It’s that time of year again. The office party creeps around the corner, ambushing you with daytime drinking, organised fun and ill-advised emotional outbursts in front of the boss. Magicians are being booked, set menus passed around, and Secret Santas discreetly swapped with cries of ‘Oh no, I pulled my own name out!’. Don’t pretend you’ve never done it.
Drinking and avoiding Creepy Geoff from Accounts aside, the highlight for many of us at this annual event will be the food. And as I recently discovered when I dared to try and book a table for more than 6 in December, the set menu rules the roost at Christmastide. I can understand this – with kitchens under extra pressure, and 25 people needing to be fed at the same time, it makes sense to limit the choices. Why make the poor commis peel 10 different types of veg if you can get away with just three? From a cost point of view it’s sensible too, as if everyone’s left to their own devices there will always be some poser who orders the lobster. For the poor old PA who has to sort the bill, this presents quite a problem.
But why, why why why do Christmas set menus always have to include Christmas lunch?! Why does eating overcooked, under-bred turkey six times before the big day sum up the festive spirit? Are Brussels sprouts really that moreish?
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas lunch. I love cooking Christmas lunch. Let’s face it, given that I start cooking it in August, I sort of have to love it. But I’m not wild about the excessive amounts of food all on one plate. You put all this effort into cooking the perfect turkey, then suffocate it in a mixture of cured pork, chestnuts, stuffings and condiments. It’s American in its excess, and we want to be careful about going down that route, lest we end up with candied yams.
Christmas lunch is just a bit showy for me. I prefer the more restrained spread of Boxing Day – turkey has a starring role in a sandwich, vegetables are re-incarnated into divine bubble and squeak, and pigs in blankets can be wolfed straight from the fridge. And I think, deep down, most people do prefer the day-after meal. So why this need to eat Christmas dinner in restaurants? It won’t be as good as your mum’s, you’ll feel sleepy for the rest of the evening, and people will glare at you as they get school dinner wafts of overcooked sprouts. If Christmas lunch is such a big event, shouldn’t we save it for Christmas day?
Of course I might be over-ruled. There might be hundreds of people out there who love dry turkey, soggy roasties and bread sauce that looks like a Victorian cure for sickness. You may be on the cusp of ticking the ‘xmas-dinner’ option on the office spreadsheet as we speak. But can I make a plea to restaurateurs nationwide that next year, if they must mass-produce a Christmas feast, can they do Boxing Day instead? It’s a very poor chef who can mess up a bubble and squeak.
And as for me at the Christmas party this year, I’ll be tucking into fish and chips. I’m saving my turkey quota for the 25th, when, surrounded by Christmas joy and sparkle I know that it will taste every bit as good as I remember. From when I ate it back in August.