Nello's Longest Table -- a midsummer night's dream

nellos longest table

The end? Or the beginning?

Topsham, Devon 20 June 2010 “É come un sogno,” said Mario Fontana, winemaker from Barolo, shaking his head in disbelief as we strolled down Topsham Fore Street at around 10.30pm. It was like it had all been a dream, as if you were almost unsure it had actually happened. Every single one of more than 300 tables had by now already been carried back to The Globe Hotel. Though there was the odd bit of litter in the road -- a wine bottle by a curb, a single black bag of rubbish that someone had left behind -- if, at just that moment, you’d somehow been parachuted into Topsham, you would not actually have known that anything extraordinary had just taken place.

And what an extraordinary night it was! Only an hour or two earlier, all of Topsham (so it seemed) was out on the streets as well over 2000 people sat down at a ‘single table’ stretching almost the whole length of Fore Street, around to Ferry Road and the Underway, and all across Topsham Quay. Hundreds more were strolling around just taking in the spectacle. The sun was shining gloriously and the animation of so many people simply here to enjoy themselves through the sharing of food, wine and friends was absolutely wonderful.

guy and claire

Topsham's sunny Underway

This was the second manifestation of Nello’s Longest Table (the first was in 2008), and this time it seems people came even more prepared than ever. Tables were decorated beautifully with colourful cloths, china, table decorations, flowers and even chandeliers. Others had based themselves on a theme – there was a Mexican table complete with sombreros and giant moustaches, a Sicilian men (and women) in black table, a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, a gardening table, walkers' table, and more. There were barbeques set up, outdoor cookers and the food on the tables was absolutely amazing. Others simply brought along ample quantities of food (hopefully all locally sourced) and drink and just settled in for a communal alfresco picnic.


Speakers were set up through the town and a delightful and intelligently chosen playlist of songs based around a food theme added atmosphere to the proceedings. Later Lily Neal’s singing group serenaded every table and T5, the popular youth band that had electrified the town the previous night on Topsham Quay, played live music.

At the start of the evening, standing outside of The Globe Hotel, looking across to Marcello’s Restaurant (which many years ago was Nello’s Ristorante), I recalled our friend Nello Ghezzo, whose idea ‘the longest table’ originally was. How he would have loved this amazing event, which reflected his enduring belief that the sharing of food and wine with friends, family, community is really what makes life worth living. Mario Fontana, who used to supply Nello with wine, had come over from his home in the Barolo wine hills of Northern Italy to be with us for the evening. He spoke a few words in Italian, saying what a special place Topsham is, our town itself and also how extraordinarily warm-spirited and friendly people are here, that because of this, Topsham always holds a place in his cuore – his  heart. “Buon appetito!” he urged us all. Finally Liz Hodges, who did so much to make this event happen, started the street party off with a Mexican ‘table wave’ as, beginning at the top of Fore Street, each table in turn stood up with arms aloft, the wave of people like a tsunami of joy as it quickly rippled and broke the entire length of the town.

mexican table wave

Liz's Mexican table wave

The set up for Nello’s Longest Table had begun earlier in the day at 2pm. There were more than 300 tables to position throughout the town, a seemingly immense task. Yet dozens of volunteers appeared, the work was organised, tables counted and positioned as precisely as possible, each labeled with the name of the person who’d reserved it, and the entire task was completed in just a little over an hour. Equally if not more impressive was the way, at the end of the evening, everyone returned - or helped others return - their tables back to The Globe, took away their chairs, their food, their rubbish, and with quiet and determined efficiency returned the town to normalcy.

Mario is right: Topsham is an extraordinary place. Our evening was a dream – one that we will all vividly remember forever.

jilly's pavlova

Jilly's amazing pavlova

Note: Nello's Longest Table is part of the Topsham Food Festival. The aim of the Festival is to highlight Topsham as a food destination, to encourage shopping locally, and to bring the community together through the enjoyment of food, fun, community and friends. All proceeds from the Festival are for the benefit of our community, notably Force Cancer Charity, Topsham Community Association, and the Shop Local Campaign. For further information visit

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