Just like being a child of divorced parents entitles you to two sets of gifts, working for two different schools entitles you to two Christmas dinners. This is how I came to go to the Ashmolean Dining Room, at the top of the Oxford museum, on a December evening for my first or two Christmas dinners.
As I entered, I immediately liked the warm tones of the wooden floors and white walls in the dim light. I think the clean modern lines of the room look better by night than they do by day and I agree with the no-nonsense approach to the dining room, which fits very well in the refurbished museum. The place welcomed three parties that evening and the very forgiving lighting was obviously a useful feature as the night went by.
I believe the venue is important when it comes to having a work party. Too imposing and luxurious and people speak in hush voices, never leaving their awkwardness at the door while too mundane a venue will have them forgetting all manners and reaching for the bottle as if they were at home. Or perhaps that’s just the teachers…In this respect, the Ashmolean Dining Room was the perfect evening venue: grand enough to impress and very welcoming at the same time. The wine flowed, sure, but so did the conversation.
Food wise, I have to say my starter left me puzzled. It said “Rillettes of duck with winter berry compote” on the menu but could only be described as rillettes with jam. Anyway, rillettes is a soft sweet pâté that certainly does not need any sweet condiment to go with. Rillettes is what would be found in the equivalent of the ploughman’s lunch in France: hearty, fatty and cheap. It was never going to work with something called “winter berry compote”. Perhaps the chef/management thought they could pass it as posh because of the French name. Nice try but it didn’t fool anyone at our table.
The main dish, however, was in another league. I chose the turkey and everything, from the turkey itself to the sauce, the glazed vegetable and the pigs in blanket was spot on. It tends to show that when the British cook British, it resonates much better with anyone’s palate. Everything seemed of good quality and I could have had more with great pleasure. This, for me, was the highlight of the evening food wise: Christmas dinner at its best.
The dessert was panna cotta with pear and brioche croutons and I found it good, not too sweet, delicate in flavour though I’m not sure the croutons worked well with the slightly too jellied texture. If I was Italian, I would have more points of reference but I have only ever had panna cotta in England and this one was good though it lacked the “that was sooo good baby, let’s do it again” factor.
All in all, I left the Ashmolean Dining Room a contented child with a perfectly acceptable gift but could not help dreaming about what else I was going to get on my second Christmas dinner. How would it compare? If you want to know the answer, see my post on the Cotswolds Lodge Hotel coming later in the week.