It’s easy to get cynical about foodie events these days, particularly if one is restricted to public transport. In these parts, this pretty much leaves you to a few affairs in Castle Park and the Christmas market. I recently found out that most of the events around Colchester are organised by the same
soulless money grabbing organisation which is why to be honest once you have seen the offerings once, you don’t necessarily need to return.
And yet hope springs eternal that one might enjoy a wander and find something new and not grossly overpriced among the little stands and cook outs, especially if it’s a nice day. So on 25th May, when invited by some friends who were making the journey across the strood to Mersea Island to try out a food festival at the Vineyards, I covered up all my cynicism, got some cash out and went along for the ride.
In all honesty, this rotary club run festival is something of a revelation in how events like this should be. For a start, there is no entry fee, however one is invited to support the Rotary Club in their organisational duties by purchasing some raffle tickets (it is also sponsored by the East Of England Co-operative Soc). One also has to give massive points for the lovely location at the island vineyards- yes an actual vineyard, in Essex!- although this effect might be lost if the gods of fruit and grain don’t bless you with a gloriously sunny day, as they did this year.
The 2013 festival hosted the expected foodie traders’ area with may unexpected traders therein. Unexpected as in new, as in not the usual mass produced, roll out the foodie types I’m used to seeing at this kind of event. In fact the only people I recognised were the lovely folk from Tess’s Cakes– a fantastic local outfit who can actually make nicely decorated cakes that don’t taste like glittery cardboard. So, there was cake, check that off the list, then while you’re there you can also mark the areas of chocolate, fudge, ice cream, wine and wonky label sauces as complete too.
I have to take a moment to plug Wigborough Traditional Meats and their marvellous, succulent sausages. Well flavoured in lots of varieties not limited to pork and apricot, Toulouse, Old English, pork and leek, you get the idea. If you like some real bang in your banger try their spicy chorizo sausage- bloody fantastic.
I shall also make reference to Chocolate Planet, who I sadly can’t find a website for, but offer a great range of beautifully finished handmade chocolatey treats. Look out for them if you are local, the ladies on the stall were really friendly too. If there is one theme to this festival it might actually be that- it’s friendly. All the exhibitors were upbeat, chatty and keen to engage even if you weren’t standing around with your wallet hanging open. This is a atmosphere missing from
Colchester Food & Drink Festival other food festivals I have been to. The craft area had a similar vibe, jovial without being pushy, it felt comfortable to browse things I had no intention of buying, which lead to more impulse buying that I would have intended up on arrival!
Past the traders then and on to lunch! A great array of hot, fresh food stands. As you would expect from Mersea there was plenty of fresh seafood and Mersea oysters available, plus curries, thai, a Man vs Food style hotwing challenge and just set a little way back the inevitable Bar Tent, selling Mersea brewed beers and wine from grapes grown on the very grounds you are about to drink it from. Now that is what local events should be about. It you’re not up for the busy, noisy or chairless dining experience then there is also a little indoor cafe just behind all the action, serving coffee, cakes and simple lunches with a nice comfy chair. You can also buy the Mersea wines and beers from here to take home.
There is provided a mixed soundtrack of the day from a great, rustic-effect lorry cab serving as the main stage. Rock n roll, local choirs doing ABBA covers, girls with guitars, your Dad singing wedding band favourites, you get the idea. Great fun. There was also some story telling going on for the small people and some belly dancing for the Dads and a cookery demo tent for those wishing to learn a thing or get a free taster.
If I have any complaints, they are minor, such as the total lack of accessibility by public transport to this event, though drivers are blessed with masses of on site parking. I might also urge the Co-op to rethink their MC in the cookery display tent. Dude was irritating, and pretty much out of keeping with the feel of the day by saying helpful things over the poor lad trying to demonstrate deep fried oysters such as ‘I wont have one, more a meat and two veg man I am’. Really?
The summary point for the day should be positive however, and to stress that there really was something for everyone here. Posh cakes, traditional stodgy kitchen favourites cakes, sweets, sausages, wine, cheese, posh fudge, traditional fudge, seafood, pad thai, burgers and hot wings and beer, oh my. Entertainment, inflatable area and story telling for the kids, really nice portaloos, cheap coffee and dogs welcome. If you’re local, or don’t mind a drive, you should check it out next year, info on their website www.mersea-fdl-festival.com and you can visit the vineyard for a coffee or some B&B or even to get married! It’s a lovely venue, click here to read all about it.
Well done Mersea, very well done indeed.