The opening of a modest restaurant in the Capitol was not meant to be a gala event, but once it was known that the Lord High President and the First Lady were going to be attending on the first evening, it quickly became one. Marion felt almost as if she should apologise to the manager of the Conservatory, the restaurant she had patronised since her first nervous trip to the Capitol under Lady Lily’s wing. The excitement generated by the opening of Valentins was getting quite out of proportion. She certainly felt she had to draw a line when her friends were speculating about it over lunch at the Conservatory. That was quite unfair.

But in the evening she chose a gown with care. It was one that Rosanda had made for her, which was entirely appropriate since the restaurant was the business venture of her brother in law. Rosanda was wearing one of her own gowns tonight. She and Caolin were dining with Lord and Lady de Lœngbærrow. Caolin had been reluctant at first to accept the idea of being his employer’s guest. But Marion had gently persuaded him.

They arrived together in a limousine with a Presidential Guard escort. One of the guards opened the door and Marion stepped out first, followed by Rosanda. They waited for their men to join them, then walked into the brightly lit restaurant foyer.

“I do hope it won’t be like this EVERY time we eat here,” Marion whispered. The entire staff were assembled, chefs, kitchen workers, porters, waiters and the manager and head chef himself, Valentin Caolin. He looked a little nervous as he stepped forward and presented a bouquet of flowers to Marion and bowed low to Kristoph. Then he introduced all of the staff to the Lord High President and his wife. They all bowed.

“Your table is ready, Excellency, your Ladyship,” Valentin said when the formalities were over. He brought them into the restaurant itself. Marion thought it looked very nice. The tables were all made of opaque black glass and the plates and dishes set at each place were red. The plates and bowls were rectangular shaped, rather than round. Above, rectangular red shades covered the lights. The walls and ceiling were finished in a matt black and decorated with swirling text in the same red as the fittings quoting snatches of old Gallifreyan poetry.

Around them as they were seated the other tables filled with those who had made reservations for this night. Lily was there, of course, dining with Kristoph’s aunt, Lady Thedera and her husband, Lord Más??nt?n. Lord and Lady Stillh?ven were there with Lord and Lady Gyes, two former Presidents and their wives in addition to the incumbent, making it a tremendous coup for Valentin as well as a security nightmare for the Presidential Guard. Lord Stillh?ven was looking much better than anyone expected after his illness and was greeted warmly by all.

Many of Marion’s friends were there. Among the more notable exceptions were the Lord and Lady Arpexia, although Valena Arpexia was there with a young man Kristoph said was a member of the Inquisition. Lord and Lady Dúccesci had not attended this high profile social occasion. Nor had any members of the Houses of Oakdaene or Ravenswode. Marion knew Lady Dúccesci would have been happy to come, but it was a matter of pride for her husband. He had opposed the enfranchisement of Caretakers, and the opening of this restaurant seemed a little too much like another snub to his political views.

Lord and Lady Reidluum were in attendance. Marion was pleased to see them, especially to see Mia Reidluum smiling as she held her husband’s arm.

On other nights, of course, there would be a selection of dishes on the menu. For this special opening night everyone was being served the same meal. It was based on the cuisine of planet Earth, in honour of the Lord High President’s esteemed wife.

“Oh dear,” Marion said. “Not all of Earth food could be called cuisine. We might be served fish and chips followed by hamburgers and jelly and cream for desert.”

Kristoph laughed. Rosanda laughed, too, even though she didn’t know what fish and chips or a hamburger was. Caolin laughed because everyone else at the table was laughing. The mood was infectious, and by the time a delicately flavoured watercress soup was brought from the kitchen as the first course, everyone was in a good frame of mind to enjoy it.

The soup was followed by pear salad with goat cheese, fennel, black walnuts and white balsamic vinegar. Since pears were not a fruit grown on Gallifrey, the colour, shape and taste was unknown to many of the diners, but they were ready to be pleasantly surprised.

Marion was surprised by the fish course. No, it wasn’t battered fish as sold in many a chip shop in Liverpool, but poached salmon with orange glaze carrots and black trumpet mushrooms. She was surprised because she knew that most meat or fish she ate on Gallifrey was actually synthesised from cúl nut protein. Yet the texture and taste of the poached salmon was perfect. It was impossible to tell that it wasn’t the real thing freshly caught in some river.

“It is only the higher castes who regularly eat synthesised food, of course,” Rosanda pointed out. “In the village I grew up in we would eat fish caught in the Bærrow, and meat hunted on the plains.”

“When I was younger it was quite usual to have real meat at the table at Mount Lœng House,” Kristoph said. “Synthesised food was only common here in the Capitol. We rural aristocrats were flesh eaters! There used to be something of a snobbery about it. The southern continent accent was associated, even among Oldbloods, with barbaric eating habits.”

“Not the House of Lœngbærrow,” Caolin protested. “The demesne may be on the Southern Continent, but the name has ever been associated with refinement and good taste.”

Kristoph laughed gently.

“Your loyalty does you credit, Pasqual,” he said. “But many years ago when I was a twenty year old quaking in my shoes on my first day at the Prydonian Academy one of my chief fears was of opening my mouth and giving away my uncultured southern roots, and my digestive system was severely upset for the first week of my formal education by the ‘soft’ food I was expected to eat in the refectory. As for refinement... I can remember my grandfather, Chrístõ Dracœfire with the pack of wolves he kept for hunting leonate and Akampa on the plain. A fine man, but certainly no patron of the Arts.”

