Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A little trip South...

A few weeks back I made use once again of one of those super-cheap train tickets to travel to Devon for the Dartmouth Food festival.  As you might remember we have family down there, and I went down at Mum-in-Law's urging last year for the festival and thoroughy enjoyed myself, so when she asked if I fancied going again this year I had no hesitation in saying yes!

Amazing tiled signs at Exeter St Davids Station.
Firstly a cheery train journey - they were giving away rather delicious yogurts at Waterloo Station when I got there so I grabbed one of those - there's no such thing as a free lunch, but it seems as though a free breakfast is perfectly doable! Then the train through lovely countryside - alongside the Thames for a bit, Wiltshire, a lovely view of Bath, then down through Dorset and finally into Devon. A change of trains at Exeter St David's - one of the most beautiful stations in the country - before heading onwards to Paington along THE most beautiful section of railway line in the country. I blogged about this trip last year and no matter how often I do it it never gets old! A brief stop in the pub in Paignton before going to get the bus, and finally the ferry across the river Dart from Kingswear - a journey best done on the open "float" of the "Lower" ferry (So named because it's lower down the river that the "Higher" ferry) so you can truly appreciate the scenery. Mum & Dad-in-Law meanwhile were on their way back to Devon from a holiday, so in fact I arrived at the house before they did - no matter though, simply meant I could settle myself in with a cuppa and a good book and ensure the kettle was hot for their arrival!

The Lower Ferry with Dartmouth in the background
The following morning dawned grey and drizzly - not ideal for a day when we planned to spend a fair amount of time outside wandering around! We headed down to town regardless though, there was a demonstration we wanted to see in any case, with James Tanner, and as by the time that was finished it was pouring down with rain, we moved to a slightly warmer area of the marquee and stayed for the next one, too! Some fabulous food being cooked - which we got to sample as well - and some really interesting and informative stuff being talked about. At the opposite end of the scale later in the day was the fantastic Hardeep Singh-Kohli who was truly hilarious and had us rolling about, but sadly all his food was chilli-heavy and neither MiL or I can tolerate much chilli. we'll forgive him though as his jokes were great!

Hardeep Singh Kohli
Saturday was much brighter day, but BITTERLY cold with it - scarves were the order of the day and I was wishing I'd taken a hat! The cold wind off the river made its presence felt all day although it was chased away rather at lunchtime by the wonderful street food on offer - Tartiflette for me and Butternut Squash soup fort MiL, both the perfect warming, seasonal antidote to the chilliness about. We were spoilt for choice on options for eating there and then - the range of fabulous and inventive street food out there now is just amazing - Bennetts by the Waterfront (the fish & chip shop which championed the mackerel bap for Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's "Fish Fight") were there serving sustainably fished cod in ciabatta, fried whitebait, and of course those Mackerel delicacies, someone else was doing filled pancakes, and another stall offered freshly baked wood-oven pizzas. To wash it down there was a tent with a cocktail bar and also a bar from one of the local breweries, although I have to admit that due to the temperature when a drink was called for we were tending towards the cafe in the market square and a cup of tea instead!

This amazing display of infused oils was stunning in the sunshine!
The festival itself was excellent once again - although it does feel a little like some larger marquees are called for - particularly the one behind the market feels crowded and cramped and at times being able to move around it was practically impossible. The range and choice of different types of foodstuffs was superb - and limiting the numbers of each type of stand (Bakery, meat etc) means you don't end up with six places selling bread to make a sandwich but only one option for cheese to go with it! My "Product of the festival" vote can be evenly split between "Wonky Kitchen" fudge, and Sharpham Estate cheese - both utterly delicious and very reasonably priced for the quality of the product. Best demo was Mark Puckey from Padstow Seafood School (Yep, Rick Stein's gaff) and the Seafood restaurant, who with his apprentice Charlotte cooked up an absolute feast of shellfish of varying types - meaning I got to try razor-clams for the first time - and managed to admirably combine the actual cooking with what was effectively a teaching session too. MiL made her living cooking for cafes, pubs and hotels for all her working life and even she came out saying she'd learnt masses from him.

Gorgeous Olives!
Great few days, great to catch up with some of the family too, and a nice relaxing journey back on boat and train (the ferry up the river from Dartmouth to Totnes is a fantastic trip not to be missed - I jumped at the chance of taking that route!) and some tasty bread, cheese and cake to nibble on while I travelled!


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