The British Biscuit Festival. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? After all, if anywhere can lay claim to being the Land of the Biscuit, it surely has to be Britain: home of jammy dodgers, bourbons, custard creams, chocolate digestives… Mmm.
In this country the biscuit is a proper institution: the perfect accompaniment to a rainy afternoon and a steaming cuppa. So unsurprisingly, when I heard that someone had set up the first ever British Biscuit Festival, I was thrilled. Long overdue, I thought. About time our crunchy friends had the celebration they deserve.
In my head it would be something like the Southbank Chocolate Festival: stalls and stalls of weird and wonderful bicuits; tasters; biscuit-themed inventions; lectures; workshops – the whole shebang. I did some investigation and initial signs were good. On the official website, there was talk of a Build-a-Biscuit event, Damien Hirst-Style Spin Cookie Art, one stall handing out Funeral Biscuits (mucho intriguingo), and another doing twists on all the British classics – as well as some international favourites.
Sadly, when the Man and I rocked up on Saturday afternoon, it was a very different story.
Problem number one was the setting. The Brunswick Centre, a rather upmarket shopping/dining complex, looked almost the same as usual – bar a huge stage and a few small signs, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was just a normal day. Nevertheless, keen to get going, we checked out the map and made our way to our first destination: the Build-a-Biscuit Workshop.
Hmm. They say workshop. In reality, it was a couple of tables in the middle of a dingy, underlit concrete room, with buckets of quite sickly-looking icing. We decided to pass, choosing also to avoid a table covered with textiles, and a corner filled with lamps and empty armchairs. Whoever thought it’d be nice to sit in this ‘bombed-out shopfront’ (thanks to the Man for that bang-on description) clearly had no notion of what ‘cosy’ really meant.
Still, we tried to keep an open mind and were pleased to see our first biscuit stall of the day: an offering of tasty-looking treats from The Cinnamon Tree Bakery. But where was the Spin Cookie Art we’d been promised? Nowhere to be seen…
Neither, as it happens, were the people handing out Funeral Biscuits (‘They aren’t coming today,’ someone told us. ‘They were good on Friday though’). Nor could we find the stall with the twisted classics and international favourites.
So what was there at this Festival?
It’s a valid question (and one we continued to ask ourselves). As we moseyed round we discovered:
- A somewhat lacklustre ‘scientific’ survey (i.e. tally chart on A4 paper) asking whether a Jaffa Cake is a biscuit or a cake (it’s a cake, by the way). YAWN
- A stall giving people extremely dull biscuits (from a packet) in exchange for completing questionnaires about London. BOORRRING
- A stage on which children were competing by knocking their knees (fun if you’re ten, maybe. Not if you fancy a biscuit)
- Someone selling (sadly inedible) biscuit-themed trinkets
Hang on, though. What’s this?
At last! Something exciting! The Man and I followed the arrows, right to the back of a clothes shop (as if one questionable location wasn’t enough). There, behind all the racks and displays, was a stall run by a company called Alchemist Dreams. Set up by a chemistry grad with a penchant for wearing capes, Alchemist Dreams hand-make their own liqueurs (and are apparently always open to new flavour suggestions).
Now, I normally wouldn’t buy a five-pound cocktail at midday (honest), but by this time I was so pleased to have found something innovative, I did.
The one I chose was pretty fun (orange, coffee, cacao and cinnamon liqueur served in a chocolate biscuit cup), but also somewhat of a disaster: unable to wait until I had drunk the contents, I sprang a leak while trying to nibble my cup. Whoops.
Perhaps edible ‘glassware’ isn’t for me after all.
Biscuit munched and cocktail hastily downed, we wandered off in search of something more. But with the exception of a farmers’ market (which is there every Saturday anyway), it seemed we had seen all the Festival had to offer.
A celebration of the British Biscuit? Hardly.
Now, for those whose plan was to shop at the Brunswick regardless, I’ve no doubt the stage and few stalls made a pleasant diversion. However, anyone who’d travelled specifically to get to this so-called Festival would have surely felt they’d wasted their journey. Perhaps unsurprisingly, mutterings of ‘There aren’t many biscuits here, are there?’ were more frequently heard than anything else (for the record, I’d much rather have heard: ‘Want to taste my exciting new cookies?’).
Frankly, I am baffled.
There are so many excellent biscuits in this country, but the only interesting varieties we encountered (which weren’t already part of the farmer’s market) were those on the stall run by Cinnamon Tree. The rest were probably bought in Tesco Express.
I ask you, Ogglers: where were Fudge’s, whose divine golden syrup biscuits are (in my book) the best in the country? Where were the Great British legends like Ben’s Cookies? Where were the gourmet bourbons and custard creams?
I mean, honestly. Are we really to believe that there is only ONE bakery in the whole of Britain which makes good biscuits? I know for a fact that’s not true (in London alone there’s The Outsider Tart, not to mention the glorious Kooky Bakes).
Even more baffling, it’s not like the organisers lacked funds – they’d forked out for a whole stage, after all. No. What they really lacked – and inexplicably so – were biscuits.
Cynic that I am, I can’t help thinking that this whole thing was just a misleading PR campaign, designed to bring extra footfall to The Brunswick. The biscuits were an afterthought.
Whatever. This is not about PR. This is about food. So take it from me, Ogglers: if you’re in the mood for something to dunk in your tea, you’d be better off trying Waitrose. Even with their abominable Pine Fresh Mouse Biscuit, there’s more variety there than you’ll ever track down at the Brunswick.
Never mind taking the biscuit – this ‘festival’ kinda just took the p*ss.