You may remember back when we failed to get tickets for Glastonbury this year, I couched my disappointment in terms of lack of pizza. There was a time when festival goers would see the food as akin to mud and dodgy toilet facilities, something that would have to be endured in order to see some great music. Nowadays, however, it’s not just a case of the greasy burger van. Food at festivals can be as much of a treat for the taste buds as the music is a treat for the ears. The best food stalls offer a world of different styles and cultures and tasty options (albeit eaten with a flimsy wooden knife and fork and often standing up or sat on the wet ground).
After the disappointment of not being at Glastonbury, it was good to enjoy at least one festival this summer when we went to the End of the Road Festival this week at Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset. Musically, the festival high points included John Grant’s headline performance in the scenic Garden Stage on the Saturday night, Gruff Rhys’ rambling narrative about Welsh explorer John Evans’ semi-mythical ramblings from his American Interior album/film/phone app, and a supergroup of indie-folksters performing the whole of Gene Clark’s cult 1974 album No Other.
But this is a food blog, not a music one, so I’m not going to be reviewing the bands from the festival, I’m going to be reviewing the food stalls, starting with an old favourite.
We’ve been coming to this place for eight years, both here and at Glastonbury, and I’ve mentioned before how much of a part of our festival traditions it is and how we tend to begin our weekend with a meal here straight after putting the tents up. In all those years, though, we never knew its name. We just call it “the pizza place” because it’s always just said “Pizza” on its signs, but apparently it goes by “Pizza Tabun”, which is news to us. That, though, was the greatest revelation in what was otherwise business as usual. The rocket special pizza remains thoroughly enjoyable, the ability to sit inside on benches and rugs almost unique at this festival, and the fresh lemonade and real coffee in real cups an additional bonus.
The Breakfast Club
As we approached this stall it was playing cheesy one hit wonders Deep Blue Something’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which led us to wonder whether they would be relying on an entirely breakfast themed playlist for the weekend (Tom Waits’ Eggs & Sausage, Bob Dylan’s One More Cup of Coffee, that song that goes “How do you like your eggs in the morning?”). Unfortunately, this proved not to be the case and the food, too, was tinged with a mild sense of disappointment. There was nothing essentially wrong with The Breakfast Club’s slightly higher quality take on the traditional festival breakfast of a bacon and egg bap (this one has a brioche bun to show it’s a bit posher), there was just nothing particularly special that justified the long wait for it.
The Roaming Rotisserie
Definitely one of the more mouthwatering first impressions of any food stall, The Roaming Rotisserie is basically nothing but row upon row of chickens slowly rotating as they roast and dribble fat onto the potatoes below. The idea of just getting a whole chicken and tearing it apart was very appealing to me (although actually, given it was just between the two of us, sharing half of even one of these relatively small chickens was more appropriate), but seemed to create the opposite reaction in some of the less carnivorous passers by. The chicken was juicy and tasty, but the potatoes could have been a bit crisper on the outside.
After all that meat and potato at lunch, a dinner with a little vegetable content was probably no bad thing. Moorish offers pan-Arabic style “Souk food” with a selection of mezze or a bourek (Arabic pastry). We went for the latter with a spicy lamb and goats cheese option served with salad and a sort of rataouille-esque sauce. The blunt wooden knife was in no way equipped to deal with cutting through the layers of pastry in this bourek, which made it a little hard to eat. In all, though, this proved a popular choice and the rest of our group would eat here on the final night as an appropriate pairing with Saharan bluesy rock band Tinariwen.
The Wide Awake Cafe
One thing that End of the Road struggled to provide (despite the presence of The Breakfast Bible and London Review of Breakfast‘s Seb Emina on the Library stage) was a proper Full English. On the Saturday morning, though, that was just what I wanted. The closest we could find was the big vegetarian breakfast on offer at The Wide Awake Cafe, which consisted of a couple of veggie sausages, a couple of hash browns, a couple of slices of bread and butter, mushrooms, baked beans, tinned tomatoes and spinach. Given there are plenty of good veggie foods you can have in a breakfast, I’ve never understood the point of adding fake meat and these weren’t very nice veggie sausages either (having an egg instead would make more sense). Equally, the pile of tinned tomato was not all that great. The spinach, however, was a pleasing element that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought would work in a breakfast.
End of the Road has a variety of Indian food options, from the dosa of the Indian Street Food stall to the Goan Fish Curries that are actually from Cornwall. This place, that fills tortilla wraps with tasty curries to give you Indian food on the go, is the most appealing of the bunch. The kathi chicken was cooked properly tandoori style and came with plenty of chilli sauce and coriander, all of which meant that it hit just the right spot.
