You too could be a Democratic Diner
Fancy dining in Westminster? Soon you might be able to.
The Downing Street barbecue Dave and Sam hosted for the visiting Obamas back in May might have been strictly invitation only, but very soon you too might be able to dine in Westminster.
While a cosy dinner in the Camerons' new £28,000 kitchen may not be on the cards, House of Commons managers have bowed to pressure and agreed to at least think about throwing open the doors to some of the dozen or so eating and drinking establishments in Westminster to the Great British public.
The big question though is why have these exclusive eateries, paid for by the taxpayer, been out of bounds for so long?
What’s on offer?
If you’ve ever suffered hunger pangs in the vicinity of the tourist hell that is Westminster you’ll realise that the range of fare is pretty limited. Hot dog from a street vendor hunched over a dodgy looking broiler anyone?
But inside, well, the choice is pretty spectacular. Long gone are the days when the Commons restaurants served up food that attempted to replicate that offered by public school dining halls circa 1950 – dried roast beef, toad in the hole, jam roly poly... that sort of thing is strictly off menu these days.
Instead, you’ll find top class food, all cooked with locally sourced ingredients by great chefs. While the workings of Parliament as a whole are sometimes a little less than transparent, the same can’t be said for whoever writes the menus in the place.
All right, they might veer slightly towards the over-descriptive, but they do sound remarkably enticing. Take last week. For the price of a Pret sandwich you could have enjoyed seared mackerel with macerated fennel, blood orange crisp AND poppy seed.
It sounds a bit of a mouthful but you could also have guzzled on “pork medallions with braised pork belly, bubble and squeak and pork jelly ‘bonbon’, apple sauce and jus” - for a very reasonable £11.00.
In the Terrace restaurant – with spectacular views of the Thames - boiled gammon knuckle with Cumberland sauce was available for just £2.95.
While the Terrace restaurant sounds inviting enough, Commons managers might want to think about renaming some of their establishments before the hoi polloi descends en masse: current names like The Adjournment Room, The Debate, Strangers and the distinctly unappealing “6th Floor” are hardly likely to draw the crowds – like an Iraqi dossier, those in charge could probably sex the branding of these eateries up a bit.
The proposals aren’t the result of a new spirit of openness among our elected representatives. They’ve come about more from necessity arising out of the dire state of Parliament’s finances.
Perhaps inevitably, plenty of MPs object to the move. They cite the security threat posed by allowing random civilians into Westminster to fill up on parliamentary nosh.
But last time I looked, the chances of getting into the Palace of Westminster unaccompanied were about as realistic as passing undetected through an airport security scanner with a mouth full of dental braces and a titanium knee.
A cynic might suggest that the unwillingness to share these restaurants with the rest of us stems more from a desire to keep the culinary delights of the place to themselves, but I couldn’t possibly comment.
Best kept secret
OK, so the food sounds good but you might just baulk at the idea of having to sit next to some of our more loquacious, and very possibly expenses-shamed MPs while you tuck in.
Not a problem: under the proposals, the establishments will only allow the public in at times of the year when Parliament isn’t at work – when the MPs are on holiday - that’s roughly about one week in every three. And this makes it even harder to understand why our elected officials think allowing commoners into the eh, Commons, might pose a threat to their personal safety.
Voters in the US, Germany and even Australia can all tuck into superb fodder within earshot of their law makers. Isn’t it about time the mother of parliaments let the public in too?
It’s beyond comprehension how, in these austere times, an organisation would ignore the potential income afforded to it by its unique location. The House of Commons is sitting on a proverbial goldmine.
Think of other riverside eateries – like the Oxo Tower, Le Pont de la Tour. They all have punters screaming to get in – and none has a terrace as massive or as well situated as the one in Westminster.
Think too of the number of MPs salaries that could be paid for in a year if we were allowed in. Isn’t it just one more way to reduce that budget deficit MPs are always going on about.
What do you think? Use the comments box below if the idea of eating at the Commons appeals to you, or if you’d rather give the place a wide berth.
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