London’s Southbank is one of the best places to be in the summer. Whether it’s during the week or on the weekend, there is always something going on to dip in and out of as you stroll from restaurant to bar to book stall to shops.
A great free event is Herbfest which is a new botanical experience – a temporary greenhouse in effect – curated by one of my food heroes, Jekka McVicar.
Jekka McVicar – Herbfest Curator
Jekka is an organic gardening expert, author and broadcaster and specialises in the cultivation of herbs. She also has a great blog! In 1987 she set up Jekka’s Herb Farm, near Bristol. It’s now home to the largest collection of culinary herbs in the UK, with more than 600 varieties. She also runs courses on getting started with growing herbs and using them at home.
She led us around on of the exhibits casually stopping at a herb, encouraging us to have a sniff and a taste while she talked through the herb’s properties and gave us ideas for recipes. among the ones I rather liked were the following:
Sweet Aniseed – breaks down cholesterol and is great addition to cocktails
African Blue Basil is apparently great in Crème Brulee.
Strawberry Leaves – You can make leaf tea from these. Just pour over hot water and leave to steep for few minutes.
My favourite herb on display was the Mexican Oregano which tasted like the regular oregano with a crystallised layer of sugar on top. It was so naturally sweet.
I also rather loved Jekka’s suggestion of using sage when you’ve been out all night to clean your teeth and freshen your breath! I don’t think I’ve done that for a decade but good to know as an alternative to chewing gum for when that odd onion slips into the salad at lunchtimes! And if you’ve been out with a hangover to boot, then some rosemary tea will do the trick to clear your head!
Southbank’s Festival of Neighbourhood
Herbfest has been launched as part of the Southbank Centre’s ‘Festival of Neighbourhood’ and will run from all summer until 8th September.
It’s great to see caterers Company of Cooks involved in this project, embracing a botanical way of thinking and actively using the herbs on their menus. Dishes they have created specifically for Herbfest include basil pannacotta, honey lavender creme brûlée and lobster with tarragon and mint salad. I’ll be back to try all of those because the tasters I had below were amazing!
I had a long chat to Mike Lucy, the Director of Company of Cooks and I got the feeling that he’s a bit of a botanical nerd too. He wants this project to be a real celebration of fresh herbs, and hopes that it encourages people to use them more in everyday cooking. It’s also a great way to show how easy it is to grow them in small spaces, especially for those of us who live in the city.
I left Herbfest with a lovely buzz from the Lavender infused Gin Cocktail and most inspired by Jekka and excited to start growing some Mexican Oregano and African Blue Basil!