Another day, another 5 course free feast, with matching wines. Oh no wait this is the only one, so I was goddamn going to enjoy it. We started with a drinks champagne with pink fizz, not Champagne unfortunately but it was nice and dry, not overly sweet as rose can often be. People always say going to Cambridge is a bit like Hogwarts and while I can attest it is nowhere near as fun, or perilous, there are moments when you walk into a gothic hall complete with giant christmas tree, portraits and old silver, it makes you wonder why the candles aren’t floating.
Sitting down at the table, there are two things you notice first. We were given about 12 glasses and there was a beautifully printed menu, with the all the food and wine on one side, and the order of ceremonies on the other side. We started with grace, sung by the choir from the balcony (which on this occasion I happened to be singing in…) Then the food started coming thick and fast. We were first bought Venison, pickled walnuts, beetroot and celeriac Espuma served with Vignier, primavera, P-J Villa, 2011 (a white wine). The venison was smoked and beautifully succulent, the walnuts added a crunch, but it was hard to tell they were pickled, the textures of beetroot worked nicely too, adding sweetness (a favourite of kings) but the Espuma was under-whleming. Having said this, the whole dish was rather good, and this was one time that the tiny Kings portions really worked.
Apparently at a feast even the bread is a step up. We were given cute little loaves, not warm but soft with a crunchy crust, and the butter deserves its own mention. It was creamy and salty and better than normal butter, you wouldn’t thing you can taste the difference, but this time you really could (see what I did there) I would happily have eaten that butter on its own.
The next course was fish; monkfish cheeks, cauliflower, parsley root, chanterelles and snails served with a Chardonnay, Hen and Chicken, Ad Hoc, Pemberton, 2011. Whilst I preferred the light red midsummer house served with it’s monkfish, this was still quite a full white so sort of worked. The monkfish was possibly my favourite dish, I was especially pleasantly surprised by the snail and how well it worked in the dish. The onion rings meant that the dish had a crispy finish, the parsley root added body and the single snail added a really interesting additional layer of texture and flavour, my only gripe would be that the monkfish wasn’t absolutely perfect but considering they were serving around 200 people it was quite impressive.
The next dish was a Lamb cutlet, sweetbread ravioli, braised chicory, shallot puree, baby turnips and morels served with a Chambolle Musigny, G.Barthod, 2004. I was impressed that they had done things properly and served proper meaty cutlets with very little fat, yet still maintained a juicy, rare finish for everyone. The chicory was a slightly unnecessary addition, as was the random baby turnip on the side of the plate which most on my table seemed to leave. But the ravioli had a melt in the mouth centre, the shallot puree worked really well and the jus was lovely.
I was a little confused by the next course. Blackberry and rose sorbet, vanilla yoghurt sponge, marzipan, blackberry paper and creme fraiche, saved with Moscato d’Asti, Albino Rocca, 2012. It was called sorbet, fair enough. but I still didn’t understand why the ration of sorbet to everything else on the plate had to be so overwhelmingly large, especially given this was the sole dessert and the sorbet was overly sweet. I liked the cake, and the combination of a little sorbet, cake and creme fraiche which cut through the sweetness, they just got the proportions wrong. I’m afraid I don’t like marzipan so left that bit but the ‘paper’ was lovely and crisp, if a little thick to call paper…. The wine was delicious, a sparkling tasting almost like a sweet champagne.
Finally the whole meal ended with Petits Langres pressed and marinated in Champagne and juniper, fennel jelly, rustic bread served with port and claret ( I tried a little of both and the claret was some of the best I have ever tasted). I was dreading this course as I am not a cheese fan at all, especially soft cheese like camembert. I tried a little and it was strong. The bread was delicious, little rustic slices and so I’m afraid I may have just had that with some more of the amazing butter. In my defence I think even the keenest cheese lover would have found a whole baked cheese hard to eat after such a feast…
This was certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and this was a great chance for Kings to shine at what it does best (even if it’s not necessarily what students like…) We all came back down to student life with a bump when the post dinner reception thrown for us was beers in the grand surrounding of our opening reception, leaving the Hogwarts experience firmly behind.