Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
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...

By our Festival reporter, Wendy Varley

Isle of Wight Festival food 2011

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.

Foot Long Hotdog

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).

Salad Days

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.

  • Michaela Crees says:

    It is a disgrace that you cannot take your own food and drink like we did and have to pay extortionate prices for food you can bring in cheaper. I did it once then stopped going I don’t like being robbed and if we all voted with our feet it would soon revert back.

  • Wendy V says:

    That’s good to know, Bushy. Must say, I was impressed by some of the enterprise shown by residents of Fairlee Road on the way in. Not just opening their driveways up to food vendors, but offering home comforts like hot showers & towel for £3 and use of hair-straighteners for £2 (with signs saying “Sort out your Festival barnet!”). Some potential Apprentice candidates dwell round these parts, I think!

  • Bushy says:

    Among the local businesses that benefited was the Wishing Well at Pondwell. They were approached by a group of roadies/contractors who were staying at the Salterns and ended up doing 600 breakfasts over the build-up and Festival period! The Seaview Hotel, which had some high-profile visitors, also showed initiative by staying open till 2 a.m. and offering a special late night menu.

  • wightwarren says:

    I was very excited to find the chorizo stall! Only sold one thing but considering that was a gorgeous ciabatta with rocket, hot peppers & chorizo I’m ok with only one option. Especially when a regular was only £4.50 and a large was £5.50 it was just what the dr ordered!

  • Wendy V says:

    Anne, interesting you mention the falafel. It’s the first time I’ve tried the veggie/vegan stall since V Festival, 2002. The reason it took me so long to give it another go was because I had the falafel that time, and found it very dry back then, too! Just shows that festival-goers have long memories. Time to change the falafel recipe, maybe?! Pleased to say the vege-burger was moist.

  • Tink says:

    Pizza for the people best ever ever at a festival lovely…lovely… lovely………………

  • anne greenhalgh says:

    I was quite pleased to see a variety of food on offer, but the veggie falafel was very poor. Salad OK but falafel very cold and tasteless. The tea was tepid too. I noticed the ‘carnvore queues’ were far bigger than the that for the vegetarian stall.

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