A Delightful RUMBLE at the Foodies Festival, Syon Park
As the lucky recipient of a ticket for the Foodies Festival Syon Park, I set out with a relatively flexible agenda although one of the primary aspects of my visit centred on visiting the Appleton Estate Rum Bus. I was due to attend a Rum Master Class run by Appleton Estate’s rum specialist, Stuart Vandyken, however, I was fortunate enough to end up with a 1-to-1 session with Stuart whose encyclopaedic knowledge, tuition and joie de vivre for the brand was tangibly infectious and a sheer pleasure to witness.
The first part of the visit, namely getting there, parking and finding the main entrance did have a few pitfalls. We parked in knee high grass and had quite a trek to the main entrance that was not very well signposted, more a case of following the person in front of you. For people with children’s buggies, limited mobility or even hay fever sufferers this didn’t make for easy access and it would have been great to see some wooden boards or other temporary feature that could have provided more stable terrain. Our tickets were labelled valid for ‘one day only’ so it was great to learn that we could reuse them for return visits for the other Festival days obviously representing great value for money for those who could take advantage of the offer. The little guide book we were given on entry was great for listing theatre and arena events with relevant dates and timing clearly listed however I would have loved to have read more about some of the exhibitors and the provision of a site map would have come in mighty handy. Although the area isn’t as large as say The Taste of London, it’s still easy to miss things and the actual listing of exhibitors would benefit from specific information about their placement within the show grounds.
Walking around casually for the first half hour was fun. The sun was shining, there were plenty of areas to either sit down on the grass or take a seat provided by exhibitor stands and the music vibe produced a real rustic festival charm – laid back, family orientated and very little queuing to be seen. The street food areas gave off wonderful aromas from a diversity of cultures with a wide gamut of choice right down to your traditional pub and grub venues. Although I’m becoming a lot more adventurous with my taste buds these days, my sweet tooth is never far away so the lure of the Belgium Chocolate Waffle Bar could not be resisted. There is something about an authentic Belgian Waffle smothered in chocolate and cream that is decadent to the hilt yet has to be done…no crumbs guaranteed! There was a lot of customer interaction via Masterclasses varying from the BBQ Masterclasses right down to the Chilli Eating Competition but before you even ask, the answer is no! there are limits to how far I will stretch my sensory fields! In addition, whatever your personal preferences, the range of shows revealed a plethora of options ranging from the Chef’s Theatre, Drinks Theatre, Tasting, Cake and Bake Theatre to the BBQ Arena, Children’s Cookery Theatre and Entertainment Stage.
Cheese and pickles are another of my favourite foods and The Somerset Ploughmen Store just happened to be situated in full vantage view of the entrance! The Somerset Brie was so incredibly smooth and creamy and the Cider Chutney/Pickles were resplendent in their intoxicating flavours – both made it into my ‘take home’ bag. I also happen to love goat’s cheese and found my way to the French Goat’s Cheese stall.
Goat’s cheese has grown on me – whether it is an acquired taste or my taste buds have grown more refined, who knows? What I do know is that in addition to providing a whole host of health benefits, the distinct taste can be savoured as a stand alone or indeed paired with so many other flavours. The stall was busy and in full flow when I arrived with sampling proving very popular. This to me is what food shows are all about – educating and informing the public whilst letting people try out new flavours, dishes and products that may end up as a regular staple on their shopping list!
The timetable for boarding the Appleton Estate Rum Bus quickly beckoned and it was easy to spot in its fabulous colour scheme and iconic imagery with barrels of rum appropriately stacked on top. A sugar cane press, sugar cane, hammocks, picnic tables, rum barrels and music all helped to enhance the experience and gave a really holistic interactive feel to proceedings. The serving staff had really got into the spirit – Calypso type music, laughter and a sense of fun enveloped the entire area. Service with a smile was consistently practised and the drinks were obviously going doing well with punters judging by the steady stream of customers throughout my visit here. So, what’s it all about, I hear you ask – that was my question precisely and I couldn’t have got a better answer anywhere.
Appleton’s Estate Rum Specialist, Stuart Vandyken, who was to later host a Rum Masterclass in the Drinks Theatre, was kind enough to give up some of his time to offer me a 1-to-1 tutorial. Comprehensively informative with fascinating facts and insight, I found Stuart’s encyclopaedic knowledge and ardent enthusiasm highly engaging. The provenance of the Appleton Estate goes way back to 1749 with 11000 acres of sugar cane growing in the ideal climactic condition of the Nassau Valley in Jamaica – tropical rain and enriched soil provide ideal growing conditions. Even with 90% of harvesting undertaken by machinery, there still remains 10% of manual harvesting due to the angle of the terrain. Appleton Estate’s beautiful full-bodied 100% Jamaican aged rums can be attributed to the usage of time honoured traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation which has affected all the elements involved in manufacture – fermentation, distillation, ageing and blending.
With that kind of heritage, you just know you’re in for a treat. Step away from all the cheap rum nasties that have left you with a hangover after a night at the student bar. This is a premium drink that deserves to be sipped with respect and educated pleasure. We started with the Signature Blend (a mixture of 15 different rums with a minimum age of 4 years) that led me on a sensory journey with a long finish. I then progressed to the Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old Vintage (minimum age 12 years, a mixture of selected blends) before sampling what to me was King of the Rums – the ultra-premium rum: Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Jamaica Rum topped up every 3 years for maximum uptake and blending. I loved the sensory quality of the 21 Year Old Jamaican Rum – the taste was premium and the finish both long and very smooth. I would certainly buy and use this blend for special occasions. In my own personal interpretation, it epitomises the very best of what rum represents and its unique taste evokes images of its heritage and blending process. I subsequently skipped the official rum tasting masterclass as my own tutorial had been so extensive and such fun. I wish Appleton Estate all the very best with its future ‘bus stops’ and forays into various other festivals.
I really enjoyed my day out and returned laden with artisan breads, a variety of cheeses, macarons, fudge and croissants. I particularly liked the smaller exhibitor stands that gave me awareness and insight of producers with which I was previously unfamiliar. I find food festivals a real treasure trove never knowing what is around the next corner, sampling without any pressure to purchase and brewing up a great cuppa (Thank you Tea Pigs) when your feet get weary. A touch more on the organisational side as initially mentioned would have ironed out my quibbles very easily but on the plus side, my Appleton Estate experience was faultless and a real highlight of an enjoyable and highly satisfying day out.
The Foodies Festivals are held right across the UKthroughout the Summer. For more information and to find a venue close to you please check the Foodies Festival website.
For more about Appleton Estate Rum
For more about French Goats Cheese
Disclosure: I was a guest of French Goats Cheese and Appleton Estate Rum. The first image and the last three are published by kind permission of Appleton Estate Rum.