Monday, 28 September 2009

Aldeburgh Food Festival

I was slightly apprehensive about asking the male companion person to accompany me to the Aldeburgh Food Festival on Saturday. I had recently persuaded him to join me and other friends at Jimmy's Harvest Festival, which was allegedly a festival of food and music. My comments on that can be found on my regular blog if you're interested, but let's just say that 'disappointing' was the major theme of the day. However any fears of a repeat experience at the Aldeburgh Food Festival were completed unfounded, even with me accidentally adopting a somewhat, ahem, scenic B-road route to get us there.
Despite the name, the festival actually takes place in Snape, which is a few miles from Aldeburgh. The Maltings by the River Alde is a lovely setting, with lots of things to look at in addition to the festival activities. A large marquee housed the cookery theatre and most of the local and independent producers showcasing their wares. Luckily for visitors 'showcasing' means having lots of samples available to try, a marketing strategy heartily endorsed by the male companion person. There was a good variety of meat and fish-based products, as well as cakes, juices, beer, oils and some fruit and veg. I did notice that there did seem to be an awful lot of 'preserved' foods like jams, jellies, chutneys and pickles but in fact these also came in a micro-range of sweet, savoury and spicy options. I was a little surprised there weren't more cheese producers there (I only spotted one stall) but you can't have everything.

The courtyard area housed more independent retailers (including lots of very friendly fishmongers), another demonstration stage, most of the stalls selling hot food (we bought a plate of freshly cooked scallops from one), an Adnans bar, and importantly the ChocStar van. I have been reading Petra ChocStar's blog for a while and had an occasional Twitter exchange but have never actually manged to sample any of her amazing sounding chocolate creations. This was corrected on Saturday when I not only scoffed her most decadent sounding offering- the chocolate brownie fudge sundae, but also had a little chat with the lady herself. Suffice to say that Petra is lovely, and the sundae was fantastic. The balance of dense brownie, rich ice cream and a sauce that tasted like pure melted chocolate was perfect, and importantly not at all sickly sweet. I really hope to sample more ChocStar delights in the future.

I didn't really plan ahead enough to see any specific cookery demonstrations (although Fergus Henderson was doing something meat-related when I passed through), but it was very nice to see Thomasina Miers, Mark Hix, Tom Parker Bowles and Tom Aitkens wandering around the place and queuing up for things along with everyone else (if cookery really is the new rock and roll these people need to seriously increase their entourages).

The weather on the day was also lovely, which obviously helped a lot. But this was just a really well organised event which meant that although there were lots of people on the site, nothing was too crowded, there were lots of places to sit down for a break and eat, and nowhere had horrendous queues. Even little details like placing the cookery stages in areas where you didn't have to be sitting right at the front to see what was going on, but could just wander around or stand at the back for a bit, indicated how well thought-out this weekend had been.
And seeing as all this was for the bargain price of £5 a ticket (which also got you a programme and canvas bag too), Aldeburgh seemed to have set a really high standard, and as a food festival novice I'd be interested to see how others compare.

As it was such a nice day we decided to continue on to the coast proper and Aldeburgh itself. Having visited Southwold recently, I would say that Aldeburgh had a less immediate seaside-y feel too it and was more like a town that just happened to be by the sea. It was still lovely though, with lots of quirky cottages and a wide shingle beach housing many little huts selling fresh fish (though by the time we arrived they were all closing up).

I had heard much internet talk of Aldeburgh's Fish and Chip Shop, where people were prepared to queue for hours to get their portions of deep fried goodness. Even though we were both pretty stuffed from our festival indulgences, it seemed inappropriate to come this far and not make an attempt to sample some of this famed fish and chips too. So after a bracing walk along the sea-front, we joined a queue that did snake out of the shop a bit, but wasn't immensely long (I guess late September is not peak holiday season though).

After a fifteen minute wait we came out clutching our open bags of plaice and chips. So the verdict- ummm, well they were quite nice but if I'd had to wait an hour and a half for them I think I would have been rather disappointed. My fish was fine but slightly overcooked and the batter was verging on becoming a bit flabby. The chips were adequate but nothing special, although on the positive side everything was pleasantly oil free, piping hot, and quite reasonably priced for somewhere that is so popular.

Perhaps they were having and off day but I definitely preferred the fish and chips I sampled recently in Southwold, where the plaice was really moist and had been coated in a light but super crispy shell. However the Aldeburgh version was still perfectly edible, and to be honest there is something about fish and chips at the seaside that make it hard to go to far wrong.
So all in all a lovely day, and I can't believe it took me so long to discover the Suffolk coast.


Catherine said...

Suffolk has a reputation for supporting localism, so it's not that surprising there weren't many cheese stalls there - decent East Anglian cheese is very difficult to come by.

Beautiful part of the world, isn't it?

Polly said...

Historically Suffolk has produced very little cheese, the grazing is just not good enough. In East Suffolk today there is Suffolk Farmhouse Cheese who were at the Festival and Margaret Reeve who produces Buxlow Wonmill & Buxlow Paigle, both delicious, but produced on a very small scale in Friston near Aldeburgh.

TheFastestIndian said...

Ahhh- hadn't thought about the grazing issue before, but now makes lots of sense!
Thanks both for the cheese lesson!

Douglas Blyde said...

'Even though we were both pretty stuffed from our festival indulgences, it seemed inappropriate to come this far and not make an attempt to sample some of this famed fish and chips too' - awesome! I know Aldeburgh's f&c well. Sounds great fun...

TheFastestIndian said...

Thanks for stopping by Douglas.

And yes, I powered through the feeling of fullness to accomodate more food!

The whole day was indeed a lot of fun!

The Ample Cook said...

I've been trying to write up our Aldeburgh weekend for ages now, but have 'Bloggers block'.

I might not even bother now, as your write up is the blog I would like to have written - even down to the photos. Well done, brilliant.

We had incredibly similar weekends!

TheFastestIndian said...

Awww- what a nice comment! I think I my blog has a regular readership of about 8, so I wouldn't let my post put you off!

Did really like Aldeburgh fest though and will hopefully go again next year-maybe see you then?!