A View From The Tower

Hampton Court Food Festival

May 15th, 2012 by Raven Garcia

A few weeks back, The Girlfriend invited me down to Hampton Court because apparently there was some kind of food festival going on there. This surprised me, because usually it is me who hears about these things. I’ve been so out of touch lately, as you can probably tell with the latest slump of productivity from this website. I blame this on my new job – I am currently temping at the 2012 Olympic Site. The job is quite demanding so I find myself just being exhausted in the evenings and not feeling much like writing for my site, but I am determined to keep the flame burning (no pun intended).

So anyway, I thought it was about time I posted my photos and shared my experiences from Hampton Court Food Festival before people start talking about the next one. Judging by the queue to get into the place we were in for a treat… however thankfully it was moving at quite a fast pace. In the queue I bumped into my friend Neil which was a nice surprise. I planned to go off, take some photos and eat a few things and then randomly bump into him at some point to catch up. However I had not taken the size of the festival into account, or the amount of other people who were there. So this did not transpire.

The first thing we came across was a huge bathtub of something resembling Pimms.

If only the weather had been more fitting… still, at least it wasn’t raining. Yet.

The far end of the festival was dedicated to hot food – there was a jerk chicken stand that was doing a hell of a lot of business, as was the “exotic” barbecue place serving up such things as kangaroo steak and llama sausage, and also the whole roast hog place in the far corner. I would gladly have paid for any of these – they looked delicious and the smells coming off of them were enticing to say the least. However what put me off were the queues whose sizes fell within the range you normally don’t see outside of Thorpe Park or Alton Towers.

Normally in a market environment, the huge queues are what you look for in order to find the best food around and are a pretty good indicator of that. But this was a food festival – and the problem with being a human is that we only have one stomach. And the problem with being me is that I am a perfectionist – I want to taste the best that Hampton Court Food Festival has to offer. So if I had to queue then I would walk around first, weigh up my options, and ensure that whatever I ended up spending half an hour in a queue for was worth it.

This tandoori place looked okay at first glance but we bypassed it when we witnessed the chef drop one of the balls of dough on the floor then proceed to pick it up and cook it anyway.

I was quite curious to try llama sausage, however the jerk chicken place was tempting me. At a food festival I did not really want to eat something as monotonous as chicken when there was so much else on offer, but look at it!!

Eventually we decided to wander round a bit more and blag a free appetiser in the form of the many free samples on offer. On our way we checked out the live cooking tent (a guy standing over a tagine pot while seven or eight people nodded off), watched a demonstration for some utensil that slices up vegetables for coleslaw really easily, and signed up to the RSPB (although I admit the free cuddly toy and bars of chocolate were a factor). I found it strange that a bird charity were giving away stuffed tigers to people who signed up. Anyway, I “tigress”. Hehehe.

Mini-Tangent #1: I used to think that “RSPB” stood for “Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds”. No wonder the birds are angry.

So after these distractions it was time to get back to the reason we had come here today – eating and drinking. And The Girlfriend and I were getting pretty hungry now. Our mission was simple – walk around and blag as many free samples as possible until either our stomachs exploded or we were asked to leave. So we did just that:

Cheese. A few olives. Sundried tomato. Various chilli jams. A free yakult. Chocolate brownies. More cheese. A chapati. Crisps. More relishes. Elderberry cordial. Organic apple juice. Parma ham. Caribbean hot sauces. Another free yakult to take the edge off the hot sauces. Yet more cheese. Pork and black pepper sausages. Pickles. Indian dips. Even more cheese. And an energy drink simply called “Pussy”.

For our main course, we decided to go for a burger from the Laverstoke Farm burger stall in the corner, as the queue was not too bad and what was coming away from the queue looked pretty decent. However, the asking price of £8.50 for “the works” was uncalled for, especially when they informed us that they had run out of cheese. Pointing out that it wasn’t technically “the works”, I got them to knock a quid off. So for seven-fifty apiece, I expected something pretty special. I have to admit it did look good.

