My friends and I drove out to the Durbanville Wine Route, forked out our 50 bucks each for a ticket, bought a few oyster coupons and wandered down past childrens’ jumping castles into the festival area.
We were quite excited, being oyster festival virgins, and were looking forward to a day of lolling about, munching on various kinds of cooked and uncooked oysters, sipping on a variety of champagnes and local bubblies and generally having a good time.
How soon we were to be disappointed.
To give you some perspective on what we were expecting, I’m going to compare what was promised (on their website), with what was actually delivered.
So, first up – the main event, the highlight, the focal point of the festival:
The event’s main attraction will be the oyster cook-off competition presented by 15 various restaurants from the Durbanville and surrounding areas that will show off their skills at preparing dishes with oysters.
Ummm… sounds like fun, except that it didn’t happen. No sign of any cook-off, no showing off of any kind, in fact. And when I asked the coordinators as we left (fearing I’d somehow overlooked this pivotal part of the event), she said ‘oh, no, we’re not sure what happened to that’. Ahem.
All the patrons to the event on those days will be the judges, and a winner, runner-up and third place prize will be presented at a prize giving ceremony at the end of the final day.
Pretty tricky for us ‘patrons’ (what a poncy word that is) to be judges when there’s nothing to judge.
Each restaurant participating in the event will receive 400 oysters, for both days, to prepare into mouth-watering dishes.
Hahahaha. ‘Mouth-watering dishes’, hahaha! The only thing vaguely resembling ‘mouth-watering’ (and for entirely the wrong reasons) would be the ‘oyster hotshot‘ – a tot of not-so-ice-cold vodka with a dash of tabasco and what looks remarkably like a tiny grey embryo floating about at the bottom of the glass.
Let’s just say that it’s not for everyone, and definitely not something one should attempt before breakfast.
And that’s not all, folks.
South Africa’s top celebrity chefs will perform a food and wine pairing demonstration on both days of the festival.
No chefs, no pairing, no demonstrations. Like the cook-off, they simply did not happen.
So, no cook-offs to be judged, no celebrity chefs at whose masterful skills we could marvel and wonder, and certainly no mouth-watering dishes to titillate our tastebuds.
Which left only raw oysters – 10 000 of ’em. All well and good for those of us who like them that way, but what about everyone else?
The only place we could find alternate food was the estate’s restaurant, which (in my opinion) defies the point of being at a food festival. Not a boerie roll in sight – what is the world coming to?
Which brings us to the issue of the champagne – the other half of this increasingly disappointing festival. A few tastings of good champagnes and sparking wines would probably have taken the edge off, mellowing us out and redeeming the event to some degree.
So imagine our group chagrin when we discovered that there were only three stalls offering bubbly and only one of them offering tastings (hooray for Simonsig!)…
We didn’t feel quite flush enough to buy a bottle of French champagne (or even a glass – R30), I wouldn’t touch JC Le Roux with a bargepole (let alone a stomach full of oysters) and the Simonsig, though very tasty, was being sold for more than one pays at a supermarket.
Which left us thirsty and hungry and not feeling very happy at all. Having exhausted the possibilities of the festival, we used up our remaining oyster coupons, cut our losses, and hit the road.
I’m sure that many people enjoyed the festival – it was so popular that they were turning people away at the gate (tickets were limited to 700) – but I have only to compare it to the incredibly well orchestrated South African Cheese Festival to start feeling cheated.
At the Cheese Festival you pay R75 and in addition to hundreds of delicious cheeses you can taste wines, liqueurs, honeys, pestos, chilli sauces, olives, olive oils – all to your heart’s content.
There are also hugely popular food demos (that really do happen), wine and food pairings, a wide variety of food stalls (from boerie rolls to french cuisine – at reasonable prices), fantastic live entertainment and a superb venue (plus, out back they have the most enormous cows I have ever clapped eyes on…).
What I paid R50 for at Bloemendal was the dubious pleasure of sampling a bunch of discounted half-frozen oysters I could have had anywhere. In my (humble) opinion: Not. Worth. It.