A Weekend In Basingstoke For The Made In Basingstoke Festival

Basingstoke has a really cool event happening this Summer. The Made In Basingstoke Festival is a month long event full of things to create, taste, discover and make. 

There are many different activities running throughout the town for young and old alike between the 14th July to 13th August.  Some of my favourites include cupcake decorating workshops,  musical jamming sessions, celebrity chef demonstrations, a Punch and Judy festival, storytelling, decoupage and crocheting to name a few. That's a lot of activities! 

The team at In Basingstoke know about my love of food, so they invited me down to Basingstoke to discover some of the activities for myself during the Taste week from the 21st of July and see what Basingstoke has to offer. 

Sitting With Jane

My weekend in Basingstoke started with a tour of the Sitting With Jane book benches. Sitting With Jane is a public art trail of 24 book benches all designed with a Jane Austen theme. Jane Austen came from Steventon, just down the road from Basingstoke and lived there for half her life. This year is 200 years since her death so there are many Jane Austen activities going on in the area. When you think of Jane Austen and her connections to UK towns you may not think of Basingstoke so the Sitting With Jane book benches has been developed to change that.

These stunning art benches were created by individual artists and all are uniquely themed in the artist's own interpretation of a Jane Austen theme.

My personal favourite is the 'Golden Peacock' design by Sian Story Art. This book bench is a vibrant colourful design based on the famous Pride And Prejudice book cover. 

One of the book benches was designed by the artist who designed the new £2 Jane Austen coin, Dominique Evans. The book bench was created from her sketches and was so interesting to see.

If you want to seek out these book benches you can download the free app and when you use it to check-in at the benches, it unlocks information and free gifts like free tea, coffee and cake! About half the benches are in the centre of Basingstoke although some are further afield with one in Winchester Cathedral where she was buried. In September these benches are going to be auctioned off for the Ark Cancer Centre Charity so check them out now while you can. 

Celebrity chef demonstration with Phil Vickery

I was thrilled when I noticed Phil Vickery the celebrity chef from TV's This Morning programme was cooking at The Malls Shopping Centre as part of the festival.  I am a bit of a foodie and love watching celebrity chefs on TV and a few years ago I met James Martin and Anthony Worrell Thomson at The Good Food Show. Well, Phil Vickery was doing a cookery demonstration so I couldn't miss it! I first saw him on Ready Steady Cook years ago but didn't realise he held a Michelin Star when he was the chef at The Castle Hotel in Taunton too.

The dishes he cooked were all Vietnamese - a sumptuous belly pork with sweet and sticky combinations as well as a mackerel salad with Vietnamese flavours and a tasty looking stir-fry. 

It's amazing how natural he appeared on stage and how personable and easy-going he was when I met him. I was a little nervous but I shouldn't have been as he was really lovely. 

He told a story on stage about how he ate snake in Vietnam so I started the conversation with what his favourite foodie city was.  Phil has travelled far and wide and talked about how the food in southern Sri Lanka and also Singapore was particularly delicious with a mix of Indian, Chinese and Thai influences. He had some interesting stories to tell I can tell you.

I also had the chance to ask him a few questions, check out the answers are below.

  • What is your favourite cake? I like a great fruit cake like a Genoa cake. I also like a Madeira cake and an Angel cake, you know the one, yes it may not be good for you but it's delicious!
  • When you eat out do you have a favourite restaurant? I enjoy going to Rick Stein's restaurant in Padstow Cornwall.
  • What's your guilty food pleasure? Rodder's clotted cream. Has to be this one as it's had the most fat content, with that delicious crusty layer on the cream.
  • So with a scone is it cream first or jam? Jam first then cream.
  • If you could invite three people to dinner, alive or dead who would you invite? Keith Floyd as he was good to me and it would make a fun event. Maggie Thatcher to wind Keith Floyd up. The third person I would invite would be the Queen as I'd love to have a one-to-one with her and a nice chat over a cuppa.

It was fabulous to meet Phil and something I won't forget for a long time.

The Willis Museum

After the demonstration, we decided to check out The Willis Museum. This museum is a great little museum that is free to get in (but does rely on donations so please give generously). 

Outside this lovely building is a fantastic life-size bronze sculpture of Jane Austen, very recently unveiled on the 18th of July. By local artist Adam Roud it commemorates 200 years of her death and her connection to the area. We saw many people having photos taken with the statue and the detail was amazing to see. How the artist can get her flowing coat just right in the medium of bronze is truly amazing.

Inside The Willis Museum is everything from archaeology to fine arts and social and industrial history. It was interesting to see a household kitchen from the 1950's and kids will find the massive mammoth tusk amazing too.

Jane Austen themed afternoon Tea at The Royal Lion Hotel

Whilst we were in Basingstoke we had an opportunity to have a Jane Austen themed afternoon tea at The Red Lion Hotel. The Red Lion Hotel is a three-star hotel in the city centre. Inside the hotel was beautifully decorated in a traditional but fresh style. 

The afternoon tea consisted of a selection of traditional finger sandwiches including egg mayonnaise, cheese and pickle, Coronation chicken, as well as sultana scones with jam and cream,  Victoria sponge and chocolate cake. I presumed these were items from a traditional afternoon tea that Jane would have had in her day. Accompanying this was a selection of tea or coffee and a glass of Prosecco.

With afternoon tea, I find sometimes the sandwiches as made too far in advance, and the bread can be hard and stale, but not at The Red Lion. I think these were some of the freshest sandwiches I have had in a long time and incredibly tasty too. I particularly enjoyed the chicken and bacon sandwiches and the lovely scones, oh and of course the Prosecco.

