Simon Green

Christmas in Moscow saw the usual suspects depart from here for warmer climes or to visit relatives in their home country. It’s slightly surreal in that Christmas Day is a normal working day here, so as is his wont, Mike Stockford opened the doors of his palatial apartment to a handful of die-hard expats who opted to stay in town, and a few Russian ladies who managed to escape working for the day. Mike had hired a wonderful sous chef whose diminutiveness belied her high skills at food preparation and cooking. I arrived at midday, laden with bottles and other goodies to add to the gastronomic delights already in situ, and was prepared to get to work with Clare in anticipation of a 2.00 pm start time for lunch for around 15 people.

After donning my winter clothes, I was met with a bombshell from Mike: “Simon,” he said, and I expected a zinger was on its way and was not to be disappointed. “We have a problem” – he could have substituted Simon for Houston- “we haven’t got any turkey!” This, two hours before the guests were due to arrive, and to assist with the fact that at this point I was dumb with stupefaction and envisaging angry and incredulous guests, he plonked a glass of Moet in front of me with instructions to come up with a plan! He was suggesting GUM, but I thought it would be better to have a look in the Azbuka Vkusawhich is next door to him as we had some sundry items to purchase anyway. “You never know,” I ventured, “they may even have a turkey there anyway,” but Mike didn’t look optimistic. We wizzed around the shop in record time and were assisted by a lovely lady in the meat department that not only produced a fresh turkey of 4.5 kilos, but also a duck of 3.5 kilos. The Gods were indeed smiling upon us and Christmas lunch was back in business. While checking out, the lady at the cash desk said a cheerful “hello, Simon,” to me and Mike shook his head in bewilderment as to how I knew so many ladies in his shop as it were.

We hot-footed it back to his home and Clare got to work with gusto on the procured birds, as well as getting canapes to the dining table in anticipation of the guests arriving. Meanwhile, as we got over our shocking ordeal, we thought we deserved some medicinal liquid refreshment, so more Moet, Sancerre, Chablis and Chianti were washed down with alacrity. The turkey and duck were already in the oven to coincide with the first guests ringing the doorbell, thus they were greeted with a wonderful aroma when they put their heads through the door. We explained they may have to wait a bit, but as there were salads and canapes already on offer, no one was fazed in the least. Mike meanwhile prepared a quite magnificent beef Wellington which was simply to die for. The Christmas puddings I had flown to Cyprus for hadn’t been served by the time I left around 9.00 pm, but the other items were devoured enthusiastically alongside some wonderful sausages that had been appropriated from a fellow expat and were divine in taste, especially when dipped in dijon mustard. The turkey and duck were cooked to perfection and I witnessed many oohs and ahhs being expressed in simultaneous gratitude. This meal was a hedonistic delight in every way, and as the old adage goes: it’s the people that make the party- and so say all of us. Merry Christmas everyone!