Thursday, May 04, 2006

Henley Food Fair

Andrew from spittoon had invited us to this event way back in December or so, and originally my intentions had been to make a weekend of it, organising it around seeing friends in the area. As it happened, I left arrangements to the last minute (hey, what else is new?), which was just as well, as the friends I had earmarked (ouch!) had just moved into cramped rented accommodation and Tom suddenly developed such severe angina pains that he had to go into hospital. He spent the whole of Easter there and had to have two more stents put in!
However, this sudden heartache had prompted me to send an e-mail to Joanna (a fellow blogger with a sweet-heart problem) who hadn’t posted since January, which had already got me a bit worried. She got back to me immediately, to say that luckily, nothing of the sort had been happening to her husband, and was I coming to the Henley Food Fair, she could pick me up from Reading station. Said and done (as if anything could ever be this straight forward in my household!), after buying a horrendously expensive train ticket - three times as much as my brother recently paid for a three-day trip to Prague, inclusive of bed and breakfast (buffet bar!) in a three star hotel!!
[1] - for a Virgin train (as if I’m not needlessly sponsoring Richard Branson’s Empire enough by paying handsomely for the privilege of my Virgin Active – in Sally’s and my case: Virgin Inactive – membership), I was heading down South.
I had been planning on getting a bit of reading done (admittedly, not Stephen King’s Green Mile, as required by the book group, but Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove), but that turned out harder than anticipated. No, it was not James’ overly baroque style, it was the rather more prosaic mobile and other conversations I was relentlessly subjected to. By the time I arrived in Reading, I knew the entire ins-and-outs of the love-life and domestic arrangements of the two young ladies sitting behind me, AND that of most of their siblings and in-laws, who happened to be scattered around the globe, which made it marginally more interesting than listening to two girls from Balsall Heath.
Joanna and I got straight into medias res, as if we’d known each other for a life-time, and had already covered a lot of ground by the time we met Andrew in the delightful Henley market square, where most of the action took place. As it was rather crowded, we retired to the Queen’s Head, downed a few pints of the local Bitter, Brakspear, and talked ‘shop’ (well, as much shop as one can talk with two muddle heads like Joanna and me, who can cover low cholesterol, techno trouble and the total eclipse of the sun in two swift breath strokes...).

For the actual produce stalls, one had to queue for rather a long time, which we wiled away with wine talk, Both Andrew and Joanna thought there was probably a good point in my wine-literature analogy (I – just like the average reader who needs characters to identify with, a ‘proper’ plot and a certain page-turner quality – like my wines easy: full, fruity and smooth, whereas a real wine connoisseur would be looking for something with an edge, a bit of a challenge, with subtle and exciting sub-tones – which is what I can appreciate in prose, but clearly not in wine...), and think I should write about it...[2]
Needless to say, I tried loads of food and drink and bought plenty (see above), after all, I had my mini foodie at home to satisfy (Ozzy in reply to “What do you want me to bring back: olives, sausages or cheese?” “All three, Mum!”), leaving Andrew and Joanna to grow roots (sorreeee!).
The eatery tent was filled with food offerings of various provenances, but it was claustrophobically packed and there was nowhere to sit. So, temptation being one thing (AWT’s Thai Beef, for instance), and comfort zone quite another, we headed towards the river for the picturesque outdoor seating area of the Angel on the Bridge. Unfortunately, their pub menu is nothing to write home about, which is a crying shame. You don’t have to be a culinary crusader to feel that any restaurant worth its salt needs to be well reflected in their pub offerings, too. The most interesting dish were Cheese and Jalapeno Bites – they looked like chicken nuggets and contained a bland cream cheese paired with a slice of jalapeno almost cooked to a pulp. Andrew summed it all up like this:

I couldn’t agree more. I had a great time and I’m very much looking forward to the next blog meeting, especially as Johanna couldn’t make it, after all, and we managed to miss Celia.

PS: I didn’t choose my photograph of Joanna and Andrew because it’s not focussed.... (stop sniggering, you two!!)

[1] Okay, so it was a coach journey, starting out from Germany, but still!!!
[2] I have a feeling it would read like this:

Freixenet Cava, Rosado Seco:
“Jilly Cooper”
- light weight, but by no means without (predictable) character(s) and sparkle; so easy to drink, you’ll be asking where the rest of the bottle went; won’t fail to get you into the mood for you know what...

Lacoste-Borie, Pauillac, 1997:
“James Joyce” - unless you can distinguish between your nose and your body: startlingly edgy; this one will prove fairly impenetrable to the untrained palate, but at 12.5% guaranteed to get you pissed...

And I’m not sure this would be anybody’s cup of wine!