I’m very excited about this year’s St Albans and Harpenden Food & Drink Festival. A new team has invested months of work into organising it, and there is more to enjoy than ever before.
Anyone who lives in the area will have noticed that our local food and drink “scene” is thriving. We have more independent producers, cafes, restaurants, stalls than many areas of the UK and we have good reasons to celebrate this year at the Festival. It is a great chance to discover some new businesses; with so many new places opening this year, and new products being made, I am sure that everyone can find a new favourite.
The first thing you need to do is pick up the free programme of events which you can find in the St Albans tourist office and in local businesses. It’s online too (www.enjoystalbans.com/foodanddrink).
Starting on 22 September, the 14 day festival starts with an opening night gala dinner at Thompson@Darcy’s. Feast on Art opens at The Courtyard Cafe, Hatfield Road, where you can see local artists’ work inspired by food. An alternative to Thompson’s is a walking tour of the pubs of St Albans, starting at The White Hart Tap. The TIC and the White Hart Tap will have tickets which you’ll definitely have to get hold of in advance. The tour has been put together especially for the Festival and is sure to be popular!
You can also join a fancy dress pub crawl on 24 September starting at The Blacksmith’s Arms where you can dress as your favourite pub (photos please!). For a slightly more civilised evening, head to the Poggenpohl showroom where Mayor of St Albans District Cllr Salih Gaygusuz is hosting local chefs cooking a tasting menu for guests. The Mayor worked in hospitality and knows everyone; it should be a fun evening! Come along for a listen to the Mayor’s iPod on shuffle, if nothing else! Mokoko will be doing cocktail demonstrations, there will be wine from Flagship Wines and the food will be cooked by Tabure, Dylans and Freddies.
For a fantastic family day out, head to Harpenden on Sunday 27 September for the excellent Farmers’ Market, cookery theatre, stalls and Godfrey’s famous Harpenden-on-Sea beach (10-4). Last year saw the day bathed in Indian Summer sunshine and there was a wonderful, buzzy atmosphere.
The famous CAMRA Beer and Cider Festival at the Alban Arena starts 30 Sept, and runs to 3 October. Beer is a big thing this year throughout the whole festival, with more pubs than ever before taking part. I am looking forward to the Finale Day in St Albans town centre (4 October) which will have a Pop Up Village Green in front of the town hall, for the first time. Local pubs and brewers will be selling beer for you to drink on hay bales or explore the stalls and events; a date for the diary. More on that in this column in two weeks’ time.
I also like the sound of the Vintage Afternoon Tea to be held in the St Albans Organ Theatre, Camp Road, which I have never visited before. On 27 Sept (2-4) you can enjoy a musical afternoon with tea served by Serendipitea. Tickets are £15 from email@example.com. In nearby Fleetville Community Centre on 25 September you can experience a taste of Jamaica, whatever the weather outside. Sonia, who many of you know from her farmers’ market cake stall is cooking a three-course meal with entertainment. Rum or fruit punch is served on arrival which should warm everybody up! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.If you think of yourself as a real foodie, then the Radio Verulam Food Quiz is for you on 25 September at the Conservative Social Club, St Albans. Food, beer and wine will be available from The Cinnamon Travelling Cafe, The Snug Bar, The Green Kitchen, Bratwurst Brats, The Farr Brew and Flagship Wines. Email email@example.com for tickets (£10 per head).
Events for children and teens
I love the events for our under 18s this year. As well as the baking and writing competitions, there are workshops for all ages. If your teen thinks they are a bit of a chef, send them along to Oaklands College on 23 September (5-7) for a behind-the-scenes look at working in a professional kitchen. Suitable for 15-16 year olds, and no parents required! Look out for the Young Chef of the Year competition early next year too, which is open to 13 years and over.
Younger children will love The Patchwork Penguin workshops, based on The Very Hungry Caterpillar (25 September) and The Giant Jam Sandwich (2 Oct) at the Methodist Church, Marlborough Road, St Albans. There are also lots of children’s activities at the Harpenden Farmers’ Market and Food Court and the St Albans Street Food Festival including a Fairtrade Children’s Chocolate Factory hosted by Pattacakes and a Pop Up City Farm provided by Oaklands College .
Look out for the lovely recipe cards that are going to local schools. This is a fab idea to encourage the children of the district to make a salad using seasonal, local ingredients. The recipe has been written by food writer Ren Behan and features pear, watercress and goats’ cheese, all of which can be sourced locally. Market stall holders are helping out, and children can “buy a bowl of ingredients for a pound” to make their salads. If your budding cook says “I’m a chef!” at the EatWholeFoods stall they will be given a free bag of couscous for their salad (for the first 150 children)! Do send tweets of your salads to @stalbansfdf with the hashtag #kidscookalong.
Show us your talents!
There are some fab competitions this year. Keen bakers can enter our very own BakeOff. Think you have what it takes to impress the judges? Held over six days at The Bakehouse, St Albans you can enter in one or more categories. The under 18s competition is on 27 September and you can enter anything you like, from cakes to bakes. Classic cakes follow the next day, for adults too, with free-from bakes the next day, biscuits, pastries then chocolate cakes finish the week. Full information is on the brochure on p20. Each day a different local charity benefits from the cakes being sold, so even if you don’t want to take part, do go along to have a look at the entries and buy a cake to take home.
The team at The Herts Advertiser are running our own competition this year too. If you want to see your food writing and/or food photography published, this is your chance. Simply write up to 500 words on any food-related subject; it could be a restaurant review, a travel piece, or a recipe and send it in to us at hertsad.archant.co.uk (marked Food Festival competition). You can send in your best photos too; it could be a market scene, a food photo, an image from your travels. The winner’s work will be published by The Herts Advertiser and will be presented at the St Albans Finale Day. There are two prizes in each, with one for under 18s and one for adult entries.
There are so many new events this year, that I can only mention a few. Please do pick up a brochure as there is so much going on. More on the awards, other events and the St Albans Street Finale in two weeks!