FOOD glorious food, and a drink or two, was the order of the weekend as big crowds enjoyed a taste of Stratford’s Town Centre Food Festival.
The free event – organised by Stratforward Business Improvement District (BID) and sponsored by Loxleys Restaurant & Wine Bar –
saw some 60,000 peckish people descend on the town on Saturday and Sunday.
That was in addition to an evening at Stratford ArtsHouse on Friday night (September 22nd) with highly-acclaimed chef Yotam Ottolenghi, in partnership with Stratford Literary Festival.
Top of the menu were all things local – a festival to showcase Stratford as a premier food and drink destination.
At its core was a bustling producers market, in partnership with Cotswold Markets, featuring 80 stalls showcasing everything from gin to gelato.
The Waterside Cookery Theatre was also packed, people making the most of free demonstrations by the cream of the crop.
Chef Mike Robinson was among them. One of Britain’s leading authorities on wild food and game and co-owner of London’s only Michelin-starred pub The Harwood Arms, he’s a regular face on national TV.
He is now also executive chef at The Woodsman restaurant, due to open in 2018 at the newly-revamped Falcon Hotel in Stratford, and gave festival-goers a sneak preview of what to expect when it opens, showcasing dishes that will feature on the menu.
He told The Observer: “The festival was a really wonderful event and we were blown away by the positive response from residents to our new enterprise. We can’t wait to open The Woodsman next year.”
Another famous face was Paul Foster, chef owner of Salt in Stratford, former Great British Menu contestant and a regular on Saturday Kitchen, who was cooking seasonal dishes from his menu.
There were plenty of other local ‘stars’ taking to the food theatre stage as well – from Master Butcher Adam Lucock to Andy Irvine of Roly’s Fudge Pantry.
Donation buckets were rattled outside the theatre, collecting coins to support Sue Ryder, with the charity’s Stratford shop also hosting the festival Bake Off Competition.
Loxleys returned as festival sponsor for the third year in a row, sous chef Chris Butler also taking to the cookery school stage – when he wasn’t helping to serve up the finest food and drink at the Loxleys stall in Bridge Street.
Loxleys owner John Lea said it was the best food festival yet.
“Everybody was just happy and really enjoying themselves, as far as we’re concerned it was definitely the most successful food festival to date. We were serving roast beef baps as well as wine and prosecco and we had such a queue of people. We met many regulars but also a lot of people who said they had never set foot in our restaurant – but now would.”
Bell Court was also buzzing, with a series of free workshops for all ages – from fruit kebabs to wine tasting.
Another highlight was the national launch of Hop Star – a brand new ale by the award-winning Silhill Brewery, choosing to link up with Stratford’s Golden Bee to launch its latest tipple because of the festival’s profile.
“Stratford Food Festival is a fantastic event with some wonderful contributors and we were delighted to be involved,” brewer Mark Gregory said.
“The launch went fantastically and the feedback we have received, directly and through social media has been that this is our finest ale yet. Even the Mayor of Stratford, who isn’t an ale drinker, gave it her approval!”
Also cooking up a real storm for 2017 were the festival Taste and Ale Trails, taking festival-goers on a stroll around Stratford with regular stops for samples of either food or drink at some 30 participating venues.
Those completing the Trail could then score their samples, with Carluccio’s and Crowne Plaza winning Saturday’s Taste Trails, the Arden Hotel and Vigour Café winning Sunday’s Taste Trails, and Stratford Mosaic, brewed by the Stratford-upon-Avon Brewery and served at Stratford Alehouse, taking the Ale Trail crown.
Just two of those enjoying the trails were Stratford mayor Victoria Alcock and her husband Gary.
Coun Alcock said: “The Taste Trail really was brilliant – and such amazing value at just £5 per person.
“Not only was the food we were served fabulous, but the restaurants did everything they could to make us feel so welcome.
“The best part about the trail is that we discovered some real hidden gems – restaurants we have not been to before – but will certainly be going back to very soon.
“We were so impressed by the whole festival.”
Stratforward events manager Ruth Wood said the festival had been a great success.
“The Taste and Ale Trials were hugely popular this year, definitely one of the big highlights of a really successful festival.
“We were delighted with every aspect of this year’s event. People came from all over and in really big numbers to enjoy it. Some traders were reporting a 50 per cent increase in sales compared to last year, while our local producers and our town had the opportunity to showcase Stratford as a premier food and drink destination, far and wide. Stratford Town Centre Food Festival will be back on September 22 and 23 in 2018, with plenty more of the same.”