Being a non Welsh speaker the thought of attending the annual Eisteddfod sounded a bit stupid to me in past years as I just assumed it was a week of church choirs and schoolchildren singing in a language I didn’t understand. It sounded like a cross between a school assembly and being stuck in an Christening on a Sunday afternoon except I wouldn’t have a clue what was bellowing out of the peoples mouths around me, so not thanks i thought.
This year’s event was set to take place in Abergavenny so only an hour up the road and with the largest Waitrose I’ve seen this side of the bridge in the centre of town along with the offer of a free ticket, a sofa to rest my head in for the night and the promise of some festival food and cider I had a welsh translator app downloading onto my phone within seconds!
The event is in full swing Monday to Saturday but the grounds do open on the Saturday and Sunday for a nosey around and to sample the local produce and street food vendors on offer before the masses of historical school children. Not only that but what I could only imagine as being like walking through M & S on a Sunday full of geriatrics only on a grander scale taking up the whole walkway talking to Doris and Dai they haven’t seen for a whole 7 days since their last visit for a Rotisserie chicken and a packet of dutch shortcakes to go with their afternoon cuppa, which drives me mental and has me cursing the grey haired lane hoggers under my breath!
The weather was set to be gorgeous all weekend so off I went Saturday afternoon in the Fiat up past Merthyr on the A470 towards Abergavenny, which must of been the furthest i’ve managed without using my sat nav as i’m bloody useless at directions.
Anyway I got in and managed to sneak through the back entrance to save my disco ravaged legs strapped up and e45’ed to death from a night of old school house disco dancing to Sasha at the Tramshed on Friday followed by an afterparty at Club Ifor Bach for Time Flies event with some Ibiza legends on the turntables. I must of burned over 5000 calories and sweated enough to liquids to fill the Rio Olympic swimming pool so I needed re-charging with some stodge and fermented apples like yesterday!
The Eisteddfod 2016 Festival site was much bigger than I imagined but luckily for me the fence I jumped over was right next to the food stalls and beer wagon. (I did have a ticket don’t worry I was just meant to walk about a mile around the perimeter to the front entrance and I wasn’t in the mood with my half melted skin graft needing inside legs blistering with every friction burning step I took)
I was a bit disappointed with the number of food traders having been to the Cardiff International Food Festival and the Royal Welsh a couple of weeks before but there were a couple of new faces but the first one I spotted was my good friend Gabriel of The Spanish Buffet with his wizard like churning of his cauldron / paella pan into golden mounds of Balearic comfort food.
I’d sampled his epic Paella down in Cardiff the month before and known him for a while from creating his website thespanishbuffet and had a chat the week after to catch up and see how the festival season is going at the Royal Welsh so gave him and wave and headed on to find something my ravaged lips hadn’t gnawed at before.
El Sals – Nachos
When you’re feeling like death what’s the first choice you scramble together on a plate in the house? NACHOS because you can throw the whole cupboard and fridge on there with little nuggets of cheese, piquant pockets of saltiness from the brined jalapeños, the refreshing taste of tomatoes with probably the only vitamin my body had seen that day tossed in fresh coriander, piled with chipotle pulled pork and fresh guacamole now then El Salsa load that bloody plate up thank you please!
The verdict: £7 fully loaded with chipotle pork I thought was a reasonable price for the portion considering you pay about £6 for a small tray of chips left dying in the open air for weeks on end with the gelatinous gloup of stingy nacho cheese, a teaspoon of salsa and a scattering of flavourless jalepenos in the cinema. To put them in the same sentence as cinema nachos though would be an insult to the girls of El Salso who knocked up the epic plate of Spanish happiness and would definitely recommend it. The guacamole was good too as sometimes they just spoon it out of a tub from Makro and the portions were as plentiful as you could want at a festival food stall if your anything like me and want small plates so you can tick off as many as you can before needing to lay down and have your stomach pumped for round two!
Meet The Greek- Chicken Souvlaki Pitta
Well they were never going to gather dust on the table next to my pint of Thatchers Gold so it was only right to have a side dish to go with it and from being put off with the queue stretching and meandering to the entrance of the Wales Millennium Centre some 100 yards from the front of the queue of Meet the Greek at the Cardiff International Food Festival I thought I’d sample my first charcoal seared Chicken Souvlaki generously stuffed into a toasted pitta with shredded lettuce, fresh lemon, tahini and humous.
The verdict: I didn’t see what all the fuss was about at the Cardiff food fest with such a big queue of people waiting as I just saw it as a kebab but it was tasty and the toasted Halloumi extra was a nice touch. Worth the £7-8 I’m not sure, I did enjoy it but probably wouldn’t rush back if propositioned by someone new on the scene or one of my other fav’s on the festival scene in the near future.
Anyway after a few more ciders and as I didn’t get there till 5pm we headed back for a bit of cured meats, cheeses and bread for tea and that was Saturday night over with.
