Wednesday 4 July 2012

Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich to Great British Menu Olympian Banquet in The Painted Hall

Olympic food in the 21st century – what would you put on the menu? ... and what happens next at the site of the old Greenwich Palace?

Greenwich: Old Royal Naval College -
showing the four courts, Queen Mary's House.
The Painted Hall is under the dome on the right.

Ancient Greek cuisine was characterized by its frugality and was founded on the “Mediterranean triad”: wheat, olive oil and wine – with some fish quite often, while meat was rarely eaten.

Too much refinement was generally considered to be against the hearty spirit of the Greek cuisine – but this food series was for the faster, higher, stronger Olympians participating in the technology-driven 21st century of the London Olympics 2012 and the 7th Great British Menu.

Detail of William and Mary from the
ceiling of The Painted Hall

The brief this year per the BBC was for:

... the chefs to create a menu that captures the Olympic spirit – food that is both breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

With a sub-brief ...

The food must be worthy of and display Olympian qualities.  Illustrating ground breaking techniques, ideas and presentation, the food must be perfection.

Personally I found the whole thing too convoluted, too muddled and not desperately inspiring – I enjoy food, seeing how it’s created, then imagining the deliciousness of each course being served (to me!).

Not selected for the GBM - Stephen Terry
cooked an Olympic Rings dish c/o BBC -
tasted rather good and it looks Olympian:
Fish and Shellfish Medley (Relay)

Somehow the show felt contrived and the brief was not easy to adhere to ... still out of all things there’s always something fun and interesting to write about.

The Painted Hall looking towards the dais area

The setting was pretty incredible – The Painted Hall – one small part of the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich, which is often described as ‘the finest dining hall in Europe’ – sadly the paintings have severely faded over the years as they were painted directly onto dry plaster.

Housed within the King William Court, one of four courts of the Royal Naval Hospital, is the monumental Painted Hall ... I think a mammoth could easily fit inside.

The gargantuan size of the dining hall
The Royal Hospital for Seamen was the result of Queen Mary II’s long held ambition to establish a refuge for wounded sailors, similar to the Army’s Royal Hospital at Chelsea.

Queen Mary instructed Sir Christopher Wren to ‘build the Fabrick with great Magnificence and Order’ ... but before work began, she died from smallpox, aged just 32, in 1694.

Mary’s husband, King William III, was determined that her project would be completed ... and it was 55 years later in 1751.  Funds today are being raised to preserve and restore the paintings in that 'Fabrick with great Magnificence and Order' ... 

... these paintings by James Thornhill too took forever ... from the starting date of 1707 until 1726, nineteen years later.  Thornhill’s design traced the recent royal history from 1688, then changed with the times ...

An early drawing of  The
Painted Hall (as it became) by
Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)
... beginning with a glorification of the reign of William III and Mary II (William and Mary) on the Lower Hall ceiling, then culminating on the west wall with a celebration of the recently installed Hanoverian dynasty.

Queen Mary’s hospital became realised: The Royal Hospital for Seamen, Greenwich: ‘A Refuge for All’.  To stick with my theme of the Great British Menu – the hospital food in the 1700 and 1800s makes for an interesting comparison ....

Quails in the Wood by Colin McGurran
was the first course
Hospital food was plentiful, if basic – five days a week it would be a 1lb  of meat (half a kilo), boiled or roasted beef or mutton, 4 oz (125 gm) cheese, a1lb of bread and half a gallon  (2.25 litres)of beer;

... while on two of the days they would have had pease pottage, 8 0z of cheese and 2 oz of butter; in the 19th century tea joined the rations, chocolate at breakfast, potatoes and other extras, but cabbage was the only green vegetable – available during the summer.

c/o BBC: Phil Howard's Cornish Mackerel celebration

One of the logistics of cooking large banquets in today’s age – is that the kitchens tend to be in the bowels of buildings –or vaults– having been banished with their Medieval smoke and grime below stairs.

From 1708, Thornhill’s work even caused the pensioners’ meals to be moved from their intended dining hall to the kitchen level in the undercroft below.

The selected recipes for this year’s Olympian feast were:

Quails in the Wood served on a bark platter, with moss and game smoke  - different ways with quail were topped off with a fantastic foie gras parfait recipe and quail egg kebab.  This looked very impressive.
Daniel Craig's Slow Poached Chicken

The Cornish Mackerel fish dish celebrated all things Cornish and fishy ... smoked mackerel pate, tartare of mackerel, served with a velouté sauce, topped with oysters, mussels, winkles, samphire and an oyster beignet.

