Gin, Cheese and Laughter: Adventures at the Edinburgh Foodies Festival

Let’s face it, I just can’t be trusted when it comes to events involving food. Or gin. The bad idea bears just take over. But then again, a weekend of wine, gin, cheese, cooking demos and then a bit more gin is a heck of a lot of fun. Yes, it was Foodies Festival time once again.

Having encountered 6 litre bottles of Hendrick’s and much more besides when I went last year it was a certainty that I would be getting tickets again this time round. But this year I got one better online with the three-day ticket – not just one day of supreme over indulgence, a whole weekend. Win. Sadly though, I could only use Saturday and Sunday – but for the sake of my wallet and liver, that’s probably not such a bad thing, even if it was moved to Inverleith Park this year and I could walk there.

Open coconut with a straw at it.I made a rash promise at the end of last year’s blog post saying that when I went this year I would focus more on the food – not the wine and gin – and you’ll, of course, be overjoyed that I stuck to my guns and didn’t drink a drop. Who am I kidding, I almost forgot about the food again. That might have something to do with our rum-filled coconut on Saturday afternoon, although I can’t quite recall…

That’s not entirely true, I tried samples from many companies – mainly those relating to cheese – as well as lunch of a kangaroo burger with spicy tomato relish and rocket (Skippy loves a good bit of rocket) and a hog roast roll (not both on the same day, I should add). I even ended up buying some cheese, shock horror.

Smoked fish in a shed smokerThe foodies festival has now been around for quite a few years, and is growing in size and popularity every year. And it’s really not hard to see why. This year there were over 100 stalls, ranging for tiny little artisan producers right up to recognisable national brands. There were also a few off-the-wall stalls as well, such as the seaweed selling man with three teeth and a woman selling “her precious cultures” who couldn’t understand why we weren’t more interested in making our own version of Yakult…

Interestingly (/upsettingly) I would say that there were fewer gin companies there this year – the lack of a Hendrick’s stand being particularly notable – but they made up for it with more unusual culinary stalls, like those selling ‘homemade’ Thai curry and satay kits (they were delicious, even if their paper cup did rip and give my t-shirt an interesting coloured stain). There were also some of the big name sponsors there too – not quite sure how many cars BMW sold, but I wouldn’t bet on too many – as well as a few ‘pop-up’ restaurants and Lavazza coffee, whose samples I will be drinking for a long time to come.

The less formal eating stalls, all conveniently in a row up the back, ranged from noodles to crepes, via hog roasts, jerk chicken and kangaroo – each of which was equally tempting, making it rather hard to choose which to go for. It also made me feel slightly sorry for the man selling burgers, which seemed a little tame by comparison. I later learnt they were wild boar and venison, and then didn’t feel quite so bad for him.

I’ll gloss over some of the details or I’ll be here forever, but like last year I advise you avoid Cassilero del Diablo at all costs, owing to its disgusting taste, and would recommend that unless you like peaty whisky don’t opt for Black Grouse. We also avoided the stand selling cakes that were ‘free-from’ pretty much every ingredient that makes a proper cake. We did, however, make friends with a couple that owned a farm (she was an ecologist, he a zoologist by degree) and made wonderful sausages, the man that owns the gorgeous Edinburgh Gin (we did taste the elderflower and the raspberry about twice each, and I might have accidentally come home with a bottle of the Elderflower), and the people from the Cheshire Cheese Company (their presence makes their following me on Twitter last week slightly less odd) who have a sticky toffee cheddar – shouldn’t work, but it really does – and a caramelised onion and Rioja ‘gourmet cheddar’ which has found its way into my fridge and lunch for the next couple of days. My favourite stall, however, has to be the company who have – genuinely – named themselves ‘I Heart Sausage’. And if that weren’t amusing enough to my immature sense of humour, they have a variety of sausage called – I kid you not – the ‘Chucklesnort’. Try keeping a straight face when talking to them after a few gin samples…

