Our Town Is The Menu 2019 Experience

19 Sep 2019

For this year's Festival of Thrift, I had decided that I wanted to be immersed in the experience. Most years, I had just gone along to the festival, soaked up the atmosphere and shopped from a few stalls, but I wanted 2019 to be different. I had dragged Alex along to the opening parade, which is something we hadn't seen before, but I couldn't stop there, so I went ahead and booked us tickets for The Town Is The Menu, a festival feature that I'd always been interested in, but never experienced.

Before I jump into my little review of this culinary event, let me tell you a little bit about it. The Town Is The Menu is a community meal that is held at Festival of Thrift, which highlights an area of Teesside and a three-course meal is served, inspired by that area. But what makes this meal different is that all of the food is created from waste food, reclaimed surplus, wonky veg and locally sourced ingredients. It's also completely vegetarian, so it truly is an event that food lovers will enjoy.

Diners are sat at a long table beside strangers and friends alike, which was a little scary for me at first, I'll admit, but as soon as the food was on the table, I kind of forgot about everyone around me. However, this set up means that you end up chatting and getting to know people, furthering the strong family feeling that this area of the North East is known for.

For 2019, the menu was themed around the beautiful town of Guisborough, which is celebrating 900 years of history, so take a look through my review to find out all about the time travelling dishes!
Before the meal had even begun, there were bowls of rosemary and lavender infused water laid out on the table, which we were to use to wash our hands. These plants have disinfectant properties and this hand bath was inspired by a tradition undertaken by monks at Guisborough priory. I so wish I could have captured the smell of this water to share with you all because it made my hands feel and smell so clean. In fact, I kept dipping my hands after every course!

The first course

The meal officially started with a huge sharing platter, which was designed to represent the remarkable community spirit of the town, with ingredients chosen to represent early Guisborough and what the monks may have feasted on at the Priory. Of course, there were slightly modern twists and variations, but there were a variety of ingredients, such as cured hens egg, raw turnip top salad and local cheese with membrillo (which was mine and Alex's favourite bit - that cheese was so freaking creamy). There were also slices of locally-baked rye bread, symbolising the 'breaking of bread' between guests, as monks would have done.

For me, this was my favourite course. I love nothing more than a sharing platter because it's so good to dabble and try new things. It gets you talking and discovering foods that you quite possibly had never even heard of before! It was difficult to know where to start with the platter, but Alex and I managed to pick the board clean.

The second course

Despite being totally stuffed on bread and cheese, we were both really excited for the second course because we weren't entirely sure what to expect. The menu simply said 'vegetable button tart, braised swede chips and beet gravy', so when I saw 'button', I instantly thought there would be mushrooms involved. But to my surprise and relief, there wasn't a mushroom in sight!

Instead, there was a gorgeous leek tart with a button of pastry on top. These muted colours were included in the menu to represent Guisborough's ironstone industry and give a little nod to neighbouring Yorkshire with 'chips and gravy'. The button was also to pay a little homage to the former Burton's shirt factory, which still connects so many locals today.

I absolutely love creamy leeks, so this was totally up my street, especially with the added pastry on top. It was flaky and light, which paired so beautifully with the earthy leeks. I could've eaten it all day! The swede chips were also lovely and I'd never eaten swede in a chip form before, only as mash. As for the beet gravy, I had absolutely no clue how it would taste, but it was bloomin' gorgeous! Never did I think I'd like something that was beet-related, but that's the beauty of buying tickets to these sorts of things!

The final course

I am a dessert person, so of course, I was going to be most excited for the final course, and this was the course that brought the Guisborough themes up to the present day.

On the plate was fig leaf panna cotta and a honey-roasted plum with a side of borage jelly and a rose biscuit, which was all very daintily organised into meaningful positions. The panna cotta was presented as a slope to represent Freeborough Hill, an infamous sledging spot, while the rose biscuit was used to symbolise Roseberry Topping, a beautiful walking trail. The honey for the plum was gathered from local producers, while the restored blue lake at Guisborough woods was represented through the blueberry set in the jelly.

This was a seriously scrumptious course and I particularly loved the honey-roasted plum. The sweetness of the honey was cut through by the sour kick of the plum, which was simply divine! The biscuit had a lovely shortbread texture and I even enjoyed the jelly, despite being a bit iffy about the way it looked. The only let down was the panna cotta - mainly because it was originally supposed to be ice cream that was served up, but also because I just wasn't a fan of the texture. The rest, however, was delicious!
Overall, I'm so glad that I bought tickets for The Town Is The Menu. It was so much fun getting to try foods that I'd never heard of before, all while knowing that the food was created and prepared in a way that's respectful to the planet. I also really enjoyed learning more about Guisborough. It's such a lovely place to visit, but I had no idea about its rich history, and what better way to learn about it than through food?

But if you were to ask me what the best bit was about this whole experience, I would have to say the price of the tickets. In a restaurant, you would expect to pay a fair amount of money, especially because it's like those 'small portion, large price' type of meals. However, this entire thing only cost us £7 each... I know, it's a steal! There is a polite notice at the bottom of the menu which says that you can donate a little more money after the meal to contribute towards the true cost, which we did, but there's absolutely no obligation to.

I'm so excited to book our tickets for next year and find out what the menu is all about. If you're heading to Festival of Thrift in 2020, I highly urge you to do the same! Come and enjoy high quality, vegetarian and eco-friendly food at an incredible price!

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@thenorthernist