“There’s a food festival in Holyrood Park this weekend, do you fancy going?” Silly question? Most probably. Good idea? Most definitely!
Despite the Foodies Festival in Holyrood Park now being in its fifth year I’d never quite managed to go, so on Saturday (13th August, if you’re so inclined to know) Mel and I went to see what this festival was all about. For a slightly bigger range of photos than is shown here (including one of cutlery wind chimes…) please have a look at the set over here on Flickr.
For the days preceding the event – it ran from the Friday to the Sunday – Edinburgh appeared to be in monsoon season (showing which tourists did research before coming and those who failed to realise a raincoat was probably wise finding themselves purchasing those delightful ponchos…) which resulted in the park being rather muddy. This is a bit of an understatement, they actually opened the festival late on the Friday because they were putting straw down. This, and the bright sunshine on Saturday morning, led to us both rather acting the stereotype with boots and Ray Bans; however, this is festival time so as we battled our way down the Royal Mile we didn’t look even remotely odd or ridiculous in comparison to the performers and poncho-attired tourists.
We decided to start with the stall on the left hand side of the entrance which, as luck would have it, was the Hendrick’s stand. For those of you haven’t tasted this rather wonderful drink, do it! The brand is quite well known now, probably as much for its quirky, distinctly tongue-and-cheek, British branding as it is for its gorgeous taste and it was very well represented in both areas here. It seemed a shame not to accept their taster-from-a-teapot when offered, so we sipped it whilst looking at their stall (complete with case of medical/gin related trinkets, a bust with a gramaphone speaker, a 6 litre gin bottle (sadly empty) and a bathtub of cucumber, rose petals and ‘gin’).Leaving the gin for a second (it was very well represented at the festival) I should probably mention some food. There was quite a lot on offer, as one would expect from a food festival, from breads and cakes, through to oils, pies, fudge and most importantly cheese. Lots of delicious cheese. Despite how appetising most of it looked, and how delicious most of what I tasted was I didn’t actually get round to purchasing any of it. Epic fail. I did, however, have a cheese, basil, pesto and tomato crêpe from ‘Mutley’s’ (masquerading as lunch) and a venison burger (so I could walk in a relatively straight line when I got home, we had family friends staying) which were both absolutely delicious. There were also some rather interesting (read weird) stalls, such as the artisan chocolatier (I can’t remember the flavours on offer, but I declined to taste anything when I heard her talking to someone else about her style) and the cake company whose cakes were ‘free-from’ pretty much everything that makes a cake, but on the whole there was a great range of food on offer. Although I’d avoid passion fruit fudge, if I were you.
Apart from food and gin there were a variety of other stalls dotted around the place, such as the one selling wind chimes made from cutlery, another selling rum and coconut milk, served inside a coconut (unexpected doesn’t really seem to cover it) and a music stage (we didn’t catch much on this apart from a guy singing about radio 4, some strange woman reading from a self-pitying diary and a guy pretending to be Dean Martin…).
In addition to the other alcohol on offer there was rather a lot of wine stalls as well. There were no clues this was happening in Edinburgh what-so-ever… And whilst not all of these were of top quality – if anyone ever offers you Welsh apple wine politely, but firmly, decline. It was disgusting. – most was delightful. My advice would be to steer well clear of the Casillero del Diablo, the taste is indeed the work of el Diablo, and not in the way the producer intended (its being served warm was not the root of all its problems); but if you can (which apparently Mel and I do) try look like you’re willing to spend about £200 on a case of wine. I can’t remember what the vendor was called, but we were treated to a personal sampling of a selection of ‘not found in Tesco’ (insert snooty cough/snort here) wines which were gorgeous and immensely flavoured, included a very delectable German red (I wish there had been some of its sparkling form, I’m really intrigued by it). To be perfectly honest, if I could afford it I would have been VERY tempted, but my bank will be relieved to hear that I do have some self restraint and common sense occasionally. The other wine ‘stall’ we visited (twice, actually) was The Vinter who were very enthusiastic and very friendly (although I don’t think I was the one they were primarily chatting to…). From ‘Hugo’, their “portable tasting station” (an old Citroën van) we tasted some lovely prosecco and two lovely whites (neither of them tasting as one wold presume) one Spanish and one French (I think, this was getting on a bit…). We even stayed to have a glass of one, the Rueda Blanco DO 2009, I think.
My one major criticism of the festival has to be the ‘theatre’ events they had on. These were the tastings, the demos, etc. put on by the chefs and other guests and took place in big tents at one end. Whether they were more popular than expected, I don’t know, but we only got tickets to see one – the wine tasting from the Edinburgh School of Food and Wine – which, frankly, was not hugely educational and the wine was not wonderful. The sherry was vile. I think in future these events might, perhaps, have to be booked online in advance, or even just made slightly bigger so more people could get in to see them as it did seem like they weren’t really accessible (in the physical sense) to most of the people there.
Whilst wandering down between a couple of rows of stalls we spotted the Darnley’s Gin. It is, apparently, named after Lord Darnley, Mary Queen of Scot’s husband and is a name that will be familiar to those who, like us, read The Gin Blog as they recently wrote an admirable review on it. In all honesty the floral tones were a bit lost on me the first time we tasted the Darnley’s, which was disappointing but primarily because we were given the gin neat. Whilst in this state you can note some of its features, I can’t say it’s my favourite method for sampling, and I enjoyed it considerably more when we returned later and they’d found some tonic.
As we hot-footed it over to get a little sample of the Darnley’s we also noticed the Edinburgh Gin stand. This, like the Darnley’s above, is still very new to the world as the Spencerfield Spirit Company only brought out it out a year or so ago, but is definitely something to shout about. Having received a little bottle of this at graduation (thanks Mel!) I was very keen to pay them a visit. I have met people who haven’t liked the distinctive juniper and heather mix of Edinburgh Gin, but personally I think it is fantastic – and I have a bottle in the cupboard to prove it. The people behind the stall – including the boss, Mr Nicol – were as wonderful as their product and even indulged my slightly bizarre request for an empty bottle (soon to be filled with chilli and lime gin). Edinburgh Gin is now something I am seeing more and more of around (perhaps due to being in Edinburgh) but it is rather good so if you are looking for something a bit different from the norm, I would strongly encourage you to give it a go. Both of the above gin brands also have relatives in whisky – as you can probably see in the photos – and whilst I would like to be able to tell you all about them I’m afraid whisky and I are not compatible, so despite Spencerfield’s enticing looking ‘Sheep Dip’ I will have to leave you hanging on that one.Overall I had a fantastic day. Perhaps a little on the muddy side (not a lot that can be done about our weather; believe me, I’ve tried) and wishing we could have gone to a couple more of the ‘theatre events’, but by the end of the day I was very contented. Although this contentedness could well have something to do with all the wine and gin… Having talked to several people about it since all I have got back in return is looks of jealousy and it is not hard to see why this festival is growing and gaining support year on year. With so much quality produce and a great deal of sampling involved I would highly recommend the Foodies Festival to anyone who enjoys food, wine or spirits and happens to be in Edinburgh when it is on next year. I for one will be going again if at all possible, but perhaps focusing more on the food next year, rather than the gin. Well, maybe…