I am sitting in the middle of the main kitchen, and all I can smell is steaming Christmas puddings. That smell of mincemeat, slightly caramelising sugar, cinnamon, clove – I can close my eyes and instantly know what time of year it is. In the lobby, it’s the pine, the slightly Christmassy smell, the log fire. And I think in Mayfair, Christmas isn’t Christmas until the Claridge’s tree is unveiled. It’s a very decadent time of year when we work really hard for the guests to make sure that we tick every box, whether it’s our gingerbread houses, stollen, mince pies, or Christmas cake, there’s a checklist of about 50 things; even the carrots for the reindeer, which are put by the fire on Christmas Eve by the children staying here, after they’ve been read a story.
Alongside everything we do for Christmas, this is the first year we are doing hampers. We’ve been doing Christmas puddings forever, of course, but about 10 years ago we decided to make a few extra for our regular guests to take home. We started off with 30, then 60, 80 then 100. We realised people wanted something to take home from Claridge’s. They love what we do, which is lovely.
We all have an expectation of what a Christmas hamper has in it – wine, chocolates, preserves, sweets, Champagne. We wanted everything in it to fit the brief of a hamper, but which was our original recipe, or that of our producer-partners. Everything in it represents the spirit of Claridge’s and our partners, everything has either been served here in the past or is served here now. And of course, all of these things are a piece of Claridge’s. So if you can’t come to us, we’ll come to you this year, and slightly more so now than in previous years. It all comes in a beautiful, handmade, lidded willow basket. I think only a basket would be appropriate for a hamper from Claridge’s.
It is difficult to pick a favourite piece from the hamper, but one of mine is the panettone. It comