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Trafalgar Night (Burns Night for Sailors*) - Friday 23 & Saturday 24 October 2020

7th November 2020

Always one of the club calendar highlights, Trafalgar Night celebrates the victory of this famous naval battle of 21 October 1805. No British ships were lost and British naval supremacy was confirmed; but Admiral Lord Nelson was shot and lost his life shortly before the battle was won. If ever there was a reason to continue to commemorate this brave warlord of the sea over 200 years on...

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This year to allow social distancing due to Covid-19, the evening was hosted on two nights. Commodore, Richard Haycock welcomed the Saturday evening Guest Speaker, Captain Roger Readwin, Commanding Officer of Britannia Royal Naval College and was initially impressed when the Captain said he would be arriving by sea - only to discover he was referring to the lower ferry!

Nelson might have suffered from scurvy and seasickness at times during his seafaring career, but this evening, we were to dine as if on the top table aboard his finest fleet, fine-dining with the Admiral himself, as we huddled in our dining bubbles, pleased to be part of this historic celebration.

With a conciliatory nod to our French opponents in this great battle, the amuse-bouche, Goujères were a culinary first for me. Bijou choux pastry-like kisses stuffed with pea mousse and red pepper mousse. Salted and savoury and stirring. My bouche was truly amused.

Worthy of a triumphant admiral on the high seas, the fish terrine of smoked salmon, crayfish and prawn was exquisite. All the components like a pretty mosaic, each with their own delicately, delishy-fishy taste. The accompanying autumnal salad of raw kale was right up my allotment. Once scorned as cattle fodder, this now fashionable vitamin and mineral rich green is hardy in the growing - and in the eating. Cubes of earthy beetroot complemented the gorgeous goodness, perfectly partnered with the fish, with dainty parsnip crisps jostled on top. A zingy dressing enhanced the flavours of this functional and fancy salad, superior to gratuitous greenery too often dug out of the bottom of a fridge to dress up a plate. Adding absolutely nothing.

This lightness of touch was to make the main event all the more resounding. A hearty portion of roast fillet of prime West Country beef cooked respectfully rare was like cutting through beefy butter. Black truffles added a very deep depth as I lost myself in layers of richness upon richness (super-superlatives are a must here!). A chicken liver crouton perfectly peppered, moist and crunchy, along with garlic-infused puréed parsnip and a vibrant green purée made this an interesting and appetising plate of food. Roasted leek and green beans were sturdy sidekicks with the lightly roasted potato.

Pear Frangipane Tart provided a relatively restrained pudding after the main. Buttery, shortbread pastry still warm from the oven, with slithers of pear on top was mouth-wateringly moreish. Adorned with vanilla ice cream, the praline shard reminded me of Nelson’s famous bicorn hat. The swirl of bitter chocolate, like a victorious flourish and inclined to embrace the romance of this celebratory evening (to me at least), this artistically arranged pudding almost resembled a ship, steered by the praline sail on the swirly, waves of the chocolate sea.

To finish the meal in conquering English style with the Lord Admiral of all cheeses, we nibbled stilton, with a cracker and a spoonful of honey, as I relished the salty tanginess, teasing hint of sweetness between sips of port (which somehow always tastes intensely historical).

But back to Dartmouth and this year’s Trafalgar Night, Captain Readwin recalled Nelson had experienced his own pandemic, yellow fever and scurvy, sickness and disease, and introduced fumigation, handwashing, quarantine and lockdown. Hands. Face. Space. (Sounds familiar?).

Flying the flag for the British Navy and work of the Britannia Royal Naval College, the Captain took us on a voyage of present-day naval successes – nuclear submarine deterrants continuously at sea for the past 80 years. Latterly, Royal Navy medics working on the frontline with the NHS In the time of Covid-19. Then insights into the future - frigate building, officer training, supporting and investing in people ("the assemetric advantage"). Not unlike Nelson looking after his crew. On that note, Peter Forey led the toast and thanked the Captain for his speech and praised the"the assemetric advantage."

Thank you to Commander Will Peters, Guest Speaker on the Friday evening for his entertaining talk. Thank you to chef Hayden for his return visit and navigating this auspicious feast and to Adey and the Waiting on Team for looking after us.

*Thank you to Judy Hine-Haycock for this insightful image!
Review by Jude Owens

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