The Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival is a year-round celebration of the food and drink of our wonderful region. Twice a year they organise a fortnight of fabulous food events that culminate in a Sussex and the World market on Hove lawns. The most recent of these took place over the late May bank holiday weekend, and as always it was one of the highlights of the Sussex events calendar.
above: Brighton Food Festival Spring Harvest 2017, photograph by Julia Claxton
The festival is run by a not for profit organisation who champion the producers, restaurants and chefs of Sussex. Luckily for them, there is a lot to champion in our region. From award-winning vineyards and spirits producers, such as Ridgeview and Blackdown, through to artisan ice cream makers and internationally recognised chefs; the festival is a chance for people to get up close and personal with the region’s food superstars.
I am fortunate enough to be involved in the Brighton food and drink scene through my column in the Brighton and Hove Independent and my blog Food, Booze and Reviews. Despite this familiarity, I always look forward to the festival season. It is wonderful to see the people of Sussex come together to support and enjoy the hard work of our local hospitality and food businesses.
Here are some of my highlights of this year’s spring harvest festival. I wish that I could have made it along to every event, however, I am but one man and no matter how hard I try I cannot eat everything.
Charity dinners and International flavours
Leading up to the festival weekend there are many smaller events that take place all over the city. One of the regular highlights is the Fareshare charity dinner, which this year was flavoured by the chilli cousins of India and Mexico; represented by Brighton restaurants Curry Leaf Café and La Choza. Fareshare is a food waste and redistribution charity that are fighting hunger in the UK. Their work is vital in tackling the issue of food poverty that still affects millions in this country. The festival has supported the charity for many years and the dinner helped to raise around £4000 for the charity.
above: Fareshare charity dinner, photograph by Julia Claxton
An event that I attended was the Johannishof Riesling dinner at Brighton’s superb Chilli Pickle restaurant. This was a match made in heaven, with the wonderful wines of Germany expertly paired with delicious dishes from head chef Alun Sperring’s kitchen. For seafood lovers, the Pondicherry Fruits of the Sea was a bowl of creamy fishy greatness that I could have eaten every day since. My highlights were the ridiculously delicious pork knuckle vindaloo, which you can get every Sunday, and the sensational dessert wine from Johannishof with hints of peaches and cream.
above: Chilli Pickle’s, pork knuckle vindaloo, photograph by Julia Claxton
The Curry Leaf Café are always very active over the festival period with head chef Kanthi Thamma seemingly in more places than humanly possible at once. In addition to the charity event, they hosted a chef exchange with Restaurant Basaal in The Hague. The event celebrated the Dutch-Indonesian cuisine that is a symbol of the connection between these great nations. Chef Bas Oonk took over the Curry Leaf’s Kemptown kitchen for a night that showcased the cooking skills that has earned him a Michelin Bib gourmand at his restaurant in The Netherlands.
above: Chefs Bas Oonk and Kanthi Thamma at work, photograph by Julia Claxton
Showcasing the stars of Sussex
The culmination of the festival on Hove Lawns looked to be blessed with some of the best weather of the year, if the days leading up to it could be trusted. However, being a bank holiday the weather gods changed their tune and it was a little more overcast than the preceding days. That would not stop people from turning up in their droves to experience the joys of Sussex food and drink. With so many different stalls, vendors and live demonstrations there is no other event that delivers as much without charging an entry fee. Yes, that is right, the Brighton and Hove Food Festival is completely free to attend.
Upon arrival, my first stop was the Blackdown Spirits bar for a quick pick me up; it had been a late night. Sarah and Nathan produce wonderful artisan gin, vermouth and liqueurs at their distillery in Lurgashall. I picked up a Summer Cup cocktail that completely hit the spot, with a tart sweetness and lovely gin backing.
above: Blackdown Artisan Spirits, photograph by Julia Claxton
I headed over to the live food show to see what the chefs were up to. I managed to speak with a few of the chefs and their representatives from such esteemed restaurants as Drakes (Andy Vitek), Pike and Pine (Matt Gillan) and Market (Dan Cotton). The live food shows are always very popular with the crowds and put the chefs through their paces in producing a dish live on stage using a domestic style kitchen.
above: Chef Matt Gillan on the Live Food Show stage, below: Mixology Group, photographs by Julia Claxton
A few more stops at some of the excellent local producers such as Boho Gelato, The Beer Collective and the Mixology Group, and my festival is drawing to a close. I grab a duck confit roll from “Duck n bite” which goes down very nicely, although I continue to suffer from food envy when looking at other people’s choices. With so much food to choose from it is so difficult to settle on one thing, it is the curse of a food festival. I sit back and finish my food with a can of the specially brewed B Town Pale Ale from Two Tribes brewery, and my time at the festival draws to a close.
above: Duck n Bite, photography by Julia Claxton
My festival may well have been over, but it was by no means the end. On the Monday, they held the English Wine Festival sponsored by Butler’s wine cellar on site. I was gutted to miss this but a visit back to the West Country beckoned. English wine is going from strength to strength and the festival kicked off English wine week in superb style. With around 25 vineyards from Sussex and the South East of England in attendance, there were plenty of wines to sample. I am a massive fan of English wine and will be sure to make sure I do not miss this next time.
A festival we can all be proud of
Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival is a superb event that really does all it can to put Sussex on the global food map. As mentioned they have events going on all year round such as vineyard tours and special dinners, so keep a look out on their website. We are very lucky to have such passionate people on all sides of our food and drink industry, and we should be supporting them in any way we can. Luckily for us, that is generally through eating and drinking, what joy!
Find out more about upcoming events on the festival website Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival.
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Tom blogs about Brighton at Food, Booze and Reviews