Formal Hall: Girton

Not only is INDIA ROSE MATHARU-DALEY impressed with formal hall at Girton, she doesn’t even think it’s that far to travel.

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Girton only offers formal hall once a week, so it has a sense of occasion that’s often lacking elsewhere.

A certain solemnity and sophistication emanate from diners decked out in their finest and even, to some degree, from the prowling Head Porter, who’s on hand to frogmarch people out if he spots any pennies.

A very attractive hall

An attractive hall

Patrons bring their own wine and can usually preview the menu online before choosing an appropriate bottle. This week the website was down, however, so I lowered the tone by passing off a bottle of gin and tonic as Sainsbury’s House shiraz, classy girl that I am.

Girton caters well for vegetarians. Had my starter been a feature film, a strong Cashel blue cheese would have played the hero, with the leading lady being taken on by a cluster of gorgeous caramelised pecans – beguilingly sweet and packing just the right level of crunch. The endives, pear and watercress were inoffensive supporting actors, but lacked any Oscar-winning zing.

Good, strong blue

Top starter

My omnivorous contemporaries enjoyed a flamboyant fruit-meat combo – juicy figs and ‘charentais’ (read cantaloupe) melon with Parma ham, mozzarella, rocket and balsamic syrup.

The money melon.

The money melon.

After such a strong starter, my veggie main course came as a bit of a flop. The Shepherd’s Pie arrived in a form I can only really describe as a ‘dollop’. Lentils – oh goodie, iron! – replaced the usual lamb, and were done well: mashed with their skins on, they had an interesting texture rendered all the better by chunklets of mushroom. The mixture also apparently contained leeks, but these were entirely overpowered by the legumes and fungi. The lentil dollop was served with another dollop of goat’s cheese mash, alongside some rustic broccoli and carrots. Buttered the vegetables were not, and altogether the dish was a tad dry.

The honey-glazed confit de canard served with braised red cabbage looked far livelier. I would have partaken of some of its sour cherry sauce accompaniment if the waitress had come along with extra. Girton has perfected its gratin dauphinois, I was assured. It was presented alongside the duck with a delightfully crusty top.

A strong Confit

Crusty Dauphinois

The French theme continued into dessert, a raspberry crème brûlée. Really it was ‘raspberry’ only insofar as the berries came encased in custard, rather than adding any flavour to it. The ‘crème’ was a little too cold and the top not quite crispy enough, but all was salvaged by a stick of hearty Scottish shortbread that had been lightly dusted in sugar. I cannae say it is the done thing, but it was belter dipped in the custard.

A wee bit of shortbread

A wee bit of shortbread

All in all, formal at Girton is worth the journey. In fact, the journey isn’t even that bad. The Citi 6 bus takes all of five minutes and I hitched a cheap taxi ride back to town with some Girtonians on their way to Spoons. A piss up it ain’t, but you can’t go far wrong if you want good food in a pleasant setting.