A frenzy of fish, food, wine and song
Saturday 20 June marks the start of nine days of fish, food and drink-related festivities. Erica Smith tries to work out where the fishy festival ends and the food and wine festival begins.
I have never lived in another town where the calendar of festive activities is so jammed. Back in 2002 when I moved here, the highlights of the year were Jack-in-the-Green, Hastings Week and Bonfire. Every year, another festival is created – St Leonards Festival, Fat Tuesday, Pirate Day, Mermaids on the Beach, the Seafood and Wine Festival, the Herring Fair, and this weekend, we have the combined force of the second Midsummer Fish Festival on the Stade, segueing neatly into the first 1066 Wine & Food Festival with a gala opening at St Mary in the Castle. It’s almost too confusing to keep up with, so here are some guidelines to help you celebrate for the full nine days.
The Midsummer Fish Festival starts at 11am on Saturday 20 June and exploits the long daylight hours by running until 8pm that evening, and it’s open again from 11am to 5pm on Sunday. This free event is based at The Stade and is sponsored by Hastings FLAG (Fisheries Local Action Group). Like September’s Seafood and Wine Festival, it primarily promotes the delicious dishes that are made locally from our local fishing catch. If you are new to cooking fish, then the cooking demonstrations in the Classroom on the Coast will help you feel confident and find new ways to cook ‘real’ fish rather than sticking to supermarket frozen fillets.
Of course, with food and drink, there has to be music, and at noon the Hastings Sinfonia perform. This exciting new orchestra was founded by the award-winning composer and concert pianist Polo Piatti. The music continues all weekend with Zachary Dogwood, Pocketsize and Soul Xpress on Saturday, and Marie White, Andy Neate and Nana Tsiboe, The Violet Jive and Jiggery Pokery on Sunday. The Saturday night incorporates the first Stade Saturdays performance – from the very popular Coco and the Butterfields.
Coinciding with the festival weekend is the opening of an exhibition at Stade Hall of Laetitia Yhap’s paintings and drawings which document the local fishing community. Laetitia Yhap is one of Hastings’ treasures, and an exhibition of her work in her home town is long overdue. An added bonus will be to listen to Harmony One sing songs about the sea at 2.45pm on Saturday in Stade Hall. Laetitia Yhap is one of the choir members.
After Jiggery Pokery finish their headline act on the Stade on Sunday, you’ve got an hour to buy yourself a 1066 Wine & Food Festival card for a fiver, and reserve your ticket for the gala opening at St Mary in the Castle. There will be a pop-up wine bar to tempt you with sparkling wines from across 1066 Country and still wines from around the world, plus delicious plates of food from The Little Larder, all at very reasonable prices. Well-known wine specialist Jilly Goolden opens the festival with a talk about English sparkling wines. After a couple of glasses of liquid refreshment, award-winning singer and jazz pianist Liane Carroll will make the stage her own.
The festival continues throughout the week with events and special offers from participating restaurants, shops and vineyards. On Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 June, it takes over Stade Hall and the Classroom on the Coast with a Wine Fair and tutored wine tastings.
All the events are free, but purchasing a Festival Card allows the holder to claim significant discounts, so the £5 price is quickly recouped. The offers and events are listed in the festival programme and the diary of events on the website.
The festival is the brainchild of Ken Maitland from the Essential Wine School and local restaurateurs who wanted to celebrate the breadth and quality of the food and wine available in the area. “Sadly, it looks as if this year might be the last Midsummer Fish Festival, and we wanted to fill the gap in the town’s calendar. We are very lucky to have amazing local producers in this area – not just local fish and white wine – but fruit and vegetables and local lamb and beef. There are also some fabulous wine importers and wonderful restaurants. We wanted a festival that includes all these businesses.”
Ken opened his first off-licence when he was 24 and has worked for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. He also has a background in IT and training – “I set up the Essential Wine School because I realised I liked training people about wine more than teaching them about IT – they seem to enjoy it more, too!” The Essential Wine School is a fluid affair – there is no ‘permanent’ classroom. Courses are run at local vineyards like the Chapel Down Winery, and the tutors are happy to bring their bottles of wine to your choice of venue.
The decision to run this year’s festival was only made four months ago, but with the collaboration of local restaurants and businesses, an impressive programme has been put together. “Within a very short timeframe, we have created a festival with 30 local restaurants and wine-related businesses participating, but we are already planning for next year’s festival to be bigger and better.”
“Our major partners are Hastings Borough Council, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, the Essential Wine School, Riedel, St Clement’s Restaurant, Pier Nine and Bay Spice Restaurant. Special thanks go to Siam 2 Thai Restaurant, Martin Phillips and Murray and Briony Bridgmount from The Little Larder.”
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