The cold weather that has been with us recently had ceased for the evening as I stood chatting with a couple of friends, waiting to head into Oriel formal hall.
Dining at Oriel is an exercise in art history. The Queen’s portrait was a long way away when I sat down, but I could still feel her presence as High Table came in and grace was recited. It took a while to serve the tomato soup, but it was still piping hot as my spoon took the first plunge. I will admit now that when it comes to soup, tomato is not generally my favourite. But the subtle spiciness impressed me and I thoroughly enjoyed it, down to mopping up the last little bit with some bread in as sophisticated a way as I could manage.
I noticed more and more portraits staring down at the chatty hall. It wouldn’t have bothered me, were it not that one man had been painted in such a way that phallic comparisons were inevitable. It happened to be this portrait that was positioned directly opposite me. So once the main was served, I kept my head down and attempted to deal with the chunk of pheasant. It was OK: the meat was pretty good, the ‘Oriel potatoes’ weren’t half bad, but I expect a bit more in way of presentation from a formal meal. Finally, it was time for the dessert: creme caramel. Unfortunately it was soggy, excessively sweet and a bit of time could have been taken to neaten up the chocolate shavings that were scattered haphazardly around the plate. But even if the food wasn’t brilliant, the atmosphere was.
Despite the formal wear, it felt very relaxed and we didn’t have to wait around for High Table to finish their meal before we left, as is sometimes the case. I probably wouldn’t go to Oriel formal again unless it was a particularly special occasion. But here is nothing quite like cycling home with a full tummy, gown billowing in the wind after a great evening.