Christopher Gray enjoys the food and Madeira under the vaulted ceilings of a pop-up restaurant

‘Have some Madeira, m’dear.” I am lucky enough to have heard the great Donald Swan give a live performance of his and partner Michael Flanders’s song about this now neglected fortified wine. You may remember that an old roué is depicted using the stuff to encourage a young lady into amor-ous dalliance. “Now if it were gin, you’d be wrong to say yes,/The evil gin does would be hard to assess/ (Besides it’s inclined to affect my prowess)/Have some Madeira, m’Dear!”

With absolutely no intention to seduce anyone in like fashion, I have generally kept a bottle of Madeira in the house, usually an oak-aged Malmsey made by Blandy’s, which remains the big name in Madeira production. It’s ideal with cake or cheese, and not so cloyingly sweet as port.

Drinking it makes one proud to be British, considering Madeira’s associations with the Indian Raj and before that with our American colonies, whither it was shipped from Madeira, maturing on the way in the heat of a ship’s hold.

Not so proud about the wine, though, as a Madeiran. One such is Jorge Fernendes, whom I have known on the Oxford catering scene over many years. He used to work for my friends Michael White and Robert Patterson at various of their places, including White’s restaurant which was long a favourite of mine in the premises now occupied by the Turl Kitchen.

It was Robert who alerted me to the fact that Jorge had teamed up with Will Pouget, another old mate of mine, who is boss of the Vaults and Gardens at the University Church, in a pop-up restaurant there featuring, in its first incarnation, a menu showcasing iconic Madeira wines. A pop-up in this location is possible because Will does not open the place in the evening. The idea is to have similar events roughly once a month. The next is on May 2 with a Spanish theme.

Rosemarie and I made up a four-strong group, with Robert and friend David, on the first of the two poppings-up, on March 28.

Robert enjoyed himself so much that he returned for a second scoff the following night. Rosemarie and I contented ourselves with lunch the next day (a delicious Sri Lankan curry) in the old Congregation House above the Vaults, laid on by the Gibraltar Government as a prelude to their event at the Oxford Literary Festival, featuring the Booker Prize winner Ben Okri.

Ben, whom we got to know during last autumn’s Gibraltar Literary Festival, was actually the first person we saw when we arrived for our dinner. He was quietly meditating in the garden as a prelude to an event over the road at Quod. Inside, we were welcomed by Jorge and handed a cocktail by Merlin Bateman, borrowed for the evening from his duties at Branca in Walton Street (where Jorge works too). The drink was absolutely delicious, a version of the classic cosmopolitan with a dry Madeira (substituted for vodka) with lime juice and passion fruit.

Soon were were ready to take our places at our candlelit table for our first taste of food. This was an expertly mana-ged cured goat’s cheese mousse, served with roasted balsamic beet-root and toasted sourdough bread.

Delivered with it by charming waitress Natasha Tkach was the first of the wines, all of which were supplied by Ricardo Diogo of Madeira-based Vihnos Barbeito. This was Barbeito 1997 made from the Boal grape, specially grown for use in Madeira production. As instruc-ted, we savoured its nose, reminisc-ent of barley sugar, and then went on to detect the coffee, dried fruits and orange peel flavours. It proved a perfect match for the mousse.

The first course from chef Crispian Smalley brought fillet of sea bass on crushed cauliflower and potato with a cured tomato and herb salsa. The wine was a crisp, citrussy Ciconia Branco 2012 made from viognier and two Portuguese grapes, Antao Vaz and Verdelho which, when I Googled for information, threw up pictures of a scantily clad young man, Mateus Verdelho being the name of a Brazilian underwear model.

After fish came fowl — guinea fowl, juicy and in generous quantity served with wilted spinach, white truffle oil and wild mushroom sauce on a bed of ‘crispy’ polenta which actually wasn’t crispy at all owing to some difficulty over the cooking. With it came a suitably robust ruby-red Quinta dos Roques 2011. This was made from a blend of four grapes, Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinto Cao and Tinta Roriz, to give a ripe fruit flavour and a lingering finish.

Completing this excellent meal was a classically constructed tarte Tatin with crème fraiche. With it came a glass of Barbeito Malvasia Reserve, 5 Year Old, its caramel flavour (plus spice and, oddly, tar) complementing that of the caramelised apples.

Vaults and Gardens pop-up restaurant
University Church, High Street, Oxford.
Tel: 07447 656 046

Next open: Friday, May 2, Spanish themed night
Parking: In the city centre  car parks or Broad Street
Key personnel: Jorge Fernendes and Will Pouget
In ten words: Fabulous food and wine served in a wonderfully atmospheric setting