The group of 20 or so who’d bagged a ticket to the sell-out launch night of EAT! OUT Festival on the Swing Bridge on Friday night must have spent all that day keeping an anxious eye on the weather.
Most had erred on the side of caution and brought waterproofs for the return of the food festival’s popular Naked Feasts which are all about stripped-back, no-fuss fine dining in unusual outdoor locations.
The Swing Bridge, or rather the bit below that juts out over the river and is accessed by steps, was an inspired choice and earlier that day had hosted a lunch and afternoon tea in the sun.
But after an interesting tour, explaining how the bridge’s swing mechanism operates (at one time it used to open 20 times a day and is still manned 24 hours), the rain started. And it just didn’t let up.
We were handed plastic capes as we took our seats at a shared long (uncovered) table for a meal cooked up by top chef Tony Renwick from the nearby Bridge Tavern.
I’ve no idea how he kept the nearby BBQ alight as the rain turned into a downpour.
And there really was “water, water everywhere”: the Tyne below our feet, the onslaught from above and every so often the accumulated run-off from the table which filled our shoes.
Some had brought umbrellas; others like myself didn’t even see the point of a coat as there was no chance of keeping dry. And once you reach saturation point you can’t get any wetter so the talk turned to usual dinner party chat and we laughed as drops splashed into our drinks and stotted off the plates of starters: colourful and flavour-packed fresh broad beans and potato, prosciutto, delicious salmon, yellow and red tomatoes, peppers plus goats cheese (I think; it was a bit diluted).
The drink was bring-your-own. Several had chosen fizz and a celebration mood prevailed.
We did lose a few who decamped to a stand-by table sheltered by a canopy - and I heard someone wonder why ours couldn’t have had one - but no-one gave in and all that cheery stoicism felt very British: a bulldog spirit even if we had poodle hair.
My guest who’d started out bothered she’d forgotten her lipstick no longer cared, while others simply opened more wine, got on with it and enjoyed themselves, like the couple who’d picked the event as a special celebration for their anniversary.
That had been some mention earlier in the day that rain might drive the event indoors to the Sage but the decision to stay put was the right one. The location made the experience after all.
I didn’t hear one complaint. And the food was great: a hearty main course of beef, which we mistook for lamb, with marrow mash, very nearly warmed us up then to follow came lovely moulded jellies, delicate and light and served with strawberries, raspberries and mint that reminded us it was still summer.
It’s amazing the standards they managed to achieve under these conditions. And all credit to the soaked serving staff who kept smiling, the Port of Tyne, plus organisers from NGI and even the festival director himself who also pitched in.
The attitude and food made for a memorable night. Mad but memorable.
EAT! OUT continues until August 17. For full programme and booking details, visit www.newcastlegateshead.com/eat-festival