One thing’s for certain in Oxford, and that is that no-one goes hungry. Honestly, with the amount of wining and dining that goes on, it’s baffling that there aren’t more obese rosacea-nosed people rolling around the colleges. Each week there are multiple formal dinners, and at each formal dinner there are multiple courses. Second dessert is totally a thing here. Which seems like the thin edge of the wedge. The very fat wedge. Of roquefort papillon. Basically, it’s difficult to keep perspective.
Last week I was lucky enough to score an invite to Guest Dinner, a black tie college event where 20 balloted people invite 2 guests to dine at the beautiful New Rooms (yes, I imagine that this can make for some interesting third wheel situations). I was expecting to have to row at Christ Church regatta the following day but we were knocked out after our second race to Jesus College (one of our girls caught a crab right at the start and we struggled to recover, thus putting on a ‘crapshow’ according to our extremely disgruntled cox). Once again, bested by Jesus!
On the bright side, it meant that I didn’t have to worry about racing the next day. So guess who converted water to wine that night?
The food was incredible. Aside from when I get too enthusiastic about my meal-to-be and knock my cutlery off the table, I’ve never had 4 forks before (I genuinely thought the only sizes they came in were entree, regular, salad server and pitchfork). There were 5 courses of deliciousness, and not like those pretentious degustations where you get a petri specimen of shredded snowcrab, a teaspoon of peach foam, a thrice-cooked edamame bean and a skid-mark of chocolate. This was proper food – toasted walnut blinis with brie, scallops and pistachio puree, Beef Wellington and Jerusalem artichoke tart, sticky toffee pudding with vanilla bean gelato, and second desserts of fruit, chocolate and Turkish delight. I totally gestated a Jon & Kate plus 8 food baby that night.
Another sought after college event is the Exchange Dinner where students from another college dine at yours one night, and you dine at their college another night. I had one at Queen’s College last Monday. I think the typical litote-laden Aussie reaction to their hall is, ‘Not too shabby’.
Again, the food was amazing: triangles of smoked salmon Melba toast, vegetable timbales, slabs of pork, chocolate pyramids, other foods in various geometric shapes…
Aside from completely destroying your perspective about how much food you really need, these kinds of dinners teach you to be really good at small talk. Or rather, they teach you how to cope with difficult people when you’re stuck next to them for 2 hours. Personally, I think I’m a pretty decent dinner companion. I’m mild-mannered, will happily swap mains if it’s one of those fish-steak-fish-steak arrangements (because geez do some people get het up about getting their second-choice protein) and always have a handy selection of dining puns up my sleeve (‘Lettuce start our salads!’/’Shall we give peas a chance?’/’Let’s not squab-ble over this pigeon!’). My dinner companion at Queen’s, however, was less affable. His conversational gems included:
– ‘Are you sure you’re Australian? You don’t sound it. Your voice isn’t even that grating.’
– ‘Do you starve yourself?’ [when I politely declined extra potatoes]. ‘Do you think you’re fat?’
– ‘Are you religious? You seem like maybe you came from a repressed religious background.’
Fortunately I have a hilarious Dad who made it his mission during my childhood to thicken my hide. He would tease me mercilessly, hide onions in my gym bag to embarrass me in front of my classmates (it definitely worked the first few times) and stashed my Little Mermaid Barbie in my Year 9 Outward Bound camp bag so that when we had bag inspections I had to explain myself to a former ADFA Sergeant. Thanks to my Dad, I’m not that sensitive, and found my dinner companion more amusing than offensive.
But if you were the sensitive type, you could always count on there being plenty of food to eat your feelings, and port to drown your sorrows!