[Ad – sponsored post. This is a paid-for post but the sentiment is all mine. Some of the experiences I talk about were gifted or part of my day job, while others we paid for in full.]
It’s safe to say lockdown has brought a lot of loss. Loss in the worst possible way imaginable for some families, and for those of us fortunate enough not to have to endure that, loss in other forms. Loss of our freedom, of human contact, and loss of some far less life-changing, but still consequential, like concerts, sporting events and that pastime of mine – eating out.
It’s safe to say food is a fairly central part of my life. We’re either eating, talking about eating, planning what to eat, or going to events that involve eating. In fact, I’m proud to say I even manage to bring eating into the equation when events aren’t focused on food – take me to a comedy night at the O2 or a concert in Birmingham city centre, a day at the races at Ascot or Goodwood or a rugby tournament like the Quilter Internationals and I can turn it into a food frenzy.
As 30-something non-parents, our calendar is usually ram-packed with all sorts of fun stuff, from camping trips away to day trips with friends, concerts, nights out, festivals and all sorts. Some are food-focused, others not, but I’m guaranteed to always manage to find some stunning scran wherever we are.
Like everyone, lots of our plans for the next few months have been cancelled due to lockdown (British Grand Prix I’m looking at you) but we’re clinging on to the optimism that it’s not forever and the understanding that it really is necessary to keep us safe.
So instead of being sad about what we’re missing, I thought I’d recap some of the big events we’ve been to in the past few years, especially some of the events that yielded surprisingly good tucker despite being non-food events, along with a few tips of where you might want to look if you find yourself at one of them.
I’m also ever the optimist, so at the end of each section are the events I’ve got my eye on and my fingers crossed that I’ll get to them one day…
For food lovers, you can’t go wrong with one of the many food festivals we have on offer in the UK. Sadly, so many have been cancelled but I’ve got fond memories of some great events over the past few years.
From Tom Kerridge’s first Pub in the Park in Marlow to the joy that was Grillstock in Bristol or the more highbrow Abergavenny Food Festival that I hit for my birthday one year, the national events require a bit of planning.
If you want to keep it local, in the Midlands we have tonnes of great events. Birmingham showcases its independents beautifully, and in the past we’ve hit Sear & Smoke (I’m so sad they didn’t do another one) as well as the Independent Birmingham festivals which have always been a hit.
There are absolutely tonnes of events that will no doubt be on, and these kind of festivals are the perfect way to support the hospitality industry, which really will need our help after all this, so keep an eye out for what’s going on, even if it means waiting a few months.
Got my eye on…. I already had my tickets for this year’s Meatopia in September but sadly that’s now been cancelled. The Padstow Christmas Festival also looks spectacular and after a spring of cancelled plans, I just might be able to persuade Mr M that we should go.
While my own personal choice would always be a food festival, I’ve discovered that you can find great food at all sorts of festivals. One of my discoveries last year was the ‘country show’.
We found ourselves entertaining family and looking for something to do so decided to try the Game and Country Fair at Kelmarsh Hall just across the Northamptonshire border. What a find.
It helps that the sun was shining so we could enjoy birds of prey displays, air shows stuff, and all the other fun country fair stuff – not to mention a billion dogs – but also a rather expansive food village complete with artisan products, demos and food stands.
It’s not only shows like this that have tapped into most people’s love of food. From the behemoth that is Glastonbury, to the Coombe Weekender that I hit with my pal last year, all of these festivals have large areas dedicated to street food and often with some great traders there so make sure you look past the bars and the extortionate glitter tent and find the decent food.
Got my eye on…. I’m not really a music festival person, unless they’re rather small and easy to get around, but Black Deer Festival looks right up my street. A full celebration of Americana, from a bit of country music for me, motorbikes for Jamie, and tonnes of barbecue food. They had to cancel this year but it’s on my list for 2021.
A Day at the Races
I’ve been lucky enough to go to the races a couple of times now, including to Ascot and to the beautiful place that is Goodwood, though I haven’t quite made it to Cheltenham.
What I’ve realised I love about the day at the races is that you a) don’t need to know anything about horse racing to have a good time, and b) there are more food (and booze) options than you can shake a fork at.
I’ve been lucky enough to have swanky meals in the nice corporate bits, but also to cruise around and enjoy pulled pork burgers from stands, large G&Ts from handy outdoor bars and much more. In fact, Goodwood even has a festival of food and racing which is perfect for wandering round artisan producers, drink in hand, in between races.
Even if the event isn’t dedicated to food, make sure you explore EVERYWHERE if you’re at the races. They tuck oyster bars, burger stands, cocktail pop-ups and all sorts round little corners and you won’t find them unless you look.
Got my eye on… Like I said, I’ve never been the Cheltenham and as predictable as it might be, I’d love to go to Ladies’ Day one day, just to see what it’s like and quaff lots of champagne with my gal pals.
When I was at uni we went to watch England play football. I don’t remember much of it other than wondering why there was no commentary (apparently you don’t get that when its live, who knew) and drinking Carling out of plastic glasses.
Maybe it was because I was a student so couldn’t afford much more, or maybe things have moved on. Either way, sporting events do NOT have to be a culinary desert these days. I mean, they’re not my day out of choice, but I get that the atmosphere is pretty fun and it might be nice for Jamie if we occasionally do what he wants to do.
Last year we were invited to the British Grand Prix as part of my day job which was a bit of a once in a lifetime experience. The food in the hospitality section of Silverstone was out of this world and still gets my saliva glands going more than Chris Hemsworth.
However, having seen some of what was on offer around the track by way of street food, we booked to go again this year ourselves and camp there, filling our faces with mac and cheese, great burgers and lots of alcohol.
Alas, it’s been cancelled, but I’m fairly sure we’ll get there one year. But when it comes to big events like this, again make sure you explore. There’s usually a whole range of food to suit every taste and budget, and you’ll miss it if you don’t go hunting.
Got my eye on… While I’m no huge sports fan, I wouldn’t mind a day at the rugby. I went a few times back in the day to Twickenham, and my brother has taken me to Bath a few times but I never really tried to embrace the atmosphere. Maybe this is the year….
Gigs and arena events
Since when does going to a concert or any kind of event at a big stadium or gig only involve the actual music or entertainment itself? Not in our household. Last year was a big year for concerts, including all the old-school greats from The Eagles to Rod Stewart (yes, we really are older than you thought).
Each time the excursion to Birmingham or wherever the gig was involved plenty of eating and drinking too, and all the big events spaces are so much better at catering than they used to be.
I think the eye-opener for me was going to see stand-up comedian Jim Jefferies at the O2 in London, where we were faced with a seemingly neverending choice of places to eat before it started.
Okay, so some are chains and you can get much better food elsewhere, but we had some really rather nice food while we waited from one of the restaurants, washed down with a glass of wine. My advice to you is try not to pre-judge, we were convinced everything would be rubbish and found ourselves pleasantly surprised. Plus, if it isn’t quite up to scratch you can always grab popcorn and pic’n’mix to take in with you….
Got my eye on…. Believe it or not, we’ve been gagging to see Dr Hook (you youngsters will have NEVER heard of them) for ages, so we may try, and I like Paul Chowdhry a lot so maybe we’ll try and catch him.