Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
Throughout the Festival period our Festival food sleuth, Wendy Varley, reports as usual from the site of the Isle of Wight Festival. This page...

Throughout the Festival period our Festival food sleuth, Wendy Varley, reports as usual from the site of the Isle of Wight Festival. This page will be updated daily with her latest recommendations… and warnings!

Eat Thai Fresh Green Curry

Saturday snippets:

Heading through Newport on Saturday lunchtime it was great to see Festival-goers hanging out in the sunshine at Olivo’s and The Wheatsheaf in St Thomas’s Square, and at The Railway Medina Tavern.

With South Africa on our minds because of the football, and Ian’s fond memories of meaty Cape Town barbecues from when we visited relatives out there, he headed for the South African BBQ (main arena) and ordered the Boerewors roll (£4), described thus on the sign: “Our traditional South African spiced beef sausage is served on a fresh baked roll and smothered in cheesy tomato and onion relish.” “Spattered, more like,” commented Ian. It wasn’t the most photogenic meal, but Ian said the flavour was “decent”. Overall it was “so-so”, as the accompanying “crispy chips” (£1.50) were definitely more chewy than crispy.

South African BBQ

We had a fruit fix in the form of a large, ice-cold, berry smoothie each from the “Smoothies, Freshly Ground Coffees and Scrumptious Cakes” stall by the Big Top, and promptly offset the health benefits with a decent slab of cake each from the same place: passion fruit for Ian, delightfully sticky chocolate gateau for me. Good! Total bill £12. We returned there later for fresh mint tea (£2) and latte (£3) and caught a bit of the footie on the giant screen in the distance, just as Gerrard scored for England in their opening World Cup match. Lots of policemen about. Not sure if they were policing the (entirely laid-back) crowd, or had just turned up to watch the game. Or maybe they were fans of The Saturdays, playing in the tent.

Pizza to the People

Peckish before Blondie’s evening performance on the main stage, I took a tentative look at the “Pizza to the People” stall (main arena), selling “Handmade stone-baked wood fired pizza” (£8 whole pizza; £5 half). With an asparagus, butternut squash and sun-dried tomato option how could I resist? That’s three of my favourite foods right there. Checking out the size of the pizzas being slid out of the ovens, I went for a half, which for me was ample. It looked a bit rough and ready, but proved delicious, with a perfect thin base loaded with gooey mozzarella, and the soft squash forming a sort of paste beneath the slivers of asparagus, and whole dried tomatoes. Thumbs-up.

Alex successfully smuggled in her packed lunch, but later shared two crepes with her friend, one with cheese, one with fruit and marshmallows (£4 each), and found them “good and filling”.

I asked some veggie friends I bumped into what they’d recommend and they raved about the Eat Thai stall, unaware that I’d already found and reviewed it on Friday. So more validation there for the opinions of Glastonbury-going Q readers!

Pizza to the People

Having said how limited local food is at the festival itself, I noticed that there is at least Isle of Wight water on sale (Wight Crystal), and the Kashmir café is selling local ale from Yates’ Brewery.

A final note on waste. There is less litter than last year. Partly I suspect it’s because there are fewer people (I think it’s about 45,000, rather than 55,000); partly there seem to be more bins, being better-maintained; partly it’s down to the armies of youngsters picking up beer cups to return for cash, which has been supplemented this year by incentives to also return plastic bottles for recycling in return for torches, caps and other useful stuff. Most of the food packaging I’ve encountered has been minimal, which helps reduce waste.

There remains the perennial hazard of treading in squashed noodles. What is it with people dropping noodles? Do they appeal only to those who are so drunk they’re incapable of getting the food in their mouths, or keeping hold of the carton, or what? Whatever, watch out for the noodles. Especially if you’re about to sit on the grass.

Anyway, I have a Festival Sunday to attend. Never mind Macca, how will Spandau Ballet be holding up? Must be off.

If you’ve been to the Festival, what were your own food favourites (or avoids)? My view is just one in (about) 45,000. Please leave your comments.

Friday: What? No Farmers’ Market?

As a non-camper entering the Isle of Wight Festival from the Fairlee Road entrance, you’re hit first by a wall of sound not from the main stage but from the fairground. And the first tents you pass are not food concessions, but make-up tents, run by corporate sponsors M.A.C and Office, just in case you haven’t got your slap on. Then you notice the shouty signs ahead. You want food? Do you want CAKES or CREPES? BURGERS or NOODLES? PIE & MASH or CHIPS ’n’ CHEESE? So far, so obvious.

