What I Learned at Banbury Food Fair 2016

So, the Banbury Town Fair has once again come and gone. As always, there were samples galore to try. We’ve learned over the years that once we’ve nibbled your way through the first batch of booths, had lunch and then nibbled and snacked our way through the rest – the idea of dinner often never occurs to us. But it’s not all about actually eating. It’s also about chatting with people about the food they have brought, prepped, turned into art or just enjoy. It’s an incredibly social occasion and with over 100 vendors, a day full of cooking demos and foodie’s everywhere – I always learn a lot.

This year I learned that in order to make a fruit gin, you may need to let the fruit infuse anywhere from several months (soft fruits like raspberries) to just over a year (sloe). Now, I am not a gin drinker (I’m a vodka girl with mixers, myself) but I tasted the raspberry gin from Foxdenton Fruit Gins and goodness! It was delicious – I can absolutely see baking a Christmas cake with that.

I learned from Anita Chipalkatty (while watching her making jalfrezi – an Indian stir-fry) that while Chinese stir-fry and Indian stir-fry have a lot in common cooking method wise, the chop is very different. Chinese veg is shredded or julienned quite fine for stir fry where as for an Indian dish, the chop is chunkier. It still cooks quickly but retains more individual taste and structural integrity (all the better for scooping, for example with chunks of pepper).

hobbycooks
Anita explains it all – and I was totally listening and not plotting to elbow my way to the front when the “taste the dish” offer was announced.

And sadly while I was not able to get close enough for a clear picture, Restaurant 56 head chef Andrew Scott (Banburian himself) and sous chef Nick Bennett (yes, that was him on Masterchef) did make disassembling a duck look GREAT fun.

We discussed timeframes for smoking beef and pork with Smoke and Spice BBQ – and as a Texas-raised BBQ eater from itty-bitty-hood, let me say the beef brisket with Kansas sauce is spot on! The North Carolina sauce seemed to be going over well too.

brisket
Beef Brisket from Smoke & Spice

The difference, in case you wondered, Continue reading “What I Learned at Banbury Food Fair 2016”

Banbury and the Bard

Banbury is, as you may know, forever entwined with Banbury cakes – flat-ish oval pastry filled with spiced currants. They’re not unlike Eccles cakes and they’re still available in Banbury though not in the two shops most associated with them in days or yore. I present to you – the days of yore.

banbury_cakeshop

E. W. Brown’s Original Cake Shop, 12 Parsons street.

BanburyCake

Betts’s Cake Shop on Banbury High Street in 1878

There was some dreadful idea being tossed around about turning that A. Betts High Street space (very much present and in use lately as a pop-up shop) into an arcade. Yes, a gaming arcade. I am very much hoping the request for the change of use required will be denied. But never mind that now. I will complain about that elsewhere.

Banbury has another eponymous foodstuff lurking in its past and today seems a good time to mention it. Why today? Because today is April 23rd — anniversary of both Shakespeare’s birth and his death.

Banbury Cheese!

banbury_cheese

“Banbury cheeses, for which the town was noted until the 18th century, were first mentioned in 1430” (Cal. Close, 1429–36, 74). It was a cow’s milk cheese, yellow in colour and quite strongly flavoured, made in thin (about 1 inch) rounds.

“But wait!” I hear you cry. “What does this have to do with Shakespeare?”

In “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Bardolf addresses Slender as “You Banbury Cheese!” – and this would have been commonly understood by the playgoers as an insult implying there wasn’t much to him (Banbury cheese being only about an inch thick.) That’s not to say Banbury cheese wasn’t popular – it was; in fact, it was better known than Banbury cakes at the time. It was just  … well, thin.

It was made in various places around the area but mostly in Grimsbury and Nethercote – what was then the Northamptonshire end of things*

And that’s not the only bardish thing about Banbury. No, there was a Shakespeare Inn on Parsons’ Street and we can still see the bust (sitting over Flora Bella Florists) that used to greet visitors to the Shakespeare Inn (1871-1891, I believe). *waves* Hi, Will!

banbury_bard

And that is my culinary history trivia for the day. Happy birthday, Will.
_______________
* Boundaries tended to move around a lot and originally Banbury straddled two counties.

Banbury’s Culinary Surroundings

Banbury sits at the center of a robust culinary landscape. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Sure, it’s home to the largest coffee processing plant in Europe and yes, the traditional home of the famous Banbury cake. But ‘culinary landscape?’ What on earth is she on about?

