Veggie Dining has a long history at the Rising Sun and 2016’s event was organised by a team of volunteers that included some of the original Veggie Dining crowd.
Danuta Longworth-Krafft, who came up with the idea to hold the anniversary event, did so because “it encapsulated all the great things about the Rising Sun – the voluntary ethic, the fact that anyone could have a go, the communal nature of the event and that amateur performers could give it their best and get a platform for their performance. The haphazard element was also part of the fun as well as the challenge of producing so much food with a small budget.”
All tickets were sold out and the place was packed to the rafters as the crew of talented cooks laid out a fantastic three-course spread. 43 paying guests were entertained between courses by folk legends Kate Fletcher and Corwen Broch, some barmy (and thought provoking) poetry from Johnny Hoggett and an impromptu a cappella performance by the Retreat Singers.
The Veggie Dining concept was launched in the early 1980s when a group of local vegetarians, frustrated by the lack of eating out options in Reading, decided to take up their woks and do it for themselves. Tickets could be bought for a couple of quid from Acorn, Reading’s Anarchist bookshop in Chatham Street, then you could turn up, help prepare, and sit down to enjoy a hearty veggie meal amongst friends.
Original venues included the Fairview Community Centre in George Street and the old unemployment centre (now South Street Arts Centre) before they moved to the Katesgrove venue in 1991. In those days, the Rising Sun had a huge, well-equipped kitchen. The Veggie Dining events continued until the mid 1990s.
When planning celebrations for the Rising Sun 25 year anniversary, some of the original ‘diners’ immediately came up with the great idea of reviving the event. The menu was put together more or less on the spot at the first meeting; everyone chose what they were going to cook and amazingly it all fitted together. Other dishes were added nearer the day and the decision to make the dessert a bake-off contest was pretty obvious given GBBO’s popularity.
The 2016 Veggie Dining menu was a lot more sophisticated than its predecessors, and for a very reasonable £7 fee the diners had the choice of four or five starters, including mushroom paté, cherry peppers stuffed with home-made ‘Risingstun’ pickle and almond stuffed prunes. Mains had an Indian flavour with mushroom, leek and cashew nut coconut korma, cauliflower and chickpea biryani, and pumpkin and chickpea dahls with lots of accompaniments. The menu included plenty for everyone, including those on vegan and gluten-free diets. Diners queued up in an orderly manner to be served, with the Rising Sun bar serving drinks to the thirsty.
At the end of the meal, several toothsome puddings were the focus of a fun Rising Sun bake off. The sweet trolley included cheesecake, brownies, fruit salad and numerous gateaux, many of which were gluten free and vegan. Prior to consumption, all entries were tasted and judged by two pairs of GBBO doppelganger judges before the diners were allowed to get stuck in.
The whole day was so successful that the Veggie Dining crew are already planning to hold another event at the same time next year, although something else might also emerge in the spring.
Watch this space…