Eat Thai Fresh Green Curry

Intermingled with these “in your face” offerings are the international-themed vendors (Mexican, Aussie, South African, Chinese), though usually the basic premise is the same: meat plus carbs. And then you find stalls sporting buzz words like “proper” and “posh”. So the Wall’s Café tries to trendy itself up and make you forget that Wall’s is a factory-foods conglomerate by adding “Proper Food: Bring it On” to its sign. There are also “Proper” sausages, that claim to be “free range” (though what exactly IS a free-range sausage? Anyone know?).

In previous years these festival staples have been supplemented with local fare, giving you the chance to keep an eye on your food miles: a farmers’ market; Taste of the Wight; individual farm stalls selling locally-reared meat. Not this year. After a complete circuit of the site I’d not found so much as a Minghella’s ice cream stall. There’s the popular, island-run Kashmir Café, where local musicians grace the little acoustic stage, and you stand the best chance of running into friends and neighbours, but for the past two years it has stuck to serving drinks and crisps, rather than meals (though I gather it does do breakfast).

So where is the local food?

So where is the local food? And where’s that lovely sit-down vegetarian café from last year? I can only suppose that in these mercenary times prices of concessions have been hiked and squeezed out the more specialist food outlets. A quick call to an island farm shop confirms this. In the past the Farmers’ Market has had a free pitch, but apparently after complaints from other vendors, organisers changed the rules and now the Farmers’ Market simply cannot afford to attend – and its absence noticeably cheapens the tone of the event.

A small local light in the gloom is the Old School Tuck Shop being run by Newport C of E Primary School, selling sweets – good for them! And, right at the end of the site, just before the exit to the camping fields, there’s the lovely Solace tent run by Isle of Wight church youth groups, with cakes and a vast array of teas, all absolutely free. In previous years they’ve been plonked next to the cacophonous fairground, so this is a nicer spot for them. Ian chose a cup of smoky lapsang souchong (his “outdoors tea”), and I had chai, wonderfully sweet and spicy and milky.

Solance tent

In the absence of any of my favourite haunts from previous years, I was lured by the “Eat Thai Fresh Green Curry” sign (between the Strongbow and Kashmir tents), with the intriguing recommendation: “Voted top ten food outlet in Glastonbury Festival 2009 by Q Magazine”. Festival food stalls often claim to have been “voted the best” – usually hog roasts – but without citing the evidence (when is the national hog-roast election?), so this was admirably specific. Perhaps the other nine of Q’s top ten Glasto food outlets are here somewhere but haven’t thought to brag about it.

Eat Thai is very straightforward. It offers one meal deal for £6.50 consisting of Thai chicken green curry (I had the vegetarian version, which came with peppers), jasmine rice, crispy curried parcels, pan fried noodles, and mini spring rolls with sweet chilli dip. The kitchen behind the counter looked immaculately clean and well organised. And the food was lovely: just the right spiciness, the rice light and fragrant, and the spring rolls deliciously crispy. So I’m with the Q readers on this one. Recommended!

If you want to support local business, eat outside the festival

While I was in search of good vegetarian fodder, Ian was weighing up the pies. Having tried a meal deal from Battersea Pies (near the Big Top) on Thursday night (chicken and bacon pie, mash, peas and a drink for a non-budget £9.50), which he found “hearty and filling”, he reverted to our old favourite Pie Minister (upper side of the main arena) on Friday, opting for the Festival Special Thai Chook pie, filled with “British” chicken, Thai green curry, sweet potato and lime, which came with mash, minted peas and shallots for £8.50. Once again, in the battle of the pies, Ian declared Pie Minister the winner on the grounds of its excellent ingredients all round – they never let us down.

Catching up later with daughter Alex, she had spent £4.50 on a Greek salad from the Vegan and Vegetarian stall (main arena), and found it “disappointing”, a sad affair of dry pasta and olives. No feta cheese in sight. Maybe they assumed she was vegan? She says she’ll be smuggling in a sandwich on Saturday.

I’ll be back Saturday, but I think it’s safe to say that if you want to support local business, eat outside the festival and check out Matt and Cat’s recommendations.

