The Queen of Puddings

The Queen of Puddings

You know the saying, you never get an invite to Queen’s college formal and then two come at once, or is it buses? I forget. I hasten to add before any of my followers worry I’ve been slacking on my revision for finals, this is a belated review. I am always lamenting that King’s music society has no fancy end of year dinner like many other university societies ( admittedly because it is dominated by the male choir and they get fancy dinners for free), so I tend to take up offers from other colleges when I can get them. Last term it was Cauis (what Cauis lacks on an everyday basis it more than makes up for when they make an effort) this term, Queens. Of course they don’t just invite anyone to these things you have to have made a bit of an effort in turning up and take part in the concerts occasionally but luckily the Gent and I are seasoned college music society hoppers, guest appearing in a number of different concerts mostly coerced by the promise of food and drink. The only down side of this is occasionally there are members of the college you have to explain your presence to, especially fellows or even occasionally the master, in this case we kept our head down on a table with The Organist and a Hog’s head in lieu of The Yorkshireman who was unavoidably detained elsewhere. Unsurprisingly the Hog’s head was not the greatest conversationalist, but we kept it flowing (along with the wine).

Image

I would say no expense spared, but unfortunately (as I was reliably informed by The Organist) Queens charge down to the name card and it was a choice between that and the menu. This meant I knew where I was sitting, but I’m afraid meant a lot of guesswork when it came to the food. Having said that the table was suitably fancy, the bread was warm and the butter was piped into swirls which I always think adds something a little special. Image

The Gent, the Organist and I started with the white wine (not knowing what we were eating) which was adequate and settled down to enjoy a sung grace in the style of Poulenc which definitely beat a fellow attempting to sing you get at most college dinners. Then came the starter. They had clearly upped the anti presentation wise to differentiate this dinner from regular formal hall, I particularly loved the dough sticks, a step up from bread with the pate. I am guessing the pate was either chicken or duck and it was pleasantly rich, salty and creamy. Unfortunately the ratio of pate to bread was a bit overwhelming and whilst the combination of the salty pate, sweet (I want to say tomato) chutney and the soft dough sticks worked well, there wasn’t enough chutney or bread and you ended up with half a lump of pate on your plate, which (after a bit) you realise is just salty and doesn’t taste of much else.

Image

We moved onto the red for the main, usually a safe assumption, but we had both got it the wrong way round and the white was marginally nicer. It was pork belly. I was pleased at first because it was something different. A change from the college stalwarts of roast lamb, pork, beef, salmon… well you get the idea. Plus it is very hard to overcook pork belly because it is so fatty. While not the most healthy of meats, it is usually melt in the mouth with crispy crackling on top…..mmmm So I was a little confused as to how Queens managed to over cook the meat to a stringy texture with a fatty rather than crispy top, I suspect (ironically) it was actually cooked for too little time at too high a heat. Having said that I would happily eat a LOT of that mashed potato. It was buttery, with a hint of garlic, a hint of mustard, with the thick, comforting, smooth texture that solves many problems. It was complimented by the sweet and smooth carrot puree, unusually what appeared to be edamame beans, an unidentifiable sauce (which was nonetheless very nice) and crispy pancetta providing a burst of saltiness. Shame about the meat.

Image

At my last dinner in Queens the highest compliment was held by the dessert. A sweet, warm, orgasmic sticky toffee pudding which would have elevated even the worst meal to delicious in my eyes. Sure enough it came out again (a house speciality in fact). They had clearly taken notes from last time as well (or perhaps it was the extra money) but it was served with sweet, thick and creamy vanilla ice cream, which (as I been told by the Organist when I was instructed to wait for cream last time) really made the pudding even better. While they haven’t exactly showed much variety, if it ain’t broke…. It certainly left me with a smile on my face. Queens are alright at the fancy stuff, but they do the simple stuff really well.Image

The Queen’s Salmon

The Queen’s Salmon

There is little excuse for how abysmal I have been at blogging lately, well except finals. Exams which will hopefully prove that three years and £9000 wasn’t a waste of time and I shouldn’t have just gone to cookery college or started working in the Pepperberry.. Perhaps post finals there will suddenly be a tide wave of blog posts, or perhaps I will be a bit too busy punting, drinking Pimms or playing croquet, watch this space.

However even finalists are allowed to have a bit of fun so last week I added a new college formal to my modest collection. The organist encompassed the meal in one sentence which fitted rather well; basic food but done well.Upon arrival the ambiance impressed. While Queens may have their hall in the modern part of the college (it’s no 19th century building) it is far nicer than any other modern college hall I’ve been in, the lighting is dimmed but you can see the food and the place settings were very posh.

IMG_1470

The menu didn’t immediately scream Amazing, very different from Kings, simply stated, I think I preferred it to the flowery language, There was a rather weird sounding Meatball, mango chutney and cucumber to start. But I was assured by the lovely lady who had invited me that she had had meatball at formal before and it was of above average quality. She was right….about the meatball. The meatball itself was well cooked, still tender and moist with a lovely mildly spicy flavour. While there was only one, it was perfect portion for a starter. What was lacking was the accompaniment. a far too dot of mango chutney (that complimented the meatball) was masked by a huge dollop of cucumber mixed with yoghurt. I think it was meant to be raita but it was too heavy on the cucumber and was pretty much flavoured with nothing else, I fail to see what it added to the dish. Plus it looked a little odd, like a sort of green egg with a mango chutney yolk.

IMG_1472

Moving on to the main it sounded fairly uninspiring on the menu, Poached Fillet of Salmon with Saffron Cream is more what you would expect as the last resort fish option at an 80s retro dinner party. (Think devilled eggs, vol au vent, sherry trifle) But I am willing to admit when I am wrong and Queens surpassed itself. The salmon was perfectly cooked, (if I was really picky the skin could have been crispy but then I would be expecting to pay £15 for the dish not the meal plus wine) the saffron sauce was really tasty and needed no additional seasoning and the green beans were al dente not overcooked, virtually impossible in mass catering. But the real surprising winner was the seafood risotto. I was expecting overcooked (seafood and risotto), underseasoned and lacking in any actual seafood (a la standard mass catering). It was overcooked, but it sort of worked. The stodginess just made the risotto more comforting, like a savoury rice pudding, well seasoned studded with a surprisingly large amount of well cooked seafood. It was unexpected and potentially not formal but very tasty.

                                                                IMG_1473

Finally the creme de la creme (this pun makes sense later). I had been looking forward to the sticky toffee pudding for a while. It may well be my favourite dessert ever… if made well. Well Queens did it. It was sweet, moist but not over the top. Think sunday roast when you were 5 and your mum was learning to be domestic but had learnt Delia’s basics and Delia knows her stuff for the home cook. What would have elevated this dish from family comfort food to smart mid-week dinner party would have been something else, ice cream or cream. This was luckily a view shared by The Organist who insisted that I wait to touch my pudding until he had persuaded the waiting staff to venture into what we can only assume is the secret cream emporium of Queens given the 15min wait, to get us some pouring cream. While I failed to resist trying a small bite before the cream arrived I will admit he was right, the cream made a good dish even better. 

IMG_1474 IMG_1475

Queens has nailed the everyday formal experience for students. It isn’t fussy or pretentious, but it’s a step up from cafeteria food. It doesn’t serve you individually so your food gets cold, but it isn’t insistent upon presentation over flavour. It isn’t perfect but it’s pretty damn tasty and comforting. To quote Great British Menu (my latest addiction) it nails the brief. Basic food, cooked well, pretty damn tasty.