It’s not every evening that you go to a fundraising roman banquet in full roman costume, but that’s exactly what I ended up doing one chilly evening in October!
Epiacum Roman Fort (also known as Whitley Castle) is located just outside of the town of Alston, and next to the Pennine Way. It has been described as “The best preserved fort in the Roman Empire” by Stewart Ainsworth from Time Team. The fort is managed by Epiacum Heritage Ltd, “a not-for-profit company set up to encourage research and conservation at Epiacum, and to encourage and enable public engagement with the site through a range of fascinating events.”* The roman banquet which I was attending was in aid of the Epiacum project, which my family have been involved with.
I’ll admit that initially I was a little sceptical of an authentic roman menu, however I was pleasantly surprised as the food was excellent. The evening was hosted at Alston House Hotel, which is somewhere I would be keen to return to given the quality of the food. The meal started with a vegetable and barley broth served with spelt flour bread, and it was lovely. I didn’t think it would be anything special, but it was very tasty and not overly filling, meaning that I still had plenty of room for the other two courses.
The main course was lamb in a date sauce served with carrots and parsnips in a honey glaze and spring greens with cumin. It was wonderful. I don’t think I have ever had lamb quite like it. It was so tender, it just melted in the mouth and went beautifully with its accompaniments. Dessert came served on a large sharing platter to be picked at, which did feel rather roman. The honey cake, fruit and nuts were all very enjoyable. The melon in a mint dressing was edible, but a little odd. I prefer my melon without the mint! We were also served Delian sweets and had no idea what to expect. Let’s just say I won’t be having them again… The honey on the outside was lovely, but the remainder was horrible. However, it was an experience!
The entertainment wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but it was nice that it was a local singer who was involved with the evening. The roman tale that we were told was quite
amusing, but seemed to drag on a little. I would have been happy with just the food and socialising with those I had come with, but it was good of the organisers to also provide entertainment. There was also a good mix of those who had come dressed up, and those who had not, meaning that guests wouldn’t feel awkward either way. My mum did a brilliant job in designing and making our costumes – I thought we looked rather good!
For the quality of the food, I believe that the £20 paid for the ticket was good value, and for a very good cause. Let’s hope it becomes an annual event… after all, I now have the costume!
*Text taken from Epiacum website.