The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Dec 20, 2007

Christmas Dinner

Last year around this time there were so many invitations from our brokers for dinners and drinks that by the middle of November, we were suffering from exhaustion, heavy paunches, and alcoholism, and the thought of yet more meals and wines to come in the run-up to Christmas was nauseating. This year, what with all the upheaval caused by the takeover, things have been distinctly lower-key. I went for my first (and last) counterparty-sponsored dinner yesternight. And boy, was it a doozy.

As though the superb French cuisine on offer at the two Michelin starred Square Restaurant was insufficient inducement, we were told to expect an in-depth coverage of economic trends expected in 2008, potential FX trades, the outlook for the financial markets and other topics of import to an asset manager. By the time we arrived at the stylish Mayfair eatery, I was starving; my lunch had been three bananas, two satsumas and a hot chocolate; when the strategist began his spiel, I was gnawing on the anchovy sticks that the waiters brought out every twenty minutes or so, and desperately trying to cover up the growling noises from my tummy.

Since we were a private party, we were sequestered in a board-room, away from the rest of the guests, so I couldn't tell you about the ambience in the restaurant. Our room was quite unimposing. There was a large round table at which we sat, menus with our names printed on them providing seating guidance. Three large square canvases of varying strata of blues hung on the wall. The door to the kitchens was behind me and every time a waiter passed through it, the decibel level would rise and I would miss a few seconds of the analyst's talk. At other times, my tummy drowned out his voice anyway. I cannot claim to be much the wiser about his forecast for the new year.

But the food, man, the food. Seven courses! Ravishing textures and tastes and arrangements! The constant replenishment of our wine glasses! I wish I had paid more attention to the wine - the white was excellent, and went superbly with the two first courses. When the super-efficient waiter murmured in my ear about the red, I grinned vacantly at him and said: No, tanksh. He shuddered delicately and did not trouble me again except occasionally to refill my glass with still water.

Here is the menu. Just reading it again is a turn-on. Last night, I confess candidly, was an orgiastic experience.

Smoked Game Consommé with Warm Winter Canapés and Bacon Foam


Sauté of Scottish Languistine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi and an Emulsion of Potato and Truffle


Roast Foie Gras with a Sweet and Sour Eiswein Glaze, Date Purée, Honeycomb and Apple


Loin of Monkfish with Black Rice, Smoked Lardo, Crab and Chanterelles


Roast Pigeon from Bresse with Creamed Cabbage and Buckwheat, Snail and Cèpe Ravioli




Fondant of Chocolate with Malted Milk Ice Cream

We all screamed blue murder when after the platter of cheese, we were brought plates of what looked like doughnuts on top of a yoghurt-like concoction. Where's the chocolate fondant?! went the cry. The waiter sighed as though to say Zees Eenglish. No culture... and announced that it was the pre-dessert. Pre-dessert! Who has ever heard of such a thing? Whatever, it was superb.

The cheese platter was neat, if not particularly exotic. Rocquefort, Reblochon and a sharp goat's cheese that I didn't catch the name of.

I'll never make a food critic. I didn't take notes and I can't remember the distinct tastes and impressions made by each course. I was far too busy pigging. Courses arrived with civilised intervals between them, just long enough to savour each and succumb to its melting memory as the waiters cleared the plates and cutlery. Gentle conversation shimmered with those sitting on either side as the after-tastes lingered lovingly on the tongue, washed down with a bit of still water and a swig of wine. Ah, the French. The nonpareils of civilisation.

The meal had started at eight, and at eleven we were at the cheeses. By the time I staggered out into the cold, cold night, it was already early the next morning. Never having experienced haute French cuisine before, may I humbly say there could not have been a better introduction than at the Square.


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