Food festivals and exhibitions often promise so much and deliver so little. Do I really want to trawl round 20 different stalls selling cupcakes or 15 vendors selling quaintly packaged chutneys? No, I don’t. Perhaps it’s because as a food and drink editor I’m lucky to sample a lot of new products. But this doesn’t stop me thirsting for a new discovery. Something that really makes me go “ooh”.
“A breathable tearoom, a wild flower meadow made entirely from sugar and a camera made from edible materials that when cooked form a meal.”
My interest was sufficiently piqued so I took a trip up to London yesterday to check it out.
There were cakes but these weren’t your run of the mill cupcakes. Rosalind Miller had created the wild flower meadow made from sugar and I had a sneaky peek at her forthcoming book on wedding cakes with some truly stunning designs (which she assured me could be made by a keen amateur). I’m afraid I don’t have the patience or the dexterity for this type of decorative work particularly after watching Cressida Bell’s colleague delicately placing gold dragee balls onto a cake with a pair of tweezers. Cressida also has a book on cake decorating and both her book and Rosalind’s would make great Christmas presents if you know anyone into this sort of thing.
Other edible treats included chocolate work from Paul Wayne Gregory (I’m looking forward to eating the lightly salted caramel and chocolate lollipops with popping candy before the boys get to them); a chance to have your portrait painted on a piece of toast in Marmite for the princely sum of £10 (which I thought was a little much for something that would probably get eaten by the dog) plus plenty of edible sculptures. Even the queen made an appearance.
So what were my highlights? I liked the breathable tearoom by Camellia’s Tea House. It’s an interesting sensation sucking tea vapour through an oversized straw (it felt quite illicit in a way). You could genuinely taste the herbs and spices in ones I tried like the ginger in the Antiviral Tea. The gadget used to create the vapour is called Le Whaf (which, I was told, is how a dog says “woof” in French!). It has certainly made me want to try them in their liquid form. That’s praise indeed coming from an avid coffee drinker.
Broccoli bread from Plan Bread was a revelation. Gluten free, low calorie and with minimal carbohydrates it still tastes as good as the real deal. Founder and CEO Paul Shackleton told me that he wanted to make the healthiest bread possible. At 74 calories per 100g (50% less than regular bread) I think he may have succeeded. Unfortunately, it’s not currently available to buy as a loaf but you can order sandwiches for delivery (sadly only in London). Fillings include chicken and creamed corn, ham and guacamole and mackerel pate. Definitely worth a go if you fancy some different from your regular Prêt a Manger.
I thought the historical bitters produced by The Robin Collective were ingenious. They have created alcholic bitters by extracting moisture from the walls of specific historic locations and blended them with flavours associated with an important historical figure. So for the Churchill inspired bitters they extracted moisture from the walls of the Churchill War Rooms and combined this with rose (because his wife used to put a rose on his desk every morning) and tobacco (among other things). I know it sounds completely wacky but I just love the idea of bottling history. You can buy the bitters from the Spectacular (£16 a bottle) and they’ll also write you a prescription for their marshmallows based on how you are feeling.
Another exhibitor interested in harnessing the power of fragrance is perfumer Louise Bloor who also runs the Fragrant Supper Club. Once a month she hosts a dinner from her Dalston home drawing on combinations she loves in perfume for her five courses. She uses essential plant oils like bergamot to add another dimension to vinaigrettes or mayonnaise (alternatively they can be used to fragrance wooden cutlery). Her menus have included things like geranium and lime ice cream and pumpkin soup served with an evaporating spice fragrance. It sounds divine and very original. Louise has also helped construct the menu for the EFS ‘Food & Fragrance’ themed banquets at the Cookbook Cafe at Intercontinental London Park Lane on Thursday 14 and Friday 15 November. You can buy tickets here.
Also worth a mention are the funky gadgets from Harvey & John (I loved their floating Lazy Susan) and the port and stilton ice cream from Lick Me I’m Delicious (sounds wrong but is so right). I could go on but the easiest way to experience all these amazing creations is to head down to the Truman Brewery yourself today. There’s a lot to see in a relatively small space plus there are talks throughout the day from people like Bompass & Parr (who are launching the Soyer Memorial Library aiming to republish some amazing cookbooks which are currently out of print as well and publishing their own books). It may be compact and bijoux but this spectacular certainly offers more than your average food festival.
Experimental Food Society Spectacular 2013 Exhibition at the Truman Brewery Saturday 9 November (10am – 7pm)