Bestival’s Feast Collective shows that festival food has grown up

Words: Chris Zacharia

It’s day two of Bestival.

I’m covered in mud, glitter and a tingling sensation which started at the main stage last night and hasn’t subsided since. I’ve not eaten in almost an entire day, I’ve been dancing constantly, and my body is craving nutrients.

Fortunately, Seadog is at hand with a rich seafood laksa which wouldn’t look out of place at the menu of a elite Asian restaurant.  For £8 I’m given a brimming pot filled with chunks of Devon crab, strips of mackeral, shredded coriander and a warming coconut broth full of noodles. These aren’t exactly the kind of ingredients you’d expect to encounter after spending a night in a Dizzee Rascal moshpit, but here we are.

Festival food normally conjures up images of burger vans, endless wraps and the occasional curry. Mostly, though, it’s chips in a styrofoam tray and a beer in a plastic cup. And until recently that’s all people expected.

Thankfully, things have changed. In 2016, hippie wonderland Shambala announced that they would offer no meat on site, becoming the UK’s first major festival to go vegetarian. Meanwhile, the craze for artisanal produce which has kick-started Britain’s foodie culture has spread to music festivals large and small across the country.

Many festivals now offer decent street food, but few have the sheer quality and range of Bestival. Originally held on the Isle of Wight, 2017 marks Bestival’s transition to Lulworth Estate in Dorset. Behind Lulworth Castle, tucked away from the madness of the main festival site, is the Feast Collective: Bestival’s elite range of food vendors.

Given that Bestival is a British music festival, held in September, it is of course raining. But that’s not the only reason that the Feast Collective tent is full. It’s alive with competing aromas, from fresh coconut to simmering, smoky ribs.

‘The food in here is a cut above the rest of the festival’ says Sarah, who I meet while polishing off my laksa. ‘I mean, the rest of the stalls are good too but in here you read the menus and you’re like, Ooh! That sounds a bit different’

‘These stalls just offer something more’ agrees Ben. ‘I got the laksa too. Really delicious’

By the time I scoop up the last drops of syrupy coconut broth, I can’t help but agree. You’d be hard pressed to find food that good for £8 in the middle of a field.

It’s not just the food that stands out. It’s worth popping into the Feast Collective just to gawp at the pun-loving stall names, from Piecaramba to Le Rac Shack (serving cheesy Alpine treat raclette). Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five soundtracks the munching and thronging of the crowd. Up above, hanging baskets of plants  and flowers give the Feast Collective a fresh, breezy feel, and the communal dining benches make it easy to strike up a chat with fellow festivalgoers.

‘Lots of good food, a nice bit of music…can’t ask for more, really’ says Alan, grooving to Stevie Wonder as we search for a bin. ‘It’s what festivals are all about. These days, anyway’

Still, it’s Saturday evening and A Tribe Called Quest are about to arrive on the main stage. As we’re reapplying glitter, we’re approached by a woman with a message from one of the stall holders.

‘Excuse me guys, I’ve just been speaking to one of the girls on the Indonesian curry stall, and she was just telling me that your glitter looks amazing’ she smiles. ‘Would you mind giving them some glitter too? They said it would make their shift if they had glitter like yours’.

We’re more than happy to help. We’re introduced to two charming ladies on the stall, and we set about giving them a tropical sunset of facepaint and glitter. The stall girls tell us to return tomorrow, when they’ll repay the favour in Indonesian curry. It’s the first time I’ve bartered for food with glitter, but hey, this is a music festival. We head back into the bright lights of Bestival, haring for Saturday night.

Sunday morning is, of course, a different matter. After staying up until 4am to see Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon (and, given that they played a mashup of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name Of’ and Beyonce’s ‘Bootylicious’, I’m very glad I did), we need a serious dose of coffee.

We rock up to the Feast Collective tent at around midday, yesterday’s glitter making my face seem even more horrifyingly haggard and mask-like. The strong, authentic aroma of coffee leads us to Firestation, whose incredible filtered coffee feels like a soothing massage and a slap in the face at the same time: exactly what I need, after the night I’ve had.

After howling with laughter in the comedy tent, adjacent to the Feast Collective, we return for lunch. We wander back to the Indonesian curry stall, where we’re richly rewarded for our facepainting efforts. The nutty panang curry, fragrant with lemongrass, kaffir lime and cumin, is a rich, warming delight. Each mouthful makes me feel more human.

Having ventured to the other side of the packed tent, my friend Sydney brings back a jealousy-inducing Shrimpster burger from Shrimpy. Fist-sized hunks of freshly battered shrimp, blanketed with a genuinely punchy salad of samphire and cucumber, topped with a bouncy seeded bun. Hangover or not, it is outrageously good.  

Emerging in the afternoon sun, the majesty of Lulworth Castle in front of me, I find myself feeling much, much better. Festivals tend to wear you down through a mixture of lack of sleep, excess of drugs and inadequate food. By offering such an impressive array of tasty choices, Bestival have eliminated one of those three burdens.

So where does festival food go from here? Are we all going to end up like the folks at Wilderness, where festivalgoers are banqueted by the likes of Yotam Ottolenghi, Nuno Mendes and Thomasina Miers?

‘Wilderness? They treat their chefs like headliners’ quips a bloke who overhears our conversation. ‘At the end of the day, all you really need to eat at a festival are a handful of pills’

To be fair to him, it’s Sunday which means that the Pet Shop Boys are on tonight. Good thing I’m well fed.