Review of 'Waitrose Summer Festival'

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Early in July I received an email about the “Waitrose Summer Festival” to be held at one of the Waitrose's farms in Hampshire and featuring the normal staples of such things: Famous chefs cooking, food an drink vendors, cookery classes, etc. etc. Nice to get out of London for a trip into the countryside so we picked up tickets. It was a good call.

The event was held on the massive “Leckford Estate” and we had a bit of problems finding it as the post code we had took us to the gift shop and restaurant but the festival was actually found on the other side of the estate. There were only a few signs directing us on the main roads to where we needed to be (perhaps next time they will be better) but eventually we found it and were directed to park in a rather large field with an adjacent field we could see had a number of white tents. All around us was the gorgeous Hampshire countryside and, other than the hundreds of cars, quite peaceful and quiet. We were here on the Sunday but we had heard the Friday and Saturday had been pretty wet, when we visited it was sunny at times but always threatening with clouds that only opened up towards the end of the day…though it did not dampen our visit.

Entrance

As we made our way to the front gate we could tell this would be a bit of a different experience with free apples and bananas on offer. One theme here was not to go away hungry. We were given a short program booklet for the day which included the schedule for the various stages around the site.

Security

Tents were spread out quite a lot around the site with toilets only near to the main entrance. There were stalls featuring various food and drink vendors that, obviously, sell through Waitrose: Walkers (Crisps), Cadbury's (Chocolates!), Fever Tree (drink mixers), etc. The quality generally was very good and many places gave out not only samples but the actual thing they were selling. Most also had special offers that were pretty good as well. There was even an area selling garden plants and a “book tent” selling books by the attending chefs (and often signed by them as well).

Area

Above

There were a number of famous chef faces here including one of our favourite chefs, Atul Kochhar who we caught talking about life as a Michelan-starred chef being interviewed by Waitrose Food (magazine) editor “William Sitwell”. The seating in the large tent was quite informal, another theme which we saw repeated time and time again here - Comfortable, unhurried and relaxed.

Atul

Later we caught Ching-He Huang doing a bit of stir frying. She was quite a lot of fun, always smiling and chatting to the crowd. Very self-effacing and charming. Sadly we did not win the two woks she was giving away (and plugging…very modestly, as always) that she had designed and now sells through Waitrose.

Ching-He Huang

We also stopped in another area to listen to someone talking about barbecue for a few minutes which was interesting but drew a smaller crowd.

BBQ

One notable feature was a produce tent on the right after you entered the site which had displays from the estate (farm) itself including the opportunity to purchase some of their products. One exhibit showed how much a cow consumes on a typical day (a lot).

Produce Tent

There were not a lot of tents actually cooking up “proper” meal-sized portions but I did find one a the back selling Japanese food. There was a sushi place from London serving up VERY fresh (and tasty) sushi (and free samples!) as well as a cooking group from Heston Blumenthal serving up barbecue (on a new line of barbecues available from Waitrose/John Lewis, obviously).

Katsu

There were a number of activities for young people reinforcing the idea that this festival was for the entire family, not just adults. I think everyone enjoyed the “maize maze” which was quite fun wandering through the field with the maize just slightly higher than everyone's heads. There was a lookout tower as well as map located at the entrance for those who were looking for more than just luck to solve it!

Maze Entrance

The Maze from Above

The Maze - Solved

The highlight of the day for us was a tour of the farm itself which is absolutely enormous. When we arrived on site in the morning (at about 11 am) we noticed to the side they were signing up for tours and that the next available was 3:30 pm so we quickly joined the queue of 10 or 12 people to sign up though had to go on the 4:30 by the time we had our names down on the paper. There was another tractor taking people to the water garden but we did not sign up for that immediately so by the time we were possibly interested later in the day all of the trips were booked up.

Grapes

The one hour tour on a trailer drawn by a farm tractor took us on the highlights of the farm including explaining how the John Lewis partnership works, and it's history of which this particular estate is a big part. Our favourite part was when we pulled up alongside a milking parlour to see through the open doors the cows as they are milked on a circular revolving platform. They did not seem all that interested in us.

Cows

Cow Sheds

The farm, as I have said, was enormous. They have a number of different things they produce including mushrooms which are grown in large sheds and apples that are stored in other sheds that are climate controlled to allow them to be in stores all year around (they increase the carbon dioxide to prolong freshness).

Apple Sheds

Mushroom Sheds

All in all a very relaxed and fun day in the Hampshire countryside with some great food. We spent the whole day there from about 11:00 am to 5:30 pm but would have left earlier had we not had to wait until 4:30 for our farm tour. There were a few teething problems on this first year including poor directions to the site (both on the road but also in the ticketing process), and very quickly filled-up tours. However these are relatively minor issues and despite the fact that Waitrose was obviously trying to sell their products this was not really in your face. We will certainly be interested in returning next year.

Waitrose

Rating:

Review Date: 2017-08-20



Leckford Estate

Location: Hampshire (England)

Address: Leckford Estate, Stockbridge, Hampshire, SO20 6DA ENGLAND

URL: https://leckfordestate.co.uk/

One of the original John Lewis partnership farms from 1929, this massive farm is open to the public with tours of facilities that include not only fields of vegetables and other crops but also mushroom farming and cows. The shop and cafe is worth a visit though it is fairly expensive…quality produce is everything here.