The Historical Dining Rooms, Totterdown

Girl in Bristol is invited to Historical Dining above the Star and Dove for a memorable evening …

Last Monday when I was invited to one of the first ‘historical dining’ evenings above the Star & Dove, I really didn’t know what to expect. Would there be a large swan with a meat pie set in its body? Would there be chicken broth and kidney soufflé? Maybe I had been watching a few too many BBC period dramas and had completely the wrong idea …

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For Leigh Pascoe, Matt Duggan and Tim Denny, the creation of Historical Dining has been a real labour of love. It has taken the chefs and Star & Dove landlords a lengthy process of two years to ensure the entire menu is as faithful to the original dishes as possible, some of which date back to the 12th century. Even the coloured parrot wallpaper in the dining room and the herb/vegetable garden on the rooftop beside the kitchen required many hours of research and historical consultations to get right.

The menu is primed around what’s in season. Speciality ingredients are planted and grown in Historical Dining’s own garden if possible to ensure authenticity, but the trio of chefs have also sourced their ingredients from other locations such as Dorset’s coastline. These ingredients have then been grouped together following the chefs’ analysis of historical books and manuscripts. They also use the works of food historians Annie Gray and Ivan Day to fill in any blanks.

Our experience of Historical Dining started by us ringing a doorbell (a little like you would at an exclusive cocktail bar), after which we were welcomed up to a small waiting area and then into the main dining room where glasses of wine were distributed by waiters/waitresses dressed in black tie.

A scoop of parmesan ice cream (A. B. Marshall/ 1888) was the first course to emerge from the kitchen, served with a delicate crisp biscuit and a glass of Three Choirs classic cuvée brut white wine. Admittedly this was probably our least favourite course on the menu given its potent flavour and abnormal texture (cheese ice cream is definitely an acquired taste) but it was great to try something new.

IMG_5347Next, a beautifully carved wooden bowl which held two types of Victorian-inspired bread served with a tangy whey butter and smoky lard arrived. The smoky lard was the most popular at our table, though both were eagerly consumed, and the breads were perfectly soft with a pleasingly crisp crust.

The Skuet starter (E. Smith/ 1753) arrived when we were halfway through the bread course, paired with a Rondo wine from Bradford on Avon. It also brought with it an element of table-theatre; the veal sweetbreads forced with nutmeg, apple sorrel, bacon and a fricassee of sheep’s tongue presented in a small glass container upon a nest of foliage and wild flowers. Billows of smoke escaped from the top after we lifted the lid and the contents within was exquisite to taste and for me, one of the main highlights of the meal.

The fish course by comparison had a combination of subtler ingredients, invigorated by the Villa Blanche Chardonnay with which it was paired. The fired turbot (Thomas Dawson/ 1596) was delicate and wonderfully moist, served with broiled and roasted Dorset sea lettuce (which tastes a little like seaweed), cucumber and samphire hash sauce.

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Punch a la Romaine was a surprise from the beginning, our waitress only revealing beforehand that it was a punch given at dances aboard the Titanic. First there came a rounded glass with a scoop of lemon sorbet and meringue in it. Then, a bottle of rum syrup followed, the waiter filling the glasses to about an eighth of the way up. The result was incredible. As the meringue began to break off into the syrup, there was a perfect fusion of texture and flavour which left us yearning for more.

Finally a nod to the British summer was given with the delicious ‘diverse strawberries’ dessert (Harleian MS/ 1430) which was accompanied by a glass of a perfectly named dessert wine, Elysium.

Whilst it’s great that Britain now has the opportunity to try a number of different cuisines from around the world, this has partly led to us losing sight of our own food traditions.

Historical Dining has taken a bold move in trying to resolve this, bringing to the table a completely seasonal menu based upon the historical writings of British chefs within the context of a reconstructed Georgian dining room. But, the risk paid off; the food is of the highest standard you can find in this city and, with every mouthful, you can taste the sheer quality of the ingredients used whether they’re from the garden just down the corridor or literally further afield. These chefs are clearly passionate about what they’re doing with Historical Dining and their enthusiasm is further exemplified by their efforts in the kitchen.

Historical Dining may not come particularly cheap, but it is a price worth paying for a truly wonderful food experience. I strong recommend this place if you’re looking to indulge a loved one or just yourself!

Historical Dining Rooms, The Black Door (Above the Star and Dove), Windsor Terrace, Totterdown, Bristol, BS3 4RY

(Please note: Whilst the food was complimentary all opinions are my own. The photos also belong to me so please do not reuse without permission.)

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