It is a testament to how busy we have been over the past twelve months that the night for our staff Christmas Party appeared to come round again so quickly after last year’s great evening at the Museum Inn, Farnham.
This time our Yapp car convoy was heading into Frome and the newly-opened Archangel. It was a full team in attendance, and as a company we have people from Mere, Gillingham, Shaftesbury, Fontmel Magna, Brixton Deveril and further afield in Bristol and London. Funnily enough the person who lives closest to the Archangel is Yapp boss Jason, but I am sure that he chose the venue for its cracking food over its proximity to his back door.
There were some truly battle weary faces who assembled upstairs in the Naval Room, one of the Archangels' private dining rooms. A manic Christmas, as well as some very successful promotions (Rhone 2009 en primeur etc) had meant that there had been very little down time for anyone over the past couple of months. The stirring photos of assorted submarines that decorated the room were perhaps a fair reflection of the sterling job we have all done as a team, working in close company to successfully navigate the sometimes choppy seas of 2010.
We had all pre-selected our meal from an excellent set menu in advance. This worked well as the only decision making process for the evening would be confined to how full or empty one’s glass was.
We started off with a pre-dinner sharpener in the form of Gilles Dumangin’s Vintage 2000 Champagne. It was the perfect way to toast ourselves and start the evening. We have had a few new faces this year and as we are not all in the office at the same time it was good to catch up and have a chat that did not involve something work related.
Soon seated and our starters arrived. I had decided to forego any calorie restricted decision making and opted for the Red wine poached pear, pickled beetroot & deep fried Somerset Brie and it was delicious. The presentation was excellent and the balance in flavours was perfect. Both the Chateau La Canorgue Cotes du Luberon Blanc and the Vernay Condrieu Terrasses de l’Empire were interesting wines to try with quite a difficult food match. For me the Vernay worked best although I think a mid-weight rose, or even a Loire red could have been a good fit.
I have a slight affliction, bordering on pathological problem, when it comes to ‘food envy’. I always fret when choosing from menus in case I make what I deem to be an error in choice once everyone’s food arrives. It is probably something that I can blame my mother for back in my distant past, when my siblings received larger portions or extra servings or something, and I could probably spend some years in therapy to deal with it. It means that my eyes immediately scan everyone else’s dishes as much as my own in case I have made a grave error, be it in terms of quantity if I am starving or quality if I am looking for something special.
I am pleased to report that the green-eyed monster was safely caged and pacified when my main course of Dexter fillet steak with its own pie, celeriac puree and red wine jus arrived at the table. Again the presentation was Michelin star-worthy and the deftness of touch in cooking was superb. This, essentially beef on beef banquet, ticked all the boxes and it would be requiring some serious reds to do it justice. Fortunately, with a double header of Domaine Richeaume Côtes de Provence Cuvée Columelle and Yapp stalwart, Patrick Jasmin Côte Rôtie, the perfect partners were provided. Indeed the Columelle appeared to be a star of the evening with team Yapp as the bottle shuttled up and down our expansive table.
A fortunate aspect of my ‘food envy’ reputation is that I have become known as the ‘go to’ guy when it comes to food dumping. Whether it is to avoid offending wine producers who ply us with food when we visit (bearing in mind that you may visit up to 5 producers in a day), or to saving a senior member of the Yapp sales team who was rapidly turning several shades of green at a luncheon in the Loire that included steak tartare that in size, was not far off the mashed potato mountain fashioned by Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I can always look forward to a rogue plate sidling its way over to me for surreptitious scraping of other people's unfinished morsels. This little fact that I am sharing with you (and is I am sure in no way responsible for my carrying of a little ‘holiday weight’ throughout the year) means that I can inform you that the Shallot tart tatin, cured brie, sautéed field mushrooms was very nice indeed, although a sure second place to my own, meat lover’s extravaganza.
Happily a cheese course followed. This is the French way of doing things and is to my mind, the correct way of doing things. It means that any red wine left over from your main course can be enjoyed with cheese before your palate is taken into the realms of all things sweet.
We had a bottle of our sublime Banyuls Réserva open for dessert and this was the perfect companion to my Chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce and pistachio ice cream. I had ‘um’-ed and ‘ahh’-ed with choosing this as I am not a great fan of pistachio flavoured ice cream, indeed in terms of pud, I am a simple man with simple pleasures. Fortunately one of the great things about our diverse team is that we all bring something different to the table, and it was quite literally in this case when a successful exchange was made with a pistachio loving colleague for their plain and simple vanilla scoop.
Banyuls, Vanilla Ice Cream and one of the best chocolate brownies that I have ever tasted (sorry mum), evenings really do not get much better than this. Alas, time always flies when you are having fun and our carriage had arrived. We staggered from the Naval room to set a course for our respective berths for the night, excluding our two captains who set off for the short walk to their Frome lodging, looking it has to be said, ready for bed, though this may in all fairness have had something to do with receiving and despatching the post-dinner bar bill.
Of course, when all good submariners return from a long tour at sea, their shore leave is not taken lightly and so it was that some hardened crew members mutinied in transit and did not disembark from the carriage until it had run ashore at Legends; the Horn of Africa (or perhaps more accurately the Bermuda triangle) of the nightclub world.