3:21pm Wednesday 15th February 2012
By Christopher Gray
Though it hardly seemed more than two or three years, it turned out to be a full decade since Rosemarie and I had eaten at the Oxford & Cherwell Valley College’s training restaurant. I can be precise about the date. While neither of us could recall what the last occasion had been, the catering course boss Caroline Dunning remembered the dinner had celebrated the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. This, of course, is her Diamond Jubilee year.
Our dinner last week at the Waterside Restaurant (now in a different location on the St Ebbe’s campus) was not an attempt to get in early on this great cause for national rejoicing. Instead of Union Flags there were pink paper hearts and the sweetie variety too; for we were marking — five days ahead of time — that special event for all true romantics, St Valentine’s Night.
The evening was conceived as one of the themed dinners held on Thursdays at the Waterside. Previous themes have included the American Thanksgiving, Rule Britannia and Nigella’s Kitchen. Coming up next (on February 23) is Marco Pierre’s Hell’s Kitchen followed two weeks later by Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen and, in between, Discovering Eastern Europe. The programme continues until June 4. Anyone is welcome to attend, for a good-value £17.50.
In the case of the Valentine’s dinner, there was even greater value since we had four-courses, beginning with canapes. First, though, came the cocktail, a choice, devised by student Jake, between Monkey Business, a non-alcoholic blend of bananas, milk and cream, and a classic Cosmopolitan (vodka, Triple Sec, cranberry juice and lime juice). We naturally opted for the booze. Super!
That the canapes looked good can be judged from the photograph on the right. There was a delicious pastry “square” (in fact a circle) with a topping of red pepper and black olives (I got two of these since Rosemarie dislikes olives), a parmesan and herb crisp with salmon mousse (a slightly unfortunate combination, I thought, given the up-front taste of the cheese) and an espresso-size cup of creamy mushroom soup (excellent!) with heart-shaped croutons.
Our starter was a fillet of mackerel with a lemon and herb crust, which was served on a bed of spinach with a quartet of roasted cherry tomatoes on the side. This was just as we would have wished. The only mild criticism I could make related to service of the accompanying white white — a glass of French viognier (£3.50) for me — which was whisked away by our (otherwise excellent) waiter Tony before I’d finished it.
Moving on to the main course, this was again not ideal for my fusspot companion, it being a good chunk of leg of lamb stuffed with figs, prunes and dates, none of which Rosemarie much cares for. Why not the vegetarian option of creamy pea and egg ravioli with roasted asparagus, I wondered. Answer: she likes lamb too much and was prepared to eat it with the stuffing picked out, along with her favourite creamy potato mash and the honey-roasted root vegetables (turnip, parsnips, carrot and red onion). We drank a Chilean merlot at £11.95.
To finish, there was a wonderful strawberry and white chocolate cheese cake — the topping light and lovely, the base buttery and crunchy — chocolate dipped strawberries, and minted pink grapefruit sorbet with mint shortbread. We loved them, and told the lecturer/chef Thomas Clavier so, when he arrived in time to witness disposal of the final spoonfuls.
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