You remember Bestival 2016, that one where it was mostly sunny but even that didn’t please some people? Well, we spent a day there checking the impermeability of our wellies and the edibility of the food. Cultural commentary we shall leave to others. Us, we like to eat. The standard festival dining experiences were there – Matt ate a rather good cheese sandwich from The Cheese Truck, and a pitiful chorizo panini from Chimichurri. Cat had a restorative cup of tea with excellent apple and ginger cake from Tansy’s Pantry at the Caravanserai, and a fuel-injecting banana and maple syrup crepe from I Love Crepes. So far, so festival food on the hoof.
We spent quite a bit of time wandering rather aimlessly about the site (more, or just SOME signage please, Bestival). Perchance we came upon the Magic Meadow and found something new and rather different. A big, open-fronted white tent, which appeared to have a busy restaurant inside. You won’t need to be told that we made a beeline for it. We were amazed at what we discovered inside.
The Co-op Mix Kitchen is quite a departure from the usual festival food truck. We rocked up and were surprised to find a big, airy, bright space. There were seats, and a proper counter to eat at; even cutlery – albeit wooden and disposable but hey, at least we weren’t expected to eat with our hands. So unexpectedly neat was it that we treated it like any other restaurant which, we soon discovered, it wasn’t. A team of greeters in matching Co-op branded white cagoules was ready to explain the skinny to the befuddled Bestival-goers. Amongst which we counted ourselves – although in our case befuddlement probably was probably more to do with our age than the usual causes.
One of the greeters became our guide and he patiently explained the concept. You book a dining slot (ours was just over an hour after we first arrived) and when the time comes you are seated in front of your own personal chef, in groups of five. Diners are treated to a meal that they are involved in creating, which is then freshly cooked under their noses by what were described as the “Co-op’s Food Mixologists”. On display was a whole veritable marketplace of great fresh Co-op produce, and quite obviously it was being used – we were sitting right next to the busy kitchen and could see the magic going on. What’s more, the chefs really do prepare the dishes in front of you, although the actual cooking needs to happen on a stove, and the necessity of keeping lively Bestival-goers away from naked flames and hot fluids meant that had to happen in the kitchen. To top it all, this being a festival, there was a real live deejay doing his own type of mixing in the restaurant’s DJ hutch. It was all a fun, friendly atmosphere, focussed on real, live cooking and baking in a way that we hadn’t seen in any other festival food tent. The charge was a mere £5 each – not enough for a single generic sausage in most Bestival stalls. This bargaintastic price was possibly explained by the fact that The Mix Kitchen is a corporate-sponsored experience, entirely supported by the Co-op, with the fiver being donated to the British Red Cross.
So The Mix Kitchen delivered an unexpectedly civilised and entertaining installation – but could it also deliver decent food? It turns out that it could. In what was undoubtedly a challenging environment with super-loud music, soggy patrons and a pop-up kitchen, we watched the chefs dancing about, showing off their skills, talking about the ingredients they were using, and really getting involved with their charges. Clearly the idea of people getting interactive with the food was one that was going down well. Also, these chefs were not just casual staff – these guys really could cook and were happy to talk knowledgeably about it at the same time.
Our group chose chicken pie, which didn’t provide our food mixologist with any great opportunity to flourish his skills live, as the pie was one he had made earlier. The chef gave a very thorough explanation of what was going on, but alas we couldn’t hear the entire commentary as the in-house DJ was pumping out some disco classics, so we just got down to eating. Matt’s pie pleased him greatly, and Cat was delighted to find her favourite chicken on the menu. With plenty of succulent meat, the pie was also filled with chunks of tasty celery and onion, and a rich creamy red wine sauce. We helped ourselves from a big bowl of super-fresh salad and a mountain of new potatoes. Cat made sure she got her ration of the exquisite roasted vine tomatoes that we had eyed up coming out of the oven earlier. Washed down with a choice of red or white wine, Matt pronounced this up there amongst the best meals in a field he had ever had.
2 x £5 donation to British Red Cross
2 x £71.50 day ticket to Bestival
We weren’t expecting pudding. In fact the first course alone was amazing enough value, including a glass of wine as it did. Nonetheless we weren’t going to refuse dessert. We took our share from the plate of mini-Danish pastries, topped with a scattering of crushed pistachio, and served with dollops of creme fraiche and summer fruits. That went down very nicely, and made for some pretty pictures. We took advantage of the free wifi and live social media wall to tweet and Instagram our splendid lunch right there. Our posts were printed in the old school way and we then tweeted a picture of our pictures. It was all rather iterative and was great social media karma for the Co-op.
So for a mere five English pounds, this had to be the best dining deal in the whole Bestival. Two courses of great food curated for us right there by a skilled chef. Plus wine. A personal greeting. Free bacon popcorn – yes bacon popcorn. Free wifi. A DJ. And, a real luxury, toilets with proper soap and running water – the list goes on. We were amazed and delighted by The Mix Kitchen, and stayed there far longer than we’d intended to. If you’re at a festival and The Mix Kitchen pops up, we strongly suggest you make a booking. If it was an actual restaurant we’d be making that donation on a very regular basis.