July 8th, 2011


Oxford Symposium, Day 1

I took copious notes in the fascinating Jane Grigson lecture - in honor, not by! - so it is the meal which needs writing about before I start losing detail.

Tonight's dinner was orchestrated by Shaun Hill of the Walnut Tree in Abergavenny. As usual, we occupied most of the lengths of tables at St. Cat's, vases of flowers and individual, meal-specific menus punctating the laid-out tables. I pillaged a butter knife from my neighbor who was foregoing butter. The bread was pleasant, but nothing particularly special.

The meal began minorly, with a starter of meaty seared monkfish, pale in its pale creamy white sauce, understated, if puncutated with mustard seeds, long cuts of chives, and slithers of cucumber. It was better for its texture than its flavor. The wine, a 2008 Eroica Chateau Ste Michelle & Ernst Loosen, was versatile, beautifully balanced between slight dryness and leavening sweetness. I would happily make this my default table wine.

The main arrived in sharing platters as we corraled our menus and bread plates and numerous glasses into clusters to make space for the incoming dishes. The salad was exemplary, a classic variety, crunch, but never to an abuse of over-stemmed leaves. A roast rack of lamb, cut up into invidiual ribs, lay atop a stew of lamb shoulder and summer vegetables. The beans were vibrant amidst the pleasant richness of the Welsh lamb. (As an example of the generosity from which these meals benefit, the lamb was donated by the Meat Promotion Board of Wales, and by Rob Rattray of Ystwyth Valley Lamb. The wine was largely donated by its producers.)

Our dessert was buttermilk pudding, prettily plated with a pile of berries and summer fruits - black currants, peach, red currants, raspberries, bluberries - a crunch tuile, and a delicate cardamon honey syrup. The wine was elegant and more-ish, a 2002 Riesling auslese Erdener Treppchen, from Dr. Loosen of the Mosel. (C and I have been doing well with a different one of their wines lately; I am happy to know that more of their range is to my taste too.)

Afterward, apropos of tomorrow's dinner, there was a tequila and agave tasting. The cube of cooked agave was like a perfect brown bread pudding, only with a crisper texture. I have learned from the evening that I prefer blanco to aged tequila, and that it really does come in a wide range of styles and richnesses.

It's been good. I hadn't been thinking of the event as social, but there are increasingly many people I know from previous years' conversations. I have Parisian and Leeds restaurant advice, increased knowledge of Spanish butchery, and the realization that my lunch - leftovers - was thematically appropriate since the recipe was from Symposium co-chair Claudia Roden.