The food offering at festivals has improved immeasurably over the last decade or so, of that I'm sure. I remember at my first full festival there was the curry bus (which may have been sponsored by Sharwoods?), and not much else other than grotty burgers, chips and the like. That was the Leeds festival in the Temple Newsam, toilet burning era.
Fast forward ten years or so, and there's much more variety and often better quality food available too. You'll find many of the same stalls at loads of different festivals over the summer, so here's my guide to the good, the bad and the ugly from last weekend at Standon Calling.
From best to worst, here is what I ate. Or at least what I ate and remembered to take photo's of.
I also drank lots of cider. Lots and lots of cider.
Chicken paella, from Jamon Jamon (£5.50)
Positives: The most reasonably priced substantial meal I ate all weekend. Generously proportioned (there are 2 fat chicken legs hidden in there) and well seasoned. Granted most of it's just rice but bloody good rice, rich and garlicky with loads of nice crispy bits scraped from the bottom of the pan, just like a paella should have. Yum.
Negatives. They don't sell Jamon. Probably a good thing really. With festival mark-ups they'd probably charge £20 for a small plate of hand-carved iberico, then I'd get drunk and spend all my money on it.
Chicken curry, rice, salad and chilli chutney, from the Thali Cafe (£7.50)
Positives: All parts made properly and with care. Distinctive spicing, of a general South Indian persuasion, with loads of mustard seeds. A very good curry. They also do very good cakes, £2 at the stall but £1 from some nice women roaming the site with some in a basket. Here is the carrot cake:
Negatives: Slightly dry chicken, pieces on the bone would be better. Pushing it a tad pricewise, and charging £1.50 extra for one chappatti straight from a packet is really taking the proverbial. They don't sell Thalis. Probably be a bit daft to try that at a festival though eh?
Arancini chilli wrap, from Arancini Brothers (£4.50)
Positives: Rather cocked up the photo with this one. Oh well extreme salad close up it is. The arancini were really good. Crisp exterior and really creamy, grease free centre. Livened up with some chilli chutney and loads of salad I enjoyed eating this. A good lunch, filling but healthy too.
Negatives: Maybe a bit small for the cash. The chutney was tasty but not very spicy. Not their fault whatsoever but the stall was infested with wasps. Mind you so was the whole festival.
Steak and stilton pie, mash and gravy, from Pieminister (£6.50)
Positives: Generously proportioned, decent mash and gravy.
Negatives: Not much steak in the pie, which had been sitting around for about 2 hours too long. Guess that's understandable though at a festival. I don't really get the Pieminister thing. They seem to have grabbed a large swathe of the gourmet, expensive pie market without having a product that's all that good.
Fish, chips and peas, from the Sea Cow (£7.50)
Positives: Generously proportioned, nice peas. Fish cooked ok.
Negatives: Terrible chips. They were a bit chewy and mealy on the inside. Although the fish itself was cooked well, the batter was limp and greasy. Predictably the skin was on the fish. Someone else had the plaice goujons the following day, and they were better, being encased in a crunchier batter. The chips were fresher but still shit though. They have a restaurant in East Dulwich, which surely must be better than their mobile effort.
Veggie burger, from the Veggie stall (exact name escapes me) (£5)
Positives: It had houmous in it. The bread was fairly fresh.
Negatives: It was Sunday lunchtime, so perhaps I was losing my mind by this point. I've nothing against the type of veggie burger that doesn't pretend to be meat (some kind of patty or fritter made from say mushrooms or sweetcorn or something) but this was one of the pretending-to-be-meat soya burger things. It had a strange mushy texture and a vaguely meaty artificial flavour. Imagine a sort of low-grade meat paste in a bun with houmous and salad. Doesn't sound very nice does it?
Sausage and egg sandwich, Tasty Tamworth's and somethingorother Hereford's (£3.50)
Positives: It wasn't really called somethingorother Hereford's, I just can't recall that bit of the name. Something alliterative (horrible? hefty?). Whatever the name they were supposed to be selling top quality sausages. This was supposed to cost £3.50 for the sausage sarnie, plus 50p for an egg, plus £1 for a cup of tea. The chap serving wasn't really awake or paying attention and charged me £3.50 for the lot.
Negatives: The unexpected discount was the high point. The sausage was practically shredded having seemingly been hacked to bits with a blunt spoon to make it fit in the bread. It was both dry and mushy, any succulence having long departed the scene as the woman cooking them was obsessively prodding every sausage with a temperature probe about every three seconds, releasing all the juicy goodness. It tasted weird too. The egg was cooked solid throughout except for a thin layer of uncooked egg snot clinging to the top surface. I still ate it though, 'cos I was hungry and hungover.