Beyond the Pale


Pantiles Food & Drink Festival 2012

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Any day that begins with eating a rare breed for breakfast (and especially when that breakfast is strictly edging toward lunch, having enjoyed a leisurely lie-in), is a day that bodes well, my friends.

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Even better, the burgers were cooked for us by the lovely staff of the Eridge Park Farm Shop, whose burger & hotdog stall was doing a roaring trade by the time we ambled to the 2012 Pantiles Food Festival, fortuitously located mere minutes from our doorstep.

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The Pantiles Food & Drink Festival was launched last year to great acclaim, and the Association of Pantiles Traders have worked tirelessly to make this an annual event. It’s really my idea of a perfect day out – shuffling from stall to stall, all temptingly laden with the very best of local produce, nodding at acquaintances passing by, stopping to chat with friends and, all the while, wondering “What can I cram into my mouth next?”

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With celebrity chefs giving live demonstrations of their tenebrous arts to crowds openly slavering at their skills, ice cream sellers jostling with cake hawkers and the smell of sizzling juicy venison mingling with saffron-infused curls of paella steam rising into the air; the need to sit down for a coffee and a rest takes over. I think I was born a pensioner, really.

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Sitting outside a cafe and people watching is one of my favourite activities in the world, and The Pantiles area of Tunbridge Wells is just the perfect location for that. It always has a holiday feel to it, I think, with crowds thronging the market stalls and weaving through the Regency columns.

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As children by turn cavort among the tables and scream indignantly as they are deftly ushered past sweet stalls by parents well-versed in the methods of diversion “Look at that lovely doggie!” – and deception – “No you wouldn’t like those sweets, darling, they all taste of Brussels sprouts…” it’s good just to kick back and drink it all in, this passing melee of All Human (well, Kentish) Life.

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Of the many mouth-watering wares on offer, we were drawn to the tables of Mccarthy’s Country Stores, groaning with delicious looking homemade cakes and breads. When someone has gone to all the trouble to produce such wonderful items, it always seems terribly rude not to try something, doesn’t it?

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With this in mind, we plumped for (quite literally) a couple of slices of the pecan pie, which we shall have with tea later this evening. I feel it’s my duty to try such things on your behalf, dear readers. I know, I know, I am practically a saint for dedicating my life to helping you, I need no thanks, merely your continuing quiet adoration.

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Having recently started a Well Known Healthy Eating Plan that uses the allocation of Points to all food and drink that isn’t fruit or vegetables, I advise you not to get out your Points Calculator and start totting up how many are in a scotch egg as large as a baby’s head, because you will drop dead where you stand; but having been Good all week, I have oodles of Points left to ‘spend’ (scoff) so couldn’t care less about being Naughty during the weekend: that’s surely what weekends are all about!

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The focus on this year’s festival was on Drink, with an excellent display of local vineyards and drink manufacturers on display. I DO wish I could drink cider – a misspent youth drinking gutrot cider laced with piss and sugar (actually, lager and blackcurrant, but the previous description holds true) called Snakebite and Black (look, it was the early nineties, I was a Goth and at University: it was obligatory to drink it, okay?) has led to a continuing distaste for even the smell of cider. I am sure one day I’ll hopefully get over it, and if I do, I want to to try The Lisping Cowboy by Big Tree Cider. It’s an absolutely wonderful name and made me smile, I do like companies with a sense of humour in naming their beverages.

With TV chef and owner of Thackeray’s restaurant, Richard Phillips, as patron, the Pantiles Food & Drink Festival has once again been a great success, with over 50 stalls and drawing crowds (last year) of around 15,000 people sampling the array of the best Kent and Sussex fare. Ya-boo-sucks, I say, to malls full of faceless, anodyne chain stores – I would far rather spend a weekend like this, celebrating the bountiful wares of local producers and showing our support by scoffing them, wouldn’t you?

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