I commented last year that I thought the theatre events were a bit rubbish, because it seemed impossible to get tickets; well this year we cracked the system. It involved a bit of queueing, pretending that we were two sets of people, not part of the same group, and going back a little later and picking up whatever was there. Through this we went to see Norman Musa (a Malaysian chef), someone from Callander who used the words Stephen K Amos at Foodies Festival‘blanched’ and ‘OK’ far more often than was necessary, Steve from the Ning Chinese restaurant, the founder of the Backyard Jerk Company (who make Jamaican jerk sauces), a bartender/mixologist from Hendrick’s and Stephen K Amos. Not too bad a haul.

The three of those worth mentioning are definitely the last three. The Backyard Jerk Company were the last thing we did on Saturday and – once we got over the initial introduction of the Welsh accent – was great fun. Informative, entertaining and the food tasted fantastic. Sunday started of with Stephen K Amos, billed as ‘chef and comedian’, which rapidly turned out to be more accurately titled as ‘comedian’. I have never laughed so much in a cooking demo in my life. He was hilarious, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be going to see his Fringe show soon. Our last event was a short history of gin and cocktails, from the wonderful Hendrick’s. Plagued a little by technical problems and the guy knocking stuff over, this lighthearted hour about gin was one of my favourite parts of the weekend – informative without facts being rammed down your throat, seamlessly funny, and of course full of gin cocktails.

Sitting on the hill above Inverleith pond, gazing out towards Edinburgh Castle with our plate of churros and dipping chocolate on Sunday evening, the pair of us had a good laugh about the weekend. Yes, we probably drank a little more than necessary, and it’s true that we probably took advantage of the free samples a little too much in some places (especially the ones we didn’t buy anything from); however, that’s what these sorts of festivals are all about – good, honest food and drink without pretentiousness, for those who love them. A fantastic weekend, well worth the food-and-drink-induced stupor that I watched the Olympic Closing Ceremony in and had through most of today at work. When can we get tickets for next year?


Instagrammers Anonymous: It’s Festival Time!

Time to stop and breathe. It’s been a very busy week, back from London, back to work, back to life’s less exciting tasks (like a mountain of washing) and sorting out the bureaucratic nightmare that is the visa for my next trip away (hard life, I know). Oh, and watching more coverage of the Olympics than I care to admit to.

But whilst I’ve been sorting out the ironing, Edinburgh has been getting into festival fever. The sun is out and the blue sky is filled with the sound of music and laughter – time then for Instagrammers Anonymous.

Rose Street is looking particularly festive at the momentRose Street, Edinburgh - flowers and flags

I’ve been leafing through my festival programsEdinburgh festival fringe and international book festival programs

And Starbucks got my name right on the side of my cup for the second time in a row – surely one of the first signs of the apocalypse.

On the off-chance you’re feeling sorry for the lack of interesting things in my week (unlikely, I realise), don’t worry, I have two days of over-indulgence at Foodies Festival lined up for this weekend – two days of glorious food and drink in the park and (hopefully) the sunshine! Here’s a little taste of what might come in next week’s post in the form of last year’s Foodies Fest visit.

Have a great weekend whatever it is that you’re up to!


G in the Park: Gin Adventures at The Edinburgh Foodies Festival

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.

Bail of hay in the mud, Edinburgh Foodies FestivalFor 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.

A Hendrick's Bathtub? Edinburgh Foodies FestivalWe 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’).6 Litre bottle of Hendrick's Gin! Edinburgh Foodies FestivalLeaving 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…).Coconut, Edinburgh Foodies Festival

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. Hugo, the wine van, Edinburgh Foodies Festival

A wine Tasting with Edinburgh School of Food and Wine, Edinburgh Foodies FestivalMy 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.Darnley's Gin Edinburgh Foodies Festival

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.Edinburgh Gin!!! Edinburgh Foodies FestivalOverall 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…The Hendrick's Stand (visited for at least the third time...), Edinburgh Foodies Festival