“The Great British Food Festival” by definition conjures a few images which until you actually arrive on ‘campus’ as it were, are soon dispelled. I think I was expecting a serious foodie experience. The opportunity to discuss with producers their wares and a bit of sampling. Throw in a couple of masterclasses and you have my kind of Saturday.
Sure there were demos and a couple of peddlers selling their produce, for the most part it was more a fair or fete than a festival of food. I suppose like the notion of Britain being great is something else that is better in the imagination than reality.
The concession stalls were doing really well – the queue for the both the Souvlaki stall & cocktail bar was at least 60 strong. Alas you will always find at least one ‘rip off’ merchant at these events. Charging over £7 for two take out coffees which I described as “pure dish water” only mildly worse than our local Greggs, whilst vending patisseries encrusted with a generous coating of wasps, resulted in my 1st minus star rating ever.
Thankfully after an extensive visit we found our caffeinated Mecca in the guise of the “Two Dogs Coffee Roasting Co”. Bless them, John & Sian Bowen not only source and roast their beans, but also afford us a proper strong, dark roast in the size coffee should be served. Cup size not bucket, whilst pricing themselves competitively and sensibly. Add a flair for their trade, a lust for life and each other, and you have a truly satisfying experience with good humoured outgoing people. Yes I was moved to bump elbows in the modern way.
Seeing Lidl having a stall and even Tom Baker whose love of jelly babies I share for he was “my doctor”, was purveying chocolate brownies, I was left somewhat disappointed. So you could buy artisan booze – gins, ciders, and wines; all companies local to South Wales (still not feeling the Great British thing), and yes seeing old friends still at work, such as Invicta Wines & Pembrokeshire Chilli Farm did leave me with a sense of this is really about food and drink; I did make a purchase from the cider man – more on that later.
If the food side was a little disappointing to me, the arts & craft exhibitors saved the day – & to be totally fair they generally do. Who honestly cooks with honey thats £25 a pound!
The truth is these events are a day out. Fun-fare rides to keep the kids happy, copious bars to suit mum and dad, live music (see Trades Description Act) to keep the ‘aging rockers’ in check, and a wealth of shops for their spouses to visit. You could call it a Karaoke Festival and a high number of the vendors would be there. Well we all have to earn a crust – right!
So here’s my round up of the more interesting stalls and trades. In the absence of food I found great in roads being made within the spirit, cider and coffee trades. I have already mentioned the excellent products of the “Two Dogs”. A near to Margam venture I found quite satisfying to my tastes was the excellent ciders being produced by Austringer Cider. A family business as many of these producers are, based in Port Talbot. Sampling their Swigod (sparkling) cider in the style of champagne, I found something very different, very natural and pure in the flavour. The initial taste hit of a fermented beverage subsides to leave a clean lingering after taste for this very dry drink. Although they produce a range of natural still ciders, I was sold on Swigod and purchased another sweeter perry in the “2 for £20” range. Yes the good stuff costs – if you want merely to get ****faced then your local hyper market is the place to be. Austringer visit local markets from Cardiff to my own Llanelli, and I will be buying again, for that special occasion.
Mentioning special occasions and there’s one in the diary. My grandson’s christening is in a few weeks so it was fortunate I happened across “Celtic Seren”. Hand made pewter jewellery made in Glynneath (another local boy) since 1979. That fact alone left me agog never mind the intricate and thoughtful designs. I settled upon a ‘Love spoon’ for young Oscar as a memento & keepsake of the bond we have. Finished with a stork and baby seemed most appropriate. Yet another purchase together a Celtic cross to accompany my existing crucifix.
If Welsh slate is your thing, and to be honest it is a wonderful media not just for keeping your house dry, but decorating it too, then Andy from AB-Slate is your man. At last a truly local lad (Llangennech mun!). His flair for the dramatic wasn’t lost on me as he almost pirouetted from behind his counter to pose for our pic. A graduate with a 1st in Dance from Bath; diversified during the 1st lockdown into making some elegant, poignant & sentimental pieces that can adorn any home.
It’s this kind of story that gives added value that is lost in our Amazonian Cyber Technostructured world of supply and demand.
If you long for a simpler time then, Phil Baker from Taibach under the guise of “Reflective Images” is your man. researching and producing townscapes prints of the early 20th Century. As much as I am fascinated in the Newport Transporter Bridge, the image of Home, Burry Port, from the corner of Station Road and Stepney Road, showing Kev my barber’s shop a century ago had to come home with me. Fascinated as i was both as amateur historian and professional photographer in the subject and Phil’s wares; I could have easily spend a lot of time and a serious amount of cash.
So was it all worth it? Of course it was. A pleasant afternoon meeting some truly warm and friendly people, not just the exhibitors but the staff from the bus driver who shipped us hobblers around to the stewards in the car park. It was lovely to be outdoors surrounded by 1000s of people who didn’t seem bothered that covid is on the march again. Maybe that is the new normal. What I can say with certainty is The Great British Food Festival (Margam chapter) was most definitely “The Festival of Around the Corner” and that left me with an enormous sense of pride in being creative and Welsh.