Friday, 20 November 2009

Where Foodies Go To Play

Over the past twenty years, Britain has gone from having a cuisine that could at best be described as "basic" to becoming a nation of foodies, full of gourmet shops and restaurants. More and more people are enjoying cooking on a regular basis, and we Britains love to eat, drink and talk about food almost more than anything else. As a result, for several years now, the BBC has been running Good Food Shows in Birmingham, London and Glasgow and attendance at these events is always really high.

In the past my husband and I have attended the Birmingham show, but now we live closer to London, we attend the BBC Good Food Show at London's Olympia Exhibition Venue every year. This year it has been re-named “Masterchef Live” after one of the BBC's very popular cooking programmes, but honestly, most folks still think of it as The Good Food Show.

Small food and drink producers, wineries, kitchenware stores, cook book resellers and speciality shops all have stands at the show. Most offer samples and discounted “show deals” if you decide to purchase their wares. Major restaurants - which this year included Launceston Place, Theo Randall at the InterContinental, The Ivy, The Boxwood Cafe and Caprice - offer small but exquisitely formed portions of their signature dishes in the Restaurant Experience. There are also shows, demonstrations and lectures about all things food and drink by some of the larger suppliers and by food groups such as Slow Food. It's foodie paradise.

This year, Masterchef (a cooking programme in which amateur chefs compete for the coveted title of Masterchef) presented Masterchef Live, offering several shows each day in which past winners and contestants cooked in front of an audience, either developing new dishes on the spot or showcasing dishes that won them their titles. The shows were fast paced and entertaining, and played to packed audiences. On another stage, some brave members of the public submitted themselves to "The Invention Test". They were given five ingredients (unknown until the actual moment of the competition) and twenty minutes to prepare a dish from them. The results were very entertaining, and in many cases, quite amazing.

It takes at least a day to go through all of the stands and exhibits and also to attend the various shows and presentations. We visited the stands of some of the producers we already know and love like the wonderful Dorset bakery Honeybuns for their gorgeous cakes and Littleover Apiaries for their wonderful honey. We also discovered some new favourites. I was particularly impressed by The Coffee Fairy, a company run by Martina Gruppo. She sources coffee from Miraflor in Nicaragua (actually going there and getting it herself!) and ploughs a portion of the proceeds from the sale of it back into the community there, working to offer educational scholarships to enable the children to go on to secondary school, and also renovating the school there. The coffee tastes amazing and what a wonderful, ethical fair trade business!

Some of the producers are very small indeed, like another one of my new favourites The Good Chutney Company. Offering some very creative sauces and condiments, The Good Chutney Company is literally a one (wo)man band; the award winning sauces are made by one very talented lady in her own country kitchen. I bought two jars of their scrumptious Horseradish Mustard along with some other goodies including a yummy Gooseberry Chutney. We also bought lots of wine and port, and even found a new bespoke wine sourcing service for folks like us who love our wine.

Lunch consisted of various dishes at the restaurant experience. The servings are reasonably priced and so small so you can taste lots of things, and sharing is definitely allowed! We started with lobster soup with brandy and saffron cream served in a cocktail glass from Lauceston Place (see photo above), and then I tried The Ivy’s rich and tender beef and bashed neeps while my husband chose Masterchef winner Steve Wallis’ pan roasted sole with chantrelle mushrooms, oysters and white wine sauce. We also shared two dishes from Roast Restaurant - Pork Belly Bridge Roll and Fish finger and tartare sauce cones. Both were fantastic examples of old fashioned British comfort food at its best. For dessert, we shared the vanilla and gingerbread cheesecake with mulled fruit from the Boxwood Cafe which was light and delicious (the mulled fruit had lovely zing), and also the soft chocolate cake from Theo Randall at the InterContinental. This chocolate cake was by far our favourite dish of the day. Served with a soft marscapone cream, it literally melted in your mouth, and was one of the nicest desserts I have ever eaten.

The Good Food Shows are a great day out, and wonderful places to find out about the new and different. There are also a great source of ideas. We did a lot of Christmas shopping and brought home loads of goodies. We even ordered all our Christmas wine and spirits. Tickets are very reasonable at around £15 each, but you can also buy a more expensive VIP ticket which gives you access to a private dining area in the Restaurant Experience, a lounge with complimentary tea, coffee and snacks, free storage for your purchases and priority queues for book signings. It is well worth the extra cost to take advantage of this option.

The next BBC Good Food Show is being held at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham November 25th to 29th, or there is a Summer one also being held at the NEC 16th to 20th June 2010. The next BBC Good Food Show in London is in November 2010. For more information, go to