Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Food: Dining Rooms, Whether Grand or Humble, Are Always Full of Memories

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Food: Dining Rooms, Whether Grand or Humble, Are Always Full of Memories

Article excerpt

Dining rooms will soon be obsolete, if they are not so already. The phrase sounds almost Victorian. Ten years ago, when I lived in north London, the local caff in Hannibal Road was quaintly called the Hannibal Dining Rooms, and came complete with ancient glass-panelled frontage and brown paintwork. At the time, I was writing about a 19th-century medium who lost no opportunity to meet her seedy mentor in those dining rooms and tuck into a plate of spotted dick with custard.

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I started thinking about dining rooms because last night I sat in a very grand one. The French embassy hosted a dinner to celebrate awarding a medal to a writer friend. The ceremony completed, the champagne drunk, we moved into the salle a manger. On a hot summer night, 20 of us sat in semi-darkness, a door open to the garden behind, around an elongated oval table draped in white, lit by candles hoisted aloft by carved cherubs and decorated with big bowls of pink roses. Prodigal drifts of petals scattered the cloth. Gilt-framed paintings gleamed in the darkness. We ate the kind of exquisite, unrecognisable food that, like conceptual art, requires an explanatory text. A fraicheur d'asperge verte on which floated a cappuccino of asperge blanche a la truffe. A poitrine de pigeon farcie de foie gras, sauce aux cerises. We understood the delice glace aux abricots et rhubarbe, but how did we recognise the bergamot scenting the compote? …

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