When you think of Henley-on-Thames, chances are vivid images of the Royal Regatta and its smart style, fashionable rowing and crisp cocktails spring to mind.
Nevertheless, this weekend the quaint Oxfordshire town is doing something different: playing host to the Henley Festival, a swish arts festival that mixes international music, comedy programmes and foodie cook-offs. With artists like Grace Jones and Mark Watson headlining, snapping up some last minute tickets for the five day shindig is a no-brainer. Here’s why.
1. The dress code
In true Henley style, the festival insists on a black tie dress code. Encouraging guests to ‘think James Bond’ and his pin-sharp tailoring, dinner jackets, dress trousers and black satin bow ties are de rigeur – no mud-coated music festival chic here.
2. Comedy, jazz and everything in between
The festival features four stages with headline acts scattered across each; the Floating Stage, Salon Comedy Club, The Bedouin and Jazz Club. If you’re in the mood for a concert, a session with Grammy-winning Nile Rogers or the melodious sounds of the English National Opera are both on the cards at the Floating Stage. For a more relaxed vibe, head over to The Bedouin and unwind with folk solo-artist Maz O’Connor or tune in for the eclectic Solasta Trio.
If comedy is more your thing, there’s Lee Nelson or legendary duo Jon Culshaw and Bill Dare holding court at the Salon Comedy Club, and Jazz-lovers can grab a seat at the Jazz Club for award-winning saxophonist Yolanda Brown or a set from high-energy swing band King Pleasure and The Biscuit Boys. No doubt you’ll be jiving to both well into the night.
3. The food – lots of it
Of course, with so much music to indulge in, you’ll be in need of sustenance, too. With a variety of specialty bars, like the Moet Bar and Hotel du Vin and Bistro’s rustic champagne van, chances to sip on fizzy refreshments are endless. There’s also a Pimms tent if you’re in the mood for a cold jug of No.1 Cup or you can perk yourself up and opt for a signature espresso martini from The Black Cab and Coffee Co.
If you’re in the mood for a chic sit-down supper, the festival offers foodie highlights, too; like St. James Restaurant, Brasserie at the Jazz Club and The Riverside Canteen. Dive into St. James’s three-course menu with Norfolk crab and crushed avocado, slow cooked beef feather blade, followed by a Hendricks Gin and Tonic jelly. For picturesque views, book a table at the Riverside Canteen and indulge in its contemporary British tasting menu of cured salmon fillet with pickled beets, ricotta and mint tortelli with toasted pine nuts, or a sweet treat of pistachio and olive oil cake.
Less than an hour as the crow flies from London, and with so much to enjoy in one place, an escape to Oxfordshire in the next few days has seldom looked more appealing. A few tickets are left for Saturday and Sunday, so don’t hang about if the festival has caught your eye.
Book tickets, henley-festival.co.uk