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Wilderness Festival Food 2015

Wilderness Festival Food 2015

by Felicity Spector 12 August 2015

Food writer and blogger Felicity Spector reviews the foodie feasts that were on offer at this year’s Wilderness Festival, a music festival with all the usual music, camping and countryside, but also some gourmet offerings from the likes of Raymond Blanc, James Knappett and Mark Hix.

Felicity Spector has worked in national television journalism for nearly thirty years, but has now combined her day job with an increasing interest in food writing in her spare time.

It's not every day you get to eat a banquet by Raymond Blanc. Still less, one served in a giant tent in the middle of an Oxfordshire field. But at the Wilderness festival, where men cavorted in sequinned bodysuits and women sported floral headdresses like so many peacocks, this was the kind of feast you could expect.

We took our seats at long trestle tables under the canvas: it was almost like being at someone's wedding, without the speeches and the embarrassing uncle. With military precision, wave after wave of waiting staff marched out, ferrying plates of perfect food. First, a deceptively simple looking 'essence of tomato', in a tiny teacup with a charred tomato on the side, a burst of astonishingly bright flavour. Then the banquet proper. Platters of crusty bread rolls, made that morning, with bowls of salads and slices of terrine: there was remoulade and beetroot with sour cream, and pickled strips of fennel and carrot, and huge bulbs of roasted garlic, soft and sweet. It spoke of the French countryside, of generosity and family: it would have made the perfect picnic.

Except, of course, there was more. Away went the now empty platters and in came huge oval dishes: hay smoked lamb, a warm spiced barley risotto, bright with carrots, bowls of chard and peas a la Française. It was help-yourself time: we hardly needed the invitation to come back for more. It was like the Sunday lunch you always wished for.

Back in the kitchen, hotter than the fiercest oven, teams of chefs were plating up the dessert, Monsieur Blanc himself checking every single one before it made it to the pass. A bowl of summer: soft meringue, strawberry sorbet, marshmallows and basil jelly, and fresh strawberries so intense they danced on the tongue. Quite some feat to serve everyone before it all melted: no wonder that when Raymond Blanc finally emerged, the room erupted in cheers.

Banquet feast by Raymond Blanc
Banquet feast by Raymond Blanc
Raymond Blanc's strawberry and meringue dessert
Raymond Blanc's strawberry and meringue dessert

On the other side of the festival site, Bubbledogs chef James Knappett was delivering a six course tasting menu to a far smaller group. His partner Sandia Chang told me the 'Chef's Table' venue, with just 24 covers, had been inspired by their restaurant, and meant James didn't have to adapt his menu too far from the original. "We first cooked here last year", she told me, "and we couldn't wait to come back again". The view was stunning: as the chefs busied themselves in the middle, diners could gaze out over the Cornbury lake with wines by Sager and Wilde and Berry Brothers and Rudd. And the seasonally-inspired food was equally stunning: a dish of strawberries, pea and mint ice cream and shards of pale green meringue looked as spectacular as it tasted.

 
 
Views of the lake
Views of the lake
James Knappett's strawberry, pea and mint dessert
James Knappett's strawberry, pea and mint dessert

Of course it wasn't all fine dining and Michelin stars. Some of London's top restaurants took to the road to set up stall: Duck and Waffle drew crowds with sweet and savoury waffles and their trademark bacon wrapped dates. Appreciative queues formed for The Quality Chop House where a plate of ham and eggs was on offer, along with their much-loved confit potatoes. London House was there too, and Raw Duck, while Mark Hix had an entire tent to himself. And there was more street food than you could imagine, from mac and cheese by Anna Maes, lobster rolls from Bob's Lobster, huge bagels piled with salt beef and pickles from Brisket Bel, and even a bespoke crumble bar, where I briefly dwelled on the idea of a gooseberry elderflower crumble with custard on the side, before remembering I had finished a four course Raymond Blanc banquet just moments before.

Were there but world enough and time, there would have been other options too: a foraging trip, into the nearby countryside. Cooking lessons at Daylesford Farm's bespoke cookery school - I caught the end of Anna Jones' demonstration of French toast with ricotta and poached berries, matched with a talk about Mindfulness. The French toast was delicious - I'm not sure if I captured the spirit of Mindfulness quite so well. A whole area was dedicated to arts and crafts: I resisted the temptation to macrame my own chakras and found the artisan coffee stall.

Wilderness is fast becoming known as much for the food as for the music and arts - and quite rightly. There were Michelin-starred chefs aplenty - you could, if you booked long enough in advance, enjoy food by Angela Hartnett, Petersham Nurseries, and the sensational Swedish chef Niklas Ekstedt, who cooked everything in a fire pit.

 
 
Anna Jones
Anna Jones
The Quality Chop House brownie
The Quality Chop House brownie

There was time for one last snack before the long, much-delayed train journey home. One of the Quality Chop House's signature brownies, sinfully rich and rippled with condensed milk. A banquet in itself: a festival on a paper plate. This kind of wilderness, I could really enjoy.

 
 
 

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