sure, and no doubt a decent meal but it didn't have the same spark as, say The Cinnamon Club's dish. Not that it was in any way bad. I'd have happily polished it off in the restaurant with no complaints.
Bringing up the end of savoury dishes was the pan-roasted scallop with sardine pie and cauliflower puree from The Grill at The Dorchester. It wasn't that this dish was bad, but I probably expected a little more given the restaurant's reputation. There was nothing wrong with the perfectly done scallop nor the pie. Both were nice. But they didn't quite sit together as a dish and I've had many more interesting meals involving scallops than this one.
Finally, the biggest disappointment was Asia de Cuba's Mexican doughnuts with butterscotch sauce and mojito sorbet. Perhaps the cold rain didn't help the rather nice sorbet aspect, but the whole dish was a bit nothing. The butterscotch barely made an appearance while the doughnuts were... doughnuts. Nice street food, I suppose, the kind of thing you'd buy on a whim from a trader on the South Bank. Given everything else we'd eaten, it just didn't do anything for me, which is why we made a bee-line for Theo Randall's for a second dessert.
Sadly, stomachs and funds running low meant there was no chance to try L'Anima's rabbit Siciliana, a delicious sounding Stargezer monkfish green pea aubergine and corn curry from Busaba Eathai, and Colony's half shell grilled scallops with chilli, garlic and yuzu butter.
I'm now heading to bed a happy man and, in what's possibly an omen, my Sky Plus box decided not to work meaning I can't watch England's draw with Algeria. Clearly the food gods have decided there's no point in spoiling my night.