Sunday, 11 December 2016

11th December: Secret Christmas Weekend of Fun

Last year the Man and I embarked on a Secret Christmas Day of Fun. You can read about it at length here.  It was great, and very much does what it says on the tin.  The idea was to give us some time to spend together during the busy month of December, as the Man often works away from home. It was indeed lots of fun, but also pretty manic as we crammed a lot into one day. This year, the Man is once again abroad for a whole chunk of December in the lead up to Christmas. So I decided that Christmas Fun needed to make a reappearance, but that this year, it would be spread over a slightly more leisurely weekend.  So ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I bring you: Secret Christmas Weekend of Fun.
Or, rather unfortunately in my opinion: SCWoF
First and foremost, I should point out that as the planner and instigator of SCWoF, that it actually isn't a secret to me.  If it was, I think we would be both wondering aimlessly around in the big city waiting for something to happen. Nope, I am a planner and proud, and so SCWoF was arranged, in deepest, murkiest secrecy until the morning of Saturday 3rd December rolled around.

I got up to make the morning coffee and tea, and returned to bed with not only hot beverages, but the Man's clues to Part I of SCWoF. I had lined up three events for Saturday, and decided to give the Man only approximate timings and a slightly cryptic clue for each element of the proceedings.  Then I summarised as follows:

Element 1: Wild
Element 2: Calamity
Element 3: Prohibitive
We upped and left to catch the tube into London and I invited the man to guess where we were going. The clue Wild had confused him; he had thought it was something outdoors but I told him that each element of the weekend was indoors (December weather being too unpredictable to hope for a nice day). And while I said we would have to go outside to get between elements, everything else was inside.
At which point he wanted to know if there were tunnels we could use to get between things and thus avoid outside altogether. Actually, there are but they're full of trains, and we still had to go outside to get to the tunnels which would then take us outside again to get the inside. Obviously.
We changed tubes and this gave the man more of clue; as we were heading west, he guessed that element one was the Natural History museum. It was, and more specifically, it was the Wildlife Photographer of the year exhibition. I had been a previous exhibition a couple of years ago, but this was brand new to the Man.
The queue for the museum was ENORMOUS but thankfully a timed ticket meant we strolled in, spent ten minutes being lost in the Earth zone, and then eventually found the right gallery.
The Wildlife Photographer Exhibition was nothing short of marvellous: the photographs were stunning, thoughtfully and carefully mounted and the information available was terrific. Not only did they give information about the subject, such as the species, habitat and behaviour of the wildlife depicted, but there was also an explanation of how the shot had been captured and, to my delight as a camera junkie, the technical details of camera and equipment, and settings such as focal length, aperture and shutter speed. It was lovely to imagine the photographers setting up and waiting for their shot, for hours or even days at a time.
The photos themselves were astonishing. Orangutans high in the trees; a killer whale nosing the bottom of a fishing boat; a lion playing with a balled-up pangolin; an urban fox poking his nose over a wall. The categories were varied, showing the natural wonders of the world in glorious and magnificent technicolour, which contrasted sharply with the destruction and malaise levelled at the world by humankind.
We spent about an hour and a half enjoying the exhibition, before exiting via the gift shop where I was suckered into buying postcards of my favourite photographs. And then that gift shop exited into another gift shop where we played with the dinosaur tat for a bit and I bemoaned the fact that you couldn't buy dinosaur themed Christmas decorations. I would have happily invested in a dinobauble.
We took the tube swiftly back into Old London Town and grabbed a burrito for lunch. The man was invited to put forward his best guess for Element 2: Calamity. He ascertained that it was within walking distance and then cocked his head to one side and asked if there was a specific start time. There was: 2:30. Then he asked if Peter Pan Goes Wrong was still playing and he had indeed guessed it.
However, there was still an hour before curtain up so we strolled to Covent Garden where the Man treated us to a large mulled wine each (deliciously warming on such a clear, crisp day) and I enjoyed seeing the decorations; large silver baubles and enormous fronds of mistletoe adorned the ceiling.

Covent-Garden-Mulled-Wine-Selfie seemed appropriate, and so I employed the helpfully scattered about mirrors which are some sort of art installation going on at the moment. Art installation or not, they are excellent selfie assistants. 

Although it may have taken a few goes for me to get it right.
Come 2:15, our mulled wine had been consumed and we were firmly ensconced in the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.

