On the 7th of this month, my grandmother Mrs Nellie Hurst reached her 80th year. What was meant to be a surprise dinner, for which I would descend from Southampton, turned out to be something she knew well enough about. But c’est la vie, I’ve never liked surprises anyway.
I was introduced to the set three-course festive menu being presented to us at the “posh pub” The Curlew around three weeks before the event. As my father’s side of the family is so broad (I am one of ten grandchildren on this side), and as we are all so tight-knit, we have never shared an actual Christmas dinner together – we either spent Boxing Day or, when my father and grandfather were alive, a Sunday afternoon before Christmas Day. So you can imagine how nice it was for us all to gather – all twenty-five of us.
It was somewhat amusing to find that when it came to the orders actually coming out, there were only a few of us who could actually remember what we had ordered. Among the dishes that came out were prawn cocktails, the predictable soups, and that which I had opted for: chicken livers served with bacon lardons, onions and horseradish (see pictured). I was not aware that it came out served within a vol-au-vent (a word that I’ll be damned if I can pronounce properly).
The only off-putting thing about this form of hors d’œuvres (a fault that I was very much aware of) was it also came served with the only vegetable I dread to eat: mushrooms. Naturally I was very wary of them as I ate my starter. The chicken livers were soft and melted in the mouth (as cliché as it sounds), and the bacon lardons, combined with the horseradish sauce, complemented them beautifully. The thing to praise about this dish though was the pastry of the vol-au-vent casing. Sacre bleu! The butteriness and the delicateness of the thing. I’d say I hated to eat it, if it didn’t taste so well!
As per what starters are there to do, this left me wanting more and I was now looking forward to my entrée. Cynical as I usually am when I order a form of roast dinner – the potatoes are never to a satisfactory standard; I am reminded of my days working in the hotel wherein the roast potatoes always tasted (and looked) re-hydrated and overdone.
When my main course, consisting of a butter-roasted turkey with all the trimmings including honey-glazed parsnips and a Yorkshire pudding (see pictured) I tried to stay positive. I believe I was correct in my scepticism about the potatoes though. The skins were chewy at best, and their inner flavour unimpressive. I ate them first to move onto better things.
The turkey was to a superior quality, as were the parsnips. However, the pig-in-blanket came blanket-less I was shocked to see, but I put up with it in spite of the prompts from various sharers of my table to complain, I ate it as it was. I am not one to moan about a singular strip of bacon.
Struggling as I was to finish my main course, I had no qualms whatsoever in waiting a little while for my dessert. The question would be was it worth the wait? Judging by the size of my Sherry Trifle Terrine (see pictured) I should say not! Compared to my cousins’ Yule Logs (which one of them mistook for a Chocolate Brownie) and Apple Pies (the pastry of which was described to smell like PlayDough – not that I thought so) the terrine was minuscule. And the sherry was virtually non-existent; I was quite bemused by its lack of quality compared to the dishes that had preceded it. At the same time, I suppose if it had been any bigger, I potentially could not have finished it.
Importantly, I think my grandmother enjoyed herself. It was remarkable to have all the family and spouses there. And aside from dessert, I would happily recommend The Curlew for a Christmas meal for anyone.