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March 9, 2012

The well-dressed crowd arrived at the Grade II Listed and historic Raglan Barracks, a sprawling stone-walled military headquarters set atop a crest overlooking glittering Newport, South Wales. Members of a male voice choir and several men dressed in kilts were roaming the grounds in search of the Sergeants’ Mess, while those of us who were “dressed to impress” found the Officer’s Mess. All, I might add, were in high spirits. It helped that Wales had squeaked past rival England in an important rugby match that afternoon, and the Welsh are known for redefining “celebratory mood.” They are not timid in their outpouring of joy when one of their teams wins a duel, regardless of their dress. Air punches, back slaps and outcries of “Oy, did you see….” brought the Welsh brand of civility to all those gathered.

We were the inaugural guests of The Secret Supper Clwb, (don’t you just love the Welsh spelling?!) a formal dining occasion produced by impresario Phillip Mungeam and chef Emma Evans. So named because the location is held secret until just days before the event, the Clwb promises exotic, unusual and even historic locations for the main event of expertly prepared gourmet meals and festive entertainment.

Sipping sparkling aperitifs, the majority of the guests were strangers to each other, but polite conversation (amid the back slaps) and gentle introductions were made as a harpist played in the background. Suddenly the genteel mood of the richly paneled officer’s bar was jolted out of its cocoon when a rapping on the table was followed by a belting baritone voice. “Dinner will be served in five minutes,” our master of ceremonies announced, or rather, bellowed.

Silver service from top to bottom at the Raglan Officers' Mess.

If you’ve never been to an officer’s mess, let me explain: it’s not messy and it’s not like a canteen. No, an officer’s mess is formal dining defined. The dining room’s handsome wooden tables were laid with fine china, regimental silver red wine glasses, candelabras, enough silver eating utensils to choke even the largest dish washer, and elegant port wine glasses alongside crystal white wine glasses. Candles and low lighting set the mood as we found our places amid the elegance.

That elegance didn’t last long. Suddenly our baritone, Karl Daymond of the Wales Opera Playhouse, appeared in a Viking cap, to which two long braids were attached. His fingers danced across the keys of his electronic keyboard and his impressive operatic voice told us we were in for an evening of fun! The Viking was replaced with silly hats, signs, patter and a toothful grin that appeared whenever a camera was pointed its way. He worked the crowd of strangers into a table full of great friends in only minutes with his easy manner and retorts with all seated in front of him. His was the warmth that melted the ice.

Karl Daymond's rich Welsh baritone voice entertained throughout the evening!

The most delicious homemade, sun-dried tomato bread preceded the panfried wild garlic mushrooms that were served over toasted brioche. They were followed by very slowly cooked Welsh shoulder of lamb topped with a rosemary and redcurrant jus, butternut squash and celeriac, Dauphinoise potatoes, buttered carrots and crispy kale. Welsh songs, anthems, jokes, a lot of oomph-ing and even a long-running Tom Jones tribute with the entire crowd joining in for a rousing “Delilah” linked the courses, and the participants.

Impressario Phillip Mungeam and Chef Emma Evans earned their applause!

As we left the Officers’ Mess, strains of “There’s a Welcome in the Hillside” were heard coming from the open windows of the Sergeants’ Mess. Whether the singers were wearing kilts or tuxedos didn’t matter. Their voices blended in rapturous harmony and seemed a fitting end to a truly Welsh evening. It was the most fun Paul and I had had in “yonks,” and we cannot wait for the next installment of The Secret Supper Clwb. When and where will it be?  That’s a Secret!!!!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Hope Jennifer Barron permalink
    March 9, 2012 6:37 pm

    Love that! I want to wear a viking hat and go to the secret clwb!!

  2. Pat permalink
    March 9, 2012 7:27 pm

    What a fun idea. Definitely an idea we should copy here in the States!

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