A fair few weeks ago, I got a fairly interesting email. It was inviting me to go along to an address on Windsor Terrace in Totterdown and be escorted back in time…
Myself and the boy had been invited along to a preview evening for the recently opened Historical Dining Rooms. Promising an immersive and inventive evening of dining inspired by years gone by, we popped along to see what it was all about.
We arrived at the brilliant Star and Dove pub on St Luke’s Road, and soon saw the sign for the Historical Dining Rooms on the left hand side of the building. We stood outside the door, and rang the impressive wrought iron doorbell. Soon we were greeted by a smartly dressed waitress, who showed us inside.
Once escorted up an impressive stairwell we found ourselves in a wood panelled entrance room. Already, this was so bizarre – it really was as if we’d hopped into a time machine. I wish I’d remembered to put on my corset and crinolines.
We were handed a stout glass of something frothy with a pansy on top. Turns out, it was Mrs Beeton inspired recipe of mainly brandy, so this evening was off to a very good start.
The dining rooms (I hesitate to use the word restaurant, this is so much more than your conventional restaurant) were just as impressive, with exceptional attention to detail. Everything has been done so authentically that you really could have been transported back to the Victorian era. There were vintage treasures tucked into every corner of the room. There was a very relaxed atmosphere, despite the formal surroundings.
Soon it was time for the first of many, many courses. A bit of an unusual start, we were served Parmesan ice cream, decorated with marigold and parmesan oil, from a recipe dating back to 1888.
It was a pretty unusual flavour combo to get used to, to be honest, but was delicious; I particularly enjoyed the big lump of crispy parmesan on top!
The next course was one of my favourites. Yes, it is just bread and butter, but not as you know it. The brown roll was rose and cardamom bread, served with whey butter (a bit cheesier than your average) and lard with crispy bacon bits on top. Yep, bread and pig fat.
I have to admit I was quite squeamish about eating pig fat smothered on bread, but it tasted incredible. One of the things I was already enjoying about this evening is that I was getting the chance to explore and try things which I may have originally not been too keen on, and I was loving it.
Which brings me on to the next course…
I’ve never eaten rabbit before. I never really had any intention of eating a rabbit until it was put in front of me. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive until it arrived. However, rabbit is supposedly one of the more sustainable meats available these days, so that made it slightly better in my book.
This plate was rabbit a few different ways – buttered, roasted, potted and preserved. There was a little loin of the most tender thing I had ever eaten, a delicious lump of buttery roasted goodness, and potted ‘umbles’ covered in yet more lard. Seriously, just writing this paragraph is enough to make me feel guilty about eating a rabbit, but it was quite tasty. I think I may have to be a vegetarian forever just to make up for the shame at eating something I have previously cherished as a pet.
We were soon collected from our table and taken on a tour of the rest of the dining rooms, which looked just as impressive as the rest of the building, and then out through the kitchen on to the rooftop terrace.
Oh. My. Goodness!
It was AMAZING. Properly amazing – so many of the ingredients we had just been eating had come from this little rooftop garden, situated slap bang in the middle of the city. It’s truly astonishing what they had managed to cultivate in this little patch of paradise, from the marigolds that came on our parmesan ice cream to the strawberries in our dessert. They even had bees!!
It’s quite a pleasant change to see a restaurant so invested in their food that they grow half of it themselves. That is dedication.
Installed safely back in our seats, with a fresh glass of wine, it was time for another course (I was about ready to burst at this point).
It was a fish course – ‘stockfish’, salted and fried, with onions in buttermilk, garlic kernels and a sauce of pickled black walnuts.
I’m not usually one for fish, but this was absolutely delicious. I’m really not sure what a stock fish is when he’s at home – a kind of white fish, by the taste of it – but there was an amazing firm texture to it. It was pretty darn salty, but the flavour worked really well with the rest of the bits on the plate, including that long spear of kale sitting atop.
There was a small gap before dessert, just enough time for a quick ‘Punch a la Romaine’ – lemon sorbet topped with meringue sitting in a glass, topped up with hot brandy. The lemon sorbet and meringue melts, and you’re left with a gooey delicious boozy concoction at the bottom of the glass to gobble up. Apparently it was served at Victorian dance parties when they needed a bit more pep to keep going. I reckon Vodka Revs should take note, this stuff is bloody delightful.
We were soon on to our final course for the evening, and one I was looking forward to the most. I by no means have a sweet tooth by any stretch of the imagination (I’d much rather a bag of crisps to a chocolate bar) but I LOVE PUDDING.
This plate of beauty is ‘diverse strawberries’. We were speculating about what could possibly make strawberries so diverse right up til the moment it landed on our table. We were served strawberries suspended in a delicately flavoured jelly, with a crunchy granola type thing and thickened almond milk mousse spiced with long pepper. Those teeny tiny berries are bubbleberries – bubblegum flavoured strawberries.
I probably don’t need to tell you that this was absolutely brilliant as well. That spiced almond froth was incredible – there’s something about pepper and strawberries which works really, really well together.
When we had all finished dessert and were polishing off the rest of the sweet wine, the brains behind this eccentric outfit came out to tell us a little more about the whole operation. This has been a long time coming – a few years in the making – and it really does show. There is so much passion and dedication behind this project it’s infectious. Their mission is to celebrate the fantastic cultural heritage we have in this country, and bring people dishes which really represent what’s great about British cuisine.
The thing I loved most about the whole evening is that despite all my speculation I had no idea what I was going to eat – this really is culinary exploration at its finest, and it’s one of the most exciting evenings I’d had out in a long time.
Thank you so much for Caroline and the Historical Dining Rooms for inviting me out for such a fantastic evening, I’ll definitely be seeing you again!
Disclaimer: I was invited for a complimentary meal for the purpose of this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.