Special daily report by our roving festival reporter, Wendy Varley. Older updates are at the bottom of the page.
Sadly, I had to miss drizzly Bestival Saturday, due to my son developing a sniffle (that’ll teach me for letting him skimp on his five-a-day on Friday!). Ian kindly texted me his culinary highlight of the day. “Lunch: beer-battered cod & chips from Island Catch by the bandstand for £7. Really good, greaseless and could taste beer on very good fish.”
Becky agreed with his verdict when she chose the same on Sunday afternoon. I caught up with her in time to nick a couple of chips, and boy, they were superb. Really succulent.
The area where the falconry displays usually take place at Robin Hill is devoted during Bestival to mainly home-grown acts on the bandstand, and home-grown food, too: the Farmers’ Market, Island Catch, meat from New Barn Farm, the WI tea tent, and Isle of Wight sweetcorn were all here this year. On this sunny Sunday afternoon, Bestivalites thronged to it as it was the perfect spot for a relaxed lunch. It was heartening to see Island food – and music – going down so well.
Milo lunched on sweetcorn with melted butter (£2.50), followed by mint choc chip ice cream (£2) from the Plaza ice cream van (from Cowes).
I supped on hot apple juice with cinnamon (£2 from Mr Tea’s), then later (we did see some bands – it’s not all about the food!) made for Malinkey’s Travelling Restaurant for an early dinner. Would a sit-down meal be a good idea when there was so much entertainment on offer? It was a gamble, but with food queues elsewhere growing very long and our feet already weary, simply being able to walk straight in, sit down and relax in the shade was a luxury.
Milo chose a children’s portion of pasta primavera for £4.50: spaghetti with crème fraiche and parmesan, fennel, broad beans and peas, and ate every scrap enthusiastically. I had tuna carpaccio with warm salad and bread (£9). The generous slivers of tuna, mixed with a wonderful selection of veg and dressed salad were precisely what I’d hoped for. I get fed up of the starchiness of much festival food and this was the perfect antidote. Nicely presented, too, on a slate. All very proper. So thumbs up for Malinkey’s. Oh, and Mumford and Sons, with a large entourage, were seated at the next table. Which doesn’t mean that much to me, but my daughters would be impressed.
By Sunday evening things were beginning to run out. Ian didn’t get to have his Pieminster pie because they’d run out of gravy. “And I can’t have a pie without gravy.”
We queued for Calbourne Classics ice cream to find there were only two flavours left (more evidence that this year Isle of Wight stalls appear to have done rather well). So orange and grand marnier it was.
Daughters’ recommendations which I didn’t get to try included the Thali Café, which I loved last year; the Paellaria was singled out as good value by my friends at Ventnor Blog; Harbour Seafoods (from Yarmouth, also selling paella and other seafood dishes), was popular. My veggie friends liked the burgers from the Vegetarian and Vegan stall.
There didn’t seem to be many “misses”, and those there were came down to details like burger buns being too dry, or cake portions being too small.
Personally I didn’t have any disappointments. Milo and I stopped for a final suppertime drink at the Hurly Burly before heading home on Sunday, and ordered a Danish swirl. I was assured they were home-made and had only just been put out, and it was the nicest Danish I’ve ever had, sticky and full of spicy flavour. Full marks to them for keeping lovely food going right to the end of Bestival!
So that’s it for another year. I have to give Bestival 2010 credit for offering more variety and quality food-wise than ever before. But if you were there, what did YOU think?
My first taste of Bestival 2010 food came via a text message from Ian, who had gone in ahead of me on Friday afternoon: “Just had very delicious dressed lobster: £8.50 from farmers’ market, which has a good range of stuff here. Not a big meal, but tasty and fresh.”
I took heart. With the 2010 Isle of Wight Festival having squeezed out many local and niche food outlets – including the farmers’ market – this year, I was concerned that Bestival might go the same way. Not so. It’s foodie heaven.
Bestival’s own handy guide to food outlets on its website will give you an idea of the vast array of gastronomic delights on offer to the approximately 45,000 glad-ragged revellers who’ve descended on Robin Hill this weekend.
