It was a culinary triumph. My hosts do not spend much time in the UK, and are determined to entertain stylishly during their visits. This Christmas they succeeded, blending tradition and radicalism.
The planning began in Pall Mall on the third lunching-day in advent. We addressed the major strategic question: satiation. After bird plus pud, there is barely the energy to fall asleep in front of an old film and the rest of the day can be unsatisfactory. In recent years, I have noticed a tendency to deal with this problem by de-fanging the pudding. There is a new girlie-man breed of Christmas puds which lack the embrandied pomp of previous generations. In my friends’ case, this was not an option. Granny, a sprightly nonagenarian, was o/c pudding and even Hitler had failed to disrupt her preparations. She remembers haggling over wartime rations to maintain the integrity of a recipe that was already decades old. The family believe that it originated in Windsor Castle. It is certainly a Pickwickian creation.
All that glisters is not gold. This glisterer was a gleaming pudding, which went into the mixing bowl 12 months earlier, once the previous one’s Victorian sixpences had been ransomed from the children. (This time, exchanging them for pound coins, they probably got a bad bargain.) During the year, its progress was regularly inspected. Granny is as keen on refreshers as any Queen’s Counsel, though hers are in good cognac, not guineas. By Chrismas Day, caution was necessary for the flambé-ing, lest the entire glorious spectacle should turn into a red-hot fireball. So no concessions on the pudding front, and the roast goose of Old England would precede it to the table.
There was a radical solution: to move the main meal until the evening and base luncheon on fish. When informed of this, one or two guests looked briefly uncertain. They were quickly reassured by generous libations of Pol Roger, that foaming beaker of life enhancement — and by the oysters. There were enough to keep the Walrus and the Carpenter happy for a month. Another guest was so inspired by the spectacle that he whipped out his instrument and essayed the Trumpet Voluntary. Even if it sounded more like the fou rire suite, this was an appropriate tribute. Our hosts had spent some of their youth in Normandy, in Harfleur or one of the other Fleurs, scoffing vast numbers of oysters with lots of Muscadet sur lie. That is what we did; a delightful combination.
A fish mixed grill followed, accompanied by Berry Bros’ own Meursault. All delicious, but the high point was to come. Katya the cook, protesting her inexperience, presented a souffle. It shook; it trembled: it triumphed. It was graced by a magnum of Reuissec ’76: huge, orange, maderised but magnificent. Thus ended a modest luncheon, and it worked. By evening. after much more bridge than Egyptian PT, it was once more unto the trencher.
After a bonne bouche of French caviare, and benefiting from being eaten on empty stomachs, the goose and pud were all they should be. The goose came with a Murua Gran Reserva ’06, new to me, and a terrific Rioja. Decanted before lunch, it had needed every minute. For the pud, there was an ancient Pedro Ximénez, bought years ago at auction. It found no difficulty in cutting through to the palate, acting as a pathfinder for Armagnac and cigars. Towards lunchtime the next morning, even if the household did not quite spring from its couches like a covey of spring larks, a stonking Bloody Mary with a dragon’s-breath ration of garlic had everyone back on parade.
It was time to give thought to the less fortunate. In the midst of affluence, in great cities throughout the world, deprived people are living on junk food and junk drink. No wonder many of them develop behavioural problems. So we raised a toast to one such victim and wished that he could have enjoyed a proper Christmas repast: Donald Trump. Happy New Year.