Promoted as being the “Ultimate Foodie Event”, the Exeter Food and Drink Festival is definitely the place to head for the last weekend in April. Taking place over three days (and nights!) this family fun event has chef demonstrations, family activities, live music and plenty of tasty things to eat and drink with a buzzing atmosphere.
Exeter Castle in Northernhay Gardens
The Exeter location is excellent, and if you haven't visited Northernhay Gardens before, you are in for a treat. This grassy park includes the ruins of Exeter Castle, so it has a great deal of history and atmosphere before you start to enjoy the actual festival itself.
There is plenty of public car parking in the Northernhay Gardens area, such as the King William Street car park, and from there you can stroll to the event. Once you walk through the gates you won't know whether to look left or right as the exhibition stands are stacked high with tasty Westcountry goodies. There are many stalls by local producers selling bread, cheese, wine, pickles, chutneys, dips and sauces, organically raised produce, bakery goods and a whole lot more. If it's edible, it's probably here somewhere!
Cookery demos are a key part of the Exeter Food and Drink Festival
The Festival Cookery Theatre has some excellent reputable chefs in the lineup. In 2012, Angus McCaig from Honiton, Andy Appleton from the Jamie Oliver-inspired Fifteen Restaurant in Cornwall, Michael Caines MBE from the Michelin starred Gidleigh Park and Matt Follas, winner of Masterchef 2009 all took part and wowed the audience. If these names mean nothing to you now, rest assured after a visit to the festival you will be taking about them for days. All the theatre chefs not only cook up some great cuisine, they also are gifted commentators and fun entertainers.
In previous years, Darts Farm has put on its own mini-event in the Fun Teepees. They offer hands-on opportunities to make and bake sausages, pies, pizzas and even decorate your own cupcake under the tutelage of their ultra-patient chef. The AGA Taste Cookery Theatre is also very popular, producing pasta and artisan breads from their typical farmhouse ovens.
More stalls offer catering with the usual hotdogs, burgers, sandwiches and snacks, but it is more fun to do some food shopping for local produce and make your own tasty picnic. For drinks, brewers, cider-makers and wineries are well represented.
I tried quite a few of the local samples of sweet and dry ciders and wines from the area. It is fun to sample before you buy, and in the case of wine it can definitely save a costly mistake. On the other hand, if you have an open mind, you may well find yourself buying things you never thought you would like, such as elderflower wine and Yarg cheese, which is wrapped in nettle leaves to produce a mouldy, (apparently edible!) rind.
Hang around for the Festival After Dark Party
After dark, the fun heats up as the Festival after Dark Parties gets into gear every evening, actually in the courtyard of Exeter Castle. There are plenty of bars and regional food-to-go stalls as well as pop-up restaurants by some well-known restaurateurs from the Exeter area. Entertainment is non-stop with local bands and musicians keeping the party loud and the action pumping. It all makes for a lively fun evening as the food and drink theme continues until the small hours. Better make that a 24-hour car parking ticket, just in case!
The Exeter Food and Drink Festival is one of the best foodie events I have ever attended. Have you visited it in previous years, or can you recommend similar events to fellow food-lovers? Feel free to share your thoughts below.