Food festivals are everywhere. Joining established festivals such as Aldeburgh, Taste of London and Ludlow are niche events catering to vegans, barbecue nerds and garlic lovers. There’s a growing trend for chefs to run their own festivals, too: this summer that includes Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park, Mark Hix’s Food Rocks and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s festival at River Cottage.
“Food is becoming more important at music festivals and vice versa,” says Hix. “It’s great for the future of our food: it’s a chance for restaurants and small producers to show their wares. The public can connect with them and develop a real appreciation of what they’re doing.”
Attendance at food festivals shows no sign of shrinking. Foodies Festival catered for 5,000 people at its first Edinburgh event in 2005. This year the festival group expects 300,000 to attend its events at seven different UK locations. “A food festival is a perfect day out with friends and family,” says founder Sue Hitchen.
“People are becoming more adventurous with food and really enjoy trying new flavours at festivals. Families I meet talk about how their children tried oysters or venison for the first time at our events.”
But with so many food festivals to choose from, how do you spot a good one? “The festivals that stand out for me are those with an extra dimension to the entertainment – food, literature, feasting – like The Good Life Experience, or that focus on genuinely local food, like Aldeburgh and Abergavenny,” says Delicious magazine editor Karen Barnes. “If it’s a food festival, the primary aim should be to champion the food and hard-working producers of the region, after all.”
Here are our favourites...
Best for... vegans
Vegfest is one of the UK’s biggest vegan events, with gatherings in Brighton, Bristol and London. In Bristol, there will be 220 food stalls, where you can sample vegan churros, cookies, Greek food and pad Thai. Evening entertainment comes from BBC Radio 6 Music DJ Don Letts, plus Nineties legends Judge Jules and Baby D. Talks and demonstrations cover everything from following a plant-based diet for better health, to making donkwa (vegan Nigerian snacks).
Tickets from £10; vegfest.co.uk
Eat and Drink Festival, Glasgow
Best for... street food
The Great Eat area of the festival is designed for visitors to graze their way between different street food vans. At The Chef’s Table, try a special menu made up of popular street-food dishes from the festival. Traders are still being confirmed, but previous years have included the likes of Anglo-French burgers from Le Bun, Devon crab rolls from Claw and quesadillas from Killa Dilla.
MAY 31-JUNE 3
Tickets from £5; eatanddrinkfestival.com
Taste of London
Best for... restaurant lovers
Taste of London gathers the capital’s best restaurants in Regent’s Park. Sample scaled-down signature dishes, cooked in tiny field kitchens. This year’s highlights include tapas classics such as croquettes and coca bread with tomato and cecina from Barrafina, Kashmiri lamb ribs or soft-shell crab from Gul & Sepoy, and Cantonese dumplings from Instagrammers’ darling, Duddell’s. On a warm evening, glass of fizz in hand, there’s no better place to be.
Tickets from £17; london.tastefestivals.com
Stonor Food Festival, Oxfordshire
Best for... The Berry
Mary Berry is guest of honour at this new festival. Held in the grounds of Stonor Park, a stately home in the Chilterns (to which your ticket also grants you access), the event promises a packed schedule of cooking demos, talks and tastings over the Father’s Day weekend. The Queen of Cakes will be signing copies of her books and taking part in a question-and-answer session.
Tickets from £9; fantasticbritishfoodfestivals.com/stonor-park.html
Irish Game Fair and Fine Food Festival, Antrim, Northern Ireland
Best for... game
A large summer festival in the grounds at Shanes Castle, a 12th-century ruin in Northern Ireland. This traditional event includes a main area with falconry, gun dog trials and other country pursuits, plus a living-history village and kids’ activities. The fine-food village has around 200 stalls selling wild-boar pies and game sausages. There will also be game cookery demos.
Tickets from £10; irishgamefair.com
Best for... BBQ nerds
Two days of “meat, music and mayhem” will either be your idea of heaven or hell. If heaven is watching a hot dog contest while chugging a craft beer, then this Bristol Harbourside bonanza is the festival for you. There’s plenty of live music (typically including funk, bluegrass and Americana), plus late-night DJ sets. Of course, meat is the main draw: there’ll be grill pits manned by top barbecue chefs, and a barbecue competition.
JUNE 30-1 JULY
Tickets from £24; grillstock.co.uk/festival
Mouth of the Tyne Festival, Tynemouth
Best for... music
This long-running music, arts and food festival sets its main stage in amongst the ruins of Tynemouth Priory and Castle. This year’s headliners include Paloma Faith, James Arthur and Beverley Knight. Curating the street-food offering is the award-winning Riley’s Fish Shack, famous for its mackerel and kipper flatbreads.
Tickets from £22, mouthofthetynefestival.com
Best for... feasting
Feast in a field at Wilderness. Yotam Ottolenghi will be cooking a banquet at this Oxfordshire festival, while London favourites Café Murano, Petersham Nurseries and Patty and Bun will be running field restaurants. Acclaimed chefs James Lowe and Sam Buckley will cook at The Chef’s Table, a tiny hilltop restaurant open to the stars.
Wilderness is worth the (admittedly hefty) ticket price for the food alone, but there’s also an impressive roster of music (Nile Rogers and Chic headlining), theatre and arts, family activities, and a lakeside spa. Clare Isaacs, food programmer at Wilderness, says: “Absolutely not to miss is The Counter, brand new for this year with three different restaurants cooking – Som Saa, Quality Chop House and Salon. Each team takes over the open kitchen for a day and 30 people sit around the circular counter watching the chefs at work.”
