Everything you need to know about the Royal Leamington Spa Food & Drink Festival
- Credit: Jamie Gray
Tracy Spiers is sampling Leamington Spa’s edible offerings ahead of its food and drink festival next month. It’s hard work, but someone has to do it...
I have found a new word for the Spiers dictionary and I use it daily. It's called 'procaffeinate,' which according to its namesake café in Royal Leamington Spa means this: 'the tendency not to start anything until you've had a cup of coffee.'
So, forgive me while I delicately sip my coconut latte - admire the view of the Grand Union Canal and delicious tray bakes including a caramel heaven slice and toffee crunch blonde and ponder before I write this feature. It's a fitting start, as I am literally having a taste of what's to come in the town which impressed Queen Victoria. In a few weeks, local producers, cafés, restaurants, wine connoisseurs, pub owners and anyone who creates anything that tantalises the tum or is edible artisan, will be putting on what must be the dream event for foodies - Royal Leamington Spa Food & Drink Festival on Saturday, September 7 and Sunday, September 8 for a weekend of culinary delights
This is the festival's 12th year, and it has gone from strength to strength and is now considered one of the most popular and well-regarded highlights on the town's calendar. Managed and run by BID Leamington Ltd, a not for profit organisation funded by local businesses and responsible for promoting and marketing the town, the festival acts as an important showcase for everything that tastes good.
"It's regarded as one of the best autumn food festivals in the country and so attracts visitors from all over the UK, and we know of people travelling from London, Somerset and Lincolnshire especially for it," says Alison Shaw, BID Project Manager.
"We see it as the last festival of summer and there is always an exciting, thriving atmosphere with an action-packed programme. It is just a brilliant way of celebrating and sharing what our town has to offer."
Out of some 130 stall holders, over a third of them are from the town centre. For traders working day in and out in Leamington, it not only proves an ideal opportunity to take their food and drink products to the people but it enables them a chance to see what fellow producers are doing.
"It's our third year taking part; we opened our café Procaffeinate and downstairs bar, Apehangers just over two and a half years ago. We will be at the festival with our horse box trailer serving our coffees, which are a triple certified coffee bean from Peru, Ethiopia and Sumatra and our specialty tray bakes with cater for vegans, gluten free and those who have nut allergies. We have spent a long time getting that right and acing it," says Tom Hooker, general manager of Procaffeinate, in Clemens Street, which also has an ice bar.
"This year we will be bringing an army truck which we have turned into a bar, featuring some of our 100 beers. We're looking forward to showcasing our army truck bar. It's a great chance to stand out, but also a great way to see what others are doing. We have about 30 independent coffee shops in Leamington."
Lydia Papaphilippopoulos-Snape, owner of Warwick Street Kitchen, specialises in coffee, brunch, doughnuts and cake. She opened the business in 2017, with one mission: to serve incredible quality, locally sourced, homemade products. Her efforts have paid off and the café now holds the accolade, winner of the Best New Business in Leamington Business Awards 2018.
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"I think that the Leamington Food Festival is truly one of the highlights of the year for the town - the organisers put so much care and attention in to creating an amazingly diverse and vibrant festival that always promises to be as delicious as it is entertaining," says Lydia.
"WSK look forward to another year of serving single origin coffee, homemade cakes, doughnuts and savoury treats. It's such an honour to be part of this independent loving community and the food festival is a wonderful way to celebrate that each year, by going out in to the community in a way that we can't normally do from day to day."
As in previous years, locals and visitors will descend on the Pump Room Gardens for the weekend. Free to attend, the event attracts some 25,000 people who no doubt enjoy the world-wide flavours on offer, including Indian, Thai, Caribbean, Persian and Mexican.
It's a chance for new businesses to showcase alongside long-standing food producers such as Aubrey Allen, a veteran family-owned butcher. Known for its high-end carefully sourced meat, game and deli produce, Aubrey Allen will be returning to the festival.
