Resounding success for sun soaked festival in historic grounds
I’ve been a follower of Independent Birmingham for some time, after I came across their site (and handy cards) whilst searching for somewhere fun to go in the run up to Christmas a few years ago. For once the stars aligned and not only was I available to swing by one of their events, but I manged to get tickets that rapidly sold out.
Despite working in Aston for at least 5 years, I sadly admit to have never visited the hall before so was somewhat taken aback seeing an imposing Jacobean mansion in an area I associate with football and a police training facility. Spotting an early forming crowd (we were there just as it opened for the day) and a vintage caravan we got our first glimpse of what was to come. After collecting our free tote bags on arrival we did a quick recon to get our bearings, noting a mix of familiar and unknown names as we walked amongst the stalls, a quick tour established a small indoor shopping village and 3 separate areas for food including one with a stage where a band was already getting warmed up.
With the intention of trying as many of the food stalls as possible in the search for something new I immediately deviated from this plan after spotting the streetchef pod serving Halloumi fries with mushroom ketchup to an already growing queue. Whilst tempted by the sea bass option for only a few pounds more it seemed a bit early in the day to commit to a proper meal but the batons of soft, springy cheese were a welcome start to the day especially when rapidly followed by a plate of fresh fried Padron peppers from El Borracho as we found a spot to watch the Hare and Hounds stage with a beer.
Despite being relatively early in our arrival, the courtyards and green lawns were already strewn with lounging adults and tiny dogs, in true festival style the atmosphere was a relaxed one that encouraged ambling between stalls and snacking or chatting with stall holders inside. The backdrop of the ornate building was a welcome contrast against the simple wood construction of the stalls and paired down decor of the day and whilst the stage offered a livelier area for those wanting a bit more energy there were quiet benches to be found against the musical backdrop provided by The Cuban Embassy
Whilst the regular contributors to the scene were present, it was interesting to see the options provided by other vendors. The menu at Smoqued included oak smoked lamb shank tacos that I remain sad to have missed, Salt & Earth gave us a taste of what is to come in life after Two Cats Kitchen and Smultronstalle did a roaring trade in zero waste cocktails for the more environmentally aware likewise the prosseco parade were kept happy by Loki and Connolys.
Moving on to larger plates an inexplicable 20+ minute wait in the small queue for Libertine Burger at least turned out to be worth the wait as the patty was highly commendable. Disappointingly they sold out of some items from their Burger Index within a few hours. In what turned out to be my standout dish of the day I visited multi-award winners Budda Belly and was pleasantly surprised by the mountain of noodles served with my crispy chicken. If I have one complaint about street food culture in the UK it’s that it’s often overpriced for the portion served but this was a true meal with plump crisp chicken in softly spiced batter served with buttery noodles and stir fried vegetables – well worth the money. A visit to Digbeth Dining Club when they next take up residence is certainly in order. Lazing on the grass with an Elderflower slushie from 40 St. Pauls in the early september sun is a good way to spend a weekend and with the likes of Tilt and Clink keeping the beer drinkers happy the hours slipped away easily.
A bit of shopping at Minima (excellent Scandi and Nordic housewares) and Kimchi & Coconut (heaven for lovers of acrylic accessories) followed by a walk around the grounds and we were set for our final plates of the day. Opting to follow the crowd- I joined what had been a contstant stream of people at ‘The Middle Feast’ stand, drawn in by the array of accompaniments to their fresh cooked flatbreads and kebabs, opting for the greedy option I tried ‘The Triple’ – Lebanese chicken, Honey-Harissa glazed lamb and (more) Halloumi) The 10″ flatbread was packed with fennel and cumin slaw, pomegranate, pickled radish, Iranian Shirazi salad and seeds atop the yogurt and harrisa dressings. The volume of food and range of flavours was phenomenal but crammed into a small serving vessel it lost a little of its complexity as things squashed together and the bread went soggy from the pile of condiments sat upon it. Maybe greedy does have its downfalls after all as I’m sure individually it would have made a more pleasant serving. Jordan finished with Butter chicken from The Indian Rasoi despite having already visited its permanent home at The Indian Streatery a slightly disappointing dish with undercooked rice as stocks ran low on the stall, a raindrops started to fall we headed back home – bellies full and bags laden with the best of Birmingham and a list of new places to eat and stores to visit.
Ultimately, the festival was a success and we particularly enjoyed seeing it stretch to a part of the city that not only welcomes the additional trade, but showcases some of Birmingham’s heritage to an audience unlikely to have visited previously. A satisfying reminder of the diversity on offer in our city.