Saturday, 30 July 2011

Foodies Festival first day, Battersea Park, 29 July 2011

After enjoying my day out at Taste of London back in June, I was pleased to discover that this Summer food fans would have several other opportunities for tasty days out. I was not able to go to the 'Big Feastival' food and music festival hosted by Jamie Oliver (which I have since heard was a pricey day out foodwise but very worth it if you were into the bands playing; Soul II Soul, Charlatans, Athlete, etc). However, I was able to make a date for this weekend's Foodies Festival in Battersea Park. Having already been hosted up in Edinburgh and in Hampton Court Palace, this festival promised Michelin starred chefs cooking live, favourite restaurants serving food, local produce for sale, tutored tastings, fine food and drink and live music.
Live band at Foodies Festival, very good indeed, but no 'names' - a thought for next year?
I am still not comfortable with this 'Foodie' tag. What exactly is a 'Foodie'? We all eat, don't we? And we all enjoy the taste of food we deem to be good (in our opinions), so aren't we all 'Foodies'? I understand the intention of the term as reflecting a special interest in food, but most of us eat three times a day, so I'd say we are all pretty interested in the stuff. I don't know, maybe I'm being a little petty minded, but there seems something pretentious and precious about the phrase, which makes me hesitant to use it. Any views on this would be welcomed, please, so do post any comments you have. Even if that comment is for me to 'get over myself'!

Would you 'Adam and Eve' it? LONDON VODKA!
The tickets were priced at £15 each per day, which compared favourably to Taste of London. We managed to find a deal online, reducing the price even further, which serves as a reminder to always shop around before flexing the plastic!

We arrived shortly after the opening time of 12noon at Battersea Park on Friday. The site is located at the far end of the park from the train station. We had hoped to breeze straight in, but other hungry punters hoping for an early lunch had beaten us to the punch. However, the staff were very efficient and without delay we had our tickets and access to the site. The site was very compact, resembling a decent sized market.

A small taster of the stalls at FF
In terms of attractions, there were grocery type stalls, hot food stalls, drinks stands, and the three temporary theatres for demonstrations and tasting. In terms of the sellers of specialist food products, these catered for a wide range of tastes. There were many small producers and importers selling their wares from Istrian truffles to Slovenian blueberry liqueur, spices and spice mixes, artisan bread, olives and other deli items, fine cheeses, knives and high end cooking pots and accessories (to name but a few). Many were allowing free sampling, with a strong emphasis of 'try-before-you-buy' demonstrating the confidence these sellers had in their products.

In terms of food and drink there was an equally wide variety; champagne, freshly shucked oysters, cocktails, Thai cooking, Indian food, Paella, wines, Hog roast, Jerk chicken (consisting of Levi Roots' Reggae Reggae van and a non-celebrity competitor), again amongst others.
The selection was good, and the dishes sampled by Him Indoors and myself were pretty good quality wise. 
Jersey and West Mersea Oysters. They look grim but taste delish!
 My only criticism is that most were the type of street food you can get in markets such as Borough Market, Leather Lane, South Bank's now weekly Real Food Market, or Whitecross Street. These are great and very enjoyable, but didn't measure up to the promise of 'eat at favourite restaurants' as set out in the advert. Perhaps this will change over the weekend, as Saturday and Sunday are bound to have more participants from the food world, but was disappointing on the first day of the festival.

The demonstrations and tastings were a highlight of the day. Allan Pickett of Plateau (a very pleasant French restaurant in Canary Wharf with excellent views I can highly recommend) demonstrated his restaurant's newest Summer dishes; a simple but effective salad, sea bass (with demonstration on how to fillet this king of fish) and an achievable but appetising panna cotta. 
Allan Pickett does his stuff

The 'chef cam' means you can see exactly what Allan is doing
We were also privileged enough to attend wine tastings hosted by Charles Metcalfe. Charles is a well known wine critic (you may know him from his appearances on 'This Morning’, ‘Taste Today’, 'Great Food Live’ and ‘Sunday Lunch Live’. He is the co-chair of the International Wine Challenge (the world's biggest wine competition) as well as the co-author (with his knowledgeable, sweet and kind wife Kathryn) of a number of books. He sought to demystify as well as pass on his clear enthusiasm for the subject and his selections, particularly for the 'Food and Wine Matching', went beyond the dull textbook approach.

The array of foods and first glass of the tasting (Tio Pepe fino Sherry)

Charles Metcalfe effuses over how to pair wine with food (this time the Reisling)
Unexpected discovery of the day: Pink Port which is eminently drinkable as well as striking
The organisation of the event was generally good, although the system of registration for the Food Theatre, Drink Theatre and Chefs Theatre at the Registration Tent was, at the start of the day, time consuming. More staff to help and less time wasted would have been much appreciated. I understand completely the policy of making the food tastings, wine tastings and demonstrations strictly ticketed to prevent overcrowding, and in this respect the event was better thought out than Taste (first come first served), but the ticket distribution could have been speeded up. As the numbers will pick up for the second two days of the festival, this is an important point for the organisers to take on board.

An unually large cheese board
I appreciated the fact that for this festival 'pictures of the queen' were the currency of the day. It was far more convenient, transparent and less of a 'must-spend-these-vouchers-only-valid-today' rush than the 'Crown' system used at Taste of London. I understand the reason Taste uses the Crown system; at such a packed event they don't need the hassle of having to handle and bank cash money, but the ability to pay in real money and take unspent home at the end of the day definitely ranks as a plus to me.

Seemingly random picture: A McKendrick's Gin rep shows off his skills on a Penny Farthing
 We had a good day out, all in all, and will most likely attend next year. You still have time to attend the final day tomorrow and if you do – bon appetit! The line up of chefs includes Anna Hansen and Giancarlo Caldesi and Charles Metcalfe will be back with at least 2 wine tastings. Hope you have enjoy it!

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