AUTUMN DINNER: 10TH OCTOBER – VINCENT ROOMS, LONDON
Apparently, “the McDonalds Cheeseburger is a thing of beauty!”
That was one of the surprising and entertaining comments made by Honoured Guest, Tom Parker Bowles.
On an lovely autumn evening in London, even some delays caused by the on-going Extinction Rebellion protest, did not dampen spirits of the ensemble of Old Friends and guests that were greeted by President, Old Friend Steve Robinson and our Honoured Guest.
After a very welcome, welcome drink, kindly sponsored by Ian Buckley of Prima, the President formally welcomed Old Friends and their friends to the Dinner. Then, in a surprising turn of events, the President held a brief referendum, which resulted in a unanimous vote in favour of banning all discussion of politics. He then went on to comment that “the Vincent Rooms started training people to cook and serve in 1910, just around the time that the Society of Old Friends first started to eat and drink .. how very fortuitous!”
After Grace, the meal that followed, prepared and served by students at the college, would not have been out of place in the finest restaurants of the world – a Cured Meats and Grilled Halloumi Mezze, followed by a delicious slow cooked Ox Cheek, super smooth truffled potato and celeriac puree, accompanied by glazed baby beets, crispy kale. This was followed by a sumptuous Plum and Almond Tart with fluffy light Chantilly Cream and rich tasty Apricot Sauce. Plates were not licked clean, but not far off!
After a respectful toast the Queen, there was then, at precisely 9 o’clock, one of our most important traditions, which is to remember and reflect on those Old Friends who were not able to make the event, and attendees were asked to spare a thought for Old Friend Simon Robbins as he battles with the big C, and for Old Friend Allan Crump whose wife Malika is going through the wars! Finally, the President also made a special mention of David Nelsey, joining us again after a long spell of illness – this prompted a spontaneous round of heart-felt applause!
It was straight into the speeches.
The President introduced the Guest of Honour by highlighting the uncomfortable challenge of inviting a food critic to dinner – what could possibly go wrong?
One only needs to read any one of the 8 books on food, cooking and travel that Tom Parker Bowles has written, or read any of his restaurant reviews or see him on any number of TV programmes, to realise that this is a man who oozes passion about his food.
He is also passionate about his young family and the President shared 2 incidents of experiencing his own moments of awkwardness at the hands of 2 of his 3 sons – one when his 4 year (eldest) was missed out when the Kiora squash was given out at a birthday party, only to stand on the chair and ask “Where’s my wine?”.
The other incident was when the class of the 6 year old (middle) son was asked by a teacher after the summer holidays to talk about their favourite foods of the summer. All talked of their love of pizzas, burger and chicken nuggets. However, after a summer holiday camping in the Dordogne area, commented that his favourite foods were Pate de Fois Gras and Moules Mariniere.
This led on to a review by Tom Parker Bowles a few weeks ago, of the Whitstable Oyster Festival, in which he included the story of his son, who accompanied him on the review, Freddy, commenting that, at £104 “Lobster has got quite expensive” … … Freddy is 9!
In closing, the President explained that Tom Parker Bowles has also been recognised as one of the most exciting names in British cooking and has engendered huge respect for building a career out of eating, and having the ability to always say exactly what he thinks about the food he is served … without getting thumped!
In response, Tom was quick and generous in his praise of the staff and students of the College for an excellent meal and very attentive service. Keeping in the theme of ‘the things children say to embarrass you’ he also then shared an incident where his then very young son had a meltdown in Waitrose over that fact that “My Dad won’t buy me any caviar!”
It seems hard to believe that school food could have inspired a passion for food. Tom explained that, in his case, it didn’t. School food was the worst; like ‘mince that tasted of despair’ and sausages filled with slurry. What school food did was to give the young Tom a ferocious greed.
After an unremarkable education, and then a brief and error-ridden spell in a PR company, Tom found his way into Tatler magazine as their food writer and that signalled the start of the successful culinary career.
As a part of his talk, Tom extoled the importance and wonder of locally produced food – the idea that eating food in the season that it produced makes it more special.
Tom talked about his great experiences as a judge on Masterchef. There was much laughter when Tom shared that one of his greatest claims to fame is that he (not on his own, of course) gave Simon Cowell’s his only failure with (X-Factor-type) show, Food, Glorious Food which was pulled after only 2 months!
The audience was then treated to a passionate synopsis of Tom’s favourite 20 restaurants. For those interested, the list is at the bottom of this report.
Tom Parker Bowles concluded his toast with a call which could just as easily be the mantra for the Society itself; “Food is not about Michelin stars, pomp, ceremony in silent dining rooms – Good food brings people together. It is one of the most ancient and basic of pleasures. Eat, drink and be merry with friends – that, for me, is luxury in its most delectable form”.
