St Johns College Cambridge this year celebrated it's 500th year in existence. To play my part in celebrating this long life, this week, I graced the St Johns May Ball with my presence.
A May Ball, for those of you who don't know is an all-night long celebration of the end of the academic year. Almost college in Cambridge holds one, or a facsimile thereof (June Event etc) and if you haven't had a chance to go to one, I recommend you beg, borrow or steal one by hook or by crook.
The first thing you will notice about a ball is that they will make some already beautiful scenery, in this case St Johns' College, into something either more absurd or more beautiful
It's not unusual to turn a corner to be faced with something strange and wonderful, like an ice statue of a penguin;
A 20 foot tall globe
Or a madman in a dodgem
However, focusing on the scenery ignores the fact that when in a ball you should never be wanting for something to eat, as they not only have towers of food within easy reach,
But there's always a generous selection of cheeses, usually sourced from the Cambridge Cheese Shop around the corner (a shop worthy of a visit from anyone who is in Cambridge)
Fleets of canapes are often available for quick bites
And sweet treats are stacked tall, towering over their subjects.
Along with these piles of food up for the grabbing, there's always a selection of fish and chips, pizzas, burgers, hog roasts and various other hot food to snack on, as well as an option of a sit down 5-course meal or a 3-am breakfast to wake you up. Both of which are fairly pricy but definitely worth experiencing ones (the dinner if only because it lets you skip the queue)
With this focus on the food, let us not forget about the other key part of a fantastic night; the drink. With punts lying around stocked with Champagne, beer, Fentimen's drinks (the curiosity cola is a 5am lifesaver) and, increasingly towards the end of the night, bottled water, you're never further than 3 metres from a beverage
But if you're more a fan of more complex drinks, you'll be able to be sated by the numerous bars around, serving various brightly coloured drinks, always with happy bartenders enjoying the crowd and a swarm of eager revellers trying to get a drink
For the 500th anniversary, there was something special on the drinks front as well, Sipsmiths Gin from London had brought up their new Summer Cup for an exclusive preview.
This was like all the best parts of Pimms, stripped of the cloying natures. On first taste you get the sweet fruity notes, but they were chased by Earl Gray and Rose Water in equal measures, creating a fantastic yet subtle summer drink. Planning on stocking up on this next summer when it's released. May have to get one of the giant dispensers purely for it.
Not pictured is also the Hot Lemon Gin they were handing out in the wee hours of the morning, a steaming cup of warmth that helped get over the hump of the coldest hours of the night in style.
It doesn't matter at a ball how you go about it, many like to hit up all the main acts and catch as much as you can, others use it as an excuse to catch up with friends and yet more will just take advantage of the free flowing food and drink to have a fantastic night. But whether you experience the 10pm fireworks;
The 2am crash
Or the ridiculous git with the camera
You'll definitely have an experience you'll never forget
This week I've taken a week out from work to live like a mad fool, going to the Opera at Glynebourne, tickets to the Royal Ballet and St Johns College's 500th anniversary May Ball. Most of these are excuses for ridiculously over the top dress and ridiculously beautiful English surrounding.
Glynebourne Opera, for those not in the know (I admit, until last year, I was one of these people) is a Summer series of operas set out in a purpose built auditorium in the English Countryside, attached to a large manor house.
The dress code is Black Tie and guests are encouraged by tradition to bring picnics. These vary from the small, such as our Scones with Jersey Clotted Cream and Strawberry Jam.
To rather more elaborate setups, with the finest china and three course meals produced from the bags that have been brought along.
During the hour and a half intermission, you can also order a three-course meal at the 'Upper Wallop' restaurant (there is also a Middle and Lower Wallop, with different menus)
This is a very impressive spectacle, with all orders placed beforehand from a set menu and everyone being served with almost military precision. Of the probably 400 diners in that room, every single one of them was up and ready to be at their seat by the first bell.
