'Is this what Shakespeare would have called the brightest heaven of invention?'

It’s extraordinary what the French can do with a potato. Pommes Anna consists of only two principal ingredients: the homely tuber, sliced thin, and a very large quantity of melted butter (plus a certain amount of salt, to prevent the dish becoming too healthy). I know this from having been served it at the Mansion House, EC4, where the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers was having a banquet. What a do!

No wonder the splendour of the place overawed Mr Pooter when he took his wife there for a dance. Although not as interminable as the 16-course affairs of the Victorian period, the meal was of a refinement undreamt of before the foodie 21st century. Olive oil-poached salmon, textures of apple, chervil-root purée, spiced elderberry jus, plum cannelloni, yoghurt sorbet… Is this what Shakespeare would have called the brightest heaven of invention?

Talking to a fellow guest the next day, I realized that nearly all the subtleties of the kitchen had been lost on me, as I’d been too busy talking. One of the topics was sartorial. Representatives of a Swiss guild were present, wearing outfits that might have come from the Meistersinger. No more of an oddity than white tie and at least they don’t have to face the great question of the age: where do you get a stiff collar and evening shirt starched?

* This article was first published in Country Life Magazine on September 17 2014

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