|The Savoy Hotel|
Project Hope (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) is an international healthcare organisation founded in the United States in 1958 with branches now also in Germany and the UK. The purpose of the Ball was to launch The Thoughtful Path: Munsieville, which Project Hope intends to act as a ground-breaking intiative by engaging entire communities in changing the way AIDS orphans are cared for in Munsieville, a township near Johannesburg.
The Savoy is as luxurious and elegant as you would expect from an up-market London hotel that has just had an extensive and expensive upgrade. Built by impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte with profits from his Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the hotel intially opened on 6 August 1889 and re-launched on 10 October 2010.
I know from experience at various conferences that catering for 200-odd people is no mean feat - however The Savoy managed superbly and managed a well-made but consciously unfussy menu with some impressive wines.
There was a Champagne reception with Louis Roederer; I have written elsewhere about Champagne and my previous experiences were repeated here - initially straightforwardly crisp and bubbly, towards the end of each glass, the wine opened up and showed a rich complexity, length and yeasty breadiness that was hitherto imperceptible.
Moving on to the food, cold starters were a classic arrangement of bocconcini with tomatoes, herbs and a balsamic and oil dressing. The hot starter was a risotto with Dover sole fillets and, quite inexplicably, chunks of pink grapefruit.
The white wine accompanying these was a surprisingly crisp, aromatic and rich Chardonnay from Les Vigneaux in Languedoc. From the Cave Coopérative Les Vignerons de la Vicomte, its humble VdP tag belied a pungency that spoke of high-altitude vineyards and a herbaceousness that was more Sauvignon that Chardie; it has a silver medal from Palmarès 2009.
The main course was perhaps the highlight - a generous chunk of slow roast lamb that was browned on the outside and beautifully pink in the middle, served on a puff pastry vine tomato tart.
The wine for this course was a Corbieres Syrah from Chateau La Bastide - with wonderful aromas of plums and prunes as well as vanilla sweetness, it was both quaffable and serious.
Dessert was both wonderful and traditionally British - a bread and butter pudding; sadly there was only coffee with petits fours and no dessert wine to accompany this.
The serious business of dining and drinking over, we moved on to the more frivolous charity auction of sporting memorabilia, limited edition wines and art etchings, overseen by Christie's Duncan McEuan.
Project Hope takes a different approach to many charities in that its focus is on outputs and not inputs - I have long felt that charities are good at asking for my money (and, of course, I do my bit to contribute) but I have not always felt entirely reassured about what that actually achieves.
The Thoughtful Path is backed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and acknowledges that a holistic solution is needed as traditional charity approaches have failed to make a sustained impact. The vision is to make Munsieville a world class model of excellence over the next 10 years.
Project Hope (UK website) - http://www.projecthopeuk.org/
Project Hope (international website) - http://www.projecthope.org/site/PageServer
The Savoy Hotel London - http://www.fairmont.com/savoy and http://www.the-savoy.com/
Roederer - http://www.champagne-roederer.com/en/
Cave Coopérative Les Vignerons de la Vicomte - no website but contactable at email@example.com
Chateau La Bastide - http://www.chateau-la-bastide.fr/A_index.htm
Christie's - http://www.christies.com/