Slow-poached chicken, sweet-corn egg, spinach with bacon and peas ... was described by all the judges as a stunning dish ... just superb ... and this was the first time that chicken had featured as the main course.

Simon Rogan's Poached Pears

To complete the banquet - poached pears, atsina cress snow, sweet cheese ice-cream with a rosehip syrup collected from the Fells of the Lake District – all the guests raved about the sweet cheese ice-cream.

Sir Steven Redgrave hosting the evening

Sir Steven Redgrave, five times Olympian Gold Medallist (1984 – 2000) hosted the event to celebrate a 21st century Olympian Feast in the Dining Hall of the Royal Naval Hospital.

The Olympian guests came ... medallists from recent times back to the summer Olympics of 1948, when Tommy Godwin won a bronze in the 1,000m time trial, to our highest achiever – the para-Olympian Dame Tanni Grey Thomson: 11 golds, 4 silvers, 1 bronze from 1988 – 2004.

Service .....
I might not have thought much of the Great British Menu series this year – but I’ve learnt a thing or two about Greenwich and its origins ...

... then to remember how far we have come as nations in the nearly 3,000 years since the Ancient Olympic Games began in 776BC ...

... the feasts we enjoy today, the creative chefs we have out there being prepared to try different methods, seeing the setting of The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College – which has been used as a back drop for many many films and tv series ...

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich looking east towards
Queen Mary's House from the River Thames
... now these magnificent grounds are to be transformed once again for the London Summer 2012 Olympic Equestrian Events starting very soon ...  as for the Beach Volley Ball at Horse Guards – a successful dummy run was conducted last August ...

Recipe photos c/o BBC or similar
Recipes - can be found at the BBC Food Programme site here

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Laura Eno said...

Now I want to go to Greenwich! The Olympic rings look tasty, the sweet cheese ice cream sounds revolting. :) Thanks for the look around!

Annalisa Crawford said...

Greenwich looks amazing.

Good food is great, but the theme seems silly, especially the 'display Olympic qualities' part. Olympic qualities to me mean winning stuff - not easy to put into food!

Francene Stanley said...

I wasn't impressed with the participating chef's dishes either. But I can't wait for the Olympics. Only three weeks to go.

Jo said...

Must say I don't think the food sounds impressive at all. Liked the look of the Olympic rings. But most of the foods had too many bits and pieces and was over complicated. Ah well, that's the trend I suppose.

Interesting history of the painted hall, thanks Hilary.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Laura .. Greenwich is well worth a visit. I thought the Olympic rings looked delicious ... and surprisingly the diners thought the sweet cheese ice-cream was absolutely delicious.

@ Annalisa - Greenwich as I mentioned above .. and I agree the theme does seem a little odd - and what on earth the judges thought they would have done in the circumstances I'm not sure.

@ Francene - glad you agree with me. I know .. not long before they start and then lots of sofa watching!

@ Jo - it's technology innovative - but like you I wasn't too impressed. I put the recipe link up in case you wanted to look ..

Glad you enjoyed the history (some of!) for The Painted Hall ..

Cheers everyone .. Hilary

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Their hospital food puts ours to shame. One pound of meat and beer. Ha, wow, interesting results, I bet.

Amanda Trought said...

Hilary, thanks for sharing the recipes, some of the food looks great. I haven't been to Greenwich for a while, I think Im now due a visit armed with all your useful information. Hope you are well! Blessings, Amanda

Suze said...

'Personally I found the whole thing too convoluted, too muddled and not desperately inspiring'

Those last two words took me by very pleasant surprise! I enjoy the way you express yourself, Hilary.

MorningAJ said...

I think 'modern British cuisine' is so far removed from real food that the Great British Menu will never inspire me.

And I have no interest in competitive sports at all. It never realy stood a chance with me, did it?

Anonymous said...

What a sumptous, Smörgåsbord post. I feel very very hungry now! LOL!

Old Kitty said...

I adore visiting Greenwich!!!! It's a most amazing amazing amazing place and in the heart of LONDON!! AMAZING!!!

I totally missed the Great British Menu this year - but my goodness the final menu chosen!!!

Oh my little part of Herts is on the Olympic Torch route next week!!! I can't wait!! Take care

Jo said...

To Laura Eno. The sweet cheese ice cream was made with marscapone cheese which, on its own, so long as its the true Italian marscapone, tastes very much like thick cream and so would make an excellent ice cream. Tiramisu is made from it after all and that's delicious.

Liara Covert said...

