It was 7pm and we were pulling up to a palace. This definitely beat the local London boozer on a Thursday night.
After taking a speedy train from Paddington to Oxford – still enough time for an enjoyable G&T en route – we were taxiing it up to the entrance of Blenheim Palace.
Built between 1705 and 1722, this place has played host to an array of fine gentry and it is where Sir Winston Churchill was born.
Now the stately home – the Duke of Marlborough’s primary residence – is open to the public with a mix of events on throughout the year, from musical extravaganzas to open air cinema sessions.
My friend Clare and I had hopped to the venue to attend a dinner rustled up by Michelin star chef John Campbell and hosted by Searcys – the company behind top London venues such as The Gherkin and St Pancras Champagne bar.
The much-anticipated dinner took place in the palace’s orangery, which boasts large windows and gaping vaulted ceilings. On arrival we were handed a glass of Duval Leroy champagne by a couple of smiley waistcoated waiters, which went down a treat in the balmy weather.
There were about 100 guests and everyone had got dressed up for the occasion. I felt a little like I’d crashed a wedding given the edge of formality and regal venue. Clare and I wandered off to explore the palace grounds during the reception, meeting a pheasant swanning around as the sun set. We also stood silently admiring the lush vistas, majestically sparkling with the dying light.
The orangery also boasts access to the palace’s Italian garden, which is usually off limits to the public.
The three course dinner had been paired with whites and reds, thanks to Searcys’ wine expert, John Ferguson-Smith.
We started things off with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc, which worked well with a meaty starter.
The crispy duck cake was good, slightly heavy with the batter but the sun is known to suppress appetite. The apple chutney was lovely and chunky, a bit like pie mix, and the juicy currants burst in my mouth.
In a bid to leave room for my main, I left a wedge of duck behind. Next up was a chump of Devonshire lamb matched with a fruity Cotes du Rhone, from a vineyard just by Cornas.
The lamb was nicely portioned with a juicy pink core. A pea puree and minted broad bead medley made for a good match.
There was a convivial buzz in the room, despite the bright aesthetics. I think the thronging atmosphere delayed proceedings a little. It was like a wedding!
Unfortunately at 9:45pm it was time for us to leave and get the train back to London. Our taxi driver put his foot down and luckily we got to the station with 5 minutes spare before our 10:11pm return ride. I made it back to my apartment east of the city just before midnight.
Despite not having dessert, the experience of heading Blenheim Palace for the night definitely left a sweet taste in my mouth.
It’s a treat worth pushing the boat out for. But if you want pudding, have a night in the country and don’t stress!
Blenheim Palace is open for lunch and a special afternoon tea hosted by Penhaligon’s. Check the calendar for future evening events.