We have been to see The Play that Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, both plays from the same theatre company whose speciality is slick, perfect, marvellous chaos. And calamity. And each production has been nothing short of eye-wateringly hilarious.
Spoilers follow, so if you don't want to know about the play, stop reading.  And then go and see it immediately.
The action actually started before curtain up, with an ongoing drama on stage and members of the cast wandering the auditorium. In fact the character of the Narrator was up in the Grand circle with us, performing magic tricks and scolding a party of women in front of us who were making beautifully lewd innuendos.
Once the play began in earnest, it was madcap chaos, gloriously whirlwind and hysterically funny. The supposed director and assistant director gave a little speech to start with, explaining this would be much better than their seriously underfunded production of Jack and Bean from last year. Perfect deadpan. The assistant said it was going to be a nice festive panto at which point the director said that no it wasn't: it is actually a classical Christmas vignette.

This became something of a running theme throughout, with Captain Hook (played by the director) becoming increasingly annoyed that while looking for Peter Pan, his audience was cheerfully informing him that "He's behind you!!!"

Captain Hook eventually lost it, telling the audience "you have to let me find him" before having a strop, telling everyone to shut up and stomping off stage.

Also, an amusing sequence in the dark involving a long, luminous pink fish and two little jellyfish made everyone snigger into their Christmas jumpers. The production had a carry-on element at times that ensured that while it was a family show at heart, there was definitely room for a good helping of double entendre.

The final scenes where a whirl, quite literally as the stage revolve broke and each of the three sets flew past at ever faster speeds as the cast careered around, crashing between scenes to try and land in the right place.

It's the kind of play you emerge from breathless, from both holding your breath and laughing so hard it hurts. The time flew by and we LOVED it.

We emerged into evening about five which was of course completely dark and meandered down to the south bank to grab a quick cup of tea. While sipping our warming beverages, the Man guessed that Element 3: Prohibitive involved cocktails. He was right, and I had made us a booking at my favourite bar, which would have been challenging for him to guess as he's never been there.
Nightjar is a bar where you basically have to have a reservation or you will likely find that they are full. It's table service only which I like very much as there's no loitering about at the bar, and the atmosphere is cosy and dark and very prohibition-era. The drinks are wonderful: complicated, strong and imaginative and with more than a splash of good liquor. It's a place to go for special drinks, not a quick one after work, and it was exciting to settle into our little table and start choosing from the lengthy menu.
We ordered a couple each, starting with a Metaxa for me and a Name of the Samurai for the Man. I had slight cocktail envy: mine was delicious and the hibiscus powder coating the outside of the glass was a nice sharp counterpoint to the sweetly sour concoction within, but his was on fire! Not metaphorically: I mean literal flames! Served in a little cup perched over a smoking nest, it was really tasty and a little bit smokey, a flavour I particularly enjoy. I will be ordering that next time I visit.

For our second round (and trust me, two is enough at Nightjar) we first consulted the menu, and then threw ourselves of the mercy of the waiting staff, who know the drinks inside out always offer great suggestions.
I said that I like things that are sour and smokey, but not too bitter, and an Inca cocktail was recommended. I looked at the ingredients.

So to clarify, I checked that worms meant actual worms, and that it's not really cocktail slang for something else, such as delicious chocolate?
Nope, it means actual worms.
I must have made a suspicious face, because the waitress kindly then suggested an alternative with a similar pallette. But on reflection, I decided that, in for a penny, in for a pound, and I ordered the worms.
And the rest of the cocktail.
The man was recommended a Hong Kong punch which was refreshing and fruity and very drinkable.

Mine arrived served in a skull, crushed ice erupting from the open head, and a little cone full of tiny, crispy fried worms slotted in the top. The waiter who brought them suggested trying them first and then sprinkling them over the drink if I liked them. They were crispy and tasted validly savoury, like popcorn or cereal. Rice crispies maybe. So I cheerfully scattered them into my drink, immediately completing the worms-eating-brain look of the cocktail. How delightfully Inca, and frankly delicious. My favourite cocktail of the night.
Two cocktails being as full of hard liquor as they are, we exited gracefully and made the journey home to collapse on the sofa around nine. SCWoF part one complete.
 Part two of SCWoF required no formal getting up time, and after a lie in and a morning potter around the flat, I presented the Man with his final two clues for the day.
Element 4: Chinoiserie
Element 5: Sentimental
We had to depart at 1:00pm to partake of Element 4, and then return to our flat for Element 5.  He did a pretty good job of guessing, having assumed that Element 4 would be a meal (although he wrongly suspected we might be going for a Sunday roast) and managing to work out that Element 5 consisted of watching Love Actually on the sofa with mulled wine.
We left at the appointed time, but the clue Chinoiserie baffled the Man.  We had some debate as to what a good meal might consist of, and his guesses of McDonald's, Burger King and sitting on some steps outside with a pasty all proved wrong for this particular occasion.
This particular restaurant had been recommended to me from a number of sources, both on the internet and by word of mouth.  The Man and I are both keen on Chinese food and so our Christmas weekend seemed like the perfect time to treat ourselves to a bit of fine dining. Hakkasan do a Sunday Dim Sum tasting menu which is a bit steep at £58 but I will also say that I feel we really got value for money, and it is quite possibly the best meal I have ever had.

