Sunday, 18 November 2012

Afternoon tea with Nigella

Social media really is extraordinary. A couple of weeks ago Daniel Young tweeted that Nigella Lawson was cooking a one-day only, pop-up afternoon tea menu with him. I signed up for notification of the tickets going on sale. Then last week they went on sale, and in the 20 minutes it took me to get in contact with a friend who said she'd be interested in coming, both sittings sold out.

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
The glass of prosecco that we started with was excellent. Dry and light. I've occasionally had excellent prosecco, but somehow whenever I buy a bottle it is sweet and headache-inducing, so I usually think I don't like prosecco. If it was all like this I would drink it more.

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.
Then on to the sweet stuff.

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
When push came to shove, I came over all star-struck and couldn't actually manage to ask her to sign my book plate. She had such a rhythm going of photo, a few words and signing the book that I just couldn't interrupt. She said she liked my glasses though.


Heather S-G said...

I am absolutely and completely SO UTTERLY JEALOUS. I want to pout. What I wouldn't give to meet Nigella...I just adore her! What a fun time :)

Jude said...

So fab Ali. I'd already bookmarked the Panettone cake for our Christmas as well. What a wonderful thing to have done though. Dead jealous!

Cuisine de Provence said...

I am so jealous! I adore Nigella and this sounds like it was a fabulous do.

Choclette said...

Oh but what a fab event and even better for being served in a builder's caf. Pop up tea rooms by the great and the good seem to be all the rage at the moment. Love your glasses too.

Caroline said...

Ooh, how exciting! Glad you had such a good time - looks like excellent food too.

Suelle said...

It sounds a great afternoon, and I've learnt a new word too - pomegranate ARILS

Alicia Foodycat said...

Heather - it was AWESOME!

Jude - definitely do the panettone.

CdP - oh it really was.

Choclette - it really did seem appropriate.

Caroline - great food!

Suelle - Yup - the seeds are inside the juicy bit. Arils!

Deb in Hawaii said...

I am green with envy--Nigella is at the top of celebrity chefs that I want to meet--she is just so luminous but seems real at the same time. Love her! ;-)

Joanne said...

Oh my gosh!! What a crazy awesome event! I'm so glad you got tickets!

Couscous & Consciousness said...

Like everyone else, I'm totally, totally jealous - I would crawl over hot coals to meet Nigella. I don't have a copy of Nigellisima yet, but I think I would buy it for that Italian Christmas Pudding recipe alone.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Deb - luminous is absolutely the word. She is SO beautiful!

Joanne - me too! Best experience of the year, I think. Megan and I just kept giggling about our good luck!

C&C - I probably wouldn't have bought the book but I am so pleased to have it - it's bristling with page markers!

Faux Fuchsia said...

beyond fabulous!

Gemma said...

This looks great! I met Nigella at the BBC Good Food show a few years ago and was similarly tongue tied - I had taken my very battered copy of How to Eat along to be signed. I haven't picked up a copy of the new book yet but suspect it might appear at Christmas - speaking of which I guess some of these recipes might be on the new Christmas special that I've seen her mentioning on twitter...

Alicia Foodycat said...

FF - I know!

Gemma - yes, I'd imagine so. I really rate the pudding cake!

hungryandfrozen said...

HOW THRILLING! <3 and hooray for social media. I'm not sure I would've been able to concentrate on the food at all, so thanks for such a detailed recount!


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