In just over a week now my mother will watch, exhausted but satisfied, as my brothers and I scrape away the remnants of our turkey and creamed onions. I’ve still got it, she’ll think, toasting herself to another Christmas victory.
But it will be a hollow one. This year’s yuletide culinaries will be little more than a sham, for only one Christmas meal can now and will ever occupy my thoughts: the Christmas menu at a Notting Hill gastropub called Red Lemon.
Red Lemon. The juicy prurience of the name dances in the air as I approach, beckoned by a row of festive lightbulbs in the window like some den deep in Toy Town’s red light district. I wonder just how many respectable gentlemen have been lured in on the way home to their Portobello Road mansions, leaving their wives and children alone with their baubles and Bublé albums.
It’s actually very tasteful inside, only adding to the betrayal. Traditional gastropubs tend to come into their own at this time of year, but Red Lemon achieves a picture-book resplendence that would make Harry Potter throw up his hands. Towering Victorian ceilings, roaring fireplace, a tree laden with gifts and charming paintings on the walls. This is accelerated-intimacy Christmas. Christmas therapy for those who’ve suffered one too many Winter Wonderlands in Hyde Park.
The jovial and knowledgable sommelier gives me a choice of the dining area at the back, or the function room upstairs which he tells me has been converted into a sort of dining Christmas grotto. Curious, I pick the latter and follow him, half expecting to bump into the ghost of Bing Crosby on the stairs.
I emerge into a spacious room decked out in fairy lights, which get increasingly twinkly as we make our way through the sharing platter and drinks pairings. Cheerful but substantial flavours abound: a light and fluffy Welsh rarebit meets its match with the local Portobello Star ale. The strong Colston Bassett blue cheese is accented beautifully by a Tourney Port that’s soft, not sock-you-in-the-jaw. And a cranberry sauce that you could almost eat on its own – perfectly sharp, with a lovely sweetness and depth of flavour. Don’t bother with the mince pies though, they’re a little dense and dry (though beautiful), there’s far too much else good to try here.
For anyone who isn’t yet convinced, the two words I’m about to use will have you grabbing your coat and gloves. Reindeer burger. It took me exactly five seconds to ponder the ethics of this decision (The Guardian agrees with me, apparently).
The burger is far from being a quick novelty – in fact, I’ll never look at a reindeer the same way again. The chef brings out the meat’s full gamey kick to outrageous effect, combining it with Camembert and a return of that tangy cranberry sauce. The chips serve as a reminder of how good pub food can be – crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and absolutely astounding with the chef’s homemade mayo.
This is the thinking person’s party venue, a saner choice than those garish, crowded bars in central. Almost everything’s been done right at Red Lemon, a feat even more noteworthy when you consider they’ve only re-opened in March after changing hands.
Stiff competition has forced pubs to become the masters of the season, combining their plush fireside ambience with painstakingly home-made gastronomy. And against that, Christmas at home can’t hope to keep up.
45 All Saints Road
Tel: 020 7229 5963