Annual Banquet

Thursday 6th November 2014

The President’s Annual Banquet 2014 was one of those rare and special occasions destined to stay in the memory for many years to come. This year the prestigious black tie event was held in the State Apartments of the iconic Royal Hospital Chelsea. Just to arrive into the very presence of the intensely historic surroundings gave us all a flavour of the delights the evening had in store and our anticipation was certainly not to be disappointed.

Members and their guests gathered in the ante‐ room of the Royal Hospital’s State Apartments for reception drinks and an excellent selection of canapés very professionally served by the catering team.

One could be forgiven for finding it difficult to concentrate on conversation with colleagues, no matter how convivial, because of the amazing surroundings. To be in a room which had been designed by Sir Christopher Wren, embellished by Robert Adams, and had regularly hosted Kings, Queens and other notables since the 17th Century, was just awe inspiring.

Introductions and greetings over we moved into the council chamber for the banquet where the furnishings, portraits and wall decor proved to be even more impressive.

The President opened the proceedings by welcoming all to the banquet and introducing his distinguished guests and the Royal Hospital’s Lieutenant Governor, Major General David McDowall CBE, who was our host.

Grace was given by our Chaplain, the Reverend Roddy Leece, and the meal commenced. I was privileged to be sitting on the same table as In Pensioner David Thompson, a former chef with the Army Catering Corps, who gave us a glimpse of what life is like for a resident. He also spoke about the renovations being made to the structure of the building, which is over three hundred years old, to make life more comfortable for him and his fellow residents.

The starter course comprised an appetising and generous presentation of smoked salmon garnished with beetroot jelly and micro herbs. The subtle flavours melted on the pallet. With the nutty flavour of the guacamole mousse, fragrant herbs and crunchiness of the croutons the dish provided the perfect start to our gastronomic experience.

The second course, Quail Breast and Confit Bon Bon was visually exquisite and the flavours were so delicately balanced. Without a doubt this dish demonstrated the high level of the Chef’s culinary experience.

The main course of cutlets of lamb with a stilton cheese soufflé was cooked to perfection and gave a visually very pleasing presentation. If there was a hint that the cheese soufflé might overpower the dish and steal the show this was quickly dispelled, with all the flavours complementing each other perfectly.

Then to the finale. With a pleasant sense of feeling satisfied, but not quite full, the dessert of Chawan Mushi was expertly placed in front of us. The fresh fruity flavours with soft, foamy and crisp textures popped in the mouth not one flavour daring to overpower the other.

This report would be incomplete without mention of the wines which were expertly chosen to complement each individual course. The body and bouquet of the 2010 Cru Bourgeois made an exceptional partner to the main course, while the 2003 Coteaux du Layon provided a subtle companion to the sweetness of the Chawan Mushi.

Dessert was followed by the loyal toast, and then by leading fellow Gastronomes in a rousing “Santé du Chef et Service” for our member, Garry Young and his team, supplemented by the eager and skilled students of Westminster Kingsway College who provided the superb service. This provided a perfect backdrop to the President presentation of a cheque for £3,000 from the President’s Fund to Geoff Booth FIH, Vice Principal and Head of Hospitality at Westminster Kingsway College. This donation will be used by the College to provide additional support for the students, thereby enhancing the learning experience, and Geoff Booth identified a number of initiatives to which the donation was intended. The banquet was then brought to a conclusion by the President thanking Major General David McDowall before we retired back to the ante ‐ room for coffee and petits fours
to round off an unforgettable evening before setting off for home.

I am sure I reflected the thoughts of all my fellow Gastronomes when I say that I left the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea feeling that I was indeed privileged to have experienced such an amazing gastronomic evening in so wonderful and historic a setting.

Richard Hannay