Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Time

Christmas time is not always a time of happiness in the restaurant business. For most people Christmas Eve, Christmas day and Boxing Day is a time for celebrations and a time to unwind with close friends and family. For people in the business Christmas starts in August. Menus have to be written and approved ready to be sent out when we get our first enquiries. Traditionally September is the month when we start to get enquiries about Christmas staff parties. Menus are sent and bookings taken.

We tend to do our first parties in early December, with them running through to January. We have Christmas parties ranging in size from two or three people, through to exclusive use Parties who book out a whole venue. Our two private dining rooms also prove popular for groups of up to 20 people who want a bit of privacy.

By the time Christmas Eve comes along staff could have had several weeks of working flat out. In all of our sites we now close Christmas Day but open Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. For years we have worked Christmas Day, both for ourselves and other people and it is only since we have had kids that we have decided to close.

We have Christmas Day at home and generally invite a few friends to enjoy the Day. The day starts off with presents for the children followed by bacon sandwiches and mugs of tea. This year we have 22 for lunch and so I will have to pull my finger out on Christmas Eve. Luckily I have a chef friend from London staying for Christmas so we should be able to get the work done.


We will start at around 2pm with smoked salmon and blinis with a little gin crème fraiche. I like to make blinis without buckwheat as I think it makes the blinis lighter, the batter will be made in the morning and then lightly fried in butter at the last minute. I will get my salmon from Paul at P.H.FISH. He does a great cure and lightly smokes whole sides of organic farmed salmon from Loch Duart in the Highlands. I like to cut the salmon quite thickly to give it a bit more texture and chew.


This year I think I will start the meal off with lobster and fennel ravioli with a spicy tomato butter sauce. The filling will have to be made the day before and the pasta dough made Christmas morning. It will be a fair amount of work but two of us should get it done.

The most important main course of the year

I used to be a goose man until I met a couple on holiday in Turkey.

Tanya and Mark Beckinsale help run Tanya’s family turkey farm in Cookham Dean, just outside Henley on Thames. The Copas family have been rearing award winning turkeys since 1957 Copas turkeys have a reputation for quality second to none. At Copas they choose slow growing breeds which are reared outside from the age of 6 weeks in cherry orchards and reach maturity at about 6 or 7 months, (the norm is 2 months) This gives the birds a more dense flesh, further hanging of the bird gives it a more gamey flavour reminiscent of other rare breed poultry. The turkeys are dry plucked by hand and because of a good fat covering the turkeys stay moist and succulent. Mark and Tanya kindly sent us a Copas turkey the first Christmas after we met and we have not looked back. We recently took the kids to Cookham to choose our Turkey. Grace and Freddie loved running in the orchard with the turkeys as you can see from the photos.

It is really great to spend time with a family who really have as big a passion for food as I have, and I cannot recommend their turkeys highly enough.

I usually cook the Turkey in two parts, much to Tanya’s disgust! I like to roast the breast meat and slowly cook the legs. By roasting the bird whole I find that the breast can overcook while you wait for the legs to cook.

The legs I will cook on Christmas Eve by slowly braising the meat on the bone for 3 hours, I will then pick the meat and layer it in an ovenproof dish with caramelised onions and potato slices. I will then cover with some of the braising juices and finish off in the oven. The “crown” will then be roasted on Christmas day and carved in thin slices.


I will serve roast potatoes, cooked in duck fat until crispy. Sprouts tossed with sliced chestnuts and smoked bacon, buttered savoy cabbage with black pepper and probably roasted parsnips.


I like to do truffle scented gravy made with a reduction of the turkey stock finished with truffle. Cranberry sauce is a must in my house even though it is not my favourite. People seem to love cranberry sauce. I have a friend who thinks that turkeys were invented as a vehicle for getting the cranberry sauce from their plate to their mouth.

Bread sauce is another sauce that would go very well as it does with almost all roasted poultry.

Cheese Board

We like to serve the cheese at the same time as we serve the Christmas pudding. This allows the red wine served with the turkey to go with the cheese. I am a big pinot noir fan so something classic from Burgundy will do the trick. My cheese boards are almost always from the British Isles, in the British Isles we now make cheese which is as good as if not better than the rest of the world. A good mix would be Colston Basset Stilton, Flower Marie, a nice goats log like Ragstone or Ticklemore and finally probably a good cheddar like Montgommery’s cheddar or Lord of the Hundreds.

Christmas Pudding

My mum always makes a fantastic Christmas pudding, we serve it flambéed with any old booze that’s lying about, although something with orange in it would be perfect. Custard goes well but crème fraiche works better to cut the richness.

Chocolates might be too much after the meal but we will probably fine room for a few later.

I hope everyone has a good Christmas and great new year.

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