I generally eat way too much at the Banbury Food Fair and this year was no exception. I never set out to eat my way across the marketplace and across to the bandstand then back down toward town hall. It just sort of happens – one small bite and sample at a time.
I sampled cheese, infused gin, breads, oils, tapas, olives, and fudge all before lunch. And as the day was fine (blue skies right until the last hour) and quite warm even before noon, there was was also iced coffee, a fruity lemonade and a soft drink. I can only barely remember what came after lunch since lunch was a HUGE steak sandwich (from ToroPoco) followed by a luscious affogato (from monkeypuzzle who also produced the excellent iced coffee) and a GIANT donut (from doughnutterie).
But I vaguely recall Saira Hamilton offering me a sample of chilli mojito after her demo and having a bit of risotto courtesy of the amazing Rosemary Shrager. I missed tasting Andrew Scott and Nick Bennett‘s demo creation this year. But if it was as good as last year’s – I have no doubt those who did get up there enjoyed it thoroughly.
It’s a full day’s fun – running from 10:30 to 4:30 every year – and we’re there all day so no doubt I will be forgetting and remember to tell you all sorts of things over the next few days. I’m sure it will come up during the next Jones on Food and Travel show Sept 4th as well. Tune in on Puritans Radio for that. But a few things off the top of my head:
VINTAGE TEA ROOM – This was a new addition this year and thanks toi the efforts of the ladies at Banbury Cross Vintage Tea Parties it went over very well indeed. Having popped in a couple of time, I am not surprised. I peeked in just as set up was finished and the room was lovely. Bright, colourful, oozing old school retro charm. And the TEAPOTS! I don’t know nearly enough about the ins and outs of tea to appreciate the actual beverage but I love the traditions and sort of … theatrics is the wrong word but it’s as near as I can come. Processes? Never mind, I’ll think of it later. The point is – I know the very basic mechanics of tea making – hot water + tea leaves = tea. but beyond that, I am a blank slate. Always have been – and this is largely down to my not actually being a tea drinker. This actually occurred to me initially several days before Food Fair as I was sitting in El Safina talking tea with proprietess Heather but chatting with the Vintage Tea ladies, it was very much hammered home; heard people more knowledgable about tea chatting and making approving noises re the experience so nice call, Banbury Events team!
MUSIC: Once again, Suzette ‘The Duchess’ Neptune had toes tapping and kids swaying to the music at the top of the marketplace with jazz band The Next Hot Thing – these musicians are such a foundational part of so many events on the town events calendar, I’m not sure any of the events would be the same without them. And this year, in addition to their usual spot in the marketplace, they added a satellite spot – just outside town hall side entrance. Not only did the music flowing from the keyboard create a lovely atmosphere in that area, I think it may well have helped cue people in that there was quite a bit of stuff over there. In the past, I think people have missed the fact that Food Fair actually wraps all the way around town hall and isn’t just on the marketplace side.
DEMOS: The demonstrations covered quite a range of dishes and styles – and speaking of the demos: kudos to Ilja from Little Amsterdam for all the work no one ever sees to get these demos supplied out and moving forward; Saira Hamilton has the best smile! And now I know what the hottest part of the chilli is (the membrane); Rosemary Shrager is hilarious and super nice – and has very strong views on pepper. I thought ModParlPhotos has strong views on the stuff but he has nothing on Rosemary. And while I may have missed tasting their food, I did still get to watch Andrew Scott and Nick Bennett (from Restaurant 56) in action. They should take that show in the road … oh wait.
STALLS & TRADERS: I believe that happiness might just be grilled cheese at both ends of the market square – can we get a rule passed that this has to happen every week?
Once again, Banbury Food Fair is full of the the friendliest and most informative traders ever. I tried tons of nibbles, learned about grating plates for garlic, the amazing number of things people will use to infuse gin and vodka; that food trucks are almost works of art sometimes – not just the colour and shape – but the clever, amazing way they are fitted out. There was – thankfully – affogato, which I was sad to miss last year. I got some advice about our chilli plant from Mr Paxton who I also chatted with last year. Last year the problem was our plant produced nothing – this year I needed guidance on how to get it to stop. Seriously – we have more chillies than we could possibly use at this point.
Was delighted to see a stall from the Bridge Street Community Garden as well. Not only is it producing some fantastic looking veg and giving folks a chance to get their hands dirty – it has transformed that whole space from a wasted, overgrown and a bit dodgy looking scrap of brush to a place where people can visit, sit and watch the canal boats float by.
I was frozen with indecision over whether to buy coffee beans or not – there were far too many choices and I wondered if things weren’t going to far with scenting coffee with so many other things. Don’t get me wrong, I like a nice French vanilla after dinner from time to time and I can see the logic in things like hazelnut. But ‘lemon cheesecake coffee?’ There was also the small issue of carrying bags of beans around. I confess, I did not buy any – but this is more a reflection of my laziness than a statement on the coffee on offer.
And there were Banbury cakes (as there should be at all Banbury events, I feel) – and Banbury cakes also featured in Peter Evan Jones interview with Rosemary Shrager as he presented her with some to mark the occasion of her first visit to Banbury. You can hear that interview on Monday’s Food & Travel show. Not familiar with the show? Check out previous editions and a bit of background on our Banburian landing page.
PRODUCE & FLORAL SHOW: What I learned this year: hats make great bases for floral arrangements. Questions I now have about such shows – besides exhibiting it, what do you do with a leek the size of Oxfordshire? And I know I’m always going on about the upside of wonky veg and how people need to get over this obsession with identical, symmetrical produce – but there IS something mesmerising and rather gorgeous about the symmetry and lines of ‘perfect’ produce when arranged for exhibition display.
And ModParlPhotos was there, camera in hand – well, cameras. These are just some of the tasty treats, memorable moments and curious crowds we saw.