I received an invitation for a pop-up dinner on 25 December in my home town. It's lucky because I was going home anyway.
The setting is witty take on the 1970's home counties suburban dining room. It's Abigail's Party meets Terry & June. I flick a wry smile at my fellow diner, who looks a bit like my great aunt.
A 1960s Heals sideboard produces matched sets of woven reed table mats and individual coasters.
After declaring 'it's SO nice to get out of London', I realise that when I boast about getting a table at John Salt within a week of it opening, nobody knows or cares what I'm talking about (you understand what I'm dealing with now). So I quickly throw in some celebrities' names to impress.
I'm offered an aperitif by the sommelier, who strangely, appears to be my own father. The Osborne Sherry is brought out, or even worse, Bristol Cream. Sorry, where's the Amontillado? That barrel-aged vintage sherry I had at Pizzaro with mountains of Iberico ham last week? And more importantly, where are the Negronis?!
Then they wheel out the Buck's Fizz. Made with Sainsbury's Cava and smooth orange juice, from a carton. Don't they know I only drink grower Champagne now?
I've been standing around for half an hour and there are some sad looking Crespo olives in a bowl. Is that it? I ask the waitress, sorry, my mum, where the canapes are. My mum looks confused and hastily puts some KP salted peanuts in the bowl - where is the chilli popcorn, the crostinis, the sushi?
We're called to the kitchen. By voice, how vulgar. Where's the bell to call us!? The table layout is a 5/10 at most. The wine glasses have stems, there is no cucumber in the table water, there is no smoked Maldon salt on a minature slate (luckily I brought my pocket sized Maldon, which you can get from the US here).
The table is a fully stretched out draw-leaf mahogany number, it's convivial dining. Very now. Places are laid, I notice Queens pattern cutlery and silver napkin rings. I squeal with delight at the nod to the past 'Just like Hoxton!' I imagine.
Confusingly, the chairs are a matched set of reproduction Sheraton revival . Another ironic red herring I presume..
A Spode Italian sauceboat sits on the table. I can only assume that it will contain some sort of jus.
My mum asks me to stir the gravy. I reckon that'll be huge in 2013, being allowed to help out in the kitchen. It's one step on from the chef's table. Hang on, gravy?! Where's the jus, reduction, glaze?
She brings out the steaming platter of sprouts. And god, they're actually steamed. Not even served with lardo or chorizo.
Speaking of ingredients, where are the truffles in this affair? Not even any truffle oil? Upon asking for truffles, my mother looks troubled and brings out the Lindt (they were supposed to be for after pudding, she stresses).
The cranberry sauce isn't even from Fortnum's - and served straight out of a (not Kilner) jar. On a saucer with a *shudder* doily underneath.
The sous, I mean my dad, after much nagging from the head chef, I mean my mum (no arguments in the open-plan kitchen, please), carves the turkey. On closer inspection, it's not free-range, organic or from my local butcher. They might have got it from a *whisper* supermarket.
The stuffing is pretty basic. The mouth-feel hasn't got anywhere near enough fracturability. I think it's bought. Fuck's sake.
Christmas pudding is ok. Unimaginative serving, and it doesn't appear to be deconstructed in any way. It's taken the pastry chef, I mean my dad, five minutes to light the bloody brandy it's drowned in at the table. You wouldn't get this at Bubbledogs.
Afterwards, I ask to see the list of seasonal teas. 'It's Tetley's or nothing, love', says the waitress. I mean, mum. I take hot water and lemon. Probably safer.
I wait at the piano expectantly. There's probably some kind of after-dinner entertainment.
To my surprise, the rest of the staff, I mean, family, retire to the living room to fall asleep in front of the TV.
I sigh, and listen to Nigel Slater's latest podcast, alone.