There’s something about Taste of Grampian that sets off a food and drink buzz throughout the north-east.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Aberdeenshire’s largest food and drink festival is back and, naturally, it’s bigger and better than ever.
And with so many food and drink producers from all over Scotland showcasing their produce, enticing us to taste, sample and buy their products, it’s nice to be able to take a step back, sit down and enjoy some fine scran.
Shopping is a hungry business – or it is in my eyes – and when it comes to food festivals, there’s no better way to enjoy the offering than to order some quick dishes that you can share.
After all, I’d rather try a range of dishes than sit down to just one, especially when there’s so much on offer.
One of the hot-food vendors at Taste of Grampian this year is So… On Fire.
The outdoor catering arm to the city-based So… Aberdeen on Union Street, So… On Fire specialises in offering up a diverse range of cuisines and this year will showcase a range of its parent firm PB Devco’s venues including The Fishmarket at Soul, the College Bar and steakhouse Vovem.
Society editor Samantha Leckie and I were invited down to the Union Street establishment for a one-off chance to try out the menu being offered at Saturday’s Taste of Grampian at the Thainstone Centre in Inverurie. As you’ll no doubt have guessed, we were pleased to accept the invitation.
Receiving the menu a few days in advance of our visit, we ordered a compilation of dishes to try out.
It was a beautiful sunny day on arrival so naturally, as we Aberdonians do, we jumped at the chance of alfresco dining and pulled up a chair outside. We ordered some drinks and in no time our food arrived.
First up for sampling was the College wood-fired vegetarian pizza.
With its rich tomato base, the thin, crisp pizza was dressed with a thick layer of melted cheese, slices of aromatic red onion, chopped mushrooms, roasted yellow peppers and black olives.
The pizza was sliced into quarters, making it easy to manoeuvre into our mouths; by elegantly folding the slices in half.
The cooked peppers and onion brought strong flavours into the mix while the olives brought a bitter earthiness to the dish.
It was a reasonable size for a single pizza which had been cooked on a wood-fired oven, and at £7, I reckon it’s fairly priced.
The salt ’n’ pepper chips followed, as did the So… On Fire signature burger which arrived moments later.
The chips were huge chippie chips and with So… Aberdeen’s sister venue The Fishmarket at Soul specialising in a classic seafood offering, it made sense to feature the fries on the So… On Fire menu.
Tossed in Chinese five spice, Lea & Perrins sauce and cooked with chopped spring onion and chilli, the chips were phenomenal. The portion was big and cooked beautifully. We both agreed they were delicious and we would order them again.
We had toyed with the idea of ordering the poutine chips with cheese curd and rich gravy, but were more than pleased that we’d ordered the crisper option. They made for the perfect side.
There were a lot of them – so many we couldn’t finish the £5 dish.
As I tucked into the beefburger my colleague decided to try out the chicken shawarma which had just arrived.
I didn’t want the burger to end. It was juicy, tender and served in a brioche bun. The burger patty was large, almost too large to pick up and eat with any elegance intact.
Melted all over the beef patty, the Monterey Jack cheese was the perfect addition. Light, but packing a punch of flavour, it went well with the delicious dirty slaw, onion relish and salad that topped the burger.
To give the dish a little kick, a dash of Singularity Sauce Company’s hot sauce was added, completing the burger perfectly.
As I tucked in, I realised the conversation had dried up. Both looking up, we each knew exactly what the other was thinking: “This is heaven”.
Never usually ones to leave our desks, it was a welcome change to the sandwich or salad we routinely reach for.
My attention now turned to the chicken shawarma; my colleague had kindly left some of it for me to try out.
Featuring jerk spiced chicken, chilli slaw, Singularity mayonnaise and a warm tortilla wrap, it was delicious.
The chicken melted in my mouth and the mayonnaise made with the hot sauce and the chilli slaw really stood out on my tastebuds.
The wrap is one of the firm’s lighter, low-calorie options and I was delighted to see such an addition to those not wanting something too heavy.
We were also unexpectedly treated to a Vovem Meat & Liquor Saturday roast wrap.
Stuffed with beautifully cooked aged Bannerman Butcher rump steak, carrot puree and confit shallot jam, this was one dish that meant business.
The carrot puree was beautifully sweet and bright orange in colour and the meat was cooked to perfection.
It was much heartier than its low-calorie sister dish, but just as delicious.
It had a higher price point at £8 but, with the quality of meat used within it, I felt it was justified. Bannerman Butcher is local to Inverbervie and is used in Vovem which is also on Union Street.
If I can tell you one thing about the street food offering at So… On Fire at this year’s Taste of Grampian, it is that it has massively upped its game. Having visited the stand last year, the food was good, but this year the team have come back with a stronger, more diverse menu that showcases not just an array of local producers, but also ties in a number of the PB Devco venues.
Using a range of high-quality ingredients, the firm is clearly moving in a more in-sync direction with its food offering across its venues.
All of the food was brilliant but my stand-out dish had to be the burger – and those absolutely delicious salt ‘n’ pepper fries. The only regret I have is not being able to polish them off.
But there’s always Taste of Grampian for round two…