To give the staff some semblance of Christmas celebration the kitchen is closed tonight. Previously they had set up a sumptuous buffet in the dining room but the guests were presumably still too stuffed from Christmas lunch to descend and avail themselves of the goodies. This year they decided instead to offer hampers that can be enjoyed at leisure in the comfort of our rooms. I couldn't see myself being famished any time soon but long time readers of my blog will know that the magic word "hamper" holds particular allure. I'm not sure if it's the Lilliputian size of the items or the surprise factor as each element reveals itself but I've loved a hamper ever since my first tiny one where I'd carefully pack away my doll's tea set after playing with it. And even now when the fat catalogues from Fortnum & Mason, Harvey Nichols, Harrod's and Selfridges plop onto the mat each year I never tire of poring over my "hamper porn". Though I have noticed a distinct change, when I blogged extensively about the latest hampers in November 2008, I mentioned the extraordinary decadence of F&M's Snow Queen (which actually was a plethora of pale wicker hampers) which was retailing for a mind-numbing £25,000 (no, that's not a typo!) and now the top of the range is the Imperial at a still crazy but considerably cheaper £5,000 but all the extravagant satin, cashmere and silver doodads have been removed! But as wonderful as these hampers are you don't generally have a complete meal. Many may contain chutneys, Gentlemen's Relish, exotic teas, jams, preserves, shortbread, water biscuits, nuts, Christmas pudding and cake, chocolates and other items to fill the store cupboard with. The more elaborate box that doesn't have to travel as far may contain a side of smoked salmon or indulgently a cooked ham. I suspect this one, however, will have the emphasis on fresh and eat tonight and not provide accoutrements for the rest of the seasonal eating.
My reverie is disturbed my a knock on the door and my hamper arrives borne by two of the staff accompanied by half a dozen plates and sets of cutlery. I wonder at first if they suspect I'm having a party and then realized that it would make the bedroom picnic much more elegant not having to mix the savoury with the sweet.
Well unsurprisingly each time I delve into my festive hamper another delicious treat emerges.
From the top:
Roasted Macadamia Nuts
Parma Ham on Walnut Bread
Marinated Isle of Wight Oyster Mushrooms
Soft Boiled Quails Eggs with Sherry Vinegar and Thyme
Tartare of Aberdeen Angus
Mosaic of Game
Smoked Salmon and Cucumber
Cheese Selection - Comte, Camembert with Calvados, Bleu de Gex Biscuits, Celery and Grapes
Shortbreads - Vanilla, Orange and Strawberry
Vodka Fruit Punch - Tropical Juice, Apple Juice, Lime Juice and Dash of Angostura Bitters
Where do I start? I'm really not hungry but there are particular delights in here I must at least sample. So instead of a leftover turkey sandwich with stuffing or a few slices of remaining glazed ham others may have tonight I have these morsels of deliciousness to pick at all evening. There's a little stainless steel flask keeping the Vodka Fruit Punch cold so I pour a glass and decide what to taste first. I adore steak tartare but even if I'd eaten nothing else all day I struggle to eat too much of it. This is a dinky portion, meaty, piquant and really excellent. Next a few spoons of the mini pot of pressed smoked salmon and cucumber, which was another winner. I'd predicted they'd be something in the realm of the Mosaic of Game, a gentle forking breaks the slice seductively into soupçons of meaty chunks on contact. A couple of the soft boiled quail eggs with the mild vinegary punch go down well as I ponder what poor soul had to peel all those quail eggs and so many I'm going to invariably waste. A sliver of cheese, a few shreds of the Parma ham, a mushroom or two and a bite of a stunning lemon tart. I'm mortified by so much wanton waste, saving it for tomorrow would be pretty pointless as I have another big lunch to accommodate, and apart from the shortbread and nuts not much will keep for travelling onwards on Monday. In retrospect I should have thrown a party, I had enough crockery!
Despite the barely depleted plates every forkful I had was sheer pleasure, the steak tartare, mosaic of game and the lemon tart being real masterpieces. Now truly and utterly stuffed!
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