This is a wodnerful story you share with vivid detail. I sense you are like a fly on the wall with a close-up view and maybe also licking your chops... It reminds me that such an event would be a super challenge for master chef contestants. In Australia, among team challenges this year's contestants catered a three course meal for a specialized Hindu wedding for 450 people. The menu and timing of it is truly amazing.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Even after a July 4th (and my son's birthday)feast today, I am craving poached pears.

Great post!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Joylene - great comment .. meat and beer every day isn't bad is it. Interesting results .. well they were Pensioners - not sure that's such a brilliant diet for recuperating sailors?!

@ Amanda - I'm sure the food tasted delicious .. not something we'd do at home though. Enjoy your visit - but I'd wait til after the Olympics ..

@ Suze - thanks I'm not often personal on the blog as such .. and I wanted to write about the competition .. and particularly having seen the setting.

@ Morning AJ - how right you are .. but I enjoy seeing how food is developing - and I've loved some parts of the other series - really fired my imagination.

Not interested in sports ... oh no - but you're right -the post never stood a chance ... still Greenwich was worth the stop wasn't it?!

@ Madeleine - the lucky few thoroughly enjoyed their smorgasbord (not copying the symbols!) ... it's breakfast time here - lots of preparation before I can eat - and another coffee!

@ Old Kitty - it is right in the heart of London isn't it .. and next time I must go on one of the river boats up there ..

You didn't miss anything with the GBM - it lost the plot - but The Painted Hall was just amazing.

The Olympic Torch .. it must on it's way down here - enjoy watching the Torch as it passes by ..

Thanks .. everyone .. I'm glad I went and visited Greenwich and definitely will be going back ..

Cheers Hilary

Lynn said...

I might like those poached pears. Not sure about some of those other things.

I am excited about the Olympics - I'm happy to have you on the front lines to give us more inside scoop!

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to watching the Olympics.

Some of the foods sounded interesting while I wasn't impressed with others.

Have a wonderful day!

Unknown said...

Wow, while I wouldn't say all the food sounds edible to me, the post has been enlightening and now I'm famished.

Juliet said...

I'm amazed - again - at the large scale of these buildings. Such grandeur - or is it grandiosity? Am watching series 2 of Downton Abbey on DVD at present, and it makes an interesting parallel to your post, with the importance of hospitals and rehabilitation centres for the war wounded.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jo - thanks for reminding us about marscapone cream used for ice-cream.

@ Liara - "fly on the wall and mistress of the Tardis" .. watching what was going on across the years ..

The rituals, symbols, timings and attention to detail required for the Hindu wedding ... must have been amazing to see .. I went to a Bangladeshi wedding (one of my mother's co-patients daughter's) .. that was incredible .. so interesting to learn more about.

@ Teresa - Happy Birthday to your son - hope you all had a lovely day ... Poached Pears are delicious aren't they .. I love pears.

@ Lynn - you're another pear lover - I'm sure they all tasted wonderful and with the added extras of theatre in their presentation.

Thanks so much .. we're rushing towards the Olympics - and I'll do my best to add some extra interest - or record it here for us to remember over and above the headlines.

@ Susanne - just the way London is progressing towards the Games is interesting to watch ..

Like you the food 'looks strange' - but I suspect is delicious ..

@ Clarissa - glad you enjoyed the thoughts around the foods, the setting and being hungry - too early ... I'm keeping with the coffee for now!

@ Juliet - I tried to convey the enormity of the buildings .. they are enormous! Built to last and built to impress.

I haven't watched Downton Abbey - I'm sure I will one day .. by highlighting the Chelsea Pensioners, the Old Royal Naval Hospital it does remind us how far we've come in 200 - 300 years ... interesting to know it's part of the story line in Downton Abbey .. glad to read you're enjoying your DVD ...

Thanks Jo, Liara, Teresa, Lynn, Susanne, Clarissa and Juliet .. good to see you .. cheers Hilary

Rosalind Adam said...

It's a good job I'm not invited to big banquets. I can't stand fussy, frilly food and as for foam! If I ever get served food with foam on top I'll send it back to the kitchen. On the other hand I would love to have been a guest in that beautiful Painted Hall.

Empty Nest Insider said...

I'm still thinking about the mutton. I remember the Seinfeld episode where dogs were following Jerry home, because he hid mutton in his pockets to not offend his date. Very unusual menus. Julie

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Ros - I slightly agree but I'd love to taste delicious flavours. If you'd been there and returned that food - the walk to the kitchens would be like walking to the dungeons - you might not get out!?

But like you - I'd have been very happy to be at the dinner in the Painted Hall lit by candlelight ..

@ Julie - I've never seen the Seinfeld episode .. but can imagine the Pied Piper aspect with a line of dogs following along .. as you say the winning chefs made unusual dishes ..