The décor is a mix of traditional Chinese carved screens and with modern, moody lighting, and an electric soundtrack provided some mellow background beats.  We were invited to wait for our table at the bar and selected a cocktail each, before being shown to our seats. I had booked us in to dine at 2:00pm, and it was bustling and alive; clearly very popular. The Sunday Dim Sum menu includes two cocktails each, a bottle of champagne between two and 4 courses; it was the fact that the drinks were included in the price, and the quality and plentiful nature of the food, that makes me convinced that this is a good-value way of trying some pretty fancy food.
I sipped my winter sour cocktail as the first course arrived at our table: a crispy duck salad which was nothing short of divine.  So flavoursome, the meat was both tender and moist while the coating retained its crunch, and it was tossed in salad for us at the table before being served onto our plates.  The salad was a perfect complement, adding texture and freshness and the whole dish was so perfectly seasoned, I was sorry to finish it. Indeed, the waiter commented that he would serve the whole salad out between us instead of leaving any to share, so that we didn't fight over it.

It would have been worth fighting for.
The next course was my favourite, and my motivation for booking Hakkasan: the dim sum.  We had 8 different pieces to try each: 4 steamed and 4 baked.  We started in on the steamed selection of prawn, scallop, crab and duck, and each seemed more delicious than the last.  If I had to pick a favourite, it would be a tie between the crab and the duck, which was interesting as neither duck or crab would feature on a list of favourites for me.  But on reflection, I think I would just refuse to pick a favourite if asked and yell "I LOVE THEM ALL".

The next four were little works of art that made my heart sing.  We sampled venison, lobster and cream cheese, crab and a phenomenal duck and pumpkin concoction that was even shaped into a perfect little pumpkin shape with two delicate green leaves sprouting from the top. The dim sum all told was astonishingly good and I could happily have worked my way through three more rounds of such perfection.

The main was a selection of sharing plates: stir-fried black pepper beef in merlot, a vegetable stir fry of sugar snaps, peppers and water chestnuts and a bowl of egg fried rice to accompany the dishes.  It was wonderful, packed full of flavour and the crisp freshness of the vegetables was a great accompaniment to the sticky depth of the beef.

The meal ended with a dessert (our champagne somehow getting consumed along the way), and while the man ordered the beautifully prepared plum compote above, served with a pretty little madeleine, I opted for a chocolate bomb: praline ice cream encased in a ball of crispy rice and dripping lavishly with chocolate sauce.  Very satisfying indeed!

Our final dessert cocktails disappeared the same way as the desserts, mine being a hot toddy that was indeed very warming and packed a kick. The Man ordered the cocktail that paired with his dessert; I had as well, but the waitress warned that it was pretty strong and I backed down. I thought my toddy was pretty powerful, so goodness only know how much liquor they cram into the strong ones. And thus we came to the end of our meal. Absolutely superb. 

Actually, we were allowed to loiter at our table which was nice, as upon booking, I was told we could have the table for two and a half hours and no longer. Fair enough given how busy the restaurant was, but when five o'clock rolled round, we were still happily ensconced and things had calmed down a bit in the lull between the end of the Sunday Dim Sum menu and the start of evening service.

We wandered home after that, indulging in a cab from the tube station to the flat, and snuggled on the sofa with Love Actually.  We have watched this film for the last two Christmasses in different pop-up cinema locations and I feel like it's becoming a bit of tradition.  Watching at home this year, it was so nice to curl up with the Man and a blanket, and wrap my fingers around a mug of hot, spiced wine, anticipating well-loved moments of laughter and sentiment.

My favourite bit? When the security chappie joins Hugh Grant in singing Good King Wenceslas. It's priceless! The Man is happy to watch Love Actually too, even though it wouldn't normally be his cup of tea. Even if he does pretend to be a bit grinchy I can tell he likes it really, as he chuckles along, although he says once a year is enough for him,

Not to worry: it will be 2017 in only a few weeks!

Kisses xxx

P.S. This post is one of my December series inspired by Shimelle’s scrapbooking class Journal Your Christmas.  My aim is to blog every day throughout the month to document all the little moments that make the most wonderful time of the year.  Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

  1. So much crammed into one weekend and it all sounds and feels heavenly. So glad you had such a fab time together. I loved the cocktails but worms? No way!!! Personally I'm not a Love Actually fan, far too much pouty Kiera K in my opinion, but snuggling with a man and watching your fave film is perfection.