I usually make all my weekend plans at the last minute (as in: the very second before getting ready to leave home), and for some reason, I tend to assume that everyone else is as lazy as I am. Faced with my friends’ ability to make plans for one or two months’ worth of weekends, I marvel at the rigorousness of their organisation: I spend so much of my working life scheduling appointments and deadlines with clockwork precision, that I cringe at the simple thought of using a calendar at home. And yet, everyone else’s need for set-in-stone plans doesn’t surprise me. Here in London, where going out for a coffee is often a matter of coordinating diaries and planning public transport routes like military strategy, a little foresight is a necessary evil to make the most of this beautiful city.
I’m sure that all you busy bees have a fabulous couple of days planned, and lots of adventures I can’t wait to know all about – but just in case you haven’t, I have a gem of a recommendation for you. The food lovers among you will already have heard of Feast: one of London’s most loved food festivals, established in 2012, and home to more than 150 traders of all sorts of cuisines since the first edition. I headed there yesterday, on an impromptu trip from West to East London, and couldn’t have found a better way to spend my Friday evening if I’d planned it for months. Take that, serial organisers!
Feast takes place at Tobacco Dock: a Grade II listed former tobacco warehouse, now turned into a venue for large events. Coming from Shadwell station, its neighbourhood looks like a randomly arranged combination of run-down blocks of flats and modern tall buildings, tiny alleys and busy four-lane roads, cramped off-licences and large dockside depots; perhaps not the finest of London’s residential areas, but a perfect location for a food festival, with its quaint riverside path, spacious yard, and stunning view of the Shard standing out from afar.
Tobacco Dock is large enough to accommodate all of Feast’s traders in three different areas. Many street food vans are lined up along the dockside, with plenty of benches to comfortably enjoy your meal while soaking up the summer sun. The inside, though, is an even more impressive den of temptations: arranged on two floors, it hosts a wealth of traders – from trendy restaurants showcasing their finest dishes, to established street vendors cooking their signature crowd-pleasers, to pop-up bars offering all sorts of beverages, catering to beer drinkers, cocktail fans, teetotals, coffee fiends and tea lovers alike. Here’s a round-up of my fleeting impressions and edible adventures, frame by frame.
“Shall we share a starter of courgette flowers?”, I said to my partner, spotting a stall serving my favourite fried nibbles. “What’s the point”, he answered, “if they’re not fresh from the allotment?”. And so it was that we replaced appetisers with a couple of drinks. A taster of alcoholic iced tea (not as fancy as the name suggests, but rather summery indeed), more than one taster of Comins Tea House‘s leaf teas (not as summery as their iced counterparts, but pleasantly delicate and heartwarming), and finally, a refreshing glass of the prettiest drink on sight: an elderflower, ginger and mint botanical cocktail by Christabel’s, also available with gin for those who haven’t vowed to stay off alcohol until their birthday next week. Yep, that would be me.
Feast offers plenty of options for your lunch or dinner. Jubo‘s range of fried chicken dishes immediately caught my eye, and it was hard to not have a duck confit burger knowing that The Frenchie were there – but as I saw a stall displaying a gigantic pan of cuttlefish paella, I knew it had to be mine.
The combination of cuttlefish ink, Spanish “Bomba” rice, seafood and a sprinkle of lemon was so remarkable, I almost tricked myself into thinking I’d been transported back to Barcelona’s El Borne district. At £3.50 a plate, the small portion is very reasonably priced, allowing you to splash some more money on other treats without feeling you’re breaking the bank. Indeed, I’d have gladly gone for dessert – but despite its size, my paella turned out to be very filling. Knowing me, I’m sure it won’t be long before I get a chance to gorge on chocolate brownies and colourful meringues.
Thoroughly enjoyable as it was, my visit wasn’t free of hitches. First of all, the list of traders on the website doesn’t tell the whole story. On the upside, this sets you up for a world of pleasant surprises: I wasn’t expecting to bump into my beloved paella traders Negra & Mor, and the discovery made my evening even more beautiful than I’d hoped for. The downside is the risk of setting yourself up for disappointment. Stalls rotate in each twice-daily slot, and as the website doesn’t provide a plan of every day’s offering, you’ll have to find an alternative way to check that your favourite traders are about.
It’s also worth noting that the outdoor market closes earlier than the indoor stalls. As we were sipping our drinks outside the main building, a staff member came to advise that the outdoor area was about to close, and politely ushered us back inside. It was around 8.30pm. Not knowing the reasons behind it, I felt that was unnecessary; both for visitors, who may face the disappointment of seeing their favourite stall close in advance, and for the traders, who may prefer to trade a bit longer and attract more customers. Again, a notice on the website or at the entrance would make planning much easier, and ensure that everyone can make the most of their experience.
Don’t let this discourage you, though: Feast have a Twitter account, and I would hope they’re able to help if you want to find out when your favourite stalls are open. So leave home hungry, head to Tobacco Dock before Feast closes tomorrow evening, and prepare to have a wonderful time. If the weather’s as lovely as I found it yesterday, you’re in for a treat.
50 Porters Walk
London, E1W 2SF
(nearest DLR and Overground station: Shadwell)
Open Saturday 2 August, 11am – 4pm and 5pm – 10pm; Sunday 3 August, 11am – 4pm
Note: I received a free entry ticket to Feast, courtesy of Nuffnang UK. I paid for all my food and drinks separately, and all opinions are my own.