As your grandmother will tell you, people have been selling nosh from barrows since before the war.
In fact, since before the war before that, and the war before that. So all those bearded hipsters who try to tell you that the street food revolution started with some sockless chancer flogging overpriced organic allotment-grown mange-tout, splashed with ewes butter from the artisan-crafted wicker basket of an electric bicycle are talking out of their ironic pork-pie hats.
The Isle of Wight doesn’t have a vast range of street food – the reliable Jolly Fryer is perhaps the most well known and certainly the longest-standing mobile food wagon. Matt and Cat haven’t got much else to report on the local street-food front, apart from a nice lunch in Tansy’s Pantry bus and the occasional ice cream from Plaza Ices‘ van or the venerable Minghella wagon on Brading Down. (EDIT: we do have quite a bit more since this was written – see our list here)
However, this is one trend that is likely to continue and grow as it has an obvious appeal, not least to the purveyors. Once you have made your capital investment – bought a vehicle, fitted it out and got the appropriate permissions – then you are free from the constraints of regular eateries. The world is your lobster. You could crank up your mobile kitchen and head off to festivals around the world or, maybe travel along the Islands scenic Military Road eastwards to Ventnor and stake your claim to a pitch with a view across the towns picturesque bay.
As part of the annual Isle of Arts, Matt and Cat were invited by the festivals organisers to conduct one of their popular foodie walks. These walks of theirs are usually carried out for the equally popular Isle of Wight Walking Festival. However, this time the walk had a surprising and pleasant bonus. As well as a twofold chuntering about the merits or otherwise of the eateries en route, Matt and Cats Ventnor Foodie Walk had regular stops where the duo and their walking companions could actually sample wares from various venues. The first on the itinerary was Wildwood Pizza.
As they approached the rendezvous spot, they saw a vintage Citroen van with curl of smoke emanating from its chimney. Hang on? A chimney? In a classic vehicle? It was either new age travellers or the pizza parlour.
All became clear when Matt and Cat got to the vehicles hatch. Outside, the corrugated van had immaculate paintwork in a pleasingly-retro hue of light ochre; it had clearly been lovingly restored. Inside this TARDIS of a wagon was a shiny stainless steel kitchen, all gleaming worktops and fresh ingredients. Plus two grown adults. Oh, and did we mention the PIZZA OVEN! Yes, an oven in a tiny tin van on a south-facing cliff in the sunny town of Ventnor, a location so naturally temperate that it has its own species of lizards which bask in the heat of the day. And if all that ambient heat wasnt enough, inside the van was a fire! Naked flames of a prodigious size! It mustve been hotter than Hades in there.
This wood-fired pizza oven is, of course, what gives decent pizzas a rapid flash-fired cooking time and a tasty crust. As the walkers crowded round the open hatch they were able to see the pre-balled pizza dough be fed through a rolling device and squeezed flatter than Kiera Knightleys chest. The pizzas were then topped, poked in the oven for a brief moment then withdrawn, piping hot and ready to eat. And the samples that M&C tasted were fantastic.
So fantastic that, after theyd waved off the last of their walking companions and spent a pleasant afternoon enjoying the many delights of Ventnor, they decided theyd earned a whole pizza each for their tea. So back to Wildwood Pizzas they went stomachs empty and mouths and purses open.
On the day Matt and Cat visited, there was a pretty succinct menu; just five varieties of pizza, starting at Margherita (for a fiver), a couple of meaty ones (£6) and two specials (£7). Matt chose the meaty special and Cat had the vegetarian special. As each pizza is made to order its possible that punters may be allowed to mix-and-match their own toppings but M&C did not veer off the menu. Ticking their choices on the menu they dropped their cash in the special money tube (a genius invention to prevent the chefs from handling the filthy lucre, avoiding constant hand washing), then waited for their dinners in the warmth of the evening sun.
Now, when Matt and Cat say meat special, expunge from your mind those chain-pizzeria meat-feast slabs of greasy, salty dough with a sausage-stuffed crust. (Mmmm, says Matt!). The Wildwood Pizza special number one was a thin and crispy number topped with Mottistone rare breed pork sausage and caramelised onion. It was surprisingly heat-retaining and tasted spectacular.
When Matt and Cat get their buy-one-get-one-free pizzas at Pizza Express, Cat invariably has leggera padana (goats cheese, caramelised onion, spinach) and always asks for extra garlic oil. The special number two at the Citroen van – goats cheese, beetroot and spectacular wild garlic pesto – is related in concept to Cat’s fave combo, but much, much tastier. With the benefit of wild garlic harvested from Northcourt at Shorwell this supremely tasty meal also cranked the locavore dial up to eleven. In fact it was so delicious that Cat spontaneously declared that it was The Best Pizza Shed Ever Eaten. Nuff said.