My father started inviting his children to his Christmas parties when we were old enough to hand around canapés and pour champagne.
For some years, he had made his living as an art dealer. Back in the eighties, the London art world was a rather splendid melting pot of colourful and eccentric figures who had more style than most, and much more scurrilous anecdotes…..
We learned a lot, as we wove through the throng waving bottles of fizz, and scoffing smoked salmon when Dad wasn’t looking.
My favourite job was making the Champagne cocktails, and to this day, it remains a copper-bottomed Christmas classic – very simple, rather sophisticated and decadently delicious.
- Take one sugar cube.
- Apply 2-3 drops of Angostura bitters.
- Drop into the bottom of a champagne flute.
- Cover (generously) with decent brandy (not the cooking stuff).
- Leave until a guest arrives, and then top up with moderately good champagne (no need to use the Krug, but for God’s sake please don’t attempt with Prosecco)
- Thereafter, circulate and top glasses up with fresh Champagne, and gradually the Angostura and sugar melts away until, by the second top-up, guests are drinking pretty much pure Champagne
As we approached our later teens, we were allowed a glass or two each.
The problem was always that I would put my glass down half finished, and then forget where I had put it (or someone else would pick it up), and I’d have to start another, with a fresh slug of brandy.
After three of these. I found the room would spin pleasantly, and everyone was much kinder, funnier and I became less shy and more talkative.
The parties were always hugely fun, and there was often an after-party that would end up in one of the many Indian or Lebanese restaurants that dotted the Edgware Road. Occasionally these would become rather loud.
After three or four of these parties I began to find my social footing, and discovered that interesting conversations only need a little bit of small-talk to get them going.
And I have been rather fond of Champagne cocktails ever since…..