Blogging the AGM 2008 #10 (Restaurant review)
China, Papua, Burma, Russia. Never mind all that for a moment. Discussing food quality could possibly be the most dangerous thing I do this weekend, if happenings in the Northern Ireland courts are anything to go by. But, in the spirit of Giles Coren, I'll go where no food reviewer has gone before: Nottingham Uni's canteen.
I don't think we have ever held the AGM at Nottingham Uni before, so it's food quality is an unknown to Amnesty. This fills regular delegates with some trepidation as, over the years, we have experienced the restaurant highs of Warwick Uni (tastebudtastic – yummm) and the servery lows of Lancaster ('gruel' some still recall ruefully – yeeugh).
So what is Nottingham to be? I hear mixed reports of last evening's dinner, but not having been here, I can only regard that as hearsay (m'lud) until I have personally sampled the offering. According to one culinary informant, last night's menu included a lasagne plus boiled potatoes combo. Now, as far as I am concerned, with each of those menu items, you're onto a winner. Separately. Together, I'm not quite as convinced. Update: I have since heard, from several usually reliable sources, that the fennel and mushroom lasagne was actually very good and the spuds were an optional accessory, to be mixed freely with salads of your choice.
Lunchtime. First impressions are good. Admittedly, it is a novelty to be dining amid the Amnesty stalls, but not necessarily an unwelcome one. Serving points are multiple, service is fast and queues are well-organised.
Two choices of main meal are offered, chicken with chilli and cashew nut and bean cassoulet for the vegetarians amongst us (there are quite a few at an Amnesty AGM, let me tell you).
The chicken isn't at all bad; texture fine, flavour a tad bland notwithstanding the adornments, but hey, that's chicken for you. Didn't like to ask if it was one of Hugh Fearnley-Whatshisface's free-range range. We've enough probems with human rights without taking on fowl justice, as far as I'm concerned.
My veggie co-diners tell me that they are impressed with the bean cassoulet. Mostly they are impressed that they haven't been offered vegetarian lasagne again. A straw poll suggests more thumbs up than down.
Good choice of side salads. So good, in fact, that Dugald from the Activism Team makes repeat visits to the service counter, slightly changing his hairstyle (not easy for Dugald) and modulating his Melbourne twang each time, in the hope that he won't be recognised.
Disaster. We're thristy human rights campaigners and we've run out of water. We can't find any more. Anywhere. No staff can help – they are too busy serving up the grub. Other tables have run out too, so the opportunities for theft offer slim pickings. In the end, gasping, I stagger out to the corridor and find a water-cooler, which truly presents the stuff of life. Jug filled, I return triumphant to a grateful table. Dehydration avoided for now. At least until Sunday morning, by any rate.
Saturday dinner: another choice of meal – meat or no meat. Or more specifically, braised beef or wild mushroom and mozzarella ball tagliatelle. Being an incorrigible carnivore, I go for the beef, although even I appreciate that a bit of imagination has gone into the veggie option.
My fellow diners agree. The beefeaters have no complaints, but there is also a certain consensus around the phrase 'it fills a hole'. Admittedly this is not a reviewer's expression oft-used by Giles Coren, but then, thankfully (for him and us) he's not a frequent visitor to Norn Iron eating establishments.
The veggies have, once again, more to smile about. Well, good luck to them, they'll need all the consolation they can get later when their energy levels dwindle just as Strictly Come Amnesty (or whatever it's called) starts up.
Meal rounded off with raspberry gateau (light and fattening – how do they do it?), a brandy and a Cuban cigar.
Okay, I made up those last two, but it's nice to dream.
All in all, well done Nottingham – your staff were fantastic and the food imaginative and well executed, especially considering you're catering for 500 hungry camapigners who all arrive at the same time.
We'll come back!
Although not if Warwick is available, obviously.
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