Thanks Ros and Julie - cheers Hilary

Chase March said...

Hi Hilary,

I consider myself to be an athlete and don't think we need fancy foods prepared special for a once-in-a-lifetime event such as this. It seems kind of weird to me.

I love the excitement of the Olympics and wish I were there to take it all in though.


klahanie said...

Greetings Hilary,
Much food for thought in this article as we countdown to the start of the Olympics.
Your article also triggered some memories. I lived in Blackheath, just a short journey from Greenwich, when I was seven and eight years old. In the flat we lived in, the brother of James Robertson Justice, the actor, lived above us.
Hope you get some semblance of sunshine over the weekend.
All the best,

MTeacress said...

All of my life I've been told Brittish food is yucky. I think I'd like to decide for myself. I've saved your link. Thanks. :)

Soul Dipper said...

Such artistry. However, this vegetarian...

I hope everyone enjoys their meals without draining all the rosehips of their syrup.

Now that ice cream sounds yummy.

Chuck said...

Hi Hilary! I was watching a bit of Wimbledon this morning and knew I had to stop by and visit. Are you all geared up for the Olympics?? And that dining hall...give me a good medium-rare cheesburger and fries and I'd be all set. What a massive room.

scarlett clay said...

Wow, that's some menu, sounds amazing (what is sweet-corn egg?). What I truly can't believe are those paintings! As someone who often finishes a card or a drawing in a day, 20 years on one project just baffles my mind!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Chase - consider it a treat after you've picked your laurel wreath up ..

The Great British Menu is an annual tv series - with a goal at the end .. this year it was cooking an Olympian feast - the guests just happened to be Olympic medallists ..

Me too - I'm looking forward to the Olympics - time to gather my wits as the days rush by.

@ Gary - Blackheath is a beautiful area isn't it .. and if JRJ's brother had as stentorian a voice as JRJ did - then you'd be hearing their booms as they talked and laughed.

Did we get sunshine .. probably some - the weather is usually much worse to the north as I go up the Downs! Hope you managed some walks with Penny and haven't been swamped out ...

@ Michelle - our food is quite deicious ..if it's homely and well cooked! We've some wonderful restaurants, pubs, etc .. we love our food. The mix of peoples gives us choices ...foods of the world ...

@ Amy - yes some of the meals they produce look like magic .. and I too love vegetarian food, though am not completely a veggie ...

The foragers are picking the fields and woods dry .. in these dire times ...

Good ice-creams are so delicious .. they're treats for me - not often to be had.

@ Chuck - I've been trying to fit in some of the Wimbledon - there've been some wonderful matches.

Nope - I now have to get my reading glasses on and work out some posts on the Olympics ..

The dining hall is brilliant - the other three courts have rooms the same size!! Large place this naval hospital .. not sure I quite like the idea of a cheeseburger at 6.30 am .. coffee sounds better!

@ Scarlett - the chefs obviously put a great deal of thought into their menus .. and the chicken dish was very clever .. the recipe for the sweetcorn egg .. is via the link to the BBC site where you'll find the recipes .. the sweet-corn egg is pictured .. looks like form of a scotch egg.

Just imagine how they reached that height .. and the ceiling .. there are a great many paintings in the Hall - certainly 5 enormous ones .. 3 walls and two ceilings ... it boggles my mind!

Cheers everyone see you soon .. Hilary

Linda said...

I love reading about food! Those dishes sound yummy, the pictures of the great halls. Such grandeur!

I used to read some historical fiction set in England and they would descriptions of sumptuous feasts. It seemed like they prepared a ton of food. I guess they really do.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Linda .. glad you enjoyed the post - it was a difficult one to describe and write about.

I love historical fiction and as you say those feasts they would eat and sit through were amazing to think about - huge platters of fish and meat .. with not a lot of fruit and vegetables .. but they survived - riding long distances and not jumping on a bus or train!

Thanks for being here .. cheers Hilary

Liara Covert said...

Hilary, traditional food from Hindu cultures is so delicious. As a seasoned wedding guest, you are fortunate to taste a range of dishes. Its wonderful to have a palette that is open to tasting a variety. Open-mindedness, appreciation, understanding, love, and complete acceptance can all be conveyed through food.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. I went to a Bangladeshi wedding when my mother was still at St Pancras hospital, as another patient was had been our ward - and we'd become great friends - they had a magnificent wedding full of rituals, symbolism .. with delicious food ...

I'd love to experience more and will I hope get a chance to try new things in the future ..

I'm always open to new things thankfully .. so appreciate your comment - cheers Hilary