"We will bring our pop-up butchers and cheese counters along where we will have cheese boards, sausages, burgers and steaks. We do tasters and demonstrations, sharing tips on how to cook the perfect steak which a lot of people enjoy," says Simon Kelly, butchery manager.
"We explain the different cuts of meat and we are big on provenance - the welfare of the animals is very important to us. We pride ourselves on the quality of our produce and we only source the best pork, lamb and beef."
"The atmosphere of the festival is brilliant, people come from all over. It's really good for the whole community and all the businesses here. The food festival is now considered one of the top 10 in the country and I've seen it advertised on the tube trains in London, which is great - and of course it is free," adds Simon.
His colleague Helen Beverley, Customer Services Manager, agrees. "I went to the first festival and manned our stall alone. To see what it has become is fantastic. It just goes from strength to strength."
Neighbouring traders in Warwick Street, the Leamington Wine Company works closely on a weekly basis with Aubrey Allen, often sending them over to buy food to compliment the wines they sell. For the past few festivals they have set up stalls next to each other and this year is no different.
"We will have a gin bar and a fizz table with a champagne and Prosecco bar. Our gin slushes always go down well and we'll also have Craft beers and tins. The festival is fun, really lively. We have got a great thriving community of independent outlets and it's a lovely way of celebrating what we all do whilst enjoying food from all over the world," says Nikki Jarrett, general manager. The Leamington Wine Company opened in February 2010 when owner Anita Mannion first moved down from Wales. Last year, Muddy Stilettos awarded the business Warwickshire Wine Merchant of the Year 2018.
Numerous bars and pubs will also be taking part, as will those who are expert in their own crafts, including Swirls, who will be serving gelatos, especially its best seller, salted caramel; and The Cakery, run by Carolyn Hancocks and her daughter and business partner Gemma, who make about 50 celebratory cakes and several hundred cup cakes every week.
As my husband and I feast our eyes on the collection, we spot coffee, lemon, coconut, red velvet and chocolate and vanilla flavours.
"Each year we try and do a new flavour just for the festival. Last year we made a rhubarb and ginger cup cake, but we've also done an Oreo and a white chocolate and raspberry in previous years. We haven't yet decided what we are doing this year," says Carolyn, who has been making cakes for 40 years and opened up the shop eight years ago.
"We love the atmosphere and the camaraderie. I personally just love making people happy with a cake."
It's this personal touch which pervades through the heart of Leamington Spa, which also has an unrivalled selection of specialist boutiques and independent shops. With its stunning Regency architecture, there's a sense of grandeur to this place as well as beautiful landscape to explore, not only along the banks of the River Leam, but in the stunning Jephson Gardens as well as the Pump Gardens.
I started the feature with a coffee and I end up in a bath with a cup of tea. I am not joking. As we walk back to our car, Rog points out an old-fashioned bath sitting in the lounge of a restaurant and to satisfy our curiosity we walk in. We are greeted by Louise Hart, who opened her business Hart & Co in September 2018. She will be taking her bath along with a purpose made beach hut along to food festival.
What's unique about Louise's family restaurant is her warm yet creative ethos. Each family member has designed their own cocktail which is served in the vessel appropriate to their personality - from the Daddy Hart cocktail in an oil can, the Hart Tribe in a Babushka doll and the Dean Hart cocktail in a Chinese takeaway box.
"We wanted to make it a family restaurant and all the food is designed to share as if you are sat around your dining table. Our Sunday roasts are a best seller and although my mum works full time, every Sunday she comes here to do the roast. We're all looking forward to the festival. All the family members will be there and will be serving their cocktails," says Louise.
Whether it's a new food business, or a well established one, each contributor will be offering their own personal flavour in what promises to be a feast of aromas, textures, taste and fun at Leamington Spa's Food & Drink Festival. My only advice is: don't eat too much before you arrive in this town on Saturday, September 7 and Sunday, September 8.
For more details, visit leamingtonfoodfestival.co.uk.