It was supposed to rain straight through from the morning, but instead day two of the Wilderness Festival brought baking-hot sun and a cooling breeze. On the Cornbury Park estate in the Cotswolds, a 21,000-strong crowd wandered through fields landscaped in the new English style, made popular by Capability Brown in the 18th century. The land and impeccable 17th century manor house that looms over the site is owned by Robin Cayzer, aka Third Baron Rotherwick and a Conservative hereditary peer. But this weekend the sprawl belongs to revellers who have come as much for the lakeside spa and culinary offerings as they have for the music. Some of London’s most celebrated chefs and restaurateurs have made the trip to Oxfordshire, including Fergus Henderson of St John, James Lowe of Lyle’s, James Knappett of Kitchen Table and Polpo’s Russell Norman. Food-related activities range from trucks slinging burgers to intimate dinners to large communal suppers.
Amidst the festival stages, craft stalls and hawkers selling spangled pink everything, sits a large tent filled with long wooden dining tables. It’s here that banquets are held daily for upwards of 400 people. Today’s feast is being commandeered by none other than the doyenne of British-Italian cooking herself, Angela Hartnett of Murano. A high peaked roof, garlands of hops and low lighting set the scene for what proved to be a feast of classic Hartnett creations. “It’s no good giving people liquorice salmon,” she tells us. “When I was doing the menu I thought about what I would want to eat while I was here.” Unfussy and graced with a touch of cucina cosiness, the Michelin-star chef’s choices were presented on generous sharing platters: chicken cacciatore that beckoned you to have just one more piece, homemade spinach and ricotta tortelli that was a triumph given the number of diners, clean-tasting antipasti, and a shock of frothy zabaglione.
“It’s no good giving people liquorice salmon – when I was doing the menu I thought about what I would want to eat here” — Angela Hartnett
Wilderness is not, strictly speaking, a food festival. “How it works is you’ve got a bit of everything,” Hartnett says. “There’s music, poetry, art and food and drink. But food is democratic, everyone has to eat, so it’s quite nice to go to a festival and not just have a shitty burger.” And it’s true: good eats are arguably the weekend’s strong point. “You don’t have to sit down to a three-course meal,” she adds. “You can have a nice hot dog or go to the Hix or Moro tents.” After a satisfying and convivial banquet we’ve made some festival friends, enjoyed more than our fair share of vino and we’re ready to see if there’s any late-night dancing to be had. It was then, of course, that the heavens opened.
Other Wilderness hits: Cod and chips from J Sheekey – crisp and delicious even in the rain; a late-night pulled pork sandwich from Meatcure; champagne under a colonial-style umbrella at the Laurent Perrier orangery.
The Menu at Angela Hartnett's Murano Feast
Sourdough and focaccia – olive oil
Antipasti: Prosciutto cotto, coppa – artichokes, grilled courgettes and peppers – aubergines, parsley and lemon – sardines, capers and raisins
Pasta: Rigatoni Bolognese – spinach and ricotta tortelli
Secondi: Chicken cacciatore – whole baked bream, chilli and fennel – potato fritti – green salad
Dolce: Zabaglione – stuffed peaches with amaretti – ice cream
Wilderness Festival was held 7–10 August on the Cornbury Park Estate in Oxfordshire.