70th Anniversary Dinner
Date: 19th October 2022
Venue: Edgbaston Golf Club
Sponsor: Sally Grainger
Menu design by Roger Hale
Roman Feast – Minutes
Writing dinner minutes that are informative, intelligent and hilarious sucks up enormous amounts of my time, indeed some of these speeches can take 15-20 minutes to write. Being a lazy ex art student, I’m always looking at labour saving, or even better, labour avoiding methods. With this in mind. I saw the advances in refinement of AI or Artificial Intelligence and thought this is just the job for my speeches. All I have to do is type in a few key words – The Buckland Club – Roman Dinner – 70th Anniversary and sit back and let AI write my speech. This is exactly what I did, although I did find it amusing that I had to tick a box confirming that I wasn’t a Robot before it would allow me to start. So here is the dawn of a new era, where I am merely the facilitator of your new Dinner Secretary – Chat Bot AI. Sit back in wonder and amazement as I read the dinner minutes from our Roman Dinner completely written by Artificial Intelligence.
The Buckland Club is a dining club in the United Kingdom, founded in 1841. The Club’s events typically revolve around the history and culture of Rome, and one of its annual events is a Roman Dinner. At the Roman Dinner, members and guests dress in togas and other Roman attire and a traditional Roman style meal is served.
Well, it’s fairly obvious that this isn’t working very well so I instructed AI to write dinner notes in the style of Caligula, this turned out to be a much better idea.
Bring forth the oysters, the snails and the mushrooms
And let the wine flow as if from a fountain for this night we shall dine like gods
And revel in pleasures that the Bacchus has found in
Bring forth the venison and the boar
And let the guests recline in splendour and glee
For this night we shall feast like emperors
And indulge in every luxury that comes to me
Let the bread be broken and the wine be poured
As tales of conquest and glory be told
For this night we shall celebrate our victories and revel in the power we hold!
And when the feast is done, and the guests depart
Let the memories of this night be etched in stone
For this night we have proven our greatness
And shown the world that the Buckland Club shall reign forever crushing their enemies like dormice under a chariots wheel.
This does the job, but just to be on the safe side I wrote some human words as well.
This Autumn evening saw us ambulate towards Edgbaston Golf Club for the much awaited 70th anniversary of the formation of The Buckland Club, and our 162nd event. Once again outside our golfy cocoon political events were in turmoil with the imminent fate of Prime Minister Liz Truss weighing on our minds. This meal would be a welcome distraction and I’m sure it would be worthy of Aulus Vitellius famous for being the head of a rebellion without the command of his troops or the know-how to rule the Empire once he was elevated beyond his abilities to the position of Emperor. Almost unbelievably he was the third Emperor of ‘The Year of the Four Emperors’. All sounds implausible by today’s standards doesn’t it?
Way back in 1952 I suspect the 16 gentlemen and fishermen who gathered at The Midland Hotel and formed this esteemed club could hardly have anticipated the seven decades of occasional highs, lower highs and lows and even lower lows of this culinary enterprise.
The Buckland Club span of seven decades would have encompassed the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula, although possibly without the ensuing autocracy, tyranny and cruelty… although I can’t vouch for that having only been a Buckland member for 14 years.
I was confident that our esteemed sponsor for the night, Sally Grainger was the best person in the country to run our evening, there were no U-turns on the menu, and she had the full backing of the committee and was resolute in deliver, deliver, delivering a blisteringly excellent night. I can assure members that this meal was fully costed or at least it would be a couple of months later once we consulted the Old Bag of Receipts or OBR as we call it.
Sally told us about the time she worked on the TV show ‘Rome wasn’t Built in a day’. The premise of the series was to find a selection of modern-day workmen (for the benefit of the more genteel Buckland members, a workman is a skilled tradesman that you might have briefly seen in the grounds of your house or re-pointing the south wing). Sally’s input to the TV show was to cook some typical Roman meals for the builders to find disgusting, howl like toddlers and head for the nearest newly plastered vomitarium. Surprisingly and sadly for the show’s producers, the workmen loved Sally’s meals and the entire food segment was cut. Perhaps the producers feared a resurgence of Roman food and hordes of post pub workmen heading off for a dormouse kebab or a hare and snail vindaloo.
On arrival we were greeted by trays of delicate melon balls and a fish sauce garam dressing made with mint, pepper and honey which were delightfully refreshing but didn’t set the taste buds zinging as much as the wonderful olive relish, Epityrum, made with coriander, fennel, mint and rue served on crispy sourdough spelt bread, a delicious and winning combination. They were washed down with Conditum Paradoxum, a refreshing drink consisting of honey and saffron in a wine cordial.
