A rare chance to dine finely

The lack of posts here in the last few weeks tells its own tale. I’ve been far too busy being festive to write, or cook, anything much. Of all the eating and drinking I’ve been doing, the highlight was probably a trip to Guilbaud’s, courtesy of some high-flying financial types.

We ate in the private dining-room, which was lovely, although I would have preferred to be in the main room, soaking up the atmosphere, that is, if lots of rich, middle-aged people chowing down at lunchtime create much of an atmosphere.

I was one of only two women along with about twenty men seated around an enormous square table. I don’t know why it is – nerves, probably – but being vastly outnumbered, and undoubtedly out-earned, like this often renders me a simpering girlie.

I cooed as the charming corporate financier to my left filled me in on his new hobby of deer-hunting – the local butcher chops up his haul as a nixer – and listened wide-eyed as he explained to me how I should cook a goose.

The most important part seemed to involve flambéing the goose livers in brandy at the last second and impressing your guests by brandishing the flaming pan at them before setting it down to provide a starter, along with some melba toast. How unutterably male. I was evidently over-doing the wide-eyed impressionable act as he then ran through the primary points of melba toast-making with me.

He then became engrossed in a chat about matters financial with the woman to his left so I turned to the two men on my right. I managed gamely to hold my end up through conversations about Conrad Black and Enron but eventually, bereft of any further topics that might enthrall all three of us, twirled a lock of hair around my finger, cocked my head to one side and wondered if they could at all possibly suggest some red wines for me to buy for Christmas. They could and they did and that saw us safely through to coffee.

Anyhow, the food – all chosen from a special €60 menu. The amuse-bouche was a version of chicken consommé – tiny cubes of chicken in aspic topped with a celeriac foam. It tasted just fine but I’m not a huge fan of celery or celeriac and I had to eat the ‘consommé’ without looking at it because it slightly resembled cat food. The crab risotto that followed was a thing of joy, perfectly cooked and strewn with chunks of fresh crab.

For the main course, I chose calf’s liver in a sauce diablé and was glad I did. Liver in the wrong hands can be leather-tough and whiff of excretory things no matter how it is served. This was tender and managed to taste delicate and hearty all at once. The sauce diablé, endearingly explained by one of the legion of chi-chi French waiters as involving a reduction of something and cayenne pepper, was a sound accompaniment.

Dessert, the stodgily-named Christmas Log, was a disappointment. I think it was some sort of parfait with candied fruit in the centre. It was gritty and bland and I left a lot of it to melt on the plate.

All in all, though, the food was fine gourmet fare and it was certainly worth going, if only to go and have been. The wines were extraordinarily good too but I’ve no idea what they were – blame an uneducated palate and being too shy to ask.

One of my colleagues was at the lunch, albeit 15 feet away across the table and so unable to offer much in the way of conversational succour. We left at half three and decided that repairing to a bar for the rest of the afternoon seemed by far the most sensible course of action. Only at Christmas…

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