Sunday 18 December 2011

The dinner that was a winner.

Back in  February 2000 I won one of the best holiday prizes ever, as a result of entering a competition in the Sainsbury's magazine. The task was to answer various questions about Indian food - a passion of mine - and write a tiebreaker, and I was absolutely delighted to learn I was a finalist.

The final involved staying at the Ritz for a night. I have never slept in a bedroom with a real chandelier before! We were greeted with a bowl of fruit and a freshly-ironed copy of the Evening Standard and left to explore our room. The price list for the mini bar and room service made entertaining reading – thank goodness we were being provided with dinner! When we got back to our room after the meal, not only had the bed been turned down, but a little mat had been placed on the floor at each side, with a pair of bedroom slippers on it. They think of everything, don’t they?

The meal itself was absolutely wonderful. I was pleased to see that it was to be all based on Indian food as my husband’s years in the Brigade of Gurkhas had given me a good knowledge of it. The first course was a soup and the questions were “what is the herb” and “what is the cappuccino made from” – the herb was easy, coriander, as my husband is violently allergic to it so I have to be able to recognise it easily. The cappuccino was impossible – by the time everyone had been served, the froth had sunk into the soup and was indistinguishable from the rest.

Next came a risotto of kedgeree, and as well as the spices and variety of rice, we had to identify the fish. Delicate pink strands in it led several people to say salmon, but I managed to isolate a pink piece – it was tomato! The fish was smoked haddock, unnoticed by one or two because it was undyed.

Then came a lime pickle sorbet – powerfully flavoured and an easy one for everybody.

Next a meat dish which stumped us all – it turned out to be lamb, but had no discernible flavour apart from the spices it had been cooked with. The spices in the accompanying chutney were a challenge and left us all struggling – until I finished eating mine and I saw the plate stained bright yellow. I have bleached turmeric stains off my worktops often enough to recognise them anywhere.

Finally a delicious pudding of cardamom ice cream with a ginger dressing – another easy course for all of us.

Before the pudding we were told that two of us were close on points and well ahead of the others, but didn’t say which two it was. I was hopeful though, as from the conversation after each round I seemed to have had the right answers most of the time. However it was still a surprise and an enormous thrill to be awarded the prize!

The officials left soon after the meal, leaving the contestants and partners to gather together all the half-empty decanters of port and settle down for a long chat. It was great to find that there was no animosity from the runners-up.

The prize was a wonderful gourmet trip to India, staying at hotels  in Delhi, Shimla, Jaipur and Bombay. I'll tell you more about that another tine.

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