There is a myth in Cambridge that St John’s college formal hall is a place of outrageous decadence. They only serve lobster, caviar and truffles. Every evening is started with a champagne reception and it is eaten off plates of real gold, or so the Daily mail would have us believe.
I’m sorry to report that there was no such excessive lavishness. however there was a nice meal with nice wine for a very nicely subsidised price. (Take note King’s). They make a wonderful show about it all, with individual printed menus, complete with college crests and wine descriptions. In fact most things had the college crest on it, plates, coffee cups, napkins almost like John’s were trying to imprint on you their presence.
They score pretty high on first impressions, with the waitress served warm bread rolls and wine and despite the fact the grace was particularly lengthy and my chair almost fell backwards due to the weight of my bag, I sat down with high expectations. The Riesling was nice, not too sweet (which I do not like) but not overwhelmingly matched with the smoked salmon starter. Talking of which they slightly oversold that one. While it was smoked salmon, brown bread and butter, dressed salad and lemon wedge, I’m pretty sure even my cooking-phobic father could have put it together. No horseradish necessary. Having said that I am a big smoked salmon fan so I was happy.
I’m afraid the waitress service did start to get a bit old as each individual component was plated over our shoulder. While Mark Francis next to me commentated that it gave us time to enjoy conversation, company and drink our wine (the red, not as nice as the white but still good) before they came around with top-ups, my lamb failed to maintain 98% of its heat. I was impressed with their potatoes (take note Cauis), crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and well seasoned, although I’m not entirely sure what made them chateau potatoes other than the fact they were served by St John’s. I later found out this means potatoes cut to resemble jewels (which makes a lot more sense). I was equally a fan of the sauce which was sweet and rich and the amazingly al dente green beans, lightly coated in butter. The rather suspicious sounding ‘accompaniments’ turned out to be basic mint sauce and redcurrant jelly – I’m pretty sure all colleges buy the same brand – nothing special. The meat was well seasoned but overdone, I can’t really blame them for that – mass production is not easy.
At this point I went to the loo and returned to find my seat had unfortunately been soaked by the exuberant gestures of either Mark Francis or Gareth Malone with my red wine. Luckily the fellows had left to an even longer dismissal or the sight of 10 seemingly blood soaked napkins might have been an alarming sight for them. As it is we simply added a little drama to the meal and got an extra glass of wine. Before settling down to dessert. I was one of the lucky few that didn’t have to eat my pithivier with my face (the word gateau was unnecessary). It turned out to be a tasty, well baked almond filled pastry which went well with slightly sweetened whipped cream. Good ending John’s. Moment’s of brilliance – although I am expecting lobster next time.