Behold, good ladies of Seven Hills WI! On Friday 24 May, Sheffield’s Showroom Cinema Café Bar was brimming with gorebellies galore at the SHWI Dining Club’s latest event, Ye OldeTudor Banquet! The Showroom had very kindly offered to provide us with a bespoke menu of our choice and after consultation with our members, it became clear that SHWI ladies are suckers for a bit of historical action (oo-er!). With this in mind, Showroom Kitchen Chef Simon Ayres developed a menu based around traditional olde English fare from Tudor times, utilising seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients and presented with a very modern twist. And here is his masterpiece:
Starters: Smoked mackerel and goat’s milk tart Roast Tongue – corned beef and kidney pudding Food for the poor: Pottage, honey, cheese and bread
Mains: Rabbit – posh pastry, rabbit loin, swede fondant, rabbit cutlet Cod Mornay
Dessert: Poor Knights’ Pudding – with rose water Tarte of strawberries with cream…
…A feast worthy of a king, I’ve no doubt you’ll agree.
For the first time in the history of SHWI Dining Club, the event was opened up to friends and family of SHWI members and 21 of us gathered on two banquet tables and awaited the start of the scoffing, with the added nerve-wracking element of Mama Bainbridge ready to experience Laura’s organisational talent! Although the room was abuzz with excitement, it is rare that the event lives up to the anticipation. However, when our starters arrived, we quickly realised that verily, had we witnessed naught til that moment (or for non-16th Century dwellers, we hadn’t seen nothin’ yet).
Up first were the two starter dishes of smoked mackerel and goat’s milk tart and mini steak and beef puddings with gravy and tongue. The Showroom’s clever and inventive organisation and presentation meant that, true to historical form, our dishes were presented on sharing platters, meaning that people could pick and choose at little (or as it transpired, a LOT) of what they fancied. The names of the dishes make them sound fairly straightforward but the complexity of ingredients made them a joy to behold (and munch). The flavour combination of salty mackerel with creamy goat’s cheese was enhanced by fresh dill and crunchy walnuts and additional texture was provided by the cheese-infused, crumbly, perfectly short pastry tart base.
The beef puddings were super savoury bombs of meaty goodness, packed with tender chunks of kidney and encased in a melt-in-the-mouth suet shell. These were served on a platter bejewelled with freshly podded broad beans, that dazzled like emeralds next to the chunky puds, and came with a side of intensely meaty, addictive gravy (Bainbridge actually drank half a jug of the stuff.) These may not have looked as elegant as the mackerel tarts, but who cares when they come served with gravy this good?
These culinary delights were followed by a VERY hearty serving of pottage (chunky root vegetable broth with slivers of bacon), served with three varieties of home-made bread and three British cheeses. First up was a Yorkshire Blue from Shepherds Purse – a delicate, creamy blue with a subtle tang, it was perfect drizzled with the honey and squished onto the poppy seeded bread. The most popular cheese seemed to be the Ribblesdale Goat’s cheese – not the usual soft, log-type chèvre, but a firm, mild cheese with a pretty pea-green wax. Last, but not least, was the Cornish Yarg – a nettle wrapped beauty: fresh, creamy and crumbly. There was so much bread and cheese left over, we cheekily asked for some takeaway boxes, to which the super-friendly staff happily obliged.
Most of us by this point were thoroughly glad we were not dressed in corsets as our Tudor counterparts would have been. Kudos to Grace Tebbutt, Chelle Cook, Victoria White and Jen Marsden who frankly must have managed to channel Henry VIII himself in order to finish their meals whilst be-costumed! However, despite our (historically accurate of course) full bellies, we were only half way through the banquet!
Next up were the main courses of rabbit served three ways and Cod Mornay. The cod was served on a bed of peppery rocket and was cooked to perfection, soft skin holding together the beautiful cod that flaked to the touch, all covered in a mellow and creamy cheese sauce.
The rabbit platter was a work of art laid out on a massive slate square – it was difficult to know where to start. Juicy rabbit loin, crammed with herb flecked stuffing and wrapped in pancetta was a definite highlight – t’old Bugs can be a little dry and bland sometimes, but not this time! There were also dainty crumbed cutlets served on sweet swede fondant and little posh shortcrust pasties too, because you can never have a rabbit too many ways. Amazingly, there was still room on the platter for ridiculously delicious mushrooms (salty, baked perhaps? Who cares -they were good!), super-sweet tomato, cleverly presented courgette pieces, more of those jewel-like beans and the obligatory smear of veggie puree.
Finally, our intrepid diners were rewarded with two mouth-watering desserts of strawberry and cream tarte and Poor Knight’s Pudding with clotted cream. Many of us were intrigued at the sound of the latter dish, and there was certainly nothing ‘poor’ about it. Sweet, warm, fluffy mini pancakes were served drizzled with a perfectly tart berry compote. In glorious contrast was the smooth and simultaneously fresh tarte – a simple masterpiece of the thinnest, short-bread like pastry, filled with sweetened whipped cream and topped with fresh strawberries – it would not have looked out of place in a French patisserie window. Again, the generosity of the portioning meant many a tart was taken back home (in a box) to be enjoyed later when the savouries had been digested.
As our bonaire evening came to an end, our satisfied revellers headed home, taking with them full bellies and good memories. Universally positive feedback marvelled at the very generous portions, excellent service and the fantastic, flamboyant, fabulous culinary delights they had experienced. There was only one problem – after sampling the menus of both rich and poor Tudors, we honestly couldn’t decide if we would have preferred to be paupers living on pottage, bread cheese and Poor Knights’ Pudding, or great noblewomen feasting on an array of meat, fish, pastry and tarts. All that can be said is it’s easy to see why the Elizabethan era was called the ‘Golden Age’! To sum up: Most. Epic.Dining.Club.Ever.
Showroom + SHWI Dining Club = Foody, Tudor-y, heaven.
Anna Pilson and Laura Bainbridge
SHWI committee members and Dining Club organisers