Formal Hall DIY

ADRIAN GRAY attempts to concoct his own version of Trinity’s formal hall menu on a budget of just £5.

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Being a Christ’s student, I’m used to being fed a sewer-load of what can only be described as ‘produce’ in formal hall.

In fact, most of my formal meals consist of bizarre battered-flesh growths that look like a full-sized turkey dinosaur has shat onto some porcelain; soup that would be frowned upon in an Edwardian prison, and the kind of vanilla dessert you’d expect to find being pooed out of a machine labelled Mister Whoppy in a Lithuanian ice-cream van.

There’s an element of ridiculous experimentation to the meals too. I once received a slab of pork topped with a boiled egg, red cabbage and some apple – which sounds like the kind of thing Heston Blumenthal would attempt if he took a blow to the head and started rummaging through bins for inspiration. It’s a wonder, then, that this demented carnival of culinary molestation costs £7.20. In fact, formal halls in general seem overpriced in in the light of both their quality and their buttery/upper-hall counterparts.

So, I set myself a challenge. Could I replicate an entire formal meal for half its original price? Surely it was possible. Reproducing a Christ’s meal, though, would be a tad unambitious, so I aimed high: a full on Trinity formal. The original price was a little steeper at around £10, covering somewhat for my lack of economies of scale, but the menu was more than a touch tricky. For £5 I had to make:

  • Roasted plum tomato soup
  • Fillet of Beef wellington with wine and shallots sauce, pommes dauphinoise and vine tomatoes
  • Summer berry cheese cake

So, slightly intimidated, I grabbed a fiver and headed for Sainsbury’s, before returning to my room and Googling ‘pommes dauphinoise’, and then walking back to Sainsbury’s. The soup was dealt with almost instantly- Sainsbury’s basics cream tomato soup (24p), followed quickly by a ready-made berry cheesecake for £1.10. I tackled the beef next (figuratively), picking up basics mince for £1.24, but soon found myself struggling with the wine and shallot sauce (again, figuratively). A substitute was needed, and the only alcohol-based sauce I’d found was a beef and ale. It would have to do – 59p.

Unable to find anything affordable that vaguely resembled pommes dauphinoise (roughly translated as ‘big potato thing’), I bought a cottage pie for 76p, and moved onto the vine tomatoes. Now, presumably all tomatoes were, at some point, on a vine, and this menu was fairly non-specific as to when it wanted this point to be, so I bought a loose tomato for 14p.

Ready, Steady, Spew

Preparation began and it soon became clear that I’d ignored the Wellington element of beef Wellington  apparently it required pastry. With the total cost currently sitting at £4.07, I phoned a friend in Sainsbury’s. “The pastry’s 99p”, he said. The dream of staying within budget collapsed before my very ear. “But there’s scone mixture for 69p”, he continued. Was there much difference between scone mixture and pastry, I thought? Surely scones were really just big pastry cylinders?

“Go for it”, I said.

Unexpected items in bagging area.

Ten minutes in and the soup was ready for consumption. It tasted a bit like a semi-homeopathic bowl of ketchup. Next, work began on extracting the potato from the cottage pie, and I started fingering the scone mixture. The beef, now cradled in the greasy womb of a George Foreman grill, dribbled away like a bored Saint Bernard finishing a Calippo, while the sauce was squeezed into a cereal bowl and pushed into a microwave. Some stuff happened, including wrapping the beef in scone mixture and moving certain things from one place to another- usually somewhere not in an oven to somewhere within an oven- until, eventually, the potato was cooked, the sauce poured over the scone-covered beef, and the tomato added. Eating commenced.

In short, the Wellington tasted like someone had baked some gristle into a clump of shortbread. And, seeing as that was essentially what had happened, this wasn’t surprising. The pommes dauphinoise, on the other hand, proved a bigger disappointment: the flavour balance was all wrong, the textures in no way refined, and the harsh, cardboardy aftertaste completely misjudged. The berry cheesecake was, well, nice. Obviously.


So, can you make a formal dinner for half its standard price? Yes, sort of. It won’t taste wonderful, but you’ll have reduced the amount of money being injected into the economy, and that can only be a good thing.

Wait, hang on.