I’d been to Abergavenny a few times with the food fest and what have you over the years but never stayed the night or been there anywhere near early enough to catch breakfast so this time I was going to do it properly and find somewhere decent for a decadent breakfast of proportions whilst I was staying the night. After a bit of research online I couldn’t make my mind up and overlook the Angel Hotel as I’d heard the afternoon tea was good there but didn’t realise it was the same brand behind the Michelin Starred Walnut Tree just up the road, which I was denied sampling on Saturday as it was fully booked and they don’t open for Sunday lunch WTF what restaurant doesn’t serve food on what’s probably the busiest day of the year? Anyway my mind was set and I was going there for breakfast of which you can read the review over in another post when it’s finished as this is about the festival food.
I wasn’t planning on attending the Sunday at the Eisteddfod as I usually go up nanny Carole’s for her bicarb saturated roast on a Sunday but thought what the heck why not actually eat something with some flavour in on a Sunday for a change.
Wood Fired Pizza – Goat’s cheese, prosciutto, fig and rocket pizza
After i’d left my full Welsh breakfast washed down with a smoked Chase Vodka Bloody Mary cocktail it was onto sampling the other delights on offer at the food stalls at the festival and i’m usually quite partial to a pizza especially a wood fired oven pizza. I studied the chalk board of concoctions and after finishing heaving from the first one on the list the Hawaiian (utter sacrilege in my eyes) my eyes were transfixed on what sounded like the most beautiful pairing to grace an ash crusted and blistered dough base…I give to you the prosciutto, goats cheese, fig and rocket pizza mamma mia! Anyway as soon as that volcanic puddle of cheese had dropped from the pizza cooks ashen peel that thing was snatched and savagely bubbling away on my gums the way it should as it tastes so much better with the inferno in your mouth blistering every surface with that pleasure and pain sensation I just don’t know why but I have to do it!
The Verdict: Everything about this pizza was perfect, the crispiness of the pizza base from it’s almost tracing paper thickness, the caramelisation of the cured pork strands of prosciutto, the oozing golden goats cheese tempting me in for another slice paired against the soft tender fruitiness of the fig and peppery rocket adorning the top. I was almost tempted to queue for another as I shared a couple of slices and wasn’t sure what time my next plate was going to come as there were no plans for the afternoons activities at that point.
Brecon Venison Farm – Venison Nachos
A few more ciders, a Caerphilly Hallet’s Cider to be precise were expertly savoured in under the glare of the suns rays perched on a bale of hay. Time for feeding 3 of the day and following the motto of go hard or go home it was time for sample 2 of the nachos on offer but this time it was venison nachos from the Brecon Venison Farm.
I went and ordered some veggie fritters whilst these were being assembled.
Back to the venison nachos, which the girl behind the counter was just spooning a bit of what looked like good ole Makro esque guac onto my plate as I neared with my bowl of veggie fritters.
The verdict: I think I paid about £7, which was about the same as the fully loaded ones from El Salsa. The plate did have a lot more meat on this time probably and with the cost of venison being considerably more than pork that didn’t seem too high but they were a bit stingy on the portion of tortilla chips and the guac looked a bit fake but all in all they did taste good and I love a bit of game meat and what better to match it with than some nachos so win win.
No Bones Jones – fried veggie fritters with chilli jam
I nipped over to No Bones Jones as I’d been fancying their fried veggie fritters with chilli jam since I walked past it on Saturday. I ordered some of the freshly plunged veggies that had just come out of the fryer, topped with chilli jam (or sweet chilli sauce to you and me, which made me a little disappointed by the false advertising) and I sneaked a ladle full of mint sauce over the top too.
The No Bones Jones verdict: These cost just £3 or £4 if you want salad but I was in no mood for rabbit food especially with my side of venison nachos being prepared as I ordered these. To be fair there was a generous portion for £3 with about 3 large fritters and a few bits of broken ones added to the tub.
I was disappointed with the chilli jam as I was handed the bowl with nothing on I said is this the chilli jam pointing to the only bowl on the side but that was some kind of tomato sauce and pointed to the plastic catering bottle, with what looked suspiciously like sweet chilli sauce. For £3 I wasn’t in the mood for expressing the ins and outs of the trade descriptions act so cheekily spooned a good dollop of mint sauce to pair with the chilli sauce over the fritters. I shared the plate of nachos and the bowl of fritters and they were rather tasty compared to the bag of indian sides I bought from Samosaco at the Caerphilly food fest not long ago but these were freshly cooked and still warm whereas they had most probably been cooked the night before and were quite flavourless and hard to break down to chew whilst cold and ended up going in the bin after a single bit of all 4 items.
There were quite a few other veggie options on the No Bones Jones menu on the day such as veggie lasagne and some chickpea curry plus I did notice sticky toffee pudding but i’d just fought my way through a generous chuck of salted caramel brownie i’d bought for a good friend of mine Llio Angharad’s birthday that day as she was working at the festival and annoyed she wasn’t celebrating her birthday as well as she should be and not had the chance to blow out a candle.
At this point i’d probably eaten the average human’s weekly calorie allowance so I called time on anything else passing my lips that night and so my quest for festival food was over on this adventure at the Eisteddfod 2016 in Abergavenny.