We put ourselves on the waiting list. I got a ticket pretty quickly, and then spent several days wondering if Megan was going to get a ticket or if I was going to have to go by myself and (ye gods) talk to strangers. But Daniel retweeted someone offering to either sell his ticket or buy someone else's. I swooped, and in a very straightforward transaction nabbed Chris's ticket.
At this stage it was still all very cloak-and-dagger. The venue was only announced on Friday, and we were asked not to reveal it until afterwards. Fair enough.
|Parmesan shortbread and panettone stuffing squares. The shortbreads were about the size of £1 coins, to give you an idea of scale.|
It turned out that the venue was a slightly dive-y, formica-tabled workmen's caff near Holborn. Not at all the sort of place you'd associate with the glamorous Nigella, or a fancy afternoon tea. It was all by design, of course - apparently she wanted to bring a breath of the 1950s Anglo-Italian experience to it all. So it was builder's tea, not a fancy loose-leaf blend, but good coffee, to reflect how far the British palate has come.
The food was on a similar Anglo-Italian theme, all recipes from her book Nigellissima, and a signed copy of the book came in the ticket price. I wasn't 100% enthused by that idea. I didn't particularly like the accompanying TV series, so I took a book plate and planned to ask her to sign that, to stick in my copy of Feast, which is my favourite of her books.
|Cappucino pavlovas and nutella cheesecakes|
Daniel came around and explained how the event had come about and then cake-stands of food were served.
It seemed appropriate to start with the savouries: little coins of parmesan shortbread and squares of panettone stuffing. Personally, if I was designing an Anglo-Italian afternoon tea menu I'd have gone with some sort of mini taleggio rarebit squares (pizza was called Italian rarebit on menus when it first arrived in England) but the panettone stuffing was delicious. If we end up having a bird for Christmas this year I will definitely consider that recipe for the stuffing.
|Christmas Pudding Cake.|
Cappuccino pavlova was not nearly as sweet as I feared - the strong bitter espresso flavour and properly unsweetened cream struck a very good balance. The outer shell was crisp, collapsing into dense, chewy marshmallow in the centre.
I think the chocolate hazelnut cheesecakes had been out of the fridge for a shade too long - they were almost impossible to get from the cake stand to the plate. Fantastic flavour though. It was very obviously nutella and cream cheese and nothing else. Although I am a confirmed baked-cheesecake lover, the creamy texture of this unbaked version was delicious.
And then, oh and then, Italian Christmas Pudding Cake. I had no expectations of what this would be like, based on the name. It turned out to be a sort of trifle affair, of boozy panettone and chocolate chip-studded cream layers, topped with pistachios and pomegranate arils. Utterly sublime. This is almost certainly going to make it to my Christmas table.
|I was utterly tongue-tied and couldn't think of a word to say|