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The Regional Dinner - Midlands

What an honour and privilege it has been to be involved with the Midlands dinner in one way or another since 2003. The first Midlands dinner event that I attended was in 2002 at the Hilton Metropole Hotel. I was then the General Manager of the Burlington Hotel.


In 2003 I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Val Simpson and we held the dinner at the Burlington for the first time and as a venue we really wanted to show the wider audience the level of quality that the Burlington could provide to match the wonderful Champagnes.


We decided to make a real focus of the 16 Grandes Marques House Magnums that were on display, to be raffled off after the dinner, so we built a tower, behind the top table which was clad in black cloths. The 16 magnums in perfect order on top, beautifully floodlit and appearing to be floating in the air. At the end of both sides of the magnum display we placed an ice bucket full of dry ice so that when all the guests entered the room it really looked like all sixteen were floating on top of a cloud.

Perfect, or so I thought. I was half way through my fish course of sea bass & seared scallop, with black truffle risotto, when I looked up and realised that the banqueting team had used “Mercier” Ice buckets for the dry Ice, my heart stopped and as I rose to get them removed I was met by one of the French principals in full flow. She had noticed at the same time and was on her way over to forcefully remind me that Mercier is not a Grand Marque. And so the ritual of ensuring that all houses are treated completely equally started.


Eventually Val decided to move South to be closer to her family, so I took on the task of arranging the Midlands dinner.


Apart from the early years at the Burlington, we have always ensured that we never stay at one venue for more than two years. My task initially is finding a venue that really understands the essence of what we are trying to do each year. That is to produce and deliver a high-quality dinner menu that simply shows off the beautiful wines that the Presidential and Vice Presidential houses have decided to showcase.


Since 2009 we have held the dinner at the following venues :-

Year

Venue

Presidential House

2009

Falcon Hotel - Stratford Upon Avon

KRUG

2010

Falcon Hotel - Stratford Upon Avon

LANSON

2011

​University College Birmingham

LAURENT PERRIER

2012

Hotel La Tour - Birmingham

​HEIDSIECK & CO MONOPOLE

2013

​Hotel La Tour - Birmingham

G.H. MUMM

2014

Botanical Gardens - Birmingham

​PERRIER-JOUET

2015

Botanical Gardens - Birmingham

​PIPER-HEIDSIECK

2016

Vox at The Genting Resort - Birmingham

POL ROGER

2017

Edgbaston Cricket Ground - Birmingham

POMMERY

2018

​Edgbaston Cricket Ground - Birmingham

LOUIS ROEDERER

2019

Park Regis Hotel - Birmingham

RUINART

2020

​Covid - No Dinner

2021

​Coombe Abbey

ALL

2022

The Grand Hotel - Birmingham

TAITTINGER

In the very early years the format was not always consistent in that we would often have an extra course, Sorbets, Cheese or Pre Desserts.


We would also often have a Red wine, I remember one year having Magnums of Cristal with the fish course, followed by Magnums of Chateau De Pez with the main course.


We have now settled on a menu structure that works for both the venue and the Presidential houses and we never have a red wine now. There have been so many memorable dinners over the years and with an incredibly loyal support the dinner is always sold out.


I would not dare to try and highlight some of the incredible wines that we have had over the many years but suffice to say that the Grandes Marques have completely lived up to their reputations.


However Some of the food highlights for me have been

  • Salad of Smoked beetroot, candied beetroot & Golden Beetroot, English goats curd toasted walnuts

  • Scottish loch Cured Salmon, Cromer Crab, Sour Apple Puree, Warm Lemon Confit Egg Yolk

  • Heritage Beetroot and Carrots, Goat Cheese Ice Cream, Hackney Honey and Champagne Jelly

  • Roasted Salt marsh Lamb Rump, Winter Cabbage roulade, baby Leeks, Pressed Shoulder Lamb Sandwich

  • Spiced Duck breast, Duck leg croustillant, Fondant potato, Bok choy, Oyster mushroom & Sour Plum sauce

  • Steamed Place with a Salmon Mousse, salted & pickled grape, wilted spinach, Chicken & walnut reduction

  • Fillet of veal, Heritage carrot Anna, crispy veal Shoulder, wild mushroom, smoked leek

The list could be endless, you will note that I haven’t listed a dessert. I have probably spent more time at the annual menu tasting event discussing a dessert and which wine works best with it than any other single element of the dinner.


That said the dish of Valrhona Opalys White Chocolate Mousse, Valrhona Passion Fruit Chocolate & Blackberry Gel with Viola Flowers, created by Mark Constable the Executive Chef at Coombe Abbey for the 2021 dinner is top of my personal list.


Over the years I have had the joyous opportunity to spend time arranging the dinners with the shippers representing these wonderful Houses, however I have had one trusted dear friend by my side. Clive Freeman is a complete gastronaut, with a critical eye and a mischievous sense of humour.


Clive has designed every one of the menu booklets that we have used at the dinners since 2009 he also did the menus for the London dinners in 2016 & 2017 They have become quite a collector’s item. In particular Hubert de Billy, a staunch supporter of the Midland’s dinner has always enjoyed the menus especially the years where we used wine caricatures which Hubert said looked like himself and his team.


The format of the dinners has also evolved, in my early years the dinners always had a formal red coated Toastmaster, with a podium for the shippers’ representatives from which to introduce their wines. Now we are trying recreate a smaller more intimate dinner party, by making the event slightly less formal. The toastmaster has gone and been replaced by our very own past Chairman, Steve Winchcombe. Steve does a fantastic job, and keeps the Chairman and shippers well under control.


Although I fully embrace the desire to make the dinners less formal, I will hang on to the dress code as long as I am involved in arranging the event. For me the grandeur of the wines that are presented deserves the respect that the formal dress code delivers and in a world where we become more and more informal, getting dressed up once in a while isn’t such a chore.


One of the most special years for arranging the Midlands dinner was 2017, when I was also Chairman of the Academy, so quite a year. At the Midlands dinner we marked the occasion of the retirement of one of our biggest supporters, Nick James from Pol Roger. Nick was Vin de Garde for Pol Roger, he is a fellow academician, a past chairman and all around good bloke, he attended the course in 1976 and was Chairman in 2001.


As the dinner was at Edgbaston Cricket ground, we presented Nick with a cricket bat signed by the then current Warwickshire team and a message of thanks from the Academy.


After the two years of horrendous disruption due to the pandemic, it was fantastic to be able to put on an event last year. The chairman Andrew, with his unfaltering enthusiasm, matched by the support of all sixteen Houses allowed us to arrange the event and get people out and talking about champagne.


As I mentioned right at the start the essence of the dinners is to bring together a menu that showcases the fantastic wines that the Presidential house is putting on show. It is fantastic to attend the London and other regional dinners to see how the individual chefs have interpreted the wines and what they have created to go with them.

I would just like to thank all of the venues that have hosted the event and also all of the Chairmen that have presided over the Academy, it has been an absolute pleasure to work alongside them.


One Chairman, who shall remain nameless along with a certain “Wine Tipster” had the pleasure of attending the Midlands Dinner on the Thursday evening, The Irish Dinner on the Friday evening and I know was then a guest at the Rugby match between Ireland and Samoa on the Saturday, quite a big three days. I don’t think they got home until the following weekend.


Finally this year my son is old enough to attend the dinner so having listened to me talk about the event for most of his life, he will actually be able to see what it’s all about and experience this wonderful occasion.


We are at the Grand Hotel in Birmingham, which has recently reopened after a £45 million refurbishment.


As with every year, I cannot wait …………..


Kevin Skeet

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