I love food.
I am a vegetarian.
I don't think it should be necessary to have to join those two sentences with the connective "but".
I take a lot of time and trouble when planning and preparing my veggie Xmas dinner to ensure that it is well balanced, delicious, festive and impressive, even without the bronzed, stuffed bird to take centre stage. I only wish this were true of all restauranteurs and caterers.
This weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Tots 100 Christmas Party organised by Sally Whittle, woman of great resourcefulness and boundless energy. The venue was Butlins, Bognor Regis and we were treated to a three course evening meal at their flagship restaurant, Turners, which promised a mouthwatering dining experience from the culinary vision of top chef Brian Turner.
The meal started promisingly with a delicious, creamy parsnip soup with roasted hazelnuts. The fact that the serving staff were uncertain as to whether is was actually suitable for vegetarians did not inspire confidence but I enjoyed it nonetheless and did not find so much as a microscopic piece of chicken looking at me from my soup spoon.
As the main course was served to the meat eating guests, I started to get excited about what might be on offer as the vegetarian alternative. Their turkey with all the trimmings looked lovely. I couldn't help but feel disappointed when presented with a plate of two large, grey, triangular wedges of something and some salad leaves. Where were my roast potatoes? My red cabbage? My brussel sprouts? My french beans? Surely the vegetable components of the turkey dinner could be served to meat eaters and vegetarians alike?
The grey wedges, I believe, were roast chestnut and wild mushroom rice cake. The taste was quite nice but, oh, it was stodgy. It was a lot more starchy rice than chestnut and mushroom and I could feel my poor palate struggling to cope with it. The salad leaves would have been a lovely accompaniment to a light meal on a summer day but, call me old fashioned, it is not what I want for winter dining.
The meat eaters were brought round extra gravy. We had to make do with the smear of sauce that made the plate look pretty but did nothing to ease the digestion of the rice cake which by now, in my over active imagination, had grown to the size of triangular house bricks (do such things exist?) and were taunting my inability to produce enough saliva to do the job.
At least there was still dessert to look forward to.
Dessert consisted of poached winter fruits and cinnamon ice cream. That sounds much nicer than the reality which was a handful of prunes, dried apricots and half a pear. It looked like the sort of food I torture myself with when trying to lose weight. It's Christmas! I want to indulge my taste buds! At least this was not the exclusive domain of the vegetarian. If the meat eaters had been served a decadently rich Christmas pud with creamy custard I would have begun to suspect a Brian Turner conspiracy to drive vegetarians into an insanely jealous meat frenzy rage.
The disappointment of the food did not spoil a lovely evening spent with good company and a rather nice red wine but if you were to ask me what I was most looking forward to on Christmas day, I can guarantee that my answer would NOT be lettuce with my Christmas dinner.