The applause was enthusiastic and sustained!
Finally, the President, with assistance from the Honoured Guest, drew the raffle and the winners were;
£100 – John Thurgood, Total Office who very kindly donated his prize.
£50 – Stuart Colley, Antalis.
£25 – Aidan McDonough, Integra, who also donated his winnings.
As a footnote, it was some considerable time before Tom finished signing programmes and taking photos with Old Friends and their friends – what a great Guest and what a cracking evening.
Now we’re looking forward to the Christmas Clachan on the 10th December, at the spiritual home of the Society, the Clachan Inn – don’t miss it – BOOK HERE!
Tom Parker Bowles – Favourite Twenty Eateries:
1. St John Restaurant, 26 St John St, Barbican, London EC1M 4AY. Fergus Henderson has revolutionised the way many of us eat. Bone Marrow on toast, with the sharp parsley salad – a modern masterpiece.
2. The Sportsman, Seasalter, Whitstable, Kent, CT5 4BP. The pub might not look like much, but this is magnificent British cooking planted in Kent terroir.
3. The Company Shed, 129 Coast Rd, West Mersea, Colchester CO5 8PA. There are no tablecloths, wine list or bread, but those oysters, eaten yards from where they are grown, are simply sublime.
4. The Seahorse, 5 South Embankment, Darthmouth, TQ6 9BH. Mitch Tonks is a fish master. I often crave this place.
5. Riley’s Fish Shack, King Edward’s Bay, Tynemouth NE30 4BY. The Fishermen bring in their catch and the Shack builds a menu around it.
6. The Crown, Burchetts Green, Maidenhead SL6 6QZ. It has a star or two, but Simon Bowick cooks proper old fashioned French food and the aromas are immense.
7. Thai 101 Cafe, 352 King St, Hammersmith, London W6 0RX. This is no more than a canteen but this is the real thing in all it’s ‘chilli fierce’ glory.
8. A Wong Restaurant, 70 Wilton Rd, Pimlico, London SW1V 1DE. Modern Chinese regional magicmixing tradition and modern dishes from across China.
9. Gymkhana, 42 Albemarle St, London, W1S 4JH. This is modern Indian regional classics, beautifully spiced with exquisite breads and biryanis – some of the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted.
10. The River Cafe, Thames Wharf, Rainville Rd, London W6 9HA. Someone once described the food here as the most expensive peasant food in the world, but Ruthie Rogers and her team are obsessed with finding the best seasonal ingedients and doing as little as possible to them!
11. Da Adolfo, Via Laurito, 40, 84017 Positano, Italy. Sergio is the owner and boss and is built like a gladiator. It’s the sort of place you dream about in the dull depths of English winter, the edible essence of the Amalfi coast.
12. Minetta Taverna, 113 Macdougal Street, New York City. Keith McNally is one of the worlds greatest restauranteurs and tghis is where the New Yor steak house meets the Parissian brasserie deluxe. It has the feel of a private club without the wankiness or waiting list!
13. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, 5814 Nolensville Pike, Nashville, Tennessee. The Dolly Parton of deep fried poultry, no less!
14. Deckmans, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California. Chef, Drew Deckman, is a fire master cooking incredible steaks and vast limbs of burnished lamb.
15. Chez Wong, Enrique León García 114, La Victoria 15034, Peru. Not only one of Lima’s greatest restaurants but an international star too, a place of fervent culinary pilgrimage that sells just two dishes – ceviche and stir fry.
16. Firedoor, Surrey Hills, Sydney, Australia. British born chef proprietor, Lennox Hastie, has a smoke-scented pleasure palace but depite cooking everything on macho flames, Hastie is a chef of great restaint. Pretty much every grilled mouthful thrills.
17. Chin Chin, 125 Flinders Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia. I’ve spent more time in this restaurant than any other in Australia. Why? Because Executive Chef, Benjamin Cooper os a South East Asian expert. Flvours don’t just sing, they holler joyously.
18. Chez Georges, 1 Rue du Mail, 75002 Paris, France. I always eat the oeuf en gelee, then steak au poivre with lashings of nose clearing pepper and rivers of cream!
19. Sat Bains Restaurant, Lenton Lane, Nottingham NG7 2SA. A two Michelin star restaurant that may not be cheap but the crafted cooking is absolutely value for money.
20. Senior’s Fish & Chips, 106 Normoss Rd, Blackpool FY3 8QP. Crisp batter, flaky fish and chips doused in vinegar. British. Brilliant. Unbeatable.
And don’t forget Contramar in Mexico City, Da Dora in Naples, or that amazing hotpot place in Chegdu, or the Crawfish boil in a gas station just outside New Iberia in Louisiana and, yes, a McDonalds Cheeseburger is indeed a thing of beauty! Amazing food.