As restaurants everywhere turn their minds to the festive office party menu, and chefs who remember previous Decembers grit their teeth and dream of spit-roasting reindeer, the Gannet offers, in time-honoured fashion, his idea of the gourmet’s ideal Christmas stocking. It is culled from the best things I’ve eaten or drunk this year, and, as usual, everything is available online.
One of the many highlights of a recent dinner at José Pizarro in Broadgate Circle was a plate of Cinco Jotas (5J) Ibérico ham (first picture). Sweet and nutty, streaked with buttery fat, its rich flavour lingering forever on the palate, I doubt there is a better ham in the world, and a whole leg makes a splendid centrepiece for a drinks party.
Tête de Moine is an unpasteurised, semi-hard, cows’ milk cheese from Switzerland, and for maximum flavour it is scraped with a knife; in 1982, however, the girolle was invented. The cheese sits on a board, a metal pin through its centre, and is pared into rosettes (rather resembling the caps of girolle mushrooms) by a rotating blade. For anybody who loves both cheese and gadgets, it would make a perfect gift.
The cocktails at my Christmas drinks party would be made with Hepple gin (second picture). Flavoured with, among other aromatics, green and ripe juniper from the Northumbrian moors, it is the most focused, clean and delicious gin I have tasted: great in a gin and tonic, even better in a dry martini, as selflessly thorough research has revealed. A collaboration between, among others, chef and writer Valentine Warner and cocktail guru Nick Strangeway, it’s a classic gin with a modern edge.
The best dark spirit I tasted this year was a bottle I picked up from Copenhagen duty-free: Bache-Gabrielsen XO Fine Champagne cognac, made by a Norwegian company (Norwegians, perhaps to keep out the cold, drink more cognac per capita than any other nationality). It is rich, silk-smooth, with hints of toffee and nuts, but not remotely sweet and gloriously long on the finish. It would be sacrilege to use it as the base of an Old Fashioned, but I suspect it would be delicious.
The Gannet is partial to a dram of whisky too: especially in Matthieu de Gottal’s sublime chocolates. Based in the Cotswolds, De Gottal makes his truffles in tiny batches, 250 at a time, infusing them with various whiskies. Try his Salty Fennel truffle made with Mackmyra – a Swedish single malt – or Indochine 105 made with the punchy Glenfarclas 105 and Vietnamese Marou chocolate. A box of these in hand, and any first-footer north of the border will be assured of a very warm welcome indeed