Of all the festival clichés, the most enduring is not the terrible lavatories (though they are also still with us, sadly) but the botulism-riddled festival burger. But the gastronomic experience at festivals is improving exponentially. Glastonbury may still be riddled with iffy chow mein vans and chunky-chip enterprises, but this year might be the best yet for gastronomes.
Although there is no sit-down silver-service joint this year, there is enough good food dotted around the vast site to make it possible to spend your day chasing slow-braised ribs, rather than do anything as daft as watch bands play music.
That's what Stephen Thomas decided to do. Rather than poring over a list of bands he wants to see this weekend, Thomas is wandering around the site with a notebook filled with the names of the food trucks he wants to sample.
Thomas – who is writing a blog for the on-site paper about food – waxes lyrical about the hot-dog enhanced pasta he picked up from Annie May's Mac'n'Cheese, and takes me through his extensive eating list; it runs from gloops of molten cheese, to the vegetarian curry at No Bones Jones.
"This is my fifth Glastonbury," Thomas explains. "Leading up to it I couldn't remember many decent food places here, and it made me realise that a lot of the time you just settle for whatever is nearest – and you end up with a hog roast."
Thankfully, there's no hog roast in sight outside the Diner, in the Shangri-La late-night party section of the site, where in a few hours' time the cult London burger-makers MEATLiquor will be taking over for nine hours, selling a thousand burgers as the music blares. Or, as its co-founder Yianni Papoutsis puts it: "We're here to sell Dead Hippies [the name of their classic burger] to live hippies."
Thomas reckons the best food he's eaten all weekend is at the silver caravan occupied by La Choza and BBQ Shack. It's a collaboration between two well-respected Brighton restaurants. Aoife Sweeney and Annie Gelpey are behind the Mexican street food and John Critchley is the smoking genius behind the barbecue. It's not a bad combo.
They serve me a mini-platter with smoked ribs and brisket from the barbecue that is spectacularly tender, while the Mexican element is three mini tostadas with shoulder of pork, chicken and green salsa, feta and butternut squash and some delicately assembled little quesadillas. The crowning glory is a plate full of 90-minute smoked chicken wings, with lashings of what Gelpey tells me is Critchley's special "ring" sauce.
"We don't serve that in the restaurant," Critchley says. "But I wanted to do something special for the festival." The sauce is a violent red and packed with a garlic and chilli intensity that manages to combine a fresh hit of flavour while also making your head want to explode. I didn't ask why its called "ring" sauce...
It's not just fatty brisket on offer, though. The Greenpeace field hosts a farmers' market with bijou cakeshops, something called the Parsnipship (variations on a veggie theme) and the Ethical Chef.
The Ethical Chef is Deri Reed, a Cardiff-based cook who turned up at Glastonbury with nothing but his team. All of Reed's ingredients for a crisp, spicy bean-and-pepper chilli are sourced daily from the organic market in the festival's wholesalers' market – and the Glastonbury cheddar is bought from a nearby cheese stall. And are people going for it? "Well, we sold out yesterday lunchtime, at 12," he says, proudly.
Finally, away from the food trucks which border every walkway around the 900-acre site, staff from one of Britain's most renowned restaurants are toiling away. Chris Gillard, the head chef of St John, from Clerkenwell, London, is at the Beat Hotel, a huge party space near the Pyramid stage. Alongside Justin Gellatly, who is busy making some of St John's astonishingly good doughnuts (including one flavoured with violet extract and covered in Parma Violets), Gillard is running the Naked Lunch, cooking imported breakfasts of fresh pancakes, Gloucester Old Spot bacon, and "Hot Dawgs" made with imported German weiners. Gillard has previously run a silver-service restaurant on the site, and has no truck with clichéd festival food.
"It's the same quality of food as you get in St John and that's the whole point," he says of their grub. "We might be in a field, but there's no reason we have to be eating out of containers of mass-produced food. We're trying to bring a bit more realness to the food, keep it special. There's no reason to lose standards." Which isn't something that could be said for most Glastonbury-goers at 2am in the morning.
Wonderful, but they're all just warm-up acts...
The Pyramid Stage may be the biggest in Britain, both in prestige and literal size, but if ever the organizers had to worry about a band being too big for the field it was last night.
Walking around the sun-dried mud of the Glastonbury site, the Rolling Stones' lips logo T-shirt is almost as ubiquitous as sunburn, and if there is one band people want to see above all it's these four satanic majesties. Meaning the best vantage point for Mick and Keef's Glastonbury debut was probably BBC2. But you don't get the full effect of the fire breathing bird on top of the Pyramid Stage in HD.
But as the festival suffered Stones fever – possibly best summed up by one wag's "Reserved for Sir Mick Jagger" sign on a rusty water tap – there was a music festival still going on.
Billy Bragg has been seen more times at Glastonbury than a Hunter welly. But yesterday lunchtime he provided the swelling Pyramid crowd with a wonderful soundtrack for melting in a Somerset field. And a couple of lessons about cynicism and Woodie Guthrie for good measure. Bragg's rambunctious protest classic "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward" even features an adapted nod to imprisoned Russian punk band Pussy Riot.
Later Laura Mvula, Ben Howard and the effervescent Elvis Costello make the most of the sunshine-boosted crowd, with Howard's "Wolves" drawing a wall of reciprocal howls across the field. Frankly though it's not too tough a gig, as in this weather, Leo Sayer playing solo woodblock would draw applause. Not to mention the pre-loaded excitement in the air. As Billy Bragg said: "It's not every day you get to play on the same stage as the Rolling Stones, is it?"
Will DeanReuse content