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Whoever falls into the trap of thinking British cuisine is boring or bland clearly hasn’t attended one of the country’s many food festivals where local producers, innovative recipes and adventurous chefs gather to prove there’s more to English eats than meat and two veg. We’ve lined up some of the best events on the UK food festival calendar, from local events like the Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival and Isle of Wight Garlic Festival to star-studded culinary weekenders like The Big Feastival.
Set amongst the beautiful rolling hills and farmland just outside Newchurch, the Isle of Wight Garlic Festival, as its name suggests, celebrates all things garlic and local. Alongside the opportunity to buy more locally grown garlic than you can shake a stick at and sample all manner of garlic-flavoured delights, including a few unlikely fusions like garlic fudge, ice cream and popcorn. There’s also plenty more island produce (meats, cheese, cider) and cooking demonstrations, a beer tent, live music, and a funfair. Attendants might want to take along some chewing gum, but on the upside, visiting the Garlic Festival is sure to keep the vampires at bay at least for a few days.
Founded by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and former Blur bassist turned award-winning artisan cheesemaker Alex James in 2010, The Big Feastival takes place on the latter’s farm against the beautiful backdrop of The Cotswolds. Part food, part music festival, the family-friendly, three-day event features cooking demos from top chefs like Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, cookery classes for adults and kids, a Wellness Kitchen and plenty of street food vendors alongside music from the likes of Tinie Tempeh, Toots & The Maytals and Mark Ronson. Single day, weekend and camping tickets are available, and for festival-goers who don’t like the thought of roughing it, boutique yurts and bell tents are available in The Big Feastival’s Glamping Village.
For foodies who like a fiery kick to their grub, there’s nowhere better than the North East Chilli Fest. Drolly dubbed the ‘year’s hottest event’, the festival features over 80 independent food producers selling some of the spiciest eats the country has to offer – from award-winning chilli sauce and chocolate company Grim Reaper Foods to The Chilli Jam Man’s red-hot homemade jams – plus extra fun in the form of live music and its legendary chilli eating competition. Thankfully, there’s plenty of thirst-quenching real ales and lagers from Newcastle-based Wylam Brewery alongside cider, wine and cocktails to cool those burning taste buds.
Each July, Weymouth’s picturesque 17th-century harbour is host to one of the UK’s most luxurious, epicurean events, the Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival. A true celebration of Dorset’s historical fishing and seafaring trades, the festival not only feeds attendants with its 90+ seafood selling vendors – chow down on award-winning crab cakes from Dorset Shellfish or smoked salmon from The Hix Academy, Dorset-born chef Mark Hix and Weymouth College’s joint collaboration – but also educates about sustainability and sea-to-plate philosophies too. Of course, a visit to the festival wouldn’t be complete without sampling some fresh oysters washed down with a glass of bubbly from festival sponsors Champagne Pommery.
Founded by the late, great food writer Josh Ozersky in New York and brought to London in 2013, Meatopia is, simply put, a meat lover’s paradise. The three-day carnivore-centric shindig, whose motto is ‘eat, meat, sleep, repeat’, transforms London’s Tobacco Dock each September into a tribute to all things meaty with world-class chefs, vendors and restaurants cooking up everything from juicy burgers and ribs to succulent steak and shawarma along with butchery demos, informal workshops and live music. Naturally there’s no better accompaniment to a hearty bit of meat than a nice, cold beer, and Meatopia’s recently introduced Craftopia, an area dedicated to craft beer, live brewing plus beer and food pairings, does the trick nicely.
We’ve covered the carnivore-friendly events on the food festival circuit, so now here’s one for the vegans and vegetarians, Vegfest, one of Europe’s biggest and best vegan festivals. Founded in Bristol by Tom Barford, the man behind organic hemp company Yaoh, the festival has since expanded to include Brighton, London and Glasgow too. By day, attendants can sample grub from dozens of vendors such as Brighton’s Loving Hut Vegan Café and organic, vegan-friendly craft beer producers Pitfield Brewery, get handy culinary tips at live cookery demos and learn more about veganism through talks on nutrition, health and lifestyle. And at night, there’s plenty of live music to look forward to.
Vegfest, Brighton/Bristol/London/Glasgow, United Kingdom