Well, you know when I said, at the end of my last post – Grabbing a Bite in Banbury – stay tuned and stay hungry? I hope you listened. There’s a lot more foodie fun to cover in Banbury and the surrounding areas. Having covered some of the new and/or worth checking out shops and eateries in Banbury itself, it’s time to talk about the other gastronomic pleasures – cookery schools, food festivals, artisan shops and food tours – found in Banbury itself or within no more than an hour’s travel time.

Cookery Schools: Cookery schools are hot, hot, hot! There’s been a veritable explosion of cookery schools across Britain in the past four or five years. The country enthralled with Great British Bake Off and an unending supply of cookery TV has shown a huge appetite for courses about baking, regional cuisines, vegetarian food, butchery, cooking for kids, on and on and on.

cookery_class

If you’re in the Banbury area and interested in joining the cooking throng, you are in luck. You’ve got award winning and exceedingly well established array of schools and courses to choose from.

  • I’ve mentioned our local Banbury Cookery School (formerly Pudding Pie Cookery school) in the last post. They do classes from all ages and abilities as well as cooking parties, demonstrations and other cooking events. They’ll even come to you and teach you in your own home. LOVE that!
  • The Cookery School at Daylesford – I’ve gone on a bit elsewhere about Daylesford’s mouth-wateringly beautiful Kingham farmshop. Don’t let the name ‘farmshop’ fool you it to thinking it’s just any farm shop. Yes, there is a farm and a shop but this is a whole complex. There’s a shop, farm, restaurant, garden, spa, holiday cottages, and – as is relevant here, the cookery school. They also host a series of organic farming courses, seasonal festivals and special events.
  • The WI Cookery School – yes, that WI. Whether you are a beginner or rather more experienced, this purpose built cookery school just outside of Abingdon (a mere 40 minute drive) welcomes members and non-members of all ages.
  • Dancing Trousers Cookery School – an awesome name, don’t you agree? Small yes but size isn’t the issue when it comes to food. Quality is what matters and as Dancing Trousers was a finalist in the Best Small Cookery School category of the British Cookery School Awards in 2014 (as was Daylesford), I think that settles that.
  • If you really want to push the boat out, you could check out The Raymond Blanc Cookery School at Le Manoir. It won’t come cheap, by any means but you won’t forget the experience or the food.
  • And in more specialist field – chocolate making.  Barry Callebau is a global manufacturer of chocolate and cocoa. We know this. But they also run a Chocolate Academy in Banbury! Now, to be fair, it’s not really aimed at what be best described as “curious consumers” – it’s not a tour. This is full on course work for people who are quite serious about chocolate, novices interested in getting into the field or more advanced chocolatier. There are consumer focused courses at some of the other locations, just not at Banbury. Still, you never know. Demand might create supply.

Still want more? Well, as the weather is warming, you are in luck because food festival season is fast approaching.

Food Fair LogoFood Fairs and Festivals: Naturally local foodies wouldn’t dream of missing the Banbury Food Fair (Sunday Aug 9) and as it’s getting bigger and better each year, foodies from further and further afield are also making this an annual stop on the foodie event circuit. Other festivals a mere hop, skip and jump from here:

Other Appetizing Links

Thirsty-quenching Tours and Tastings:  You can’t do a “food and drink highlights” round up for Banbury and not include S H Jones Wines, a real star in Banbury’s food and drink firmament.

What makes it so? Well, there’s the fact that it’s been here since 1848 (one of the oldest continually operating businesses in town and in one of the oldest buildings – which I’ve touched on elsewhere) and it’s been run by the same family since 1886. Talk about staying power and commitment 🙂  The other reason you can’t leave it out is the wine tastings. Speaking of which, I hear there might be a cheese and wine tasting there quite soon involving one of my recent fab foodie discoveries, Curds and Whey. That’s where I got the amazing black truffle cheese that led to the most amazing black truffle risotto. More on that another time.

???????????????????Moving further afield, there’s the Hook Norton Brewery tour. The folks at Hook Norton conduct two tours of their dramatic brewery building every day but Sunday and yes, there are samples at the end. If you’re still thirsty, you can check out the Wychwood Brewery Tours in Witney which is open for public tours every weekend. For true brew aficianados, there are another couple of brewery tours on the edge of my 1 hour range that offer the public a chance to have a supervised poke around – the Tring Brewery and the Chiltern Brewery near Wendover (this is the oldest independent brewery in the Chilterns).  Beer not your thing? More of a wine person? Oxford Chelt Wine School run wine tastings and wine courses in Oxford, a quick 20 minute train ride from Banbury.

