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The Real Food Festival Is Back In Town

Published 8 May 2010

Uninspired by the often tired-looking selection of food on offer at your local supermarket, including greying vegetables and suspiciously over-orange and under-ripe oranges? Well, get yourself down to the Real Food Festival at Earls Court, where all the food and drink you see is just that: the real deal.

The Festival, in its third year, much more than a food or farmer’s market, is host to over 400 producers of food and drink from the UK and abroad, selected based on the sheer quality and integrity of their products. There is a mouth-watering variety of food and drink to behold and inhale, including cheeses, meats, breads, seafood, fruit and veg, all produced ethically and sustainably. Visitors are welcomed to speak directly to the various organic and sustainable producers at their stands, and to try before you buy, which translates as lot of free samples!

The Real Food Festival responds to the nation’s growing concern with where our food comes from, as we have become more selective in our choices from both a health and environmental standpoint. This is the only event of such a large scale which promotes the highest quality, best tasting food and can count top chef Raymond Blanc as one of its ambassadors – in fact, many of the producers supply their sustainable and organic produce directly to top-notch restaurants and food stores in the UK.

I went down to the Real Food Festival being held at Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre to take a look, and was like a giddy child in a sweet shop at all the delicious looking food and drink on offer. And not only sweets and cakes, you could indeed pretty much tick all the boxes in terms of selection. Where would I start? Being a cupcake enthusiast, I spotted Holly Cupcakes, and was pleased to hear that the beautiful cakes had been freshly made that morning, into the small hours I was told – now that’s dedication. They also cater to the avid home baker, with their range of cake decorations, cookware and aprons, which look as delicious as the cakes.

I was also pleased to come across the JR Watkins UK Ltd stand, who sell an assorted range of hand creams and oils. Jess at the stand was more than helpful in explaining about the products and interesting trivia about the brand. Their hand creams were to die for, and I don’t say that lightly being a keen hand cream wearer. My hands were still soft a couple of hours later – and you can choose from lavender, lemon (which smells divine), and vanilla, all made from 100% natural ingredients. Interestingly they’re the oldest hand cream brand still around, which says something about the quality, and perhaps explains why both Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama are fans. JR Watkins UK also count a range of infused olive oils amongst their popular products, which is a favourite of the elBulli restaurant in Barcelona, holder of three Michelin stars and also known as the greatest restaurant in the world. Just a drizzle of their basil oil over pasta with a little cheese is enough for a tasty meal for Jess, my willing source. I was especially impressed by their balsamic glaze, which comes in several flavours including cherry and fig – delicious, and is a very versatile accompaniment to both meat and ice cream – you can’t go wrong really. They still have a range of spices on offer, their original product, and Jess, the hive of trivia, divulged that their cinnamon is the purest available, as they use only the centre of the cinnamon stick – nifty.

I also happened upon Miss Khoo’s Asian Deli, whose product is vacuum-sealed curry sauces, containing the full taste and flavour of hours of toil grinding ingredients together, with none of the hassle. Sounds like just what your modern day Londoner is in need of for a curry fix, and beats the hell out of a jar job. I stood with my mouth watering as the recipes in the Little Book of Recipes were recited with ease, and realised the student diet these days must be a darn site more interesting than I ever experienced.

Now here’s a gap in the market, and a product to bury any of the big coffee chains that seem to have been thrown up all over the country. Union Hand-Roasted offers real quality, ethical coffee sourced directly from farmers. I sampled a few of their flavours, but was especially pleased that their decaf blend actually tasted like real coffee – the secret is that only the caffeine is removed – not the flavour – in their process. They also deliver directly, within a day of the coffee being roasted, so you can have ‘a proper cup of coffee’ as the saying goes, without losing any of the complex flavours of the humble coffee bean.

