THE ONLY problem for foodies in Leamington at the weekend was deciding what to have.
The sun came out and thousands of people poured into the Pump Room Gardens for this year’s Royal Leamington Spa Food and Drink Festival.
The annual two-day event, which is estimated to have attracted at least 25,000 visitors making it one of the largest free food and drink festivals in the UK, was organised by BID Leamington with the support of local businesses.
The eight festival saw more than 150 local retailers and food vendors showcase a diverse range of food and drink from a vast array of exotic cuisines, including the Caribbean and Asia.
The icing on the cake for this year’s festivities was the first ever Leamington Bake Off, hosted by Sweet As Cake Emporium, which attracted 19 entrants who entered 30 cakes and traybake goodies between them.
The prestigious Bake Off title was awarded to 24 year-old Leamingtonian Zoe Eardley for her fishing themed lemon cream celebration cake.
Zoe said: “It feels great to have won.
“I have a real passion for decorating cakes. My boyfriend originally encouraged me to enter a cake having never competed in anything like this before.”
Contestants as young as five were judged by three top local chefs – Jenny Hudson of Sweet As Cake Emporium, Peter Knibb of Restaurant 23 and Laura Hamilton of Queans Restaurant.
Jenny Hudson said: “We’ve been hosting our own exhibit at the festival for six years now and this year wanted to do something a bit different.
“And with the Great British Bake Off airing on TV and there being a real passion for baking at the moment, we saw the festival as a great opportunity for local amateur bakers to showcase their talent.
“We’ve tried 30 cakes today and they have all been really amazing, we’ve been so impressed with the calibre of entries.”
Now in its second year, the Aubrey Allen ‘Home Cook of the Year’ competition was won by Jonathan Carter who bowled over judges and spectators alike in a live cook-off to present a mouth-watering three course menu based around lamb loin wrapped in pancetta.
Judges included Michelin chefs Martyn Pearn, from Oscar’s French Bistro in Leamington, and Adam Bennett from The Cross at Kenilworth, as well as last year’s winner Kate Reddington and Warwick and Leamington MP Chris White.
The weekend also included tastings, demonstrations and live music.
Stephanie Kerr, of BID Leamington, said: “Every year the festival gets more popular and this year has been no exception.
“It has a great reputation amongst traders and visitors come from far and wide each year which is testament to the high standard of produce and entertainment on offer as well as the hard work from staff and volunteers.”