Now, I may not be good at cooking, but I do love to have people over – especially at Christmas time. There’s nothing quite like getting all the posh crockery and cutlery out and dressing up a table nicely for an evening of food and fun (and wine, obvs).
So when I was invited to join a load of bloggers at the newly-refurbished Wolverhampton Grand Theatre – complete with its ‘Arthur’s of the Grand’ cocktail bar – to get all festive at an event organised by cutlery kings Arthur Price, I wasn’t about to say no.
I’ve not been to Wolverhampton for years and its roads still confuse the hell out of me (I actually managed to get a fine for driving in a bus lane on this very night – marvellous!). I’ve never been to The Grand but I was pleasantly surprised, especially by Arthur’s of the Grand – a glorious combination of old-school glamour and chic modern decor, complete with private booths that you can imagine enjoying a pre-theatre cocktail or meal in.
We started off with a mince pie and a little Christmas cocktail to get us in the mood, learning how to make a few festive tipples.
From there it was onto some Christmas-inspired food with professional chef Simon Smith. He showed us some dishes you can whip up in minutes – things even I could cook – with a bit of a festive theme.
The starter was a delicate mix of cooked salmon, smoked salmon and prawns mixed with mayonnaise, cucumber and lime then topped with cream cheese and served in a mould. A little garnish and a pretty plate and it’s an easy entertaining starter even if you’ve got crowds coming round.
The main course was another riff on a Christmas classic – pan-fried turkey escalope with cranberries. Again, nice and simple. Fry the turkey, then after you’ve removed it from the pan add cream, cranberry sauce and gravy to make a rich sauce to serve it with.
And if you’re worried about veg at Christmas, Simon’s advice is to cook it in advance. Oh, and don’t put a lid on your broccoli (who knew!).
Dessert was another super simple dish – orange and mascarpone snowball, something that Simon made up himself. A bit like a wintry version of Eton Mess I suppose.
Meringue crushed with freeze-dried raspberries in one bowl, orange curd mixed with mascarpone in another. Then form the cheesy curd into balls and roll in the meringue mix. Serve with raspberry coulis and garnish with the festive cheer of a holly leaf and bob’s your uncle.
Just in case we needed anymore tips, some lovely cake experts were on hand to give us some cake-making tips. Fab if you’re the one who does the Christmas cakes in your household, but that job sits firmly in my mother-in-law’s realm, where I’m more than happy for it to stay.
And so to the decorating and table setting. The night was hosted by Arthur Price, cutlery big-hitters from Lichfield who have been making knifes, forks, spoons and much, much more since 1902, and we were lucky enough to be joined by Simon Price – the fourth generation of the family.
Before a chat from Simon himself, we had a little lesson in interior design from The Grand’s own genius, Grant. From him, I learnt stuff that’s probably obvious and second-nature to all those domestic goddesses out there but was all rather new to me.
Like using a combination of light, dark and mid colours. Or trying opposites from the colour wheel (yeah, someone had to talk to me about the colour wheel too). Not to mention all the funky little ideas I’ve always gazed at on Pinterest and thought were way beyond me but it turns out even I might be able to execute a few with some battery-powered fairy lights, pretty glass vases and baubles.
All pepped up, we listened as the master of cutlery led through what cutlery’s what, how to lay it, and his own personal preferences for the perfectly-laid table.
I have to say, I love a pristine table. All shiny cutlery offering the promise of food and fun. I know some people talk about it being intimidating, but just remember that scene from Pretty Woman and work from the outside in and you’ll be fine.
Having said that, we had a little test at the end that the lovely Sally Akins and I – despite our confidence – managed to fail. But I guess that’s the beauty of entertaining. Whether you get it right, or wrong, it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. Because the most important thing is spending time with your nearest and dearest. Especially at Christmas.
So grab some baubles, get some food in, doll your table up and get ready for some festive feasting!
I was among a group of bloggers invited to Arthur’s At the Grand in Wolverhampton. A huge thanks to Arthur Price for organising the event.
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