Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink – by Lauren Heath

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Wow – what a weekend! I hope everyone who attended the festival had a great time, I certainly did. We are avid food market and festival go-ers in Devon, Cornwall and beyond, and I believe this is the largest and best food festival in the South West. Now in its 13th year, it is still going from strength to strength.

My poor Samsung phone was used and abused with the amount of pictures I took, so this review will be more of a feast for the eyes, in order to capture the spirit and joy of such an event.

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I attended the event on Saturday and Sunday; the former on my own so I could whizz round a bit more, catch up with some foodie acquaintances who were exhibiting, and also enjoy the VIP lounge and the latter with my chef husband and my 6yr old son. I enjoyed myself thoroughly both days – this is certainly a festival for anyone – singletons, couples, groups and families. The initial area around the castle contains the ‘take-away’ food tents serving an eclectic mix of meals, along with a newly placed and larger bar area, with the music stage in the usual place.

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VIP Lounge

Leading off the castle terrace is the VIP lounge which is a great treat if you purchase the upgraded ticket. It includes VIP access to a room where you can escape the hustle and bustle, enjoy a coffee at any time, 2 drinks from the bar, afternoon tea as well as a relaxing treat from a massage therapist (provided this year by the award winning Wear Park Spa, based at Exeter Golf and Country Club) – all included in the price! I sat down and enjoyed a wonderful hand exfoliation and massage, treating my weary typing hands to stress relief for 15 minutes. I grabbed one of my free refreshments in a take-away cup from the bar, and off I went, feeling refreshed.

I popped into the ballroom, just beside the stage area, to say a quick hello to Susy Atkins who kindly took part in my ’10 Questions’ feature last week (https://eatingexeter.co/2016/04/18/10-questions-with-susy-atkins-by-lauren-heath/) before she proceeded to host and educate enthusiastic tasters to an informative wine tasting session – a new and diverse addition to the schedule this year.

I continued down to Northernhay Gardens and caught a cookery demo in both the Cookery Theatre, hosted by co-founder Michael Caines MBE (pictured below with me) and the Westcountry Bakery hosted by Great British Bake Off contestant and local teacher-turned-cookbook author Glenn Cosby. Plenty of room for people to sit and enjoy the various demo’s from the array of local talent we are lucky to have in the county.

I sat at home that evening feeling very satisfied and on a bit of a high actually from a really delightful couple of hours.

The Sunday was a more thorough adventure, working our way through the Food and Drink Pavilions with over 100 artisan food and drink producers – I made a concious decision to have very little breakfast in order to really savour the delights on offer. Endless treats in offer – beer, wine, gin, cheese, desserts, jerky, cured meats, curry kits, pies, preserves – the list goes on. Well laid out, with enough room between each stand – this event is pushchair and wheelchair friendly thanks to the wide aisles in the tent – although on a very busy day it could prove a slight struggle but by no fault of the organisers, more so the effect of such a good reputation that many flock here in their droves.

We sat in the Food is Fun Teepee on a pretty yet simply decorated bench table to enjoy a demo from Darts Farm’s head chef Paul Matthews who cooked salmon over applewood smoke, the juiciest ever pork belly and then lemon mousse, whilst some matching wines from the renowned Pebblebed were discussed by an expert. Delicious tasters were passed round on wooden platters, along with wine tasters to match. All extremely delightful!

Behind us children were enjoying making their own pizzas, decorating cupcakes and then being entertained with food science by Fun Kitchen. Further along from the Food Pavilions was Little Cookies with Fun Fast Food (healthier alternatives), Food is Fun Kids Cooking and Kenniford Farm with their beautiful farm animals, as well a some face painting and junk modelling – enough to keep the children entertained.

A few craft stalls were place down the Queen Street end of the gardens if you fancied a purchase for your home, yourself or perhaps a gift for someone else. Walking back up the hill, we re-entered the Food Pavilions for round 2 and some final purchases.

All in all, a fantastic event for any food lover, in fact, anyone who wants a good time with food, drink and music a plenty. The After Dark Festival was on again this year, with live music going on until late, for which you could buy tickets separately and just have a good night out even if you didn’t want to attend the main festival in the day.

I can only imagine the amount of work that goes into making this a smoothly running and enjoyable day so a huge thanks and congrats to co-founder Michael Caines MBE and his teams for their vision and hard work. Of course all hail the brave and hardworking local suppliers too, without them there would be nothing to enjoy.

Thanks to mother nature for the fabulous weather on Saturday and Sunday, which makes this type of event all the more enjoyable. I can’t wait until next year! If you can’t wait either, I can tell you the dates to put in your diary already: 21st – 23rd April 2017. See you there!

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