I have to admit that I’ve never been a prolific festival-goer, although I have enjoyed the few I have been to. The most notable one was a hard rock festival in rural Finland during which I lived in a soggy tent, never showered, and lived on yoghurt and gin for 3 days.
Now I am a parent and nearly 40, I am officially too old for that stuff. So where do you go when you’d love to soak up some festival atmosphere, but you’re not up for tents, wellies and gin?
The answer is new festival, Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park, featuring Michelin-star taster meals, an artisan food & drink market, live music and cooking demonstrations from celebrity chefs. The festival ran 19–21 May at Higginson Park in Marlow, and was hosted by celebrity chef Tom Kerridge, famous for his Michelin-starred gastropubs. For a little more about the background about Tom and the festival, check out my Pub in the Park preview post. This post is dedicated to telling you about my visit to the festival, and why you want to be first in line for next year’s one.
I had tickets for the Saturday afternoon session and I had planned to bring my husband and children, but that didn’t quite work out for various reasons. I was lucky to recruit a friend to go with instead, and had an amazing child-free day. However, the place was absolutely chock full of happy children. Under-5s went free, and there was face painting and a pop up picture house there to keep them entertained. So you could certainly bring your kids if you want to; I just didn’t.
Getting to Marlow is a bit of a faff to be honest, because it sits on a branch train line from Maidenhead and the total journey takes about an hour from London Paddington. And then we couldn’t get on the train at Marlow because it only had about 3 carriages and it was stuffed to the gills. Apparently, there was another festival in Cookham on the same line competing for train space with us. It would be great in future if both festivals cooperate with the rail company to improve transportation on that line. We ended up taking a cab from Maidenhead, which wasn’t too bad.
Once we made it to Marlow, though, it was smooth sailing. The town itself is beautiful and a joy to visit. There were loads of people pointing the way to the event and lots of signs, so you couldn’t really get lost. We sauntered into the park and waited for a very short time while listening to a local choir perform.
Then Tom Kerridge made a short speech to welcome us all to the event! We chased him down afterwards and got selfies with him, which was amazing. He was very gracious about posing with everyone who stopped him.
My friend and I made a beeline for the beautiful giant teapot where they were selling Pimms.
What a fabulous idea for an event stand, and apparently you can book this teapot for your own event. I think it’s a newish company, so check it out on Instagram @greatbritainevents if you have a need for a giant teapot that serves Pimms. I need to come up with an excuse.
There were also stands serving all manner of other cocktails, each specialising in a different spirit – whisky, gin, rum, etc. You could also get a good old-fashioned pint at the Rebellion Brewery tent, and I was impressed with the quality of the Rebellion Blonde I tried.
Another alcohol-related highlight was the Glenfiddich masterclass we attended. Mark (@singlemaltmark on Instagram) took us through three different Glenfiddich whiskies: the 12 year old, 15 year old and IPA.
Mark was refreshingly unpretentious about whisky, saying there is no single right way to serve it. Add water, ice, drink it straight or stick it in a cocktail – whatever makes you happy. He chatted to us about the history of Glenfiddich as a company and it was great to learn that, despite it’s international reputation, it is still a family business that produces all of its products in Scotland.
He also taught us how to prime our palates for tasting whisky. On your first sip, you swish it around in your mouth and then breathe out from your nose before swallowing. You need to try it – completely changes how your next sip will taste.
One of the really unique aspects of the festival is that you can buy small portions of Michelin-starred food for just £5 per portion. I had planned to EAT ALL THE THINGS while I was there, but actually there was so much to do that we only got around to try two different stands. However, my tasters were certainly memorable.
I went first to Atul Kochhar’s Sindhu stand. The Sindhu restaurant serves Indian food at the nearby Compleat Angler hotel. Atul Kochhar has two Michelin stars and is more well-known for his restaurant Benares in London. One of my ultimate culinary goals is to go to Benares, so I grasped at this small chance to catch a taste of Kochhar’s cuisine. I had the Aloo Tikka Chaat, which was so beautiful to look at that it almost seemed a shame to eat it.
The lightly-spiced potatoes offered a modest but satisfying crunch at first bite, revealing a fluffy interior. The combination of tamarind and coriander chutneys, yoghurt and pomegranate seeds gave you sweet, sour, tangy, juicy, crunchy, crunchy and fresh all in one go. Who knew a small paper bowl could give you so much.
We also went to The Coach stand, which is one of Tom Kerridge’s pubs. We had all 3 of the tasters on offers there. The chalkboard will communicate this more eloquently than me:
The ham hock terrine was beautifully presented, fresh and tasty, but not particularly more special than any ham hock terrine I’ve had.
The venison chilli was slightly more interesting, with uncompromisingly tender flakes of venison in a rich but not-spicy sauce. The best bit was the toasted “rice cream” at the top, which I suppose is the equivalent of sour cream on a normal chili, but it was made of fluffy cream clouds with a slightly sour tang, followed by the satisfying crunch of the tiny bits of – well, let’s face it – rice krispies. I’m going to try putting rice krispies on top of my chilli at home.
But the winner out of the three was the smokey sausages & beans. Among its menu companions, it sounds the least original, but it was the stand out dish. A rich tomato-ey sauce, abundant in tender sausage slices, was infused with the pickle-y flavours of the chilli & lime salsa that delivered more than a little chilli kick and a mouth-watering vinegar tang. I could have eaten a much, much bigger bowl of that.
There was an amazing artisan food and drink market at the festival, and we worked our way around eating and drinking all of the free samples we could handle. We were so impressed at the friendliness of the vendors and the quality of products on offer. We struggled to decide what things were worth bringing home.
I ended up with 2 pints of bitter from Chiltern Brewery (@chilternbrewery), some garlic & chilli pork scratchings from the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm (see previous post referring to that place), and a three-pack of BumbleBee Cider (@bbcider), which is the best cider I’ve had ever since a friend made his own in his basement – and I’m not being facetious, that basement cider was amazing. It was light and not too fizzy, striking a perfect balance between sweet and sharp.
As if all this loveliness wasn’t enough, there were also celebrity chef demonstrations and live music. We saw Atul Kochhar cook some coconut seabass and crack jokes. When asked what spice he couldn’t do without, he said, “my wife”.
And Monica Galetti was her usual cool and witty self (I was far back in the crowd for that one, plus think I’d had too many “samples” by then and don’t remember what she cooked).
And then to top it all off, we saw Toploader. You know, the band who plays “Dancing in the Moonlight“, which if you’re anything like me, holds many pleasant student union memories. We couldn’t stay long enough to see their whole set, but I was really impressed by their style – some pretty credible rock music was coming from that stage.
Seriously, if you like food, if you like celebrity chefs, if you like drinking in fields and listening to music, there is nothing about this festival you won’t like. It had all the party atmosphere, but with lots of classy content added in, for the more “mature” festival-goer. I was lucky to get free tickets in exchange for this review, but I guarantee you I’ll be paying for tickets to go again next year. You should too.