Let’s start with the name of the event first. It should be called “Good Food Pub in the Park”. If you are presenting your pub in a park, it should be all of the facets of the pub. Most importantly, it should showcase the great beer from your area that you serve in your pub.
What is a pub? A pub, or public house, is an establishment licensed to sell alcoholic drinks, which traditionally include beer and cider. It is a social drinking establishment, and a focal point of the community. In his 17th-century diary Samuel Pepys described the pub as “the heart of England”. As I’ve said before, it’s the original social network.
Here we are then, in the heart of England, celebrating the pub. Except we are only celebrating the more modern part of it, the food offering. We’ll come back to that later, as it was really rather good. I want to talk about beer for a moment, which will probably come as no surprise.
The event is sponsored by macro brewer Greene King. They have their fans. I am not one of them. They own a lot of names, and make a lot of dull brown beer. Hardys & Hansons, Morland, Taylor Walker, Belhaven, Ridley’s, Ruddles, Tolly Cobbold and Trader Joe’s are all Greene King under another name.
Given this event is supporting and promoting independent pub/restaurant/cafe people, it should be doing the same for breweries. There are plenty in the Warwickshire area, as well as more in neighbouring counties. So why do we have Greedy King instead? I can only assume it is all down to money. If you have £2,000,000,000 in revenue for the year 2018, operating over 3,000 pubs across at least 8 different chains, then you can probably chuck a few quid at events like this and keep the (better) competition away.
So that’s the moaning bit over, let’s get on to all of the good bits. We were here with long time MOFAD companions Karon & John, to enjoy a relaxed day of food and drink so let’s talk about the pubs/restaurants/cafes.
The event is the brainchild of Tom Kerridge, so you’d expect Marlow’s The Hand & Flowers to be there, as of course they were. In fact it was the only “pub” to have a constantly large queue all day long. We tried all of their dishes, with Kerridge’s Fried Chicken (do you see what he did there?) being the favourite, but the smoked hog taco was a close second, followed by the minted lamb pie.
We didn’t have anything from The Cross at Kenilworth, but the beef pie looked nice. The same goes for The Hardwick, although I was a little tempted by the breaded corned beef hash. We also missed The Rose and Crown, with the sea bass looking very tempting.
Angela Hartnett’s Café Murano was represented, with the calzone being sampled by three of our number.
Again, three of us visited The Churchill Arms for Lobster Arancini, with shellfish mayonnaise, which was lovely.
My day had begun with a visit to Sindhu, where TV’s Atul Kochhar was cooking and chatting, and serving up chicken tikka pie, with onion and tomato mash and berry chutney (which did resemble the IKEA berry sauce).
I also visited The Half Moon and enjoyed the panko blade of beef and black stick blue cheese burger, although it was a bit too small for my liking. All of the dishes were “tapas size” but this one definitely felt too small.
In between visiting the pop up pubs/restaurants/cafes, we were also visiting the stalls of the various smaller producers that were there. These were at least 50% gin, or that’s what it felt like. From Kent’s Anno Distillers, to Yorkshire’s Haworth Gins, via the Jelley Distillery (set up next to Briscoe’s Artisan Jellies), Riverside Spirits, Warwickshire Gin, Ian Beale’s Neat Gin (ceated by actor Adam Woodyatt and his wife Beverley, and not called Ian Beale’s Neat Gin, just Neat Gin), and finally New Zealand’s Cardrona distillery.
A large number were sampled, and Cardrona’s “Source” gin was the clear winner with everyone who tasted it, whilst also being the most expensive. Of all the gins tasted, it was the most complex, with layers of botanicals revealing themselves. Their “Rose Rabbit” liqueurs (orange or elderflower) were also delicious, although they need a little revision on the definition of liqueur, since they are typically 15-30% ABV, and theirs were both pushing 50%, much closer to navy strength gin (a 1990s marketing invention) than a typical liqeueur.
Where were the beers from all those aforementioned local breweries? Muscled out by Greedy King I suspect, with just Dartmoor Brewery selling warm bottles of beer to take away (no drinking non-Greene King beer on site), and Black Storm Brewery (also appearing as Autumn Brewing Co) showing non-cold chain cans of beer. Whither local breweries like Church End, Church Farm, Fosse Way, North Cotswold, Tunnel or Warwickshire Brew Co?
Enough moaning about beer, back to more food things, with lots of nice cakes on display, tasty cheeses, posh chocolates, posh nut butters and ice creams. We sampled lots of these in between getting dishes from the pubs, and trying gins.
There were two stages, one for chef demos, the other for music. We heard but didn’t see Tom Kerridge’s demo (too many people, not enough seating) but didn’t catch the others due to eating crisps and sampling gin.
The music stage could be heard all across the site, so we listened to The Christians in the shade of the chef demo stage, enoying the music of one of the most under-rated bands of the late 1980s. Their brand of polished lyrical pop/soul kind of got lost amongst all of the dance music of the era. As you would expect, they played most of their big hits from the debut album like Forgotten Town and Ideal World, as well as their cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Harvest for the World”, and Bob Marley’s “Small Axe”.
A bit more shopping and trundling happened next, and we also listened to The Rifles under the shade of the demo stage, which was being dismantled behind us. A bit more food and drink and then we crossed the site to stake out a patch of grass for Will Young, who was headlining the music stage.
It’s fair to say that his brand of bland pop is not to my taste, but it was largely inoffensive, save for a cover of Light my Fire by The Doors. I’ve never been a huge Doors fan, but turning their iconic psychedelic rock sound into easy listening cheese would definitely have made something start spinning in the famous Paris cemetery Père Lachaise on this warm Sunday evening….
A very pleasant afternoon in the park. Nice to meet and chat to lots of small producers of food and drink, and to sample lots of it as well as some great pub food. A cross between the BBC Good Food Show and a small town festival. A shame about the beer, but I already knew that in advance and concentrated on enjoying everything else instead. The Christians were definitely the best band, but this was an event that was more about the food and drink. If you’re thinking of visiting another event for the music, the Sunday evening line up at Chiswick looks good…