Due to Professor Plum’s fish allergy, the chippy is not always the most logical place for us to eat. However, since she’s discovered that she can eat shellfish we’ve got a few more options. The Seacow is End of the Road’s place to go for fish battering and, fortunately for Professor Plum, had a tempura prawn option as well. I had a real desire for fish and chips before having these, but they were just fairly ordinary. The fish was fine, but the chips weren’t great and there were probably too many of them.
Good & Proper Tea
I’m not a tea drinker, so this may seem like a little bit of an odd choice for Sunday breakfast, but it was mainly because they offered crumpets (while committed tea lover Professor Plum was mostly keen to go for this place because it had a row of pots of different proper loose leaf teas lined up along the counter, I went next door for a coffee from a cart that served proper coffee with friendly if shambolic service). The crumpets were excellent, pleasingly large and square, and the best one was the “crump monsieur” a crumpetty take on the croque monsieur topped with mustardy butter, ham and melted cheese. Some people might have found the mustard a bit strong, but I like mustard (it is my name, after all). This was good enough that it was the only place that we went twice (the second time was on the final day where we got the final offcuts of ham before the next person could get the last crump monsieur).
Barnaby Sykes Pie Maker
Up until a couple of years ago End of the Road’s pie-man of choice was the entertainingly punnily named Pie Minister, but Barnaby Sykes, and his impressively to the point massive sign that just reads “Pies”, has taken over and his pies are, arguably, superior. We both went with a chicken and ham pie, mash and gravy and enjoyed a pretty decent bit of lunch. I mean, it was nothing extra special, but Barnaby Sykes undoubtedly does a reliably good pie.
For the final night we went Himalayan with this stall that served up steamed Tibetan dumplings called “momos”. Professor Plum went with their beef and potato stew, while I opted for the shasha sesame chicken. Both came with rice, chilli sauce and a beef filled momo. Best of all the stall came with a huge “help yourself” box of coriander leaves to add to your meal. I love coriander so it was great to be able to fill my chicken and rice with as much of it as I wanted, while the chilli sauce gave the dish an appealing kick that might have been a little too much for Professor Plum. The momo was both a little lacking in flavour and yet it was a touch disappointing that there wasn’t more than one. Nevertheless this was one of the most wholly satisfying meals of the week.
Just a little mention of drink before the end. I’m not going to go through all of the many bars on the festival site, although the fact that every single one of them ran out of most of their beers and ciders almost every day before the evening began was a bit of a downside. I’m just going to focus on two of the more notable examples.
The Somerset Cider Bus is a festival institution well known to Glastonbury visitors and can usually be relied on to be the main source of drink for a weekend here as well. In this case, however, it proved something of a let down. The medium cider started off pleasant enough, but turned out not to be very nice at all, so we tried the dry (despite the bar staff’s warnings that it was very dry indeed) and that proved little better. Perhaps it was just a bad year for their cider, but it will definitely make me less excited to return to the bus next year. At least the hot, spiced version remains warming on a cold late summer night.
Fever Tree’s Ultimate Gin & Tonic Bar
After the disappointment of the cider bus, it was necessary to find a new favourite drinking spot and, fortunately, the festival had something new for this year: a gin and tonic bar. After the large sums of money we gave to Fever Tree for their various tonics and choice of gins at their pop up restaurant last month, it seemed only reasonable to continue the trend here. Usually my festival drink of choice is beer or cider and perhaps a plastic bottle with vodka in it, but after the excellence of the gins and tonics on offer here I would be quite happy to switch my allegiance to gin.
Professor Plum in the Dining Room: It is a very foody festival. In some cases, this prompts places to try a bit too hard – I’d have cheerfully swapped the Breakfast Club’s brioche for a normal roll and slightly faster service, though I was impressed when the drinks guy threatened to drink someone’s tea if it wasn’t claimed, and held fast to that threat – in a way that doesn’t necessarily improve the food, but generally it’s a massive perk to the place.
Good & Proper Tea convinced me that loose leaf is the only way to truly glamp at a festival (and worth the extra 50p over the other places doing tea), and I think it’s fair to say Fever Tree have, in the last two months, put a lot of effort into ensuring our custom. Pity they, like the festival bars, kept running out of stuff. I don’t know if the festival was busier than previous years, or simply boozier. We were queueing at the gin bar when a man behind us said to the woman he was with, “You know, even if the music was shit, I think I’d come here for the food,” and she agreed. And I think I do too.