Sunday, 7 October 2012

Real Food Festival 2012, 28th-30th Sept, South Bank Centre

London's South Bank has long been a wonderful place for the visual and performing arts. Having seen a few concerts there (Dengue Fever, Joanna Newsom, Ray Davies, and the Lilac Time being some of the artists I've seen) I know that it is a superb set of venues. Comfy seats, good acoustics and a relaxed atmosphere. I'm afraid I have gone past the age of standing in sweaty gigs with pogo-ing fans going mental. That's life, I guess, we all get older. But my love of music remains undimmed, so I do still love to see live music. Anyway, South Bank's reputation in the arts is well known, as I say, but in recent times it has built up a new reputation as a place to be for the culinary arts. 

The Real Food Market is a weekly market (at the weekend) which features a small, but select number of stalls selling all manner of high quality and 'artisan' food products as well as some of the best street food in the country. There are around 40 stalls each weekend with a great range of food; meat, fish, posh cheese, handmade breads, lovely cakes and pastries, cured meats, wine and beer, and snacks to die for!

The organisers of the market have branched out into organising free food festivals. I visited last year's Harvest Festival, which I reviewed here, and a Festival of India which I did visit, but sadly did not have the time to blog about. 

This year's Real Food Festival was their 6th, and was billed as 'A Celebration of Extraordinary Food'. Naturally, I had to investigate!

This year's festival was much larger than in previous years, which is a credit to the organisers and speaks volumes about the success of the Real Food market. Obviously, it meant greater variety of products for us punters. And what I live for is as many types of food as I can scoff! The expanded number of stalls meant that this year's market was split up over 2 sites on the South Bank; the usual site in the South Bank Centre Square (next to the Royal Festival Hall on the street side) and a new section along the riverfront  (Festival Riverside and Riverside Terrace). 

Needless to say, strolling by the river, checking out food stalls is a lovely way to spend time during the weekend. Especially so on the Saturday, since the weather held up!

There was a Live Music Stage right on the riverfront, which featured several up and coming singer/songwriters. Here is Simon Kempston doing his thing.

I met the people from Cono Sur wines who were offering free tastings of a selection of Chilean wine. Now, I must confess, I am all that keen on Chilean wines. However, I recognise that is through a couple of bad experiences which may not be representative of Chilean wine and its range and variety. I did find a very pleasant fizzy wine made by the Champagne method (Cono Sur Brut, Bio Bio Valley) which is beginning to make me reappraise. 

Here it is, with the very nice lady from Cono Sur who spent a lot of time trying to find the right wine for my fussy palate: 

As with all such events, I was drawn to the tent where the chef demonstrations and tastings were happening. I had a very interesting chocolate tasting with botanical chocolatier Fiona Sciolti:

Somewhat bizarrely we found that the Festival was hosting 'The Sheep Show'. This was a celebration of British sheep and lamb. I had never seen a real live sheep being sheared, so this was an unexpected, but delightful treat. The subject shown remarkable calm despite having quite a harsh haircut in front of a sizeable audience!
The opportunity for a touch of luxury in the sunshine was more temptation than I could resist. So I had to treat myself to some Cornish oysters and some Champagne al fresco!
But I did not go as far as to try this rather suspicious looking cheese:

The highlights of my day were twofold. Firstly, getting to meet one of my biggest food heroes, Valentina Harris. Valentina is an expert in Italian cooking and cuisine, and was a familiar face on television back in the late 1990s. Her excellent book on risottos "Risotto! Risotto!" is still one of my favourite cookbooks since it covers the subject of a single dish with expert thoroughness, from the stock making, to the basic technique, to a hugely varied selection of recipes (from fish to flesh, vegetarian and sweet risottos). Valentina hosted the whole festival, so its great success is down to her.

The other treat of the day was meeting Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL and watching his cooking demonstration. Cyrus is the Chef Patron of Cafe Spice Namaste, and you may know him for the Country Captain Shepherds Pie he made for the Diamond Jubilee Luncheon on 29 March 2012. He is one of the exciting chefs and cooking writers who are proving that 'curry house fare' is not the true food of India, which is much more healthy, satisfying and flavourful. Just watching his demonstration and listening to his knowledgeable and authoritative commentary on Indian food and preparation techniques was sensational.

All in all, I had a great day out. I had some great food (no pictures since I ate it too immediately and realised my mistake too late; but the Moroccan style pastries and Harissa chicken were delicious), wonderful wine, and unforgettable experiences. I can't wait for the next festival! Come along next time, if you can make it to Waterloo!

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