The Sweet Spot:  Belflair Chocolates is a lovely little shop on Church Lane (next to Sugar Rush where I get my root beer when I am feeling homesick for the US) that produces some top notch treats for chocolate lovers. That would be reason enough to list them but here’s the bonus chocolate lovers! They have an atelier in Brackley and you can book one of the “courses in chocolate appreciation” – an opportunity to watch the resident chocolatier at work, learns about the process and sample some of the goodies.  If you’re looking to focus on the sampling – why not try the Chocolate Tour of Oxford – 2 hours of chocolate? Yes, PLEASE! And it’s a walking tour so you can convince yourself you are balancing it all out with some exercise.

Local Goods and Groovy Gadgets: Looking for a special or seasonal ingredient, something outside the normal reach of your grocers’ shelves? Goodness knows the area is awash in Farmers’ markets – and that’s worth a post on it’s own. But you don’t have to wait for market day. You can peruse the offerings at:

  • The Italian Larder  – chock full of regional specialties from across the continent, some well know and some you won’t find anywhere else.
  • Steve Betts Butchers – what they don’t know about meat isn’t worth knowing and they are happy to chat with you about what you’re cooking and suggest the best options.
  • Banbury Self Pick – which is pretty much what it says on the tin -seasonal self-picking so go grab yourself some strawberries, raspberries, black currants, red currants, apples etc. Or pick up some of the ready picked produce. Self pick is a great thing to do with the kids – so if you’re looking to enthuse the kids about fruit this summer, this is the place to go.
  • There’s nothing like cooking with fresh herbs and they’re so easy to grow! You could pick some up at the grocers or the local garden centre but if you really want choice and variety along with expert input and advice, check out the National Herb Centre. 10 kinds of basil, countless thymes, rosemaries and the like along with nature trails and kids play areas.
  • Planning on breaking bread? Literally? Well, we’ve gone on and on about Bakergirl (and quite likely will again) so definitely check it out if you want real bread, freshly made with local flours and seasonal ingredients.

abraxasShould you need to stock up on tins for day of baking or grab a few new implements for an weekend of culinary activities, you don’t want to miss checking out Abraxas Cookshop. Not only have they got every gadget or tool you could need but the staff really know what they are talking about and can offer first-hand info on much of the store’s stock. We bought a spice grinder there last year, after a very enjoyable helpful discussion with the obviously knowledgeable women at the counter. It’s one the hardest working gadget in our already hardworking kitchen.

Once again, this has gotten much longer than I intended and I haven’t even addressed the vast and varied farmer’s markets and shops in the area. That’ll be another day. But I hope this list and the other posts on Banbury (below) have given you some idea of why the foodies of TransAtlantic Towers feel we definitely landed in the right spot.


Related Links

  • Spring has Sprung in Banbury!  (April 12th, 2015):  According to Tennyson, ‘In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love’ – and that’s as may be but come Spring, this girl’s fancy turns to long walks, farmer’s markets, the garden and cheese.
  • Festive, Foodie Banbury (December 6th, 2014): It’s holiday time and a whole SLEW of new eateries have opened up in Banbury to keep everyone’s energy levels up for the last push to Christmas
  • Banbury’s Foodie Landscape (Nov 16 2014): One of the things we most love doing here in TransAtlantic Towers (as I always did back in NYC), is a bit of culinary exploring…
  • Grabbing a Bite in Banbury (April 14, 2015): In Banbury, a store front showing signs of activity is quite likely to be – well just about anything food related.
  • Bakergirl Bakehouse in Banbury:  Today’s culinary jaunt was to Bakergirl, an artisan bakehouse just outside Banbury.

Grabbing a Bite in Banbury

In Manhattan, an empty store front showing signs of activity – especially if that store front is on a corner – is quite likely to be a Starbucks or a bank. In one instance, there is even a Starbucks in the bank.  Not so in Banbury.

