Remember how I planned to throw a fabulous dinner party? Because Lady Carnarvon is hosting a special contest during the month of February that involves throwing fabulous dinner parties inspired by Downton Abbey and winning a trip to dine at Highclere Castle. Well, it turns out that throwing fabulous dinner parties are a lot harder when you have to Lawyer all day AND have a little baby laying around.
So, Husband and I gathered a small group of friends, teamed up with a local chef and asked HIM to throw us a fabulous dinner party. All the fun without the work. We picked several recipes from Lady Carnarvon’s book, At Home At Highclere, and had Chef Steve use them as inspiration: Venison, John Dory Fish, Cauliflower and Caviar, Gooseberry Fool for dessert, and of course, some good English Stilton.
When we reached out to Chef Steve at Cavey’s and threw this idea at him, we gave him ample notice. A full 36 hours. So the John Dory fish course had to be scrapped, since apparently John Dory fish tend to be found on the coasts of Africa, South East Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and Europe. But not America. Turns out that flying in John Dory fish on less than 24 hours’ notice is not realistic.
To start the festivities, we broke out a bottle of English Bubbly that I’d smuggled back from our last trip. This particular bottle of Brut was produced for Marks & Spencer by Chapel Down winery, which I just read likely supplied the wine at Kate and Wills’ nuptials, and are rumored to be doing the same for little bro Harry and his lady love, Ms. Markle. This one was lovely; hints of green apple surrounded the bready, crisp bubbles. A perfect apéritif to begin the evening.
Thick, rich and creamy cauliflower purée, surrounded by tiny cauliflower florets, is the only way I want to start dinner parties going forward. This first course was truly divine. And did I mention it was topped with a dollop of caviar for good measure? Just divine.
To complement the cauliflower and caviar, George, our server for the evening, expertly chose for us a bottle of 2008 Chablis Gran Cru Les Preuses by Vignoble Dampt, a Burgundian winery with about 96 acres of vineyard in Tonnerre and Chablis. This Chardonnay was exquisite, a slight hint of lemongrass with a lovely, subdued minerality. Smooth and sleek, it made the cauliflower and caviar pop.
George selected another bottle of Burgundy for the main course, a 2009 Savigny-lès-Beaune 1ER Cru Rouge Les Vergelesses by Domaine Françoise André. One hundred percent pinot noir grapes hand-harvested from 40-year-old vines, this was an excellent vintage. Some blackberry jam on the nose, followed by an almost vanilla finish. Soft and juicy, this was truly gorgeous. And what we paired it with was just as stunning. Chef Steve’s Venison à la Forestière was a culinary masterpiece; so juicy and tender you could almost cut it with a fork. The venison medallions were expertly seared with a blend of sea salt and spices; the perfectly red centers were a mouth-watering feat.
Next came the cheese. And not just any cheese, but good old fashioned English Stilton, accompanied by an orange marmalade and delicate toast points. With a 1997 bottle of Warre’s Vintage Port. Holy taste bud overload. A big, complex bouquet of figs, plums and even a hint of vanilla.
And last, but certainly not least, was the Gooseberry Fool. Fruit fools are traditional English desserts made with stewed fruits and sweet custards. Gooseberries are in the same family as blackcurrants and are a touch on the tart side. Chef Steve used English cream and Greek yogurt in this Fool, and with the sweet vanilla biscuits that accompanied it, our sweet cravings were more than satisfied. A few of our party rounded out the evening with a snifter of Remy Martin XO Cognac. I stuck to a foamy cappuccino.
I must say, I felt very much like Lady Mary drinking such fine wines and dining in such style in our own private dining room. Even without the John Dory fish, our Downton Dinner Party was incredible. Chef Steve nailed the Downton-inspired dishes LIKE A BOSS. And the foot of snow that fell while we were eating didn’t stop us from retiring to the Library for a few Highclere Castle Cigars. Naturally.
Until the next glass, or fabulous dinner party, Cheers!
 The REAL Downton Abbey.
 There’s a whole lot of laying going on over here. In between eating, pooping, crying, diaper changing, playing, tummy time, and sitting. And then we start it all over again. #busybaby
 Cavey’s Restaurant has been a local staple since 1933 when they opened as a sandwich and ice cream shop. They’ve since transformed into one of the area’s classic fine-dining options and Chef Steve Cavagnaro is the third generation to continue the tradition.
 Can’t imagine why. #FedEx
 If you haven’t had English bubbly yet, you’ve got to try and get a bottle. Because they’re producing so little, it’s difficult to find as they’re drinking most of what they make in England. Just another reason why I should be living Across the Pond.
 A fine purveyor of spirits, clothes, groceries and home furnishings. I don’t think we have anything like it in the US.
 HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS?!
 Because, YOLO.
 Pronounced Jôrj, with an accent, because George is from Champagne.
 Chablis is actually a location and NOT a varietal, as I may or may not have known before writing this blog post.
 Meaning “of the forest,” it often refers to poultry or game served with potatoes and wild mushrooms.