I first discovered the Taste festivals of the UK in 2007 when we were staying in Bath for the weekend. I was pleasantly surprised.
The event was not too busy for a Saturday and was well situated in Victoria Park. As a “Brucie Bonus”, the hotel where we were staying offered us complimentary tickets. We were able to meander our way through the booths and stalls and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the festival at a leisurely pace. There were plenty of samples to try as well as buying the bigger portions by way of crowns. My overall memory was of a very pleasurable experience. Nibbling away on our dishes as the Jazz band rolled out some mellow tunes.
Fast forward to Summer 2010 and I’m at Regent’s Park London for the Taste of London. It is cold, overcast and quite frankly, chaotic. I have paid using the 2 for 1 ticket deal and spent about £130 on crowns for food and drink. I cannot find anywhere to sit down and eat and when I do I am biting into a cold and dry ballotine of chicken. It could be worse of course. It could be raining. It is at this moment that I conclude that I have probably had enough experience of the Taste festivals.
Don’t get me wrong, Taste is by far not the worst food festival I have been to but it is the one that I have attended more frequently than the others and so its the one I am using as a benchmark.
In October 2011, Hong Kong hosted the 3rd edition of the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival (HK W&D Festival) from 27 to 30 October in Kowloon Bay. In total, 280 booths served an array of dishes as well as wines from 19 different countries and regions. Some 70 food booths featured award-winning dishes and signature dishes from many of Hong Kong’s renowned hotels and restaurants. I was glad I was there to experience it.
Here are the ten reasons why I prefer Food Festivals in Hong Kong:
1) Entry Fee
The entry fee is nothing. Yes, that’s right, you heard me NOWT, NADA, NIENTE. Currently, a Standard ticket to Taste of London will cost me £29.50 (inc. a booking fee) and £28 on the door. I am sure the price of the ticket used to include some allocation towards dishes but nowadays the website only refers to accessing the festival, masterclasses and cookery demonstrations. I’m not really convinced that this is value for money.
Personally for this price, I would much rather have a main course at one of the restaurants exhibiting at the festival.
To pay for meals, cash is used at the HK W&D Festival. At Taste, they use “Crowns” as currency which means you have to queue up to buy the crowns at the venue and then exchange them at your preferred booth. There is always a dilemma of how many to buy, will it be enough or have I purchased too many? If it is the latter, then you are rather stuck with them as they are NOT refundable.
To complicate things further, the restaurant and bars accept crowns but the exhibitors and small stall holders accept cash with only some exceptions accepting crowns. Why not make it easier on the customer and just accept cash everywhere? It works here in Hong Kong, why wouldn’t it work in UK?
3) Price of Dishes
In Hong Kong, the price of the dishes I bought ranged from $40 HKD to $70 HKD (£3.10 to £5.60 at the time of writing.) The average dish at Taste is £4-£5 which equates to 8-10 crowns. Again, this is on top of the entry fee.
4) Portion Sizes
At Taste, portion sizes are Tapas sized, the website quotes “large enough for the chefs to display their skills and ingredients, but small enough to let you try more than a few dishes”. I feel that the portion sizes are more generous at the HK W&D Festival but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the portion sizes from the photos below.
5) Celebrity Status
The food at HKW&DF in Hong Kong is focussed on food and not the celebrity. I recall attending the Taste of Christmas event at the Excel Centre with Gordon Ramsay and Mark Sargent a few years ago. The demonstration opened with Gordon and Mark “acting” on a film and then they appeared cavorting with each other above the audience (they were suspended mid-air). A truly surreal moment!
6) Access to alcohol at reasonable prices
Classic wine tokens at the HK W&D Festival are priced at $10HKD per glass (£0.80 at the time of writing) from any wine booth attending.
I don’t recall having wine at the Taste Festival so I cannot comment on that but I do remember having a Mojito at Taste from the Bacardi stand. It was full of ice and closer to £10.
7) Access to Demonstrations, Tasting Pavilions and Dining Areas
On the whole the Taste demonstration areas are not too bad, but you do have to get there early to secure a place otherwise you’ll be on your tip toes trying to catch a glimpse of what the chef is preparing.
This in stark contrast to the HK W&D Festival where there is ample capacity at The Main Stage, Tasting Pavilion and Wine School.
As I alluded to earlier, finding a place to sit down and eat at Taste grew increasingly frustrating as the years progressed. At the HK W&D Festival there is a dedicated area filled with tables and chairs for diners.
8 ) Themed nights at Wine School
Although I didn’t get a chance to attend these themed nights, I thought it was a great idea. On two of the evenings they hosted themed nights within The Wine School so as an optional extra you could eat food, drink award-winning wines and enjoy cultural performances native to both Spain and Japan.
9) Pleasant Temperature
Yes, not always possible I know, but that powerful, yellow ball in the sky does make a difference to a festival, particularly when it is held outdoors !
10) Free shuttle bus to the MTR (tube station)
Although it is actually not a long walk, (approximately 10 minutes), after you have feasted on some wonderful food and had a few glasses of vino, you feel as if you are waddling and not really walking so it is always nice to be taken back in an air-conditioned coach to the tube.
So there you have it!
I hear the festival is on again this year starting 4 November and I have already made a note in my diary to attend!
I’d love to hear about your experiences with food festivals, the good, the bad and the ugly! Which ones would you avoid and which ones would you recommend?