Real Food Festival on the Southbank

I am something of a fan of the Real Food Markets that take place on London’s South Bank every week, but until now had never been to the annual Real Food Festival. The  last food festival I went to was such a disappointment that it put me off the whole food festival concept (Foodies in Battersea Park).  Today was different. Foodies for example cost £15 a ticket and all the Chef Theatre events had to be pre booked.  The Real Food Festival in contrast is free and the Theatre events are on a first come basis. I actually got a front seat in the Theatre, something I have rarely managed to do at other festivals – it’s so nice to get pictures that don’t involve zooming in, not to mention being in a good postion to sample the food post demonstration before the swarm (see picture).

There were plenty of stands lining the river taking over a fair bit of the outdoor space around the Southbank centre. All nicely laid out, so you could actually see what was on offer. Lots of food festival regulars like The Little Round Cake Company and Outsider Tart were there. Cono Sur had free wine tasting, Thunder Vodka were providing samples of their award winning Toffee Vodka, and I was spoilt for choice on the savory front. I eventually decided to try some Takoyaki (Japanese dumplings) – Octopus, spring onion, Japanese red ginger, tempura topped with takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, aonori seaweed and katsuobushi, they were piping hot and very tasty.

The first event in the Chefs Theatre I attended was advertised as Ben Tish from the Salt Yard restaurant but he could not make it, so his Sous Chef was there to fill the breach. The next chef scheduled was Jun Tanaka, but the timings were a bit off, so instead chocolatier Fiona Sciolti stepped in at literally the last minute to plug the gap with amusing stories of her foraging to get the natural ingredients for her rather special chocolates. She came armed with lots of samples, so we had the chance to try her new Sea Buckthorn chocolates. I had been told that Sea Buckthorn was an acquired taste, and boy did I acquire it – the chocolates are great. The filling has a sharp flavour that is reminiscent of passion fruit and it works very well indeed when mixed with white chocolate ganache.  Other chocolates we tried were spiced masala chai, elderberry & sambuca and garden mint thins (a really good palette cleanser). She also mentioned the new range of ice cream her company have launched this year.  Fiona hit a few problems with the sound system during her session so poor Jun Tanaka ended up going low tech with a hand mic, which he quite rightly pointed out was not designed with a chef in mind, but he took it as a challenge and received a round of applause for his one handed egg breaking skills. He demonstrated how to cook a rather appetizing dish of salt crusted beef, served with potatoes where he added “a little butter” much to the audiences amusement – it was the whole 1/2 lb pack. I had to leave just as he was handing over to Cyrus Todiwala of Cafe Spice Namasti. Which was a shame as Mr Todiwala is always entertaining.

So much to my surprise I have found a food festival I actually would recommend.

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Foodies Festival @ Battersea Park

This years London Foodies Festival was in Battersea Park. We arrived just after 10 am, the tickets and web site (initially) showed that as the event start time.   Our plan had been to get in early before the crowds.  However the festival was not able to start until 11 am due to some sort of mix up with the local council – not a good start.   So we killed some time in the parks cafe (definitely not a foodies destination) and returned to pick up entrance tickets for some of the events in the Chefs Theatre, Food Theatre and Drinks Theatre, only to be advised we could only get tickets for the earlier events and not those later in the day, we had to come back to the Registrations tent nearer the start times to get these tickets  – a totally impractical option. On entering the festival area we passed the Pimms Tent with its cute “Its Pimms O’Clock” picnic blankets laid out on the grass, and found ourselves accepting an invitation to try some of the Coeur de Cognac in the comfort of the Remy Martin Pagodo.

The festival was not especially large, the one at Hampton Court last year felt larger and had seemed more specialist food oriented.   We ended up sampling a couple of rums – a coconut one (Koko Kanu) from Jamaica and a lovely smooth Arehucas Honey Rum from the Canary Islands.  Then after a long chat with Chocolatier Fiona Sciolti who was presenting one of the afternoon sessions we had originally planned to go to, we headed down to the Chefs Theatre for Jun Tanaka’s cookery demonstration.

That went well, with Jun Tanaka producing three dishes in less than 40 minutes. Afterwards we were certainly ready to have something to eat.

The food on offer was not that inviting – except for the rather nice charcuterie plates being served up in the Harvey Nichols Foodmarket Marquee which we spotted after we had eaten (isn’t that always the way!).

We did find some gems though among the exhibitors, like the beautifully presented cake selection from The Little Round Cake Company and the huge selection of speciality breads from McCarthy’s.  The highlight however had to be Mr Ducks Delicacies at the 1Chef4u stand where we sampled some lovely smooth and sumptuous Fois Gras and some delicious Duck Rillette.

The next session we attended in the Food Theatre was totally disorganised with real confusion over who had tickets and who did not, since some were collected on the door and other collected at the tables. So that sort of put us off attending any more events.

Having already been round all the stands once, we decided  to call it a day and returned to the 1Chef4u stand to buy some of the lovely duck delicacies, picked up some bread from McCarthy’s and a chilled bottle of Bochet-Lemoine Champagne and headed home to have our own picnic.

The festival this year I have to say was not a patch on the last Foodies event I attended. Indeed the most enjoyable stands were selling goods that I could just as easily have found at a decent Farmers Market (or in the case of  Mr Ducks Delicacies on line), rather than at a ticketed event.  It’s definitely was not worth the £15 full ticket price or even dare I say the two for one deal. So I am afraid this is one event I probably won’t put on my calendar for next year. Sadly this is not the only food and drinks festival I have been disappointed with over the last year or so, Taste of London, Toast – New Zealand and La Dolce Vita did not hit the mark either.

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