Arias & graces
Three weeks of Brighton Festival, the best for many years in my view, can leave a man exhausted. The diary is crammed with events and there are few chances to eat out sensibly let alone cook a proper dinner at home. So what did I do to recover? Well I went to the theatre of course, Glyndebourne to be precise and if I am to be precise, it is an opera house and one of the finest in the world.
Glyndebourne is an international institution and a place of excellence in the world of opera. But for many it is also a place to be seen and there are several ways of being seen. You can, as many do, picnic in the exquisite gardens where people seem to go to two extremes, there are the gourmet hampers and the make-shift picnics. There’s a surprising amount of low-grade supermarket fodder on display when you look inside some of those wicker hampers.
Alternatively you can dine in one of three restaurants, which during the performance of La Cenerentola is what Mr L and I did. Having given the Nether Wallop deal a go last year, we opted for Mildmay this time. It’s less formal and less expensive too, but no less glamorous. We were lucky with the weather too, the sun shone on us and the open sided barn like structure was an ideal haven for a mid-opera repast.
The system is good too, you order and pay online. When you get to the restaurant you give your name, take your seat and your meal arrives with no delay. It’s an essential process, one run with almost military precision by Leith’s and it works. I doubt Prue has much to do with things, she is far too busy these days keeping that naughty Matthew Fort in check and scolding Oliver Peyton.
Less of that and on to the food. Mr L started with shrimp cocktail with a tarragon and tomato sauce and sourdough toast. It was beautifully presented and he declared it a perfect start to a summer supper. I chose the Kent asparagus with duck egg sauce. It was Glyndebourne so perhaps I should have used the knife and fork, but asparagus is best eaten with your fingers so I did. Very good it was too, with a heart stoppingly rich egg sauce and great bread.
For his main course Mr L chose roasted cod with creamed leeks, broad beans and chervil. It was at this point that I spotted the size of the meals being served. This was fine food but not in dainty fine dining portions. Mr L’s piece of cod was chip-shop generous in size but beautifully presented.
I had pre-ordered the best end of lamb, butter poached potatoes, spinach, tomato fondue and lamb sauce. The lamb, rack as it happens, came as two pieces each two chops thick. It was perfectly cooked with a light savoury crust. The spinach was great, the tomato fondue delicious and the sauce packed with dark meaty flavour. The butter poached potato was a bit of a let down, it was dull and hard, not inedible but nowhere near as good as the rest of the meal.
We drank a half bottle of Muscadet and had opted to skip puds. They looked great too, but there was no way I was going to nod off and miss the excitement of La Cenerentola and the superb singing of Elizabeth DeShong who I had last heard singing Hansel in Hansel & Gretel a few years back.
Mildmay is relaxed and still stylish. At £41.50 for two courses it’s not the cheapest of restaurants but the quality is very good indeed, the service charming and impeccable and the experience adds up to a thoroughly delightful night at the opera.
Look out next week when I return to Glyndebourne for The Cunning Little Vixen, no it’s not a fox dish on the menu, and this time with a picnic from Carluccio’s.
Mildmay at Glyndebourne, www.diningatglyndebourne.com