Monday, 11 May 2009

Real Food Festival

I am in London this weekend, partly to catch up with friends, but partly because I fancied a trip to the Real Food Festival at Earl's Court.

I booked tickets for the Sunday, and planned to go with my mum. However, she had to work on Sunday, so we decided to sneak in to the trade show on Friday. We had a deli-based cover story, but part of me thinks being a blogger now counts as "trade", especially when you see how many blogs get sent free samples as a promotion tactic. Anyway, enough of my views on whether exploitation of new media as free promotion is ethical or not.

A very extensive tea stall

It was an enjoyable day, and I learnt some interesting stuff about tea, and saw mozzarella being made. I also saw Willie Hardcourt-Cooze being filmed manning his chocolate stall, which was quite exciting. Sadly we missed Fergus Henderson doing a cookery demonstration, but we were too cheap to buy a programme and didn't realise he was on.

Mozzarella curds

Given my "expert" knowledge in food lies mostly within baking, I was particularly interested in the bakeries at the show. There were a couple of bread stalls that looked good, and some great Italian biscuits. The cake stall were generally disappointing, with cupcakes being a major theme. I like making these at home, but I think commercial cupcakes usually suffer from style over substance. On top of that, I even saw one stall that had such poorly iced examples on display that I would have rejected them if I had made them myself.

The real star find was PT's biscuits. Not only were his biscuits delicious, but they used proper ingredients like butter (rather than margarine or oil). The flavours were not particularly revolutionary, but it was great to look at the label and see the same list of ingredients as I'd use at home. No additives, preservatives, weird chemicals - home baked biscuits without the hassle! I also chatted with him for a while and he gave me loads of free samples. I truly believe good baker is a generous one! I hope Paul succeeds.

Cyrus Todiwala

Despite having a great day pretending to run a deli, I still had tickets for Sunday. So I went again with my friend C! We watched Cyrus Todiwala make an Indian meal, before wandering around the stalls. I had a nice hazelnut ice cream, and a pear and cardamom cupcake from one of the more professional looking stalls. The pear filling added moistness, but the icing had dried out a little. The cardamom flavour was also too weak, and the cake mainly tasted of sugar. C had an espresso cupcake that was a bit more successful.

Pear and Cardamom cupcake

Espresso cupcake

We also managed to get a spot at the Bordeaux Quay cookery school stand. We made a fennel and courgette salad, and a cheese omelette. Our omelette was a bit runny, but the salad, which also featured garlic, pine nuts, sultanas, coriander, mint and lemon was delicious. Raw fennel and courgette didn't excite me at all, but the end result was very tasty.

C showing off her chopping skills

The finished salad

My other top find was a Welsh chocolate maker called Hipo Hyfryd. They are nominally vegan, but really in the case of chocolate this just means plain chocolate rather than milk. I got a box of the salt and pepper flavour, which was really unusual and much more interesting than some of the other chocolates on offer on other stalls. I think it might be trumped by lime chocolate in terms of weirdness, but lime chocolate didn't work while salt and pepper most definitely did. Again, they seemed like nice guys and I hope they do well!

I had a really good day on both my visits, but I felt that the show would have benefitted from something a bit more "showy". Most of the festival was a glorified farmer's market, with some of the stands being quite big names, rather than smaller "real food" producers. Although it was great to meet the people who made the food, some stalls had employed temps, notably Rococco chocolate, were most of the girls behind the counter were unable to even speak English, let alone tell you about the chocolate you were tasting. I really enjoyed the cookery school, and the demonstration kitchen, so I think the focus should shift from being about market style stalls to more interactive/instructive elements.

I am such a nerd.


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Looks like you had a fantastic time! And well done for scoring a place in the cookery class. Ahhh I wish I was there!