Our best Christ­mas dishes ever!


The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - Jenny John­ston

Some­times the best pieces of Christ­mas din­ner ad­vice come from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. Dave My­ers, one half of the Hairy Bik­ers, has a corker of a fes­tive tip – al­beit one that’s firmly in the ‘what not to do’ cat­e­gory.

Dave, 57, warns that if you have trou­ble get­ting flames to dance on the Chr ist­mas pud­ding, you shouldn’t reach for a brandy sub­sti­tute un­less you’re happy fac­tor­ing in ei­ther a trip to A&E, or a visit from the fire bri­gade. He learned this, he says, dur­ing a sea­sonal break in his wife Lily’s na­tive Ro­ma­nia, where he in­sisted on set­ting the Christ­mas pud alight, even though it’s not a tra­di­tion in those parts. ‘The brandy wouldn’t catch, so some­one help­fully fetched some “pálinka”, which is the lo­cal spirit. It’s po­tent stuff – raw al­co­hol, ba­si­cally – and the whole thing went up in a sheet of blue flame. I can say cat­e­gor­i­cally that it’s not one to try at home.’

It’s a dou­ble mir­a­cle, then, that the Hairy Bik­ers are still with us and serv­ing up their de­li­cious new recipes for a tra­di­tional Christ­mas din­ner in TV Week to­day. Fans of the pair will know it’s been a chal­leng­ing year for Si King, at 47 the younger (and hairier) biker, who suf­fered a brain aneurysm ear­lier this year, un­der­went emer­gency surgery, then spent a terrifying time in hos­pi­tal wait­ing to see if he’d be per­ma­nently dis­abled or brain-dam­aged.

Mer­ci­fully, he was nei­ther. The road to re­cov­ery has been long and he’s spent much of the year re­cu­per­at­ing, but he’s fit and well again and look­ing for­ward to a bet­ter 2015. ‘It’s been a hell of a year,’ he ad­mits. ‘To be hon­est, it’s nice to ac­tu­ally be around for Christ­mas be­cause it was touch-and-go for a while. I’m ready for the buf­fet, be­cause that’s what Christ­mas is about, isn’t it? It’s ba­si­cally a three-day buf­fet.’

When he talks about Christ­mas be­ing a time to have the fam­ily around you (he’ll spend his at home with wife Jane, sons Alex, 24, James, 21 and Dy­lan, 13, as well as nu­mer­ous other rel­a­tives), Si’s words have more sig­nif­i­cance than usual. The usual King fam­ily Christ­mas means cram­ming as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble into the house – ‘we have to use the emer­gency chairs’, jokes Si – and mak­ing each per­son re­spon­si­ble for part of the meal. ‘Jane’s in charge, but ev­ery­one chips in,’ he says. ‘There are gen­er­ally at least 18 of us, but it’s go­ing to be even more chaotic than usual be­cause my niece is get­ting mar­ried just after Christ­mas so we have a wed­ding in the mix too. The more the mer­rier, though.’

Be­fore Dave mar­ried Lily in 2011 he was a fre­quent guest at the King Christ­mas bash too – a seem­ingly ri­otous Ge­ordie af­fair. ‘When I was sin­gle I used to spend a lot of Christ­mases with Si’s fam­ily. His mother-in-law did all the trim­mings but Si’s mum al­ways did the turkey, and when I lived in Scot­land I’d come down with smoked sal­mon and prawns to do a starter.’

Dave is a stick­ler for the tra­di­tional Christ­mas din­ner. ‘I like a good bronzed turkey cov­ered in but­ter, with stuff­ing, roasties, mash, Brussels sprouts with ba­con, cab­bage, giblet gravy, cran­berry sauce, bread sauce, and lit­tle sausages wrapped in ba­con.’ It’s all a bit crazy, he ad­mits, but ‘it does kind of work as a meal. Your plate’s so full you’re like a pi­geon pick­ing at corn, not quite know­ing where to start.’ Come Christ­mas evening, he says, you can’t beat turkey sand­wiches, ‘with white pep­per and lash­ings of but­ter’. Lash­ings of but­ter? Can th­ese re­ally be the same Hairy Bik­ers who are now also known as the Hairy Di­eters, fol­low­ing their fa­mous weight loss a few years ago? Life, they in­sist, is too short to count calo­ries on Christ­mas Day. ‘This isn’t a time for di­et­ing,’ says Si. ‘For the rest of the year we do ad­vo­cate cut­ting back, but Christ­mas is Christ­mas.’

Dave nods. ‘One of my favourite things is hav­ing some Christ­mas pud­ding on the day, then a bit more on Box­ing Day, then the day after that go­ing to the fridge and dis­cov­er­ing the brandy but­ter at the back has gone nice and hard. Lovely.’

His tra­di­tional Christ­mas has faced a chal­lenge in re­cent years, though – in the form of Lily’s own fam­ily tra­di­tions. Ro­ma­ni­ans don’t do turkey, never mind pigs in blan­kets, on Christ­mas Day. In­stead the tra­di­tion is for a smoked pork and po­lenta dish served with porcini mush­rooms and, er, pig’s trot­ter in jelly. This has led to some strange looks at the butcher’s. ‘They have their big cel­e­bra­tion on Christ­mas Eve and my wife does this amaz­ing meal, a proper feast. I’ve been sent out to find pork ribs, though, which is a bit un­usual.’ Things get even more in­ter­est­ing when they spend Christ­mas with his wife’s fam­ily in Tran­syl­va­nia.

‘ We were there last year and we had 41 peo­ple for din­ner. There were end­less cousins. The whole vil­lage seemed to turn up. It was a Dick­en­sian Christ­mas – with a Ro­ma­nian twist.’

Pro­fes­sion­ally, there was less trav­el­ling for Si and Dave this year than they’d planned. The film­ing of a TV se­ries in Rus­sia had to be post­poned be­cause of Si’s ill­ness, but once the fes­tiv­i­ties are over they’ll be back on to that project. ‘It’ll be great to get on the road again,’ says Si. ‘Dave picked up a lot of the slack this year be­cause I had to take it easy. But next year is look­ing ex­cit­ing.’

This time last year, of course, Dave was ap­pear­ing in Strictly Come Danc­ing – which has led to yet more show­biz op­por­tu­ni­ties. He’s about to take on his first ever panto role, as Baron Hardup in Cin­derella in Read­ing. Iron­i­cally, it means that for the first year ever, he won’t ac­tu­ally be able to cook his own Christ­mas din­ner. ‘I’ve got two per­for­mances on Christ­mas Eve and one on Box­ing Day. My wife’s also work­ing in the panto as a tai­lor, which means it’s the first year we’re not ac­tu­ally do­ing Christ­mas our­selves. We’re book­ing ev­ery­one into a ho­tel, so some­one else will be do­ing the cook­ing.’

No pres­sure on that chef, then.

Si and Dave with wives Jane and Lily

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