Sunday, 22 March 2009

Dinner at Westminster

It was everything I dreamed it would be. The Houses of Parliament are beautiful, inside and out. We had a wonderful tour with a gentleman who was a real character. Nearing retirement, he delighted in regaling us with tales of the goings on at Westminster, past and present. He knew so much about the building it was quite amazing and the stories he told gave us an insight into the real day to day life there.

Westminster Hall is the only part of the building to survive from the original palace, completed in 1099. Standing under the immense ceiling, held up by beams of English oak, you feel almost overwhelmed by the history. In this hall, King Henry VII presided over feasts, King Charles I, William Wallace and Guy Fawkes learned of their horrible fates and King George V, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Winston Churchill lay in state. As you go on up the massive stairway and on through from here you walk through halls lined with statues, where suffragettes chained themselves as they attempted to obtain the vote for women. Then you come upon the most amazing lobbies outside the House of Commons and the House of Lords, ornately decorated with beautiful ceilings and wall decorations. The House of Commons is smaller than I expected, but walking past the Speaker’s Chair and standing by the dispatch boxes is an experience I will not soon forget. The House of Lords is almost overwhelming in its beauty, the walls lined with oak and the 22 carat gold encrusted throne at the back of the room. It is just awesome, in the original sense of the word!

Dinner was in the Members’ Dining Room, and it was absolutely delicious. I have heard Members of Parliament complain about the food served here but they must be jesting because what we ate was absolutely delicious. Red mullet on a bed of couscous with leeks was the appetizer, followed by a main course of corn fed chicken on risotto with snow peas. Both were absolutely delicious, even the risotto was perfectly al dente, which when you are serving 160 people is no mean feat. Dessert was a light and dark chocolate cake that was absolutely wicked, the light chocolate a perfect foil to the dark, and all of it just sweet enough. It was light and delicious, something not many chocolate desserts can boast. Coffee was served afterwards with tiny handmade chocolates and sweets.

As we walked out of the Palace of Westminster through the courtyard after the dinner had finished, we looked up to see Big Ben from an angle I have never enjoyed before. We were looking at it from inside as opposed to outside. The iconic clock was gorgeous from this angle and as it bonged eleven o’clock I felt so grateful for the opportunity to spend time in such an amazing place.

We wandered back to the hotel and topped it all off with a champagne cocktail. It was an absolutely wonderful evening.

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