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The Lightbox celebrates 10th anniversary with Pol Roger Champagne dinner

PUBLISHED: 20:02 18 September 2017 | UPDATED: 06:38 21 September 2017

Pol Roger Champagne Dinner at The Lightbox, Woking (Photos: Elizabeth Ransom)

Pol Roger Champagne Dinner at The Lightbox, Woking (Photos: Elizabeth Ransom)

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Celebrating its 10th anniversary in style and taking part in Woking Food & Drink Festival, The Lightbox art gallery and museum hosts a Pol Roger Champagne dinner. Matthew Williams reports

The Sean Henry sculptures that can currently be seen around Woking town centre (Photos: Matthew Williams) The Sean Henry sculptures that can currently be seen around Woking town centre (Photos: Matthew Williams)

Greeted at Woking station by an unlikely concierge – aka The Wanderer, an intimidating 7ft tall gentleman dressed in black – I’m not entirely sure what I’ve let myself in for. I also appear to be the only person in town dressed in black tie, as the Friday night lights flicker to life.

As I follow artist Sean Henry’s trail of remarkably life-like sculptures into the town square, where Woking Food & Drink Festival is closing on its first day, I become increasingly concerned I’ve got my diary dates wrong. At times, stood stock-still among the crowds and taking in the scene, I become the long-haired Sean Henry artwork that people can’t find in the catalogue.

As I reach the end of the trail, The Lightbox art gallery and museum, I’m convinced I’ve missed the ‘actually we’ve cancelled the fancy dress’ memo. I suppose I can always claim that James Bond is not the only one who wears a bow tie and jacket to the ‘office’. “You should see the wine cellar at Surrey Life Towers etc…”

Greeted by The Lightbox’s effervescent director Marilyn Scott, as always a pocket rocket of energy and inspiration, any worries are swiftly washed away by a glass of Pol Roger - and the fact that, despite being a little too early, if anyone is laughing they’re politely keeping it to themselves.

The Lightbox is, of course, celebrating its 10th anniversary, which means it has been part of Surrey Life for only a few months less than I have and it has been a privilege to watch it grow into the institute that it is today.

While they’ve made their forays into supper clubs, comedy evenings and film nights, it’s still their ability to punch above their weight and drag the art world out of London that most impresses (although maybe persuading Pol Roger, a French wine force since 1849, to make a home of an art gallery café in Woking for the evening pushes their major exhibitions close!).

While I’m pondering the likes of Da Vinci, Damien Hirst and Renoir, who have brought the humble gallery to life in its first 10 years, my fellow diners filter in looking much smarter than I ever could.

We’re led into the intimate Seasons café which has been transformed for the night into a fine dining restaurant. The anticipation rises for what Neil Tompkins (formerly of the highly-rated Sands at Bleak House near Horsell Common) and his Tipsy Pigs catering team may be about to conjure from the kitchen following the amuse-bouche.

I’ve attended events at The Lightbox before and know their catering facilities are above those you might necessarily expect from a community instigated art gallery, and Neil’s dishes throughout the evening bring admiring conversation and Instagram snaps.

From the starter of carpaccio of venison with parsnip puree, apple gel and parsnip crisps through the fish course of potted British seafood and on to the heady seasonal heights of breast of grouse with confit of the leg, fondant potato, roasted beetroots, blackberry and port jus, the dishes stand up perfectly to the gravitas of the evening.

In between, Cassidy Dart, director of wine at Pol Roger, chats through each of the accompanying tipples with a laid back and disarming precision (plus a few Winston Churchill anecdotes that have diners in stitches).

To finish, Neil conjures up a dreamy Champagne jelly dessert with wild strawberries, clotted cream ice cream and tuile biscuits, before guests mop up the last of their drinks with a cheese board selection.

Such is the elegance of the evening and the food and Champagne that fills it, that I’m left with the impression The Lightbox will be looking to book in a few more of these events in the near future – head chef Neil Tompkins’ food certainly deserves the inspirational canvas.

As I make my way back to Woking train station, I half wonder if those are envious glances emanating from the sculptures I pass.

***

The Champagnes served at The Lightbox dinner:

• Pol Roger Pure Brut NV

• Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV

• Pol Roger Brut Vintage Blanc de Blanc 2009

• Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2008

• Pol Roger Brut Vintage Rose 2008

• Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill 2004

• Pol Roger Rich NV

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