Kiran Rai attends the Houses of Parliament


So I got invited by Parliament to come and have a private personal tour and be invited for lunch and  got the chance to view where the queen sits at HP and take the winning photo of the Prime Minister Theresa May and the Qatar Prime Minister shaking hands and being invited to have lunch with the Cabinet Ministers for the 2 days invite.

Many wretched schemes have been devised within the Houses of Parliament to separate the British from their money, in return for scant reward. There’s the poll tax, which was a charge on breathing. There are VAT increases, instituted to sort out a financial mess you didn’t make. To these should be added one more: the shameful price they are charging to serve mediocre cooking to hapless members of the public

The idea is delightful. The Houses of Parliament belong to us all. Security allowing, we should be allowed in. So why not open up the dining rooms to those eager to dine literally like a lord, or even just like Michael Gove? Periodically they open bookings for tables in the Members’ or the Strangers’ Dining Room. The dinner service in the Strangers’ Dining Room continues on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings until mid-July. Further dates will soon be announced, which is unfortunate.

There is a complex online booking process. You need to fill in a form, give a credit card number and promise to bring ID. But they do big the whole thing up. There is talk of “award-winning chefs” without saying which awards they’ve won. They mention “top-end British cuisine” and that “classic styling comes in the form of white tablecloths”. Be still my beating heart.

So you turn up and they x-ray your bag and search you (though, interestingly, never ask to see that ID). Through the great echoing vault of Westminster Hall you trot, up the stairs and into the grandly painted lady that is the Central Lobby between the Commons and the Lords. Stop and look up at the glorious ceiling. To be here at the epicentre of our democracy is a thing. Please be a little awestruck and breathless. It will help you put off breathing in for as long as possible. Because when you do you will be whacked by the essence of British institution: the fetid smell of boiled cabbage. 

I wouldn’t normally complain. This really is a British institution. Inside it looks like every minor public school or corrupt Oxbridge college that ever spat out a mildly dysfunctional beta male with a quiet interest in ornithology, onanism and flagellation. 

That £65 three-course menu offers four choices per course plus petit fours, coffee and a side order of profound regret. It’s an overwritten document name-checking lots of flavours that go missing in action. Likewise, the food it describes represents a kitchen straining at a modernity it might have read about once in a magazine. White crabmeat is mixed in with too much crème fraîche, until loose and floppy. It’s meant to slap you with mustard but doesn’t. There’s a disc of flavourless kohlrabi over the top. It claims there’s fresh chilli in there but we can’t find it. On the other hand, there are lumps of pineapple. What I have thus learned: pineapple and crab hate each other. Another starter brings a serviceable salt beef terrine with capers and what is called “beef dripping sourdough crisp”. Look, if you’re going to promise me rendered cow fat, I want to taste cow fat. I can’t.


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