By our Festival reporter, Wendy Varley
Since 2008 I’ve guest-blogged for Matt and Cat about food at the Isle of Wight Festival. My gripe last year was that, in contrast to previous years, there was no sign of local Isle of Wight food. The Farmers’ Market had disappeared, along with other independent local stalls. Also gone were some of my favourite veggie or organic stalls from earlier festivals. Looking into it afterwards for Ventnor Blog, the cold-food only rule for the Farmers’ Market put them off participating, and small, “niche” outlets were deterred by the hike in prices after Central Catering – the largest concessionaire company in the UK – was commissioned to manage the food pitches.
There is no Farmers’ Market again this year, and frankly I find that depressing, when our “garden isle” produces such a wealth of fantastic food.
Festivals are, of course, commercial, but as a regular paying visitor to Isle of Wight Festival, and Bestival, I can’t help but notice the contrast between the two. At Bestival (voted best large UK festival in 2011), there’s always plenty of Isle of Wight food, and there’s also masses of diversity. You can get everything from a basic burger in a bun, to a sit-down three-course gourmet meal.
At Isle of Wight Festival, the emphasis is definitely on rapid turnover, which is not a bad thing when you’re feeding over 70,000 people for a weekend. But it can lead to lots of competition over relatively bland food. There are eye-catching names, such as the “Foot Long Hotdog” stall (“Big enough for two, But too tasty to share!”) and a proliferation of eye-catching puns, like Kebabylon (selling a range of kebabs, obviously), and Pizza to the People (whose pizzas I tried and liked very much last year).
I’m not offering a bite-by-bite account this year, but I will mention:
– A very tasty prawn balti with rice and naan bread from Harbour Seafoods (who cater major festivals but are based in Yarmouth, so they are one island producer who from small beginnings a few years ago have scaled up to suit the event).
– Salad Days (near the big wheel) is one of the few outlets to break away from the “protein plus carbs” festival norm and offer barbecued meat or fish served with a variety of salads – couscous, tomatoes, beans and pulses, lettuce. The salmon version was good, and there’s a nice lemony dressing to apply yourself, but for £7 I would have liked a little bit more of everything – the trouble with fewer carbs is that you get hungry quicker.
– The chance for a sit down, and free cup of tea and a cake at the Solace tent (actually a yurt this year), run by island church groups, is a real treat. They’re in Penny Lane between the arena and the camping area.
– A vegeburger from the Vegan and Vegetarian stall was served with plenty of fresh salad in a soft bun, but the serviette it was wrapped in made it very fiddly to eat, and the serviette too soggy to use afterwards.
– Ian sampled a Jimmy’s Farm Burger (Jimmy’s pig farm was the basis of a telly series, and the burgers are “award winning, free range, rare breed”, according to the banner). Ian said the burger was very good, with very dense, non-fatty meat, but he found the wax paper wrapping awkward, and there were no serviettes on the counter.
Though there’s not much Island food inside the Festival, businesses outside are finding ways to cash in. The Quay Arts Café is offering an all-day breakfast; the Riverside Centre has opened up its café area (both are on the main walking route in from Newport). Hong Kong Express has gone to where the footfall is and parked a mobile catering van outside Seaclose Stores.
I’ve only tried a tiny amount of what’s on offer at the Festival this year, and typically I’ve paid around £7 for a meal. If you’ve been at the Festival, please do chip in with comments below. Good value? Poor value? Delicious? Boring? We’d love to know what you think.