Today we had booked a day out at Henley Royal Regatta under a package deal, which included breakfast, lunch and drinks.
We had originally thought it would only take half an hour to get from Paddington to Henley but we were extremely surprised to find it took over 1 hour and 15 minutes so we had to get up a little earlier than planned. We knew straight away which platform to go on without looking at the station screen as there were lots of women in summer dresses and men in boat hats converging towards the same platform. Very English I have to say. All of the glamour was lost when we all had to pile in on the hot stuffy train carriages. We luckily managed to get a seat but unfortunately were seated opposite the most pompous couple who felt the need to talk loudly about how well they aged, their next holiday plans and their daughter’s husband ambitions. I made an obvious effort to look bored.
We had to change at Twyford but managed to miss the connection as the train was late and since the next train was in 20 minutes, it would have meant we missed the first boat trip – which more importantly had all the alcohol aboard. We spoke to a taxi driver and shared a lift with a couple of jolly gentlemen and it came to just £5 each. The taxi dropped us closer to our arena than the train would have so we managed to get inside before breakfast was cleared up and the boats had sailed. We grabbed a coffee and had the last (literally) of the fruit skewers –there were only 3 left, so I had two and mum had the other. We also had to wait a long while as there were no side plates left. I admit we were late but if people are paying a lot (underlined) for the privilege of this, then surely food should be ample – however there were lots of pastries left.
The venue for the party holds approximately 200 people and is situated in a large cottage garden that the household must rent out each year. This holds a large marquee where we were seated and a smaller tent with a jazz band. The garden lead on to the river, where we boarded the boat to watch the boating.
We slugged a glass of champagne down before grabbing another while stepping on board. It was one of the hottest days this year so we decided to make the most of it and climbed to the upper deck to absorb a maximum of the rays. There were two boats so they were not too crowded although pretty busy and we were on the smaller of the two boats. Last time we were on a larger boat and I actually preferred the smaller one as it was a little cosier.
We got talking to a gentleman who had a very rich biography working for the met police, Princess Margaret and the army. We sailed along the river for about 45 minutes to an hour and watched some of the boats race. Both my mother and the gentleman I was talking to couldn’t remember watching the races before but I assured them that it did happen (I think they must have had a few too many last time ha ha.) On that note we were constantly having our Champagne flutes and Pimms cups topped up by the waiters at the bar. On such a glorious day it was hard to imagine a better place to be on the planet. Once disembarking we felt a little woozy, walked through the beautiful English garden and sat and listened to the jazz band singing Deep South American songs – delightful.
We were then asked to seat at our tables; the marquee was split into two and we were seated with eight others (there were supposed to be 10 at a table but two people seemed to have not turned up.) The people on our table were a clear sign of the rising middle classes – saying they were into property and talking above their weight. I made a few cutting comments and got a few short remarks from the woman that was clearly the least educated but ironically had the most to say. She was quickly ignored and the conversation, I do admit, got a little heated and politically but I thrive on this although do hope my mother and the other quieter couple did not feel too uncomfortable (although after speaking to my mother I fear they did whoops.)
We were served white or red wine with our meals; I went for the white, which was a light and zingy wine and my mother went for a harsher red wine (sorry I did not get the grape of the wine.)
We first had a smoked salmon mouse paté, which was light and fresh. It was well presented but small in portion so I had a few slices of the rustic bread to soak up the copious amounts of alcohol consumed. We then had the option of lobster or lamb; Needles to say, as we were all hungry, we all went for the lamb and obviously, since they were serving 200 people it was over-cooked. It was well presented, served with a potato salad, which was nice and light. Again the portion was small and the meat was tough due to over cooking. The obnoxious lady, who was the only one to go for the lobster at our table, proved the lack of meat on the lobster by determining sucking on the lobster leg – not polite at all!
This was swiftly taken away and we were served deserts. These were three shot glasses of lemon mousse, vanilla crème and chocolate mousse. These were sickly and stuck to the roof of my mouth yuk. Not many managed to finish their desserts. We were then served coffee and delicate homemade truffles that were delicious. We were served port with the coffee but I just couldn’t face it. I thought the catering service was good, although despite it being clear at least by mid-afternoon that the missing two guests at our table were not going to be served, there places were still dished and placed – a little odd but then in hindsight maybe they expected us to eat the rest.
We then went outside and sat in front of the marquee to listen to the music, the band was fantastic. So quaint, chirpy and the sounds of the lazy summer by the river – I wish I could hold that moment for ever. A hot summer day in an English garden with a live jazz band and couple dressed for the mood – I will hold that moment in a pocket in my heart …or at least head.
Unfortunatly the train getting back was not as dreamy – we had to wait for the train from Henley, the second train was cancelled so we had a 40 minute wait (which increased the traffic load making it even more sweaty) however this should not tarnish the day.
I loved the day, which is the quintessential English summer day from Austin novels. I could not recommend this more, however it is very much weather depending. We have never attended when it was cold, rainy or overcast – fortunately it has always been some of the hottest summer days – nethertheless if the weather is on your side and you want to really treat yourself I heartily recommend it.
Food Atmosphere Service