Food & drink

Fit For A King

Food historian James Winter looks back at a lavish banquet held in the dining room at Best Western Le Strange Arms Hotel where King Edward VII was guest of honour.
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Discovering an original menu showing the dishes served at a royal feast in 1906 is like finding gold for any foodie. Edward was notorious for indulgent meals with courses that would stretch into double figures, but this appetite for fine dining and lavish entertaining wasn’t just a personal passion. The Edwardian period was a Golden Age in restaurant dining; it was a time of invention and new flavours. These were the days of celebrity chefs like Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy turning out lavish food in fancy dining rooms. Forget Masterchef, these guys were the original superstars in the kitchen. Eating was the new hobby of the wealthy and influential and the only limit to extravagance was the depth of your pockets.

As the menu shows, Edward had done away with the old way of serving à la Francaise – where all the dishes came out at once and people chose what they wanted – to the newer Russian style where food was brought out in staged courses, like we’re used to today. But of all these, two dishes stand out for me and are well worth recreating at home. First is the “Ponche à la Romaine” – a classic semi-frozen cocktail that acts like a palate cleanser between savoury and sweet courses. It is actually referenced in The Epicure’s Almanack (1841) by Benson Earle Hill – one of the earliest recorded home cookery guides. It suggests the cocktail’s origins date back to Rome where the drink was a favourite for banquets at the papal court, before being adopted by Napoleon following his invasion of Italy in 1796. The recipe then passed to the household of a Russian Prince who became ambassador to London in the early nineteenth-century. Served at his parties, Roman punch got noticed by the Prince Regent, George IV,  who demanded to know the recipe and circulated it to his various houses and staff, cementing it as a royal favourite.

“Crême Brûlée à la Trin. Hall” is also a very interesting dish, arguably being the original crème brulée. That’s right – this French classic may well be British-born. Although records have famous French chef Massialot recording this recipe as far back as 1691, where he used a hot shovel to melt the sugar on top, Trinity College in Cambridge has records of something similar being served in 1630. To complicate things, Massialot’s second edition of Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois, renames the dish crème angloise, which lends some strength to the earlier version playing a part in its construction. Regardless, it was crème brulée that spread as a name, probably thanks to French writers rewriting Massialot’s original recipes in their own way. Despite no published evidence of a recipe, Trinity College maintains it is the originator and the dish is still served at official dinners, complete with the college crest burnt into the top.

Ponche à la Romaine (Punch Romaine)


1 egg white  |  25ml white rum   |  25ml white wine  |  12.5ml simple syrup   |  12.5ml lemon juice  |  25ml fresh orange juice | 50ml Champagne or sparkling wine  |  Twist of orange peel, for garnish  |  Crushed ice

Crushed ice can be created using a blender or a simple wooden mallet with ice in a freezer bag



1. In an ice-filled shaker combine rum, wine, egg white, simple syrup, lemon & orange juice.
2.  Shake vigorously until frothy.
3.  Fill a coupe glass with crushed ice, pour drink on top and top with champagne.


Crême Brûlée à la Trin. Hall (Cambridge Burnt Cream)


150ml double cream  |  250ml milk  |  1 vanilla pod  |  3 large free-range egg yolks

40g Demerara sugar  |  6tbsp Demerara to caramelise



1. Preheat oven to 150 ° C.

2. Add cream and milk to a small pan, scrape out vanilla pod and add both seeds and pod to the mixture. Simmer gently.

3. Separate the egg yolks into a large bowl, add the brown sugar. Whisk together until yolks and sugar become creamy.

4. Strain to discard vanilla pod and slowly pour in to the yolk mixture. Stir well.

5. Pour the custard into 6x100ml ovenproof ramekins or teacups.

6. Place in a deep roasting tray with water reaching half way on the dishes. Bake for 35-45 minutes until custard is set. Remove, leave to cool and chill until needed.

7. When ready to serve sprinkle each dish with sugar and blowtorch, or use a grill until crusts are golden.

8. Allow sugar to cool slightly and serve.

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