With all my guests safely arrived and settled in it's about time I ushered them into The Restaurant. As I said before, I am cooking so it will be a vegetarian meal. I just haven't told anyone yet. I think it's best if they find out one course at a time once the food has actually been put in front of them. I can already think of one or two of my guests who might not fully understand why I would present them with a meal that didn't have any meat in it. But I think they'll be a lot less concerned come the port.
For the purposes of everyone else’s sanity and my own, language will not be a problem for this evening. I don't exactly know what language we will use but, as if by magic, we will understand what each other says with ease.
So let's get started. I'm beginning with an appetiser. In this case it's Elderflower and Primrose Tempura; real flowers coated in a fine Japanese style batter and quickly deep-fried a sumptuous golden brown. (Damn, I think I peaked too soon with the use of the word, 'sumptuous'!) The delicate flavours of the flowers works as a perfect 'amuse-bouche', and with it I am serving a couple of bottles of a very fine young, perfectly chilled, Pegasus Bay Riesling, delicate, crisp and fruity. Already Messrs Hillary and Pearse are able to take pride in their country's produce. This is very much a 'getting to know you' course. After all, Pliny didn't have a clue who anyone was because he died many centuries before any of my other guests was even born. Emma Lazarus especially liked the tempura flowers and it gave me a chance to reassure all my guests of a particular persuasion that everything they would be eating this evening would be totally, absolutely and unquestionably kosher.
My instincts had been right. Jane Austen and Serge Gainsbourg, sitting together, were getting on extremely well. I even noticed some, what might politely be referred to as, inappropriate touching. Fry and Pliny were deeply engrossed in classical conversation as the plates and empty glasses were being cleared.
The soup course is not hearty or particularly filling, there is too much to come for that, but it still has a touch of class. I agonised for a very long time on just what kind of soup to serve. I eventually settled on a simple French Onion Soup, served traditionally with a toasted Gruyere cheese crouton floating beguilingly on the top. A majestic 2002 Fleurie La Madone compliments this course well. You can't go far wrong with a French Onion Soup and very soon Serge was waxing lyrical about his homeland and the wonderful things it has given the world, two of which - one in a bowl and one in a nearby glass - were prime examples. Who could argue with that? Well, Viv could, preferring to call the wine Chateau Colostomy; though I think he enjoyed it really; at least he didn’t leave any.
After the soup, Serge slipped out for an inter-course Gaulois. This gave everyone else the chance to talk about him and for Ms Austen to blush.
My pasta dish was a real hit. Tagliatelle served in a rustic tomato, onion and basil sauce with fresh green salad leaves stirred in, pine nuts and drizzled, yes drizzled, with fresh lime juice. It's a real fandango on the tongue and soon sparks lots of ooohs and ahhhs from my increasingly relaxed guests, one or two of whom are beginning to appear a little too relaxed. Viv is starting to get a bit twitchy about the size of my glasses. He can talk! I served it with a fresh young Italian Pinot Griggio, all lightness on the palate, slightly sweet to counteract the tartness of the lime. It worked very well. Julia gave me the thumbs-up for this one and I was glowing with pride as the table was cleared once again.
And now we reach the main course. This is another one that I pondered over for quite a while. I settled on something that I thought most people would like, or at least, not dislike. Baby courgettes, baby carrots, delicate sugar snap peas, chunks of kumara, chunks of butternut squash, slivers of red pepper, quartered red onion, stacked 'chips' of polenta, all drizzled (yes, drizzled again) with Tuscan olive oil, liberally sprinkled with rosemary and then oven-roasted to perfection. All this is served with freshly buttered unpeeled Jersey Royal potatoes, lemony crushed broad beans and warm green tomato chutney. I had to go with my own gut feeling here, so I accompanied it with a few bottles of a fine Central Otago Pinot Noir, delicate, dry enough, but flavoursome. I was astonished to find that no-one, not even Mr Darwin, questioned the absence of meat. All tucked in heartily. Karl Marx cleared the remnants of the food from his splendid beard as the last of the wine disappeared. Viv suggested Karl tie it in a knot like his but German pride got the better of him and he decided against it, saying he was just saving some of the best bits for later.
My desserts have, for the most part, a more traditional feel to them. There is a choice of, apple, peach and raspberry crumble with optional proper custard, fresh Somerset strawberries with optional Cornish clotted cream, or my own nameless creation of hot Arborio rice cooked with sugar and vanilla, served in a large wine glass with fresh mango and raspberries, raspberry and mango coulis swirls with crushed lavender ice sprinkled over the top. These choices are reflected in the wines as well, so there's either a classy Australian (if that isn't an unfortunate oxymoron) Chardonnay or a mouth-puckeringly sweet Sauterne. I won't bore you with who went for which dessert but second helpings were enthusiastically consumed.
Serge then went out for another Gaulois and Fry joined him for a pipe-full of an aromatic shag. They came back in laughing and playfully swearing at each other in French. This all gave Tchaikovsky the chance to conduct the CD player through the 1812 Overture, and Miss Nightingale the opportunity to look on disapprovingly.
I've gone for English cheeses, something we actually do rather well. I always like to give plenty of choice on a cheese board so we have a Shropshire Blue, a well-matured Stilton, a hard Double Gloucester, a slightly cheating Somerset Brie and a stonkingly good mouth-tingling Traditional Farmhouse Cheddar. I believe there is certainly something there for everyone. Even the crackers were homemade. With all that cheese comes the finest, most robust and eminently tempting wine I could find to compliment it, a 1963 Fonseca Vintage Port.
As the last drops of port were knocked back and the evening began to draw over, the magic spell seemed to gently evaporate. My guests eyed the clock and began to make excuses to drift away. All acknowledged that it was an evening to remember. Viv's predictable comment as he was leaving, propping himself up on the door jamb was, 'That was inedible muck, and there wasn't enough of it!'
There, I think that all went very well.