For £15.99 per person, I thought the afternoon tea was good value considering the freshness of the food, the quantity and the fact that you also get a glass of wine. The staff were also incredibly friendly and couldn't do enough for us so I would definitely recommend going here when you want to treat yourself to afternoon tea. 

Evening meal at The Mayflower Chinese Restaurant 

The Mayflower Chinese Restaurant is in the old town centre.  We were invited to dinner there one night to sample their cuisine and hospitality. 

We were greeted by Brian and Hiro, with warm smiles. The food we had was from the set menu, and they were happy to substitute the odd dish. We went for a four-course set menu.

After we ordered the food, a bowl of prawn crackers and sweet chilli sauce came to the table and before long our food arrived, which was good as we were hungry!

A scrumptious selection of starters included prawn toast, satay chicken, vegetable spring rolls and crispy seaweed arrived. The peanut sauce for the satay chicken was excellent, not too spicy but really authentic and we were informed it was homemade. I loved the hand-carved eagle, carved out of a carrot. The attention to detail was fantastic. A great selection of starters and the size of the portions were generous. 

Next came a selection of crispy duck and pancakes with plum sauce. The meat was a mix of tender duck with crispy duck as well. This dish was mouthwatering, the combination of thin pancakes, plum sauce and meat were a great taste sensation.

Then our mains arrived. Szechuan chicken, sizzling beef with ginger and spring onion, and sweet and sour chicken Hong Kong Style. We couldn't fault any of the dishes. The Szechuan chicken was spicy but not too hot, the beef was delicious, the sauce light and the flavour of the ginger really came through and the sweet and sour chicken had a good balance of sweet and sourness. Served with hot egg fried rice everything was incredibly tasty and was really really good.

We were too full for desserts which were toffee banana or toffee apple but were offered tea or coffee instead which we had. We thought this set menu for £22.50 each was excellent. There was lots of food and everything was high quality, served piping hot too.

We have travelled extensively and often find the service in restaurants in this country can be patchy. Not here. The Mayflower staff are obviously well trained and Hiro and Brian could not do enough for us. Service was with a smile and served in a fun atmosphere too. There were a number of birthdays and a hen party in when we were there (not the rowdy type though!) and you could see the staff making a big fuss of everyone, not just us. Just before we left Hiro got his guitar out and started singing, inviting people up to sing. Yep, a fun atmosphere and great food made a fantastic night.

Where we stayed

We stayed at The Apollo Hotel. This four-star hotel is a couple of miles out of the town centre so is great for exploring the Hampshire and Basingstoke area. With 125 contemporary rooms, a bar and lounge, a brasserie restaurant and A La Carte restaurant as well as an indoor pool with spa treatments available, the hotel has everything you need for a relaxing stay in the area. 

Our stay included breakfast which had an extensive selection of hot and cold choices. If you want a full cooked breakfast, cereals, croissants, fresh fruit or even Parma ham for breakfast it was all available.
We thought the staff were lovely too. They called us a taxi and they were very helpful when I asked for information in the area.

Check out our video here from our travel blog Fly Drive Explore.

You can find out what's on in Basingstoke by checking out the link. Be sure to catch the Made In Basingstoke festival before it ends on the 13th of August 2017. With themes of Create, Taste, Discover and Make still going on there are lots of activities to take part in. You can also find out more about Basingstoke and the area around by checking out Destination BasingstokeCheck out my post on Why You Must Visit Basingstoke this summer too. Have fun!

* We were guests of Made In Basingstoke and Destination Basingstoke.


  1. I love the Sitting With Jane benches - they are lovely! I have always loved Jane Austen as a author - I studied her all throughout my University degree in English and even wrote about her in my dissertation!

    1. Oh wow Amy. I recommend you visit if you live near by then. The bronze statue of her is beautiful too.

  2. Ooo yes I totally know what you mean about the stale afternoon tea fiasco - glad to hear you didn't experience that! The Red Lion sounds lovely.

  3. I love those Jane Austen book benches! It would be well worth the trip just to see those!

  4. It sounded like you had a great weekend, I was following along with what you was getting up to on social media. The Afternoon Tea looked delicious! xo

    1. Thanks Rachel. Yes it was really interesting. The afternoon tea was really lovely and meeting Phil Vickery was a highlight too.

  5. Sounds like a great time you had, the sitting with Jane benches are stunning, I had no idea it was 200 years since her death x

  6. What a fun weekend! And how amazing that you got to meet Phil Vickery! x

  7. This is so damn cute! I've never seen anything like the book benches before! xxx

  8. Love the benches so colourful

  9. Looks like you had a fab time, love the benches, those scones look scrummy and mmm I love Chinese food :) x

  10. What a fantastic trip you had! A couple of years ago there was a book bench trail through London and they were so beautiful. The hotel looks amazing and I cannot believe the vegetable sculpture. Oh and who doesn't love a good afternoon tea? The perfect trip in my eyes!

    1. I haven't really seen any other book benches before, so to follow this public art trail was really interesting.

  11. We went to Made In Basingstoke too and loved all the bookbenches. All Our Own Crafts is one of our favourite shops!

    1. I am glad you enjoyed. I will have to look out for that shop when I go back.

  12. That afternoon tea looks so good! I love all the benches, they are so pretty and full of colour

  13. I love those book benches! I would love one in my back garden!! There really is a Red Lion in every town! Sounds like such a lovely time!

    1. Now that's an idea. They are auctioning them for charity in September so you could have one if you wanted.