The Art of Dining at Fenton House by Briony Jose.
Anyone who knows me will know that I love my food, so when I was offered the chance to sample a unique outdoor dinner event from The Art of Dining at Fenton House I of course jumped at the chance. I arrived just in time to take a quick peek around the rooms of this National Trust venue – an old 17th century merchant’s house perched high on Hampstead Heath – and made a beeline straight for the rooftop balcony with stunning views over the City of London. On my way up I made note of a couple of antique embroideries that I would love to go back and pore over again another day, but it was the view of the immaculate gardens in the low evening light that really caught my attention.
Back out on the lawn each guest was given a glass of Prosecco topped with candied hibiscus flower, then guided towards two long tables. I was seated with a group of three charming men – not, as I had imagined, with other solo press guests. This could have been awkward as I felt I was intruding on their party, but luckily they were very accommodating and we chatted the night away. As one of them pointed out, the seating felt a bit like ‘being at a wedding where you don’t know anyone else‘ but having been to a few of these mass dining affairs I know this to be standard procedure, and I quite like the way in which it encourages strangers to talk to each other.
The Art of Dining is the brainchild of chef Ellen Parr (who happens to be the daughter of photographer Martin Parr) and set designer Alice Hodge, and thanks to this artistic twosome we dined in wonderful style beneath dangling grapes and extravagant swathes of draped foliage. Tables were topped with lace, stuffed pheasants and candelabra, and our five courses were served on an enchanting selection of vintage crockery. The dinner was themed after A Night with the Mistress; inspired by a portrait of singer and courtesan Dorothea Jordan in the house, so in between courses from a menu inspired by the beautiful vegetable gardens and decadent past of Fenton House we were serenaded in Regency style by Kezia Bienek, with excerpts of favourite tunes from operas of the era.
The Art of Dining at Fenton House: stuffed vine leaves with slow cooked carrot salad.
Art of Dining’s edible soil with freshly picked salad. Illustration by Rebecca Corney.
Culinary delights included enticing combinations such as edible flower salad and soil (we were invited to pick petals from the arrangements on our tables, and the ‘soil’ was a combination of bacon, walnut, dates and rye bread), a richly succulent curried rabbit leg and an absolutely divine Eton Mess made with elderflower and gooseberry. There was also a very reasonably priced wine menu on offer courtesy of Borough Wines – I sensibly stuck to water with my meal. The copious courses were delivered over a three hour period which was perfect as I never felt overly full and it gave plenty of time to savour the unusual flavours whilst chatting to new friends.
Fresh Bacon Salad by Isher Dhiman.
Art of Dining by Jessica Buie.
The Art of Dining pop ups at National Trust venues are a wonderful way to experience unusual gastronomic delights combined with the chance to visit a little known historical treasure. Where else can you dine in such splendour for the price of just £55? The final episode of The Art of Dining‘s current partnership with the National Trust, The Servants’ Supper, takes place during November at Ham House in Richmond.
- Royal College of Art MA Degree Show 2012 Review: Ceramics & Glass
- RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2011: Garden Trends
- Animal Vegetable Mineral: an interview with food events entrepreneur Tasha Marks
- Kotki Dwa Staycations Album Launch Interview with Alex Ostrowski
- A preview of the National Trust Brutal Utopias Tour at the Southbank Centre