Turkey and all the
The horrors and delights of dining out over the festive season considered.
IF ever there were a phrase to strike fear into the heart, it’s this one. Apart from “All you can eat buffet”, these words are the excuse for the most crimes committed against food since chefs first plastered Knorr stock cubes over an innocent chicken breast.
There’s the stuffing, a sub-Paxo horror of clag that attaches itself to the roof of your mouth like the creature in Alien. Chipolatas with the texture of ossified rabbit droppings. Leathery roast potatoes, sugary, filling-bothering cranberry jelly, grouty bread sauce with enough clove to cure toothache.
And the turkey – a greige, stringy beast, slumping exhaustedly on its bier of parsnips. It’s the poultry universe’s least appealing bird thrust into a limelight it deserves about as much as I deserve a pop music award. And do not even get me started on what batch catering does to sprouts. Sulphuric.
A homemade Christmas dinner can be a thing of Dickensian beauty, but restaurant versions seem to have gone through some kind of transmogrification machine. Never has any meal made me want cheese on toast more.
Christmas Day is a time for giving. And giving until it hurts. The festive season is an excuse for many restaurants to get as enthusiastically loot-hungry as those vultures at Valentine’s who smilingly scalp you because you’re so loved-up you won’t notice the extra money for the banal set meal and the “free” red rosebud. A ton a head is about par for the course before you even attempt a small sherry; and I hope they’re platinum-plating the truffled chicken they’re serving at a luxury hotel, given the prices they charge at such places for Christmas Day lunch.
Other people behave very strangely at this time of year. In the lead-up to Christmas, it’s the office party, that arena for people who don’t normally go to restaurants unless they sell bread roll “subs” by the yard. There’s crying and singing and bad party hat-wearing and fighting and snogging and vomiting – and that’s just the management.
On Christmas Day itself, the mood is more sombre. Restaurants are populated by families who leap at the excuse to slope off home early to Christmas television, so as not to endure too long a session with barely tolerated relatives. This is an event whose curious form of melancholy cannot be punctured by any number of cheap crackers.
All Christmas puddings
Here’s just what you want after a gazillion-calorie lunch: a gazillion-calorie dessert. I realise I’m in a minority here, but I loathe Christmas pudding, an oafish, doughy oik of a thing, reeking of antiseptic spices and gluey with fat and wrinkly fruit.
And then – excellent idea – lard it up with brandy butter. I hate mince pies, too, especially if the restaurant has helpfully microwaved them so the mincemeat is about the same temperature as the sun. Bite into one of these and it will strip off layers of skin from your gob as effectively as an acid peel.
Chefs like to get creative with these kinds of things, so they give us Christmas pudding ice-cream. Or mince-pie brulee or cupcakes. I’ve seen mince pie macaroons and “Christmas trifle truffles”, for God’s sake. In the US, I’ve seen that ice-cream specialists Salt & Straw in foodie Mecca Portland, Oregon, is offering a turkey gelato. A small sliver of perfectly affine stilton is the only sane riposte to this kind of utter nonsense.
Basically, they hate us for so many reasons. Big parties tip appallingly (see above for general behaviour). Family parties, ditto,
at this time of the year, the turkey – the poultry universe’s least appealing bird – gets thrust into a limelight it doesn’t deserve.