I can’t hope to explore more than a few morsels of it myself, but with a bit of input from family and friends, here are my snippets so far:
Milo (8) chose a “free-range crepe” with chopped banana and chocolate sauce for supper from the Farmers’ Market in the Bollywood Field (by the toboggans) for £3. Went down a treat, not surprisingly. Since when has he been allowed a pudding for his main tea? Not often.
The Farmers’ Market has a range of hot and cold food, including free-range chicken burgers, salmon, crab, the aforementioned lobster (which could do with a pick to tackle it rather than a wooden knife and fork, has to be said); and Calbourne Classics desserts. There’s a second farmers’ market site on the Tomorrow’s World field.
I went a little further for my own supper, into the Fire Field, where celeb Dorset-based chef-off-the-telly Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has his River Cottage Café sited in a large marquee. This is a regular fixture at Camp Bestival, the family-friendly sister of Bestival over at Lulworth Castle in Dorset, where it attracts long queues of Boden-wearing yummy mums and dads and their delightful children. But it’s the first time for them at Bestival, and wow, no queue. At least not at 4.30 on Friday afternoon.
My mackerel was popped straight from the grill onto a soft white bun with salad within seconds, and the friendly staff suggested I add a splash of fresh green salsa verde to it (a punchy Mexican sauce made with tomatillas, jalapeno peppers, onion, and lime juice). Plus organic mayo. £6.50, delicious, with the salsa adding a wonderful piquancy, and filling enough that I didn’t need to eat again that evening.
But let’s not forget that many Bestival-goers aren’t looking for mackerel or lobster or indeed anything that costs over a fiver. They want cheap and cheerful. Take my grown-up daughters. Two of them went for plain chips. “ I was looking for value-for-money: maximum calorie intake per pence!” says Alex, who spent £2.50 on chips from a seafood stall (but was still hungry afterwards). Olivia went for Chip Shed Revolution (Tomorrow’s World area, near the bandstand), which according to their blurb serve “Chips with dips that will give you an uprising of energy to last the distance”. Hers cost £2 for a bigger portion but were “a bit drier” than her sister’s.
I happened across my third daughter, Becky, scooping out the last remnants of her Heidi vegetarian pie (a delicious mix of goats cheese, sweet potato, spinach, red onion and roasted garlic) from our firm festival favourite Pieminister, also in the Tomorrow’s World field. The Heidi, with mash, peas and gravy (£7.50) has been her staple diet at festivals for some years, and she’s thinking of breaking the habit. By trying a different pie.
An eye-catching newcomer to Bestival is Malinkeys travelling restaurant in the Bollywood field, a double-decker 80-seat venue – converted from a horse-box, apparently – with proper table-cloths and waitress service and a very tempting menu (starters £6, main courses £9). I’ve already heard good things about it from a friend who had dinner there on Friday, and hope to try it myself.
Walking back through the site towards the bus exit on Friday evening, Milo and I stopped at the Hurly Burly vegetarian café for hot chocolate and a biscuit (him), and fresh ginger, lemon and honey tea (me), and looked out at the Wishing Tree field, full of strange and wonderful sculptures twinkling in the darkness, appreciating the magical city that appears here one weekend a year.
Ian texted me later: “Solace tent is beautiful at night; quiet here, so I can stack up 3 cushions and relax fully with free tea and cake.”
With entrances having been reorganized this year so that only those arriving by taxi come on to the site through the Robin Hill main entrance, it would be easy to miss Solace up there on the brow of the hill. But you heard it right: free tea and cake and a sit down in a lovely place! Surely it’s worth the trek?
It was gratifying after writing about the food at last year’s Bestival that a couple of the outlets I mentioned got in touch with Matt and Cat. Souper Stew, whose small portions I criticised, wrote to say that portions are now larger, and passing their stall in the Fantasy Field I could see that this is true. I’ll try and give them another go over the weekend. And Puschka, who are here again with their high-quality fare, also in the Fantasy Field, gave a bit of background into their origins as a popular Liverpool restaurant. They are now regulars on the festival catering circuit.
If you’re at Bestival yourself this year, do comment and let us know what you’re eating and how you rate it.