In Banbury, a store front showing signs of activity is quite likely to be – well just about anything food related. A coffee shop, Mexican food,  a bakery, a Dutch pancake house, an Italian restaurant, a wine bar. I’ve been saying for ages that Banbury is shaping up to be very much a foodie destination – and all these places joining the impressive existing ones are a big reason.

banbury_scape

Sure, there are non-eateries as well because you can’t eat ALL the time. I know this because I’ve tried. So should you want to work up an appetite before diving into the plethora of restaurants and cafes around here, might I suggest checking some of my other Banbury-centric posts from Greater Gotham Goes Global and Fabulous Foodie. I’ve done a handy-dandy Banbury round up of some of them for you over on Personal Parlance.  Some places I always like to take a peek into:

  • The Pink Pig, Independent Record and Merchandise Shop. Records? You remember records? Round, vinyl things. The ones with grooves? They have those and lots of other stuff. I have no record player but this will not prevent me from perusing their wares. I suppose I should say re-opened as it’s apparently an old favourite of many that has come back.
  • Maybe you’re more the outdoorsy type? Well, there’s Fresh Air Junkie on Parsons Street, ready to supply you with whatever you need to hike along the canals or climb … whatever one might climb around here. We picked up some sporks for our trip to Marrakech but that’s another foodie tale for another time.
  • The Banbury Museum – it’s not the biggest museum in the world (making it an ideal place to kill a pleasant hour or two) but they make wonderful use of the space they have and host an impressive range of exhibits (the Royal Photographic Society’s International Print Exhibition was particularly good) in addition to their robust displays on local history.

Hungry now? Good because so am I and there’s a lot of Fabulous Foodieness happening around here of late.

banburyfoodbar

I’ve already waxed poetic about Bakergirl Bakehouse, the artisan bakehouse at Wykham Park Farm but it is only one of many places on the culinary landscape.

  • I was very sad when Veritas closed (I still miss the poulet Napoleon) but I am glad that space remains a foodie spot. It’s been turned into Little Amsterdam – a cafe, deli and pancake house. We went for lunch a few weeks ago and I made the CLASSIC mistake. In my desire to try as much as possible, I over ordered. Good gads, I was so full at the end, I could barely walk. But I learned something from my mistake – I learned that it was ALL yummy! Pancakes aside (and don’t miss them because you’ll regret it) – the cheese balls? The reason I was so very stuffed by the end of the meal? Oh my! SO good! Lovely space, super friendly and efficient staff – and now that the weather is warmer, I look forward to checking out their patio. Little Amsterdam is also home to the Banbury Cookery School.
  • The Whistling Kettle – WHAT a great spot to take a break and indulge in a bit of cake – and who doesn’t like a bit of cake now and again? It’s especially nice to be able to sit, indulging in cake while also indulging in one of my favourite past times – people watching. Whistling Kettle, located as it is on the Market Place, is ideally positioned for such things. I shall be there frequently.
  • When I saw Lucha Burrito was coming, I must say my inner Texan rejoiced. A good burrito can go a long way toward soothing quell a LOT of ‘Tex-ican’ cravings. Pick and mix topping options means you can get it pretty much any way you like. And come hungry because these burritos are GINORMOUS in addition to be being VERY tasty indeed.
  • Sweet Tooth Pancake House – But wait, you say – I thought the pancakes were at Little Amsterdam. And they are. Banbury has TWO places for pancakes – and this is the other one, also one of our favs. In fact, @dungeekin says the chicken Caesar salad pancake is his favourite brunch EVER. I myself enjoy the chicken and mushroom one – and I am determined to try the waffles since every time I go, one gets carried past me and looks amazing.
  • Naomi’s Cafe Bar – a cafe, art space, reading nook and performance venue all in one. Not only that, it is Banbury’s first (and as far as I am aware only) ‘pay it forward’ café. The coffee? Also a lot better than the coffee at the train station so if you’ve got an extra moment or two and you like your java, it’s across the street from the station’s front entrance.
  • Pinto Lounge – the first place we ever ate out in Banbury and we’ve gone back again and again. The burgers? So worth it. The brunch also quite good. I’ve enjoyed the baked good, the jambalaya as well so this is what I was class as a good all rounder. I have yet to try the tapas but I hear good things. Staff always nice and there’s a really good vibe to the place. Every town needs a reliable, go to place and Pinto Lounge fits the bill nicely.
  • Caffe Veneto – I must be perfectly candid. The coffee here is outstanding, the panini is delish and the place is spotless but the service? Can be slow. Not unpleasant or difficult.  They are, in fact, very nice, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. It’s just that sometimes – not all the time – hot food can be very slow to reach the table if the place is more than half full. If you are in a hurry and having more than cake, give it a miss. But if you’re not rushing and the weather is nice, grab a seat by the window or in the seating outside to enjoy a fine, fine cup o’ joe.
  • Reg’s Cafe -Fancy grabbing breakfast or brunch? Go over the Reg’s but come hungry and come with a true appreciation for a top notch breakfast at a great price because they don’t stint on quality or portion size. This place has only been open since 2013 but they’ve been racking up fans, praise and awards right and left.
  • Puddingface, the pie place – Admittedly if you aren’t in the mood for pie, they can’t offer you much but it IS called the pie place so you go in knowing their focus. Puddingface is another spot where it’s best to pack your appetite (and a spare appetite if you’ve got one). The atmosphere is relaxed, a pub full of comfy nooks and crannies. The pies are delicious, not to mention huge – when they bring them out along with the chops and mixed veg, you may well find yourself wondering how someone can be expected to eat all that. I wonder if every time and yet, somehow I end up with an empty plate. What I really don’t understand is why they offer dessert. I’m sure the desserts are delicious (they are well reviewed on TripAdvisor and other sites) but I’ve never been able to even imagine eating one after the pie and sides.

