One of the true Cambridge experiences is attending a dinner, called a formal hall, at one of the colleges. John and I attended a black-tie dinner in 2007, but it was at one of the new colleges and so didn't have the grandeur of dining in one of the more Harry-Potter-esque halls. John has been to a couple of formal dinners, but also in the relatively new colleges.
On Thursday, I got to attend a formal dinner at King's College -- which by Cambridge standards is a "new" dining hall -- built in the early 19th century. The occasion was the Darwin Festival, and the guest of honor was TV presenter David Attenborough. Perhaps you've caught some of his specials on PBS. Here in the U.K., David Attenborough is a major celebrity. He also happens to be a big Darwin enthusiast, so who better to give the dinner speech than Attenborough himself? (I wrote about the dinner for my day job here.)
We started with drinks on the back lawn of King's College, with a lovely view of the majestic Chapel. Everyone was then escorted into the dining hall. We (meaning the 8 editors from The Magazine in attendance) were supposed to be spread out among the tables, but I was quite happy to see from the placecards that I was seated right next to one of the new editors, a young American who has been in Cambridge for less than a week. That made it a little easier for both of us act like giddy schoolchildren at the majesty and grandeur of our surroundings. The pictures don't really do it justice. Huge vaulted ceilings; long, immaculate banquet tables; placecards for everyone.
The menu -- a three-course affair -- contained dishes from the recipe book of Charles Darwin's wife Emma. How cool is that?! It was:
Baked Cambridge Bleat (a cheese), Aubergine (eggplant) and Sultana pickle, local honey, wild leaf & chervil Salad, baked Crostino
Roast Guinea Fowl, Savoy cabbage, celeriac dauphinois, quince jelly, baby carrots, thyme jus
Gooseberry cream, elderflower sorbet, & shortbread biscuit.
With coffee they served a date & stilton eclair (a date split open and Stilton cheese shoved in it) with pickled walnut. As at most college dinners, port was served to finish.
Attenborough's brief talk was wonderful and definitely an experience I'll remember.
One more thing: You'll see from the photos that it wasn't black tie, but "smart casual," as the invitation said. I was in a skirt and heels. How does one get to and from a Cambridge event all dressed up? By bicycle, of course -- and that's what I did.
I posted some more photos here.