Tickets from £179.50; wildernessfestival.com
Foodies Festival, Edinburgh
Best for... chef demos
Foodies Festival runs events all over the UK (including Brighton, Birmingham, and Oxford), but Edinburgh is where it all began. The festivals always attract big names: this year that includes GBBO winner Sophie Faldo, who’ll be baking at the Syon Park event), and Simon Rimmer cooking at Foodies Festival Tatton, plus MasterChef winners and finalists.
During the Edinburgh dates there’s a strong showing from Scotland’s best restaurant chefs, such as Scott Davies of The Three Chimneys on Skye, and Roy Brett of seafood and shellfish specialist Ondine in the Scottish capital.
Tickets from £24; foodiesfestival.com
Chilli Fiesta, West Sussex
Best for... heat-heads
Make your eyes water and tongue tingle at the UK’s largest chilli festival. Chefs will be rustling up chilli dishes in the cooks’ theatre, and there’s plenty of stalls with chilli products to buy, eat or grow. Live Latin bands and dance demos, plus gardening workshops and a vintage fair mean there’s plenty of fun even if your tastes are more korma than Demon Red.
Tickets from £15.30; westdean.org.uk/gardens/events/chilli-fiesta
The Garlic Festival, Isle of Wight
Best for... allium lovers
Good for foodies, bad for vampires and first dates: The Garlic Festival is now in its 35th year. This popular Isle of Wight extravaganza goes big on its theme: try garlic ice cream, scones or fudge. Watch garlic-themed cooking demos from Valentine Warner, and keep an eye out for the festival’s very own Garlic Queen.
Best for... children
The Gruffalo, Paddington and Justin Fletcher (aka Mr Tumble): the biggest icons for the under-sixes are all at The Big Feastival in the Cotswolds. This family-friendly shindig on Alex James’s farm also features kids’ cooking classes, crafts, tree-climbing, and a Big Top for dancing. The foodie line-up is strong, too. This year there are street-food trucks galore and demos from Raymond Blanc, Andi Oliver and Matt Tebbutt.
Tickets from £64, thebigfeastival.com
River Cottage Festival, Devon
Best for... getting back to nature
Spend a memorable August bank holiday at River Cottage HQ. Hugh will be in attendance, as will Prue Leith, Caroline Lucas and other chefs, environmentalists and speakers. The laid-back weekend includes yoga classes and firepit cooking sessions. Kids can make their own pizza or summer fruit fool with crystallised petals and cat’s tongue biscuits, while adults can master gluten-free galettes or ferment seasonal produce.
Tickets from £17.50, rivercottage.net
Pub in the Park, Cheshire
Best for... pub grub
Tom Kerridge is taking his Michelin-starred pubs on the road. Pub in the Park is the chef’s new festival in Marlow, Bath, Royal Tunbridge Wells and Knutsford, Cheshire. Highlights include pop-up versions of Britain’s top gastropubs, including Kerridge’s The Hand and Flowers and The Coach, Stephen Terry’s The Hardwick and Yorkshire’s The Star Inn. There’ll be plenty of bars, food producers and chef demos from Angela Hartnett and Bake Off’s Candice Brown, among others.
Best for... local produce
Hazelnut salami from woodland-reared pigs, Shropshire honey, Worcestershire hop cheeses, cider, perry and ales: just some of the treats from 160 regional producers at the Ludlow Food Festival. The action takes place in and around the castle of this charming market town in the beautiful Welsh Marches. In additional to producer stalls, there are sausage, ale and loaf trails around the town.
Tickets from £8; foodfestival.co.uk
Food Rocks, Dorset
Best for... seaside suppers
Mark Hix has gathered a merry band of chefs for his Food Rocks festival in Lyme Regis. Russell Norman, Angela Hartnett and Richard Bertinet are leading cooking demos and talks on the seafront. Hix will be hosting crab and mackerel supper clubs, and there’ll be plenty of local producer stalls. The hometown chef donates all proceeds and donations from the feasts and cooking demos (now in their fifth year) to the RNLI and The Fishermen’s Mission.
Free entry, hixrestaurants.co.uk
The Good Life Experience, North Wales
Best for... campfire cooking
The Good Life Experience is musician and DJ Cerys Matthews’s back-to-nature festival in Wales. Cooking over the campfire this year are Gill Meller, eco-chef Tom Hunt, food writer Signe Johansen and baker Tom Herbert among others. Learn a new skill: choose from wild cooking, fermenting, spatula making, or how to build the perfect fire.
Best for... talks and discussions
Abergavenny, one of the UK’s best-loved food festivals, is now in its 20th year. There’s always an interesting mix of big-name cooks like José Pizarro and Anna Jones, alongside lesser-known writers, and events range from discussions on topical food issues to kids’ masterclasses and hands-on workshops. A strong contingent of Welsh producers, a fringe festival, and al fresco evening parties at Abergavenny Castle lure loyalists back to the Brecon Beacons year after year.
Tickets from £7, abergavennyfoodfestival.com
Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival, Suffolk
Best for... cookbook junkies
Aldeburgh stands out for “consistently top-notch food talent and commitment to local sourcing”, says Delicious magazine’s Karen Barnes. The programme includes demos and hands-on masterclasses from acclaimed food writers and cooks such as Tommi Miers, Dan Doherty and Melissa Hemsley. The Wild Suffolk area features campfire cooking, “wild” street food like pigeon burgers, plus local producers.
Tickets from £8; aldeburghfoodanddrink.co.uk
Falmouth Oyster Festival, Cornwall
Best for... seafood
Food festival season winds down in early autumn, but not before foodies have decamped to Cornwall for this popular annual event. The 22nd Falmouth Oyster Festival celebrates the beginning of oyster-dredging season with cooking demos, a shucking contest, boat race and wine and seafood bars. Live music and arts and crafts also draw in crowds.