The food wasn't bad either; Starters included a Chorizo Packet on Leeks with a spring Mimosa or Lobster Bisque
Mains were traditional English fare, I had the salt-beef, which evoked all the best memories I have for this dish, without trying anything too new. The beef, while looking hard and jerky-like actually fell apart the second I got to it, brilliant
There was also a far larger choice of Roast Lamb, which met with rather more varied assessments, mainly there was too much of it and the lamb wasn't the best, although still a pleasant dish
Finally, the dessert of Almond Macaron. Firstly it seems quite tautological to call something an almond Macaron and secondly,if you're going to call something an Almond Macaron, it may be worthwhile making it taste of almond or be a macaron. This was more meringue filled with whipped cream. There were also slight complaints that the apricots were deceptively non-alcoholic
However, it's about the experience in the end, and for a fantastic setting (even if it was tipping it down), brilliant opera, an excuse for a picnic and some tasty if not spectacular food, going to Glynebourne is something I'd recommend everyone try at least once.
When shopping around the centre of London, wandering down to Picadilly Circus there's always the situation around lunch of wondering whether to delve into the depths of Soho for a real meal or grab a quick bite at the nearest Pret.
What's better I find is the cheap restaurants scattered around the edges of Soho, one such is Ten Ten Tei, just off Regents Street. A Japanese restaurant where you can get huge portions of comforting, tasty Japanese food for cheap. Including Tonkatsu (Breaded Fried Pork Cutlets)
Beef Donburi; Teriaki Chicken; Fried Tofu As well as standby dishes of Ramen, Katsu Curry (the best winter fill-up food for a long day of shopping with the girlfriend) and ,of course, sushi
So remember the next time you're wandering around the shops of Carnaby Street, Picadilly Circus or Oxford Street that there's an alternative to the Angus Steak House, and it's hidden just around the corner. But if you never look, you'll never find.
When it's cold outside, I often find myself craving something incredibly spicy and flavourful. This is the time that I usually go back to trying to improve my chili recipe;
First step, the spices. I usually base my recipe off cumin, smoked paprika and chipotle, but this time added in preserved garlic, mustard seeds and some Habanero for extra spice.
At this point you need to remember not to sneeze. I've done it before into a pot of spices like this and it's what I'd imagine being maced is like...
Next, the meat. This time I managed to get some spare rib chops and some stewing beef from the local supermarket, both designed for slow cooking and lots of flavour. But I also like using ox tail and pork belly when I'm feeling a bit more patient (ox tail needs most of a day to get to the right level)
After a little while of cooking, adding beer, tomatoes and kidney beans you get a warming dish perfect for a cold night in.
One of the great things about London is the variety of strange things you can do, and last Friday I indulged in one of these; London Zoo Lates. This is where they open the zoo from 6pm to 10pm with bars, music etc spread about. Good fun if you love animals, the outside or just going somewhere a bit different on a Friday night (also recommended in a similar theme; Science/Natural History Museum Lates)
What they don't tell you beforehand is that there is also a fantastic selection of London's street food spread out before you as you arrive.
Obviously, me being me, that meant that the first priority was trying as much as was possible, ignoring the animals until my appetite was sated.
First stop was at the Korean Sliders. Not going to lie, it's because I like feeling like a giant when I'm eating/drinking (give me those tiny bottles of spirits and watch my joy!)
So many tiny burgers, so much choice!
The first round of burgers we went for was the Burger with Soy and Wasabi onions. A tasty burger with the horseradish-like kick of the onions giving a nice finish At the same time we grabbed a Kimchi-Bacon burger, a totally new combination to me, but given the opportunity, one that will become a close friend as the mix of salty, smoky bacon and the Kimchi made this almost better than the standard burger. If only there was a combination of this with a regular burger...
Oh...there is you say?
This Street Food Special, or a bacon-kimchi-cheese slider about the size of my fist is such a beast, and worth hunting down these Korean Sliders specifically for.
Next stop, the Notorious P.I.G. as I'm a sucker for some BBQ.
Especially when it's pulled pork with smoky beans and coleslaw...again reminding me that I need to buy a smoker, a whole pig and start going mad with pork...