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Public Dining at the House of Commons

Public Dining at the House of Commons

by Gemma Harrison 19 May 2015

Leading up to the election, the House of Commons Members’ Dining Room opens its doors to the Public for a series of lunches.

In the last hours before everyone goes to the polls, MPs are making their way across the country trying to convince us to vote for them. During this time, the Palace of Westminster is almost empty, and Parliament is making the most of this by offering the public a chance to dine in this stunning building.

The beautiful Pugin designed Dining Rooms on the Principal Floor are where MPs and House Staff alike can enjoy fine dining standard food, with view of the River Thames and Southbank. The Members’ Dining Room (usually for MPs only), was first opened up to the public in November 2014 during a short Parliamentary recess and was a great success. Now during dissolution (the period where Parliament does not sit before an election), they ran 6 lunches over 3 weeks in conjunction with Bookatable.

Previously working for Catering Services in the House of Commons, one of my last projects was to prepare all of the menus for these lunches – and I couldn’t resist booking myself a table to go back and try the food, as I’d been a very regular customer during my time there! The food offering across the Parliamentary Estate ranges from cafés and cafeterias to fine dining and banqueting – the majority made in-house by a large team of chefs (many of whom regularly win competitions and appear on national culinary teams), headed up by Executive Chef Mark Hill (also the Culinary Co-ordinator for the Craft Guild of Chefs).

High ceilinged with panelled walls hung with works of art, the Members’ Dining Room is everything you would expect to find in a Gothic style Palace. It gives a very grand first impression and it seems most people today are here for a special occasion meal. However, the style of food in the dining room is much more on trend than you would imagine – modern takes on classic dishes, with ingredients and techniques that wouldn’t be out of place in a Michelin starred kitchen.

Rare beef loin with onion ash
Rare beef loin with onion ash
Bread and butter pudding
Bread and butter pudding

So, down to lunch. With so many delicious sounding dishes on the menu, I had difficulty making a decision about what to order. I decided on English Beef: Rare beef loin with onion ash and mushroom coating, peas, pancetta and English lettuce for my starter. The beef was really the star of the show – the onion ash and mushroom coating bringing an extra dimension – but the peas, lettuce and pancetta (a take on Petits Pois à la Francaise) were a delightful accompaniment (and from someone who generally avoids peas, that’s a serious compliment!)

One of my favourite dishes I’d eaten before was on for mains, so there wasn’t really much contest - Romney Marsh Lamb: Slow cooked old season lamb rump with wild mushroom and truffle pavé potato, buttered sea asparagus and roasted Muscat squash (I’d enjoyed it so much last time, I cooked it at home a week later). Personally I find old season lamb much interesting – there’s an added depth of flavour you just don’t get with spring lamb. The wild mushroom and truffle pavé potato gives an element of luxury, with the sea asparagus mirroring the salty tang from the salt marsh lamb.

For dessert, it was back to another favourite - Bread and Butter Pudding: Brioche pudding with glazed figs, Sauternes ice cream and macadamia crumb. A slight variation on the dish I’d had before, it was just as good; although I could have eaten a tub of the Sauternes ice cream by itself – it was utterly delicious: smooth, creamy and with all the flavour I love from that king of dessert wines.

I’d really missed the food since I left the Commons and it was a fantastic opportunity to go back and eat there again. At 3 courses for £35, I think it’s comparable to a set lunch deal in a Michelin starred restaurant – and the surroundings make it all the more special.

To find out when the House of Commons will be holding their next Public Dining sessions follow @HoCEventsUK

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Public Dining at the House of Commons


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