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It’s funny, the emotional attachment we develop to not just people, but to places as well. I’m one of those people who has these ‘happy place’ attachments, locations I go to feel content, where I feel at home and at peace.
Waitrose is one of these. When I was going through the beginning of my marriage split it was the place I would retreat to while my ex visited the kids, it was a sanctuary to wander around while I planned my next home-based culinary adventure. And to this day I love it; the coffees I have with my mum in the cafe, the way the staff know my kids and I, the brand’s stance on GM-produced food, their unusual and exciting ingredients, the way they encourage enthusiastic home cooks like myself. I trust them, I trust their products and feel totally happy there.
So to get an invite to the launch of Waitrose’s holiday Social Media campaign, #MakesChristmas, quite literally made my year. It fell on the same day as Elfie would be at Great Ormond Street for her routine 24 hour tests so I made a deal with her dad that he’d come and entertain her for the couple of hours I’d be out. She’d get to beat someone new at Tummy Ache – I’d have a Christmas dinner. Happy all round!
The event was held at Waitrose’s cookery school which is located above their store on the Finchley Road. As soon as I arrived I was greeted by a champagne Christmas cocktail and was introduced to Rupert – Waitrose’s Head of Marketing. This is where the thrills began, having worked in marketing for 10 years it really was brilliant to shake the hand of my favourite brand’s marketing lead and bend his ear about food and digital. Waiters wandered around with the loveliest canapés: venison scotch quail’s egg with brown sauce (my favourite!), shrimp cocktail and melon and ham.
We were soon introduced to the star guest of the evening, Philip Schofield, and listened as he spoke with real passion about his journey that took him from being a wine drinker to enthusiast and finally Waitrose’s wine expert. I was delighted to hear how similar our introductions to wine were as our passions were both started when joining The Wine Society. Totally simpatico, me and Pip!
Our group was then split into two as we took it in turns to make a Christmas cocktail (cranberry and orange margaritas… OMG new dream drink) and then put together a fancy canapé complete with melon emulsion and champagne foam with in-house chef Sam Akrigg – this was a fantastic way to ease me into dinner with my new Waitrose-loving friends.
It was then time to say goodbye to Philip as he was going to be on TV the next morning and so couldn’t stay up late feasting. He was a total pleasure to meet and took the time out to speak to each and every one of us – I was so excited to talk to him about his wine history that his answers to my questions pretty much went in one ear and out the next, though I can tell you that Romanian Pinot Noir is a top tip for this season…
Our first course was a riff on an old favourite: Gravlax, beetroot and horseradish with dill. This was served with a beautifully light blanc de blancs and a hilarious next door neighbour, Hugo, who is well worth a follow on Instagram for his beautifully shot food images.
Now, I don’t normally like to get in the Christmas spirit until December and I was worried that the Christmas jumpers and carols might put me off. But dining with such a lovely gang of food aficionados who were as keen to tuck in and have fun as I was made me realise what Christmas cheer is really about – friends, food and drink – all of this coming together in a symphony of goodwill. Either that or those Margaritas really were magic ;)
Next up was the main course: a spectacular turkey served with a huge array of sides: truffle cauliflower cheese (my favourite), caramelised red cabbage, sprouts, pancetta and cranberries, carrot and swede mash, roast onion with chestnut and leek stuffing, honey and mustard roast parsnips, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puds, sourdough bread sauce and way more than my fair share of thyme and port gravy. It was an absolutely INCREDIBLE spread and gave me more than a few ideas for my own Christmas meal this year, so inspiring as everything can be created with ingredients from Waitrose.
Time was annoyingly ticking along at this point and I had to get back to little Elf so I bid my farewells and rolled myself back to Great Ormond Street (not really, I hopped in an Uber). I was gutted to miss pudding (sherry trifle and mince pies with brandy butter) and even more gutted when I saw my fellow diner’s photos of the post-pudding cheese board which included accompanying wines from Chapel Down whose praises I’d been singing earlier that evening – I used to work with them and BOY is their wine something lovely. To see pictures of the latter part of the evening you can head over to Catherine’s blog, worth it to see those incredible trifles alone.
I had such a delicious evening with Waitrose and really felt the merriness and Christmas spirit that evening – it was a little Christmas light in a difficult week and reinforced how much I love what they do; the love and respect they have for food and those who are passionate about it shone through in every moment. To treat one lucky Waitrose Social Media follower they are giving away the ultimate Christmas dinner for 12 – all you have to do is Tweet or Instagram, telling them what #MakesChristmas for you.
For me, Christmas is collapsing in a heap on the sofa with a glass of red wine, vowing to never eat another bite until the next year. And then it’s my dad popping up to locate the cheese board (which will have been on the side coming up to room temp, natch), grabbing the grapes, quince jelly and fig jam out the fridge and discovering that actually, there’s definitely room for some Black Bomber, Cropwell Bishop and Stinking Bishop left over. God, I love cheese.
Thank you so much Waitrose for a spectacular evening!