The burger itself wasn’t particularly big, however they had cunningly disguised the size of it by piling it with salad, tomato salsa, onions and pickled chillis. The Girlfriend and I love pickled chillis – whenever we go to our favourite kebab shop we always insist that they pile loads of “biber tursu”, as they call them, on the side. These ones were amazing!! Fresh, crisp and bursting with juice and just the right amount of heat. So far, so good.

Unfortunately the chunky tomato salsa which had looked so tasty in fact revealed itself to be a bland, watery and rather pointless addition. The remaining salad that had not toppled onto the floor en route to the place we sat down to eat served only to bulk up what was actually a pretty stingy looking burger for the price we paid for it, and to expect anyone to pay a quid more as the usual price showed more cheek than the animal it came off. The bun was too floury for my liking and, rather than soak up the residual burger juices like a burger bun is supposed to do, this one crumbled at the slightest mention of any moisture. The meat itself was not seasoned at all and the middle of mine was not properly cooked. In short I paid £7.50 for a very disappointing burger with potential health risks. I will be looking up Laverstoke Farm again, but only to ask where they get their pickled chillis from.

So we wandered off looking for something better, both wishing we had just queued for half an hour for the jerk chicken, or gone next door to the place that served this:

It is very rare that I abandon a burger. In fact it is very rare I abandon food, particularly when I have paid £7.50 for it. But in this case I left almost half of mine and as a result was still hungry. After wandering off I bumped into another friend of mine, Rob. This reminded me of a show I’d seen a few weeks ago on one of the food channels – Street Feasts or something, hosted by a guy called Andy Bates. It was an episode where he was at a street food festival and kept “randomly” bumping into people he knew, all of whom had previously been featured on his show. It was a scene that was so obviously staged for the purpose of giving his friends a push, quite cheeky really considering that he’s only been on telly for five minutes himself.

Mini-Tangent #2: Sorry for going off on another tangent but I don’t know what it is about that Andy Bates guy, there’s just something about him I don’t like. I’ve try to work out what it is – perhaps it was the way he cycled past me the other week on Cambridge Heath Road and gave me the dirtiest look ever for no apparent reason. By the way Andy, your black pudding scotch eggs aren’t all that. Get over yourself.

But anyway, back at the festival I bought myself an empanada from the stall which is normally in Brick Lane. This was a welcome addition to the festival and helped satisfy my hunger. However we still had room for some Loch Ryan native oysters which went down a treat. This was The Girlfriend’s first oyster experience and she approached it with the kind of caution you approach a grizzly bear with…

I had not had much exposure to oysters either but these ones were easily the best I’ve tasted so far. Prior to Hampton Court I was indifferent to oysters. I could take them or leave them. Now I will definitely take them every time.

One thing I would definitely take was the amount of free booze on offer. We tried some Bangla beer (which I had had before but kept my mouth shut in order to get a free one), some red wines, whiskey, vodka, champagne, gin, rum, banana liqueurs and LOTS of cider. That along with the oysters were definitely some of the highlights. Other points worth mentioning were trying a hot sauce made out of the world’s hottest chilli – the legendary ghost chilli, and it was nice to see Korean restaurant “Han” out of New Malden had their own stall – The Girlfriend and I ate there a few weeks ago and were highly impressed.

All in all, I would go back to Hampton Court food festival but there are a few things I would change, for instance I’d like to have seen slightly more variety. There were a lot of cheeses, chutneys and utensils. So I would maybe put all the various cheeses and chutneys together in one section, then maybe have a section for meat, a section for utensils, a drinks section, etc. Also, I would make it free entry. £15 for a one day ticket seems steep when you have to pay full price for food on the inside as well so I was glad that we got in without paying. 🙂 But seriously,if they are going to charge £15 then maybe they should give you a voucher for a free meal or something. Otherwise a good day out but – Just because it’s Hampton Court does not mean everybody is loaded.

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