Venue: Digital Engagement in Archaeology: Strategies and Evaluation Methods Conference, South Cloisters

Price: Free

Set in UCL’s resplendent south cloisters, this conference promised much in the way of classical cuisine, writes A.A. Gill. Always generous with their platters, the Archaeology department really stepped up to the plate here, massively overestimating the number of attendees thus leaving several trays of food remaining once most guests had left.

The amuse-bouche were entrancing, the mini poppadums and mini flat breads taking me on a gastronomic world tour reminiscent of the romantic imagery associated with archaeology itself. The mini dips provided were somewhat limited, and I would have like some hotter relish to contrast the cool mango chutney and sour cream. Admittedly, the sweet chilli dip, artfully arranged in a mini angular pot, compensated here.

For the main, I sampled the classic range of sandwiches on offer, cut up into mini-triangles no doubt intended to evoke the pyramids beneath which were buried alongside so many Egyptians in the early dynastic period. The ham and mustard sandwich was a stark challenge to traditional flavours, the mustard biting the back of the palette and the bread beginning to crust slightly with staleness at the edges. The tomato and chicken was boldly sweet, with a hint of fish, possibly due to its situation next to the tuna on the platter.

Finally I tried the cucumber and cress sandwich, which promised so much, yet instead of transporting me to a quiet picnic in a dappled orchard on a cool summer’s day, had a flavour reminiscent of a yakult on the turn. Overall however, there was a commendable range of dishes, and with screw-top wines on offer and half a carton of apple juice left, it’s hard to complain in this price range.

Moving down the table I was greeted with a miniaturised confectionaire’s delight, with mini fruit tarts cleansing the palette nicely before mini chocolate éclairs and mini custard tarts provided a sweet conclusion to a delightful meal. After a frankly lethargic time of 13 minutes and 24 seconds I was finally spotted and asked to leave, but not before I indulged in yet another mini Eccles cake, which, to my surprise, had a sweet coffee filling.

Overall, the meal failed to live up to the benchmark standards of the European Instititute’s regular conferences, yet the archaeologists should be commended on their culinary adventurousness, and gross over ordering.

Rating: ****


A version of this article appeared in CG Issue 60.