Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Tonbridge Food & Drink Festival

Festival overview
The weekend just gone, saw Tonbridge holding its first ever Food & Drink Festival. The event took place on the lawns of the 12th Century Tonbridge Castle and was designed to showcase some of Kent’s best food producers, alongside items from further afield. The festival was spearheaded by the Tonbridge Town Team; a group established as a result of the Portas Review published in 2011. The team’s aim is to help make Tonbridge a vibrant and exciting place to live, work, visit and do business.

A spokesman for the group said, "The whole thing is about promoting Tonbridge as a great food location. We have this ambition to make Tonbridge like a modern market town." He added that, “Town traders and borough producers were the team's priority, but businesses from throughout the south-east would be invited to ensure there was something for everyone.” The event’s aim was to bring in people from across the district and south-east London to see what Tonbridge has to offer.

The River Medway approaching Town Lock
Like most towns-people, I was pleased to see something positive happening in Tonbridge, as for too long the town has lived in the shadow of its larger and better known neighbour, Tunbridge Wells. I was unable to attend the event until the final day; due to the combination of a busy weekend on the house and garden front, plus a concert by the excellent tribute band, the Counterfeit Stones, which my wife and I attended on the Saturday evening.

Come Sunday afternoon I decided it was time to show my support for the event and take a look at the Festival. Consequently I cycled down to the Castle, after a quick detour along the bank of the River Medway, primarily to take a look at recent improvements carried out around the Town Lock area.

The event was in full swing when I arrived, and was busy; mainly with families. After a quick peruse of the beer tent, and deciding to give it a miss because of the lengthy queue, and plastic glasses, I made my way along the aisles to see what was on offer at the various stalls. Despite the publicity, there didn’t seem to be many local traders present.

Aptly named?
I noticed a large stall selling French Cheeses, a stand titled “Samovar Foods”, selling Russian fayre, albeit made from Kent-grown produce, plus the ubiquitous German Sausage stand, but apart from a stall specialising in home-grown and homemade chilli products, there was nothing which struck me as particularly local, and certainly not Kentish.

I did see a stall selling cider, but the only beer I saw, apart from the bar, was a stand selling bottled beers under the banner, “Giving Good Beer a Bad Name”. With juvenile names such as Old Fart, Grumpy Git, Cat Pee and Big Cock, this  seemed little more than a novelty (and a rather poor one at that), designed to part people from their hard earned cash; although at £4.50 a bottle, the stall unsurprisingly wasn’t doing a lot of business! At least the people behind this were honest with their banner, but gimmicks like this have as much appeal as the poor-taste sexist and xenophobic T-shirts which used to be on sale at GBBF. The company has its own website; which you can check out here, but there is no indication as to who actually brews the beers.

Gatehouse - Tonbridge Castle
With nothing in the way of food and drink to tempt me, and no take-away bottles to persuade me to part with my cash, I headed instead for the nearby Old Fire Station, where there was a separate Cider Festival taking place. Now this was more like it; but to find out more, you will have to wait until the next post.

Footnote: I may have come across as rather churlish and somewhat dismissive of the Tonbridge Food & Drink Festival, but only because we have been spoilt here in Tonbridge by the town’s excellent Farmers’ Market, which takes place on the second Sunday of each month. Here, you will find a much wider range of local produce ranging from organically-raised meat to vodkas flavoured with locally-grown fruit. There is at least one cider stall, plus Sussex brewers, Hepworths, normally have a stall. I usually buy sufficient stock of their excellent bottled Old Ale to see me through the winter, but their entire range of bottles is normally available.

I would imagine that given this is the first such event, the organisers of Tonbridge Food & Drink Festival will have taken note of what worked and what didn’t, and that next year’s event  will see a few changes and an overall  improvement. Full marks though to Tonbridge Town Team for their vision and determination in getting this year’s festival off the ground.


retiredmartin said...

AT least you're honest Paul, and give the organisers some credit for organising it. Novelty beers and foods are a real turn-off. We do seem to be in a period of festival overload generally, there's not a week without a music/beer/craft food festival over the summer. I'll save y money for pubs !

Brett said...

have to agree - popped along at the weekend expecting good things but, in all honesty, it just seemed to be a smaller version of the excellent farmer's market, albeit with music as well. As you say, there was very little 'kentish fayre' on offer... The cider festival at the fire station was excellent though and seemed to be very busy. Angelfest is on at the weekend - not too sure what type of beers will bet here but am hoping for a good weekend..

Paul Bailey said...

You are right about festival overload, Martin. It sometimes seems as though the world and his wife are holding one, and at this time of year there are often several taking place within a narrow area at the same time.

It was good though, to see something taking place in Tonbridge, and the town definitely seems on the up. What we need now is a decent pub; one which offers something different to the standard Punch/Enterprise formula.

I won’t be able to make Angelfest, Brett, as I am away over the Bank holiday. I’ve been to the last three events, probably more out of habit than anything else, so I’m not particularly sorry about missing this year’s.

I agree that the Cider Festival was very good, although I wasn’t really there long enough to do justice to the event. (Probably just as well, given the high octane of many of the ciders and perries). A full write up will appear, in due course.