For those who like meat and carbs, you’ll find plenty to satisfy your hunger. But for me, this festival is categorically, food-wise, not a patch on previous years.

But so far the music’s been terrific!

  • brendan says:

    this year you will have local, fresh, home made produce from the bean. check out our website we are catering the main arena at this years isle of white festival. we make every thing from scratch and only cook to order, try us and you will not be let down

    Matt and Cat respond: delighted to hear it, folks, and we hope you have a great festival. By the way, make sure you spell ‘Isle of Wight’ right on your SatNav or you might end up going to the wrong place!

  • Wendy V says:

    I have my fingers crossed that there’ll be a more enlightened approach at Bestival too, Michaela. And see the piece I wrote for Ventnor Blog for more detail on why IW Festival was a bit of a desert this year as far as local food went. The link is in my previous comment, just above yours.

  • Michaela says:

    We are Island rare breed farmers that have been attending both Festival and Bestival
    as part of the Isle of Wight Farmers Market for quite a few years now and really
    enjoy them. We were all set for this years festival, but were told with three weeks
    notice by the Chairman or the IofW Farmers Market that none of us could attend, the
    reason being somewhat unclear, we weren’t even offered a price to attend. But we would
    love to be back next year. Lets hope the same doesn’t happen at this years Bestival.

  • Wendy V says:

    I did more research into the absence of the farmers’ market, and lack of “niche” food outlets at IW Festival 2010, and wrote it up for

  • Wendy V says:

    I like the Blue Door too, Vanessa!

    Agree with you about the lack of fruit onsite. I guess it’s a trickier one to offer, as on a hot day it’s that much harder to keep strawberries fresh. But they seem to manage at Wimbledon! As I wasn’t camping I had a really fruity breakfast before I went out each day. At the Festival itself the only fruit I had was in the form of a smoothie.

  • Vanessa says:

    May I higly recommend The Blue Door Cafe in town for a great breakfast and pot of tea!

    On site, we were very disappointed not to find local produce nor any fresh fruit, lastyears strawberries & melon were wonderful. I really hope they reconsider the local traders for next year.

    Thanks for the review!

  • Wendy Varley says:

    I’ve started a food thread on the Isle of Wight Festival forum to see what other folks liked and disliked:

  • Wendy Varley says:

    Ventnor Blog’s piece referring to the food served behind the scenes at the Festival is here:

  • Wendy Varley says:

    Ta for your comments Katie and Wildlife Gardener. Yep, Ian wished afterwards he’d tried the ostrich from the next stall up, instead of the Boerewors, which on the menu picture looked like the real deal, all big and spirally – but I agree with your verdict of the pic of the actual goods as served at the counter, WG!

    I didn’t manage a proper Sunday update I’m afraid, having stayed to see every moment of the storming two-hour finale from Macca. Spandau Ballet were in fine voice too, though Tony Hadley looks a bit like Al Gore these days.

    The other reason I didn’t update was because Ian and I both reverted to our Festival favourite, Pieminister, for supper (should it be one word or two, I’m never sure). I’ve already mentioned it in every Festival and Bestival food review I’ve written! But as they’d reduced their Sunday prices to £6.95 for the “mothership” of pie, mash, peas, cheese and shallots, and had a fantastic vegetarian Mean Bean pie on the go, with a three-bean, coriander and chilli filling, I couldn’t resist. Nor could Ian – he had the Thai Chook again. Superb, and we didn’t need anything else to eat all night. I noticed when scouting around other food reviews for music festivals that The Times’ Pete Paphides is also a major fan.

    Re the dearth of locally-sourced nosh: I heard via Ventnor Blog that, behind the scenes, artists and other bigwigs were served Island food. It’s a shame there wasn’t anything to promote local food out in the main arena.

  • I’m with Ian on this one – Your Boerewors should have been lovely by rights, but the picture looks like something unmentionable! Looking forwward to your next instalment, W!

  • Katie says:

    My husband loved the Ostrich Burgers so much he went back for 2nd’s! No fat or grizzle, melt in your mouth meat apparently! Worth the £5. He found the Caribean Goat Curry disapointing on the Sunday night, stodgy and too spicy.

    I loved the Pizza to the People Pizzas too – had the Goats Cheese – delish! Was worth the long wait.

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