banburyfoodbar2

Now, confession time. I don’t have a pithy wrap up. I know, I know – this is a shock. After all, am I not the queen of pithy wrap ups? But the thing is this – this post was originally intended to be a quick hit list of where to get a decent bite to eat in the centre of town. It grew both in length and in scope so it’s now a two-parter.

Having covered some of the new and/or worth checking out shops and eateries around here in this part, the next part (coming super soon) will touch upon some of the other places – food festivals, cookery schools, local markets, etc. – that foodies might find of interest both in Banbury and in the surrounding (an hour’s drive or less) area.

So stay tuned – and stay hungry!

Bakergirl Bakehouse in Banbury

Every now and then, you want to treat yourself. After a long week, a slow,relaxing weekend is just the treat I want. Nothing pressing to do, no appointments in the calendar. Just a lie in, coffee and maybe (weather permitting) a leisurely walk. Living as I do in Banbury that walk might be along the canal (which deserves a post in and of itself at a later time) or through town (which I believe I have already points out is full of excellent places to browse, eat, shop and people-watch).

Occasionally, a weekend jaunt slightly out of the way is on the agenda and this weekend was once such occasion. Lately, we’ve spent a lot of time exploring the newer spots on the local culinary landscape – a landscape that is rapidly expanding both in scope and size. Banbury is surrounded by quite a variety of easily reached delights – both culinary and otherwise. Today was a culinary jaunt – we went to Bakergirl, a relatively new artisan bakehouse open just outside Banbury.

It’s located in a superbly done up, converted barn next to Wykham Park Farm Shop. My first thought when we walked in was “OMG! I want to live here! It’s GORGEOUS!”

Bakergirl_lights

Then the smell of all those baked goods hit me and all I could think of was “OMG! I want to eat everything! It smells delicious!.”  The care and attention to detail that have done into creating the space – I mean just look at that light fixture? Amazing! –  is a sign of the kind of care and attention to detail that go into the bread and other amazing fare they produce.

bakergirl_interior

I had a morning bun the first time went there and it is one of the most amazing breakfast pastries I have ever had. I was slightly puzzled by the morning bun at first – as they really aren’t a thing in NYC. They looked like a cinnamon roll that had its middle poked up. But I soon discovered that though there IS cinnamon in involved, a morning bun is actually lighter than a cinnamon roll and ooooooh so buttery. These particularly morning buns have a hint of orange as well – which I must say went very well with my coffee of choice to accompany pastry – a mocha.

An aside about the coffee – it is excellent. If you have strong views on coffee (as dungeekin does) then you will enjoy and approve of the brew being brewed at Bakergirl.

I now have a confession to make. I couldn’t decide during our second trip what to order. I knew I wanted to write a review so I thought “I really OUGHT to have something new so I’ve tried a couple of things. But the morning bun was SO good …” It was a dilemma. For about 10 seconds. Then I decided, “Screw it. It’s the weekend. I’m having a morning bun AND chocolate croissant.” And so I did.Both were still slightly warm – and the croissant was one of the lightly, flakiest croissants I have ever seen. SO many layers with so much space between them and proper dark chocolate.

breakfast_bakergirl

 

Breakfast of Indecision – couldn’t decide between them so I had both.

My better half – dungeekin – had a chelsea bun and I really should have asked him what he thought of it so I could include his input but I was so transported to another party plane that I forgot to ask. Perhaps he will comment.

I am pleased to note that each time we’ve gone, a steady stream of people are making their way there – quite a range of different people as well. If you do something as right as these folks at Bakergirl most assuredly are, word gets around – word about the morning buns, the coffee, the fantastic space, the bread  (I haven’t even talked about the whole ‘real bread’ thing but I’ll get into that next time). It’s a good thing too because I want Bakergirl to be around for a long, long time.

bakergirllogo