Another producer who really took my interest was Scratch, who serve fresh, preservative-free meals ready to make, in one box, which actually look and taste like real food – because they are. You may even want to pass it off as your own cooking if you were trying to impress, I joked with them – and their products also allow you to try new and interesting dishes that may otherwise elude you in the kitchen. The company have been going for a year, and offer choices like vegetable red thai curry; crayfish, tomato and feta; and chicken and chorizo jambalaya, a recipe from the hand of one of the staff’s grandmothers – how cool is that? All with fresh ingredients and bold flavours, they knock spots off your average ready meal – Scratch is definitely one new company that should be on any serious foodie’s radar.

A final producer I came across was the Freedom project, and I had a nice chat with Tristram Stuart, the author of ‘Waste: uncovering global food scandal’. I sampled their delicious frozen dessert, dubbed ‘ a taste of freedom’ which serves to address the problem that a shocking amount of fresh but imperfect food is being wasted in this country. Their mission is both to raise awareness of this with their frozen desserts, and to educate kids about healthy eating. School children attending the Real Food Festival can take part in food-related games and sample the frozen desserts, which are served up in an edible cone from an ice-cream van near the centre of the Festival.

My last stop was the very decadent-looking Madhatters Tea Party area, where I marvelled at a table laden high with cupcakes, and a stand with massive white teapots and tea urns. This has been a collaborative effort by the Tregothnan Estate, the UK’s only tea plantation, and the Rare Tea Company, who have both surpassed themselves by re-creating a Cornish garden in the centre of the Festival. An astounding 3000 cups of loose-leaf, traditional tea had been made when I spoke to them, served – as tradition would have it – from a traditional china teapot, putting our teabag dunked in hot water to shame. A lovely little product Tregothnan is offering is the utterly irresistible and genius ‘cream tea in a box’, which they called ‘a touch of luxury at an affordable price’. Interestingly the family who own Tregothnan include the 8th great grandson of earl grey himself – you learn something new every day.

The Madhatters Tea Party offers you the chance to enjoy cream tea and Cupcake Avenue offers a plethora of cupcakes all day long, either at a table by yourself, or by joining the ongoing feast by jumping in the first available seat – it’s sure to be mad! Saturday promises a reprise of the tea party, with Cupcake Avenue putting on an icing demonstration with 100 tasters, and jelly mongers Bompass and Parr (of Parliamentary Waffle House fame) making another appearance with their delicious jelly tea.

I also sampled the delicious gin cocktail concocted by Sipsmith gin: the lady grey martini, consisting of 80% Tregothnan earl grey tea infused for 3 hours, 20% jasmine silver tip tea, Sipsmith gin, and fresh lemon juice (see sipsmith.co.uk for recipe) – it was delectable!

As well as the array of wonderful food and drinks, live entertainment on offer for all the family includes Chocolate Unwrapped, showcasing the best artisan UK chocolatiers. You can also watch top chefs including Raymond Blanc cooking up a storm in the demo kitchen, as well as cookery workshops, and you can even ‘grow your own fruit and veg’. Kids will love the live sheep show, and there are even friendly and adorable livestock to say hello to, like Laverstoke Park’s water buffalo, Petal – awww.

The Festival is running from the 7th to the 10th May, 11am till 6pm on Saturday, and 11am to 5pm on Sunday, at Earls Court Exhibition Centre.  Ticket prices are £9.50 in advance plus a small booking fee, and £15 on the door, and VIP tickets can be purchased at £15 in advance plus fees and £20 on the door – which includes a glass of Aspall’s premium cider and access to the VIP enclosure. The number to call for tickets is 0871 231 0827, and the great news is kids under 16 go in for free! You will also be happy to know that buying a ticket supports the 400 producers exhibiting, as the money is used to subsidise their exhibiting fees. To buy the ticket online, visit the Real Food Festival official website.

So if you want to help support more sustainable food production, or at the very least want to get a good selection of free samples, hop down to the Real Food Festival and give your palate a treat it won’t forget in a hurry!

Article written by Jeanine Hack.

  • Mr.Manjit Bhambra

    Could you please e-mail me how can I take part in London food festival?