This bode well for the rest of the evening and we definitely weren’t disappointed. The meal proper started with one of my favourite ingredients, Lamb’s kidneys, on this occasion stuffed with coriander, fennel seeds, pepper and pine nuts. They were cooked to perfection by Greg Smith and his team and I believe could grace the menu of any restaurant in the City.
Stuffed Lamb’s Kidney with Epityrum & Sourdough Spelt Bread
It’s always good for my Dinner notes if the meal is below par or even better, absolutely awful so things weren’t looking good for me so far, hopefully the next course would be a disaster. Sadly, it was another absolute winner. Each table was presented with an intriguing 3kg mound of cucumber covered layered salad with chicken, sweetbreads, and ever-present pine nuts, flavoured with vinegar, ginger, coriander and mint. It was almost impossible to stop spooning chunks onto my plate, it could have possibly benefitted for a little more ginger, although that didn’t stop me eating far too much of it.
A layered salad of sourdough bread with chicken, lamb’s sweetbreads, pine nuts, pecorino cheese, onion and cucumber with a dressing of raisins, ginger, coriander and mint.
In terms of culinary disasters, I held out high hopes for ‘Fish Custard’, who on earth would order that at a restaurant, maybe Caligula? It was regrettably for me however a culinary triumph. Delicate flakes of sea bass in a wonderfully light egg batter with yet more garum and topped with a scallop, it should have been a sea urchin, but they all moved too fast for our ingredient’s hunter. Sally Grainger informed us that this dish would have been looked down on in Roman times as being too easy to digest, like baby food, although I’d think twice about feeding Sea Urchin to a baby.
Fish Patina (Custard)
Flaked sea bass with scallops in a light egg batter with gram & rue.
I’d admitted defeat by now as I knew the next course was going to be a winner, Wild Boar, one of my favourite meats and one that my farmer provides for me a couple of times a year. We were having difficulty sourcing a large enough quantity of Wild Boar for this meal, so I asked Farmer Simon at Model Farm in Ross-on-Wye for help and he gallantly sat on a tractor for three days to satisfy our carnivorous desires. They can be a large animal, but I was thinking during the meal how big must this beast have been to provide over 21 kg of loin? Speaking to Simon the next day he said he shot three to be on the safe side, just like buses, you wait ages for one wild boar to turn up and then a farmer drives three past you.
Farmer Simon provided the Wild Boar at a very competitive price and wanted nothing in return for this generosity, that’s Farmer Simon at Model Farm in Ross on Wye, place orders at www.modelfarm.org or ring on 01989 567663 top quality fresh organic meat, eggs and vegetables at prices you can afford! The Wild Boar was cooked to perfection, wonderfully tender and the cabbage with leeks and olives was almost a course on its own, accompanied by a moreish mound of peas with egg yolk and ginger. This was without doubt one of the best main courses I’ve eaten at The Buckland Club. With the end in sight, we were served Peaches and Plums in the controversial Cumin and sweet wine sauce, simple but deliciously palate cleansing.
This meal was an absolute triumph.
Sally Grainger frightened the Buckland hordes by explaining that Roman wine was usually diluted with water at a ratio of one third wine to two thirds water, although thankfully this wasn’t the case for our evening as we would have each had to guzzle around four and a half litres to be fully ‘relaxed’.
Another worrying detail about the use of salt was that the Romans mined salt from deposits in the ground, then dissolved it in water, making a brine solution that would be boiled in large uncovered pans over fire. To help the salt come together and form crystals, they would add some kind of coagulating agent such as blood, and to help any organic matter float to the surface where it could be skimmed off, a bit of urine was added, I’m assured that our salt was procured from Waitrose and was as free from blood and urine as could reasonably be expected.
Thanks once again to Catherine Bhorgoff and team for the wonderfully creative table centre pieces.
Mention must be given to Roger Hale’s wonderful and creative menus. I hope everyone appreciates the time and effort that Roger lovingly puts into these creations.
To conclude the evening Roger also gave a short talk about his 48 years as a member of The Buckland Club, or as Roger put it ‘more a congregation of adventurous gastronomes’. Roger, correctly in my opinion, said that this Roman meal was one of the best ever experienced by Buckland attendees, equal to the other highlight of the Trans-Siberian Railway meal. Although he did qualify this by mentioning that some dinners have been awful and some really quite disgusting, although this was all part of the challenge.
Club President, Roger Hale, addressed members & guests.
Thanks, must once again go to Greg Smith and his team. Sally Grainger said that she has cooked in many kitchens around the world and tonight’s experience was the most positive experience she had ever had. It certainly showed in the quality and presentation of this wonderful meal.
The whole evening was a fitting celebration of 70 years of The Buckland Club and set a high standard to maintain for future events.
Dinner Minutes Secretary
The evening was attended by around seventy members and guests, all of whom treated the occasion with the sense of gravitas that is expected at a Buckland Club dinner.
The whole evening went with a bang.