Review: My Week in Food

Poppy Mulvaney strips back the shocking truth of formals at an all girl college.

Churchill Formal Lucy Cavendish Michael Jackson Pork St Trinians


I know organised people exist. I can see them. They fly down Downing street, matching hat, matching scarf, matching gloves (I’m always one glove short myself. I pretend I’m Michael Jackson. I’m lying…) They sit up in lectures, 10 minutes early, mini white laptop open, fingers poised at the ready, while I’m poking my neighbour to borrow a pen, and perhaps, a scrap of paper? I particularly see them exiting libraries – large fashion bag full of the books that I need, had I not spent 15 minutes trying to find my damn card. Of course, I’ve tried to be organised. I bought an oraniser, first day of term, pages crisp with expectations for all the dates I’m going to fill in, the appointments I definitely will keep. I still have it, of course, it comes everywhere with me, riding shotgun next to my phone and wallet – but empty as the day it became mine. Dreadful behaviour.

Luckily, Cambridge is remarkably kind to disorganised folk such as myself. The porter picks up my mail, my bills whizz automatically out of my account, I only need to remember one log in for most websites, and I can get into the Haddon without a card (wonderful when you’ve left it on your desk. Again.) It even takes care of my entertainments! Take formals for instance. Imagine how bloody organised you’d have to be to come up with three courses AND alcohol for you and three of your closest friends? Ridiculous. So instead I took the friends to Lucy Cavendish’s formal, which runs every Thursday. I tried to convince them that I had a hand in the cooking, but well, I don’t think they looked particularly believing. Still, I had high hopes the sherry would loosen them up. People believe that because Lucy is an all girl graduate college it’s mostly old doddery women, but really, you get a pretty good mix at formal – generally due to females being followed home by men who are dying to get inside an all girls college. I feel sorry for those who turn up at formal and expect St Trinian’s though – We all wear gowns, and there is nothing more unsexy then that proverbial cotton bin bag. Still, the candle light and large dining hall in Lucy definitely helps, even if my only male companion at this particular repast was a sweet, but admittedly long in the tooth, oxford don.  The first course was described as ‘Fig and Watercress Salad with Blue Cheese Crumbs’. To my, perhaps uneducated palatte, it look more like one quite tasteless fig cut into quarters on a bed of slightly wilted greens, topped off with quite a deliciously pungent scattering of blue cheese bits. It wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t watercress in sight. Still, one glass of sherry and a glass of red down, and I wasn’t in the complaining mood. Plus, the bread roll was pretty good.

Pork was next, beautifully cooked and tender, but mine was more fat then anything else. And the gooseberry chutney was cold, which was quite an odd side dish, especially since the brit on one side was calling for apple sauce, and the yank on the other was peering suspiciously at the ‘crackling’ that was topping off her meat. I’m Irish, so I stuck to the Lyonnaise potatoes and gravy. What’s good enough for ancestors etc. Two glasses of wine in, and the highlight arrives. Bailey’s Panna Cotta with, wait for it, a beetroot border. It tasted like raspberries, but the pud was amazingly alcoholic to the point that on the stagger home, all four of us did the monkey walk in front of Kettle’s Yard. How else should one end an evening of such sophistication and class?

The  next day, fresh from my organisational success (all three guests were down on the list and sitting next to me. A mini miracle in my life.), but naturally with no food in the cupboard, I followed a friend home to Churchill to have dinner. First things first, if you’ve never been there, Churchill looks like a cross between a 1960s high school, a church –  dining hall is HUGE – and apparently a bunker, though I plead ignorance on that account considering I’ve never seen a bunker with reflecting ponds and odd artwork. The food was decent enough – something claiming to be chicken stirfry, although I swear it was almost in risotto territory by the time it was dished up, but more expensive then you’d expect, although I was particularly impressed with the salad bar, spending time selecting 1 of each seed to top off my lettuce surprise (Surprise! …it’s just lettuce). The movable tray clearer is awesome though. I want one for my room, I’m sure it would help with organising things. Or maybe just to ride around in it for a while. Leaving Churchill however I completely lost my bike in the sea of gloomy identical machines. To stop this happening again, I have attached one of those lost key devices which beep when you press a button so you can locate the errant object. I then, in my infinite, and organised, wisdom, put the button somewhere incredibly safe. On a completely separate note – has anyone seen a little black keyring with a button  knocking around?