Jacaranda Tasting Evening at Bury Court Barn
30 Monday Apr 2012
Some of the cars bouncing along the winding country lanes were practically on autopilot. Having chosen the destination as their wedding venue, the inhabitants of these vehicles had worn this route many a time from visiting on numerous occasions. Other cars took the bends more cautiously, navigating the route to Bury Court Barn uncertainly on this, their inaugural visit. Eventually the vast barn and accompanying oast houses popped into view in the valley of rolling Surrey countryside.
With the sun disappearing behind unyielding clouds, the early onset of evening accompanied the first visitors for the Jacaranda tasting evening, as the car park began to fill incrementally. Clients of the Sussex-based catering company who had weddings or anniversaries booked during the 2012 summer season had been invited to indulge in a banquet of Tudor proportions, sampling suggested dishes in order to choose their menu for the big day.
Before the end of the evening, they would sample nearly 20 different dishes over three courses whilst meeting and mingling with other couples who were also getting married at the same venues. They would be given the opportunity to ask questions, take away information and make an educated decision about what to select for their wedding breakfasts.
A mouth-watering smell seeped out of the barn and into the open air as couples strolled hand-in-hand through an avenue of perfectly pruned hedges towards the entrance of the barn. Those who would be holding their own nuptials in the picturesque surroundings chattered excitedly as they envisaged their own guests arriving in similar style.
In the bright white entrance, a helpful advisor checked guests off a list and presented them with name badges. With a cheerful smile she directed the growing queue of couples through a doorway and into a world of culinary delight. Chirpy waitresses hovered around the doorway with trays of drinks, ready to deliver a glass of champagne or elderflower, equally as bubbly and golden as each other, into empty hands. Enormous drapes partitioned off the main part of the barn, allowing couples to savour the intimacy of the lower, ceremonial area beneath the minstrel gallery.
Bodies became packed between the white washed walls as curious couples sought out others with the same venue emblazoned across their nametags. Tentative introductions grew into hearty conversation and as smartly dressed waiters topped up glasses, the level of chatter soon grew to excitedly loud proportions. Large slate rectangles sporting a host of different canapés were proffered into groups for peckish guests to try. Eager-eyed culinary vultures popped miniature morsels into their mouths and discussed amongst themselves which they liked best.
The swooshing sound of curtains being drawn back accompanied a sudden influx of light as the partition gave way to the rest of the barn. Warm spotlights on the beautifully restored oak beams and inviting candlelight tempted guests up towards the two infinitely long tables laid immaculately for dinner. Fairy lights wound their way around vast wooden pillars; a disco ball glinted at the end of the room, casting out a glittering explosion of light.
Down the middle of each table marched an array of white and green floristry, from overflowing wreaths to tiny pots of gypsophilia standing alone. Majestic white candelabras rose out of the floral display at intervals along the length of the tables, whilst tealights flickered teasingly in votives at table level.
Glasses were already filled with rich ruby and crystal white wines, waiting in anticipation to be consumed in conjunction with the appropriate dish. An information pack in the unmistakable purple colours of Jacaranda waited on each seat, soon to be devoured for details by patrons.
A slow moving queue formed in front of the table plan as each couple sought out their allocated places, saying farewell to newly acquired friends before greeting fresh acquaintances as they settled into their seats. A luggage tag sporting each patron’s name waited patiently atop a pristine white napkin in their place setting.
With everyone seated, a brief introduction by operations manager Nigel explained the process of the evening. Disbelieving looks were thrown at wrist watches as he announced that the evening would conclude at around 10.30pm; could they really spend the next three hours just eating?!
Somewhat like a game of cuisine bingo, eyes went down to the crib sheet of dishes as the first waitresses burst out of the kitchen carrying the inaugural starters. Heads swivelled to watch what was on the plates being carried the length of the barn. Coos of admiration escaped lips as the beautifully presented dishes were laid in front of each couple.
Whilst one half of each pairing received a tart tatin of slow roasted English tomatoes accompanied with mild Sussex goat’s cheese and a ham hock and leek terrine, their counterpart tucked into a fillet of sea bass as well as asparagus and parmesan wafers.
Forks floated mid-air with mouthfuls of each dish waiting to be shared. Appreciative murmurs emanated as each recipe was discussed in-depth and conscientious tasters annotated their menus with their thoughts. Their plates were soon whipped away to be replaced with a smoked duck croquet or soy blackened salmon.
As the main courses approached, the mammoth undertaking of getting through to dessert began to dawn on the happy diners. Although they all knew that this was a tasting evening, during which the object was to try a little bit of everything, the quality and flavour of the food was so enticing that most plates returned to the kitchen entirely bare.
Dual plates of lamb signalled the start of the main courses, with one half displaying char grilled butterflied legs of lamb cooked over charcoal with the other offering a loin of lamb with a ratatouille jus in addition to potatoes and beans. Discussions spilled out from each individual couple as they asked those around them which version others preferred, opening the debate up to those preferring a traditional method of cooking to the flame grilled flavour of the charcoal.
Chicken breasts stuffed with Thai herbs and a duo of duck including a honey glazed breast and confit leg followed on from the lamb. The unified nature of sharing the tasting experience began to falter with cries of, “Get off! This one’s mine!” By the time a belly of pork and fillet of beef finished off the melee of main courses, exhausted diners slumped back in their chairs, savouring the variety of flavours floating around their mouths.
The parade of perfectly presented puddings passing their eyes seemed almost too much to bear but, in the sake of research, each person picked up their spoon and started sampling sweet treats. A very clear definition between those with a rich palette and those with a sweet tooth became apparent in the disparity of reactions to the coffee and cake and the berry and elderflower jelly. Plates were happily swapped to adhere to personal preference. As the final desserts were placed in front of diners, they wearily polished off iced lemon parfaits and deconstructed millionaire’s chocolate shortbread with the sort of triumphant fatigue usually seen in athletes of endurance sports.
By the time chairs scraped back from the table and couples began departing with their information packs tucked under the arms, it was clear that for some there was a clear cut decision on which dishes would be appearing on their wedding breakfast menu. For others, temptation provoked gluttony, making the process of selection more difficult than expected.
As they said farewell to their fellow diners, the departing guests took time to thank their waiting staff on the way out, as well as seeking out Georgie and JJ from Jacaranda, the event managers whom they had got to know throughout their planning processes. Despite the late hour and weary questions, the team remained perky, helpful and welcoming, assuring exhausted diners that they were only an email away if they needed any more help.
Cars pulled out of the car park with the crunching of gravel and slowly, Bury Court Barn found itself deconstructed from an opulent banquet and transformed back into a twinkling barn, waiting for its next big event.
The Wedding Reporter was a very happy guest of Jacaranda for the evening and only eats this much food in the name of research. If you would like to know more about Jacaranda Catering for your wedding, please visit their website. All images are taken from the 2011 tasting evening. To see a film of the 2012 tasting evening, have a look at this.