Downing College Formal Hall

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In Cambridge, every college hosts its own ‘formal hall’, known to most simply as ‘formal’, several times a week. What this essentially is is a decently priced three course meal where you dress up a little, wear your college gown, and go for a nice dinner with your friends.

Last night, I went to Downing College formal with my friends, having purchased a vegan ticket (as with all tickets to Downing formal, £9.95 for college members, £13.95 for guests), and hoped for the best.

You see, vegan tickets at formal are a bit hit and miss. I’ve also heard horror stories of the vegan dessert being simply a banana or such. Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive.

However, these fears turned out to be completely unfounded! Every course was totally delicious, and I daresay looked better than their non-vegan counterparts.

For my starter, I was treated to some nice toasted bread, red wine poached pear, red onion marmalade, sundried tomatoes and artichokes. My serving was actually bigger than the standard one. It was so delicious that I couldn’t help but hoover it right up. Don’t judge me.

My main featured some fragrant rice, sweet and sour vegetables, and some nice smoky tofu. This was the least impressive part of the meal, admittedly, but even at that it was very tasty and I enjoyed it a lot.

The dessert got me some envious looks from my friends, as it was presented really beautifully — unlike theirs, which just came on standard plates. It featured what I think was a sort of panna cotta. It was passion fruit flavoured, and I think it tasted as though it was made with tapioca flour, maybe? This came with some strawberries and blueberries and berry compote. It was delicious!

I was very pleased with the measures they went to to make sure the formal was enjoyable for people of all dietary needs and preferences. For example, it is standard when they offer coffee around to offer milk with it, whereas the server smiled and pleasantly said, “oh, I guess you won’t be having milk with yours!”

This was a really lovely formal, and I had a fabulous evening with my friends. If this was anything to go by, vegans at Cambridge have nothing to fear with formal — and everything to look forward to.

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