“I stand corrected, my Lord,” Caolin said. “But if any man suggested that you, yourself, were less than a gentleman of erudition I should be most put out.”

“I doubt any man would say such a thing about the Lord High President,” Rosanda told her husband. “You need not defend his honour, my dear.”

The fish course was followed by a lemon sorbet served in crystal glass dishes that cleansed the palette before the main course. This was a rib eye steak served with crisp onions, double-stuffed potatoes and creamed spinach. Kristoph cut a piece of his steak and chewed it thoughtfully before giving his judgement.

“Even my legendary ancestor who was known to present the cook with leonate steaks cut from the carcasses of the animals he personally hunted would not be able to criticise this. Your brother really is a fine chef, Pasqual.”

“It is his passion,” Caolin answered. “I dare say he would be able to do something surprising with those leonate steaks you spoke of.” He seemed to be getting used to his employer addressing him by his first name, now. At first he had flinched slightly each time Kristoph called him Pasqual. But at this table, they were as close to equals as it was possible to be within the peculiar etiquette of Gallifreyan society and it was the correct way to address him.

Though nothing would induce him to call Kristoph anything but ‘My Lord’. Then again, apart from Marion, everyone in the room addressed him as ‘Excellency’. By comparison ‘My Lord’ was a blatant familiarity.

“I wish Talitha had come tonight,” Marion said, looking around the room at so many people she knew well. “I think she would have enjoyed it.”

“Malika Dúccesci is a stubborn man,” Kristoph admitted, aware that both his dinner guests flinched to hear him criticise a fellow old blood in front of them. “He feels that patronising a restaurant owned by a Caretaker is beneath him.”

“Well... who owns all the other restaurants in the Capitol?” Marion asked. “What about the Conservatory? Virrole Gann manages it. He’s a Caretaker... but the staff all do as he says and I’ve never seen him answer to anyone else. ”

“The Conservatory is one of several properties owned by Lord Arunden,” Kristoph replied. “As long as the rent is paid he would not have much to do with the day to day running of the establishment, but Malika Dúccesci can patronise it without feeling he is contributing to the financial emancipation of the lower classes, though. Valentins is the only establishment of its kind entirely owned by a Caretaker. That rankles with our more intransigent Oldblood snobs.”

“Well, it’s a shame,” Marion said. “Maybe I can bring Talitha for lunch along with some of the other ladies. What Malika doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

“You will get that poor woman into trouble for disobeying her Alliance vows,” Kristoph told her. He meant it light-heartedly, since this was dinner and they were enjoying themselves, but it wasn’t entirely a joke. Lord Dúccesci did expect his wife to obey him, and if Marion encouraged her to rebel too much it might have difficult consequences.

The timely arrival of dessert put an end to that thorny topic of conversation.

“Traditional apple pie,” Marion said, admiring the glazed criss-cross pastry beneath which were layers of juicy apple with just a hint of spice. The pie was served with hand made vanilla ice cream that tasted better than any ice cream Marion had ever had before with a real vanilla flavour and a smooth, creamy consistency.

“That is one of Valentin’s specialties,” Caolin said with a note of deserved pride in his sibling. “He will have attended to it personally, beating air into it by hand every half hour until it was perfect.”

“If this quality can be assured every night, then I think this business venture will succeed,” Kristoph told him. “Certainly your brother can expect presidential patronage again. I haven’t had such a good apple pie for years.”

“Apples are native to Gallifrey,” Marion pointed out. “We have a huge orchard of them ourselves.”

“Yes,” Kristoph said. “But Oldbloods don’t eat apple pies. It is a Caretaker recipe. The idea of serving it in any house of quality would be unthinkable.”

“Then... has Valentin insulted everyone by including it in his menu?” Marion wondered. She looked around. The other guests, Oldblood and Newblood alike, seemed to be enjoying their dessert. They didn’t look as if it was beneath them.

The question was addressed when Valentin came from the kitchen to ask the Lord High President if the meal had been to his liking. Kristoph congratulated him on the quality of the dessert.

“Thank you, sir. It is a favourite of the President of the Earth Federation. I recreated the recipe tonight that I cooked for the delegates of the Exxia Treaty last year.”

“I believe it may become a favourite of the President of Gallifrey, too,” Kristoph told him. “In which case, expect my own cook to be only the first asking you for your secret recipe. You may have started a trend, which is an achievement on its own here on Gallifrey.”

“It is no secret, Excellency,” Valentin replied. “Just a light hand with the pastry and just the right amount of spice.”

The smiling man looked as if he might talk in more depth about the correct spices for an apple pie, but he remembered that he was addressing the Lord High President and cut himself short. He was content to receive a handshake from his Excellency who then asked for a cheese selection and brandy and coffee to round off the evening. Around him, other patrons were ready to congratulate Valentin on a fine meal and there were many heartsfelt promises to patronise his restaurant again. Caolin looked pleased, too. As an investor in the venture and as brother of the chef and owner, he had every reason to be concerned. But now he took up his brandy glass and stood.

“To my brother, Valentin,” he said.

“Rassilon’s grace be upon him,” Kristoph added, standing likewise and raising his glass. Of course his toast was answered by everyone in the restaurant.

The opening night of Valentin’s Intergalactic Cuisine was universally decreed to be a success.