Now that Parliament is in purdah, leaving the Lords little to do other than head on holiday, the Peers’ Dining Room has been to the public for the first time, serving 3 courses for £35. I suppose one might call it something of a “pop open” rather than a “pop up”. Obviously such an opportunity was not to be overlooked, so a few friends and I thought we’d try it out – a bit of recon work, as it were, ahead of our expected and undoubted ennoblement in the not too distant future.
On previous occasions when visiting Parliament I have been able to use the more restricted entrances and avoid any queues. However, on this occasion, entrance was to be gained via what I like to call the “Great Traitors Entrance” or, as it is officially known, the Cromwell Entrance, which is used by the public. Thankfully purdah meant that there were very few people trying to get in and we were able to pass through quickly. We were directed through Westminster Hall and down towards the House of Lords where we were met and escorted to the Peers’ bar overlooking the Thames. A double height room, it has clearly not long been restored as the original Pugin decoration of crimson red wallpaper was immaculate.
The menu, as one would expect, was British through and through
The great joy, though, wasn’t the room – beautiful but nothing out of the ordinary for Parliament – but the prices on the bar list. Clearly the subsidised, or at least low-cost, drinks enjoyed by their lordships were to be offered to us too, so double House of Lords G&Ts were ordered all round to sip while contemplating the menu. The bar list also gave an insight into the cocktail preferences of the nobility – Old Fashioneds and Martinis. So we know that, when living up to the old saying of being as drunk as Lords, at least they are doing so as a result of proper drinks.
The menu, as one would expect, was British through and through, and very much like the menu of a gentlemen’s club in St James’s. I went for the potted sea trout and crab, served with a spring salad of shelled peas and broad beans, radish slices, leaves, and crab dressing. It was really very good, and a perfect light starter for a hot spring day. The crab and trout made for a well-flavoured combination that was more interesting than the standard straight potted crab or potted salmon, and was then enhanced by the crab dressing which was beautifully rich and bursting with crab flavour. The salad added another note of freshness and the attention to detail by shelling the peas and broad beans was of the level you would expect to find in a Michelin-starred establishment.
Two of my companions had the House of Lords game terrine with its inclusion of pigeon breast and pistachios. Both thought it was good, but “much of a muchness”. The mushroom vol-au-vent with truffled béarnaise was also enjoyed, though looked less well finessed and more wintery in its presentation than the other starters, with their light, green and spring-like qualities.
1955 Cockburn’s Vintage port at £15 a glass, truly remarkable value
The ox cheek with champ, heritage carrots and salsa verde was my choice of main. While not as impressive as my starter, it was good and exactly what you would have expected of it, though the champ could have been finer. The salsa verde made for a nice accompaniment, adding a sharpness to the ox cheek that helped to enhance it, though I did have to ask for English mustard to go with it too. To my mind it was needed as the mustard helped to add a heat that cut through the jus while not diminishing the ox cheek and salsa verde, but rather enhancing them. The chicken and salmon mains were also ordered and were nicely done, though again not as good as the starters – a trend that seems to have been growing in restaurants over the last few years.
Dessert was cheese all round, which must have been the best value item on the menu as it had no supplementary charge and consisted of the three largest pieces of cheese I’ve ever had at a restaurant. The highlight, however, was the port we ordered to go with it – a 1955 Cockburn’s Vintage port at £15 a glass, truly remarkable value (bottles on average go for £230), and with a beautiful rich caramel colour and taste