In a special guest review, Matt & Cat regular Wendy reviews food at the Isle of Wight Festival.
I wrote about IW Festival food for M&C last year and am pleased to bring you this update for 2009.
Keeping my eyes peeled for Isle of Wight food vendors in amongst the countless concessions, the only additional one I’ve spotted is Yarmouth-based Harbour Seafoods in the big food area near the main stage. After their low-key début at last year’s Festival they’re now geared up for catering big events, with a large kitchen, and bold signage promising seafood chowder, paella and kebabs. They were doing great trade. Might check it out today.
But yesterday Ian and I went back to the Hurly Burly, tempted by the vegebangers and root veg mash (£5.95). The generous portion of mash was fluffy and sweet (tasted to me like a mix of potato, parsnip and sweet potato), the pair of vegebangers were very yummy indeed, and with a good moist texture but a crispy outside (a rare quality in a veggie sausage!). Smothered in a deliciously flavoursome red wine gravy (which might mean it doesn’t look pretty on the photo – as with most festival food the aesthetics tend to suffer a bit) Ian said it was the best meal he’d ever had at the Festival. He generally opts for meat over veggie, so that’s quite a compliment.
Other things that impressed about the Hurly Burly were the vaudeville theme (the staff are in music hall fancy dress), the clean tables with fresh flowers, proper cutlery and mugs, and simply the chance to sit down and rest my legs (I should have dug out that old pedometer; I racked up well in excess of the recommended 10,000 steps yesterday). In fact we were such converts that I went back at teatime for the sweet potato and coconut soup with salad and soda bread (£3.95 and gorgeous) and Ian, by now won over by their brand of veggieness, had the baked polenta in a spicy tomato sauce, with salad (£5.95). Which he liked, but not as much as the sausages.
We had room to squeeze in a Calbourne Classics ice cream apiece later. Ian said the orange and Cointreau flavour was a little bitter for his taste; I went with my all-time favourite, the honeycomb.
I was struck again by what good value the farmers’ market is. Calbourne classics were selling large slices of their excellent cakes for between £1 and £1.75. The cheapest I’ve seen cake elsewhere is £2.50. (Apart from the free cake at Solace, of course.)
New signs had sprung up on the farm stalls, saying “I am a real Isle of Wight farmer”. And there were a couple of new additions: The Tomato Stall, and Godshill cherries at £2 a punnet. The stalls were drawing people in, and I heard one man commenting, “It’s good to see the locals doing well.” But even in this small Isle of Wight dedicated area it’s clear that those with the best signs (e.g. Taste of the Wight) win out. There are 50,000 hungry people at the Festival this year, but if they don’t know what you’re selling, they walk past.
If you’re at the Festival, do please chip in on what you liked or disliked about the food. One teetotal vegequarian can only taste a tiny portion of what’s on offer. How were the chips? How were the pies, the tortillas, the curries? How was the beer? Or if you splashed out £38 for a bottle in the Zebra Bar: how was the champagne?!
Here are my initial thumbs-up and thumbs-down.
1. The farmer’s market, which this year is in a good spot. In a festival this size, with so much competition for hungry punters, local vendors can be invisible. But instead of being tucked away in a gloomy marquee as it was last year, the 09 farmer’s market has open stalls on a main thoroughfare near the acoustic stage. There’s Sharon Orchard (apple juice £1.50 a bottle), Calbourne Classics (cakes and ice-cream), Chinashop Rare Breeds (quality meaty stuff), Godshill Organics (salad, sausage rolls, and a range of pies made by their resident new chef). Special mention to Taste of the Wight, whose bustling kitchen was doing great custom all day long. I chose their humbly-named “fish finger sandwich” for supper, which is actually two generous pieces of fresh cod, crumbed and fried, in a soft bap with salad and tartare sauce (if you want it). Utterly delicious and great value for a fiver. Sustainably served in plain paper and a bit of the County Press Property section.
2. Hurly Burly solar-powered vegetarian café
In Strawberry fields just before you get to the campsite.
I’m not the kind of festival-goer to drink beer till I fall over. I go for the music, and a nice sit down between time with some decent food and a hot beverage in a proper cup.
“Can you eat healthily at the Festival?” asked a friend the other day. You can at this café. I spotted the Hurly Burly at last year’s Bestival, but at the time it looked like a refugee camp for flood victims (which is pretty much what it was, given the conditions), so I gave it a miss. But here, with the tent flaps open and the chance to eat at a table, and with tea in proper mugs, it’s my kind of place.
I have my eye on the leek, Wensleydale and white bean chowder, or the vegebangers with root veg mash and red wine gravy. But yesterday’s was a brief pit-stop for a cup of lapsang souchong (£1.20) and a slice of their deliciously moist folksy fruit cake (£2.50). Very civilised. I will be back.
3. Kashmir Café, in Strawberry Fields
Nice to see the Quay Arts collaboration with Medina High School (and if it’s the same as last year, the Isle of Wight Youth Trust) back. Yesterday they were selling a range of tasty-looking filled paninis for £4. Not eaten there yet but will definitely be in for a drink and to listen to some of the local acoustic talent.
1. Looking around I’m surprised how little you get for your money on some stalls, and by the high price of some of the hot drinks. A cup of chai latte for £2.50 from the smoothie stall on Strawberry Fields was pretty ordinary. The biggest disappointment was a biscuit Ian paid £2 for from the same place. “I thought the flavours sounded interesting,” he reasoned (lemon and macadamia). But as he could taste neither it was a poor buy.
2. Positioning of the Solace tent. Yet again this little gem run by young people from island churches, serving free tea and cake (donated by an army of generous locals who I guess must just love baking), is stuck opposite the blaring fairground rides near the Fairlee entrance. Solace. The clue is in the name, organisers. Please give them a decent pitch next time.
That’s it for now! Bands to see! Back later I expect.
Back late last night, so just to round up the picture for Sunday: I returned to IoW-based Harbour Seafoods to sample the prawn balti with rice and naan for a fiver. Just the right level of spiciness for me, but disappointingly light on prawns. The rice was fluffy, and the naan was nice and fresh. Quite a substantial, tasty meal. They’re off to Glastonbury next.
Ian was tempted by the “Proper Sausages” stall (“no dodgy stuff, honest” it states). From an impressive range of flavours, he chose a pair of beef and ale sausages with pesto mash. At £7.30 it was the biggest spend of the Festival. His verdict was that the mash was great but he’d have liked the sausages to be more well-done (the one thing customers don’t get any say on!).
The Hurly Burly kept up the quality: their brandy treacle sponge pudding with cream at £2.95 was a hit with both of us.
Ian returned to the Taste of the Wight stall for supper with high expectations. But the “6oz burger” for £4 was actually an unappetising chopped-meat, salad and salsa wrap that fell apart when he picked it up. Disappointed (and still hungry) he consoled himself with a bag of very average doughnuts for £2.50 which we shared on the way out. (I’d been too busy enjoying the music to eat dinner.)
Overall, a good Festival with some good grub. Though my tip for next time is to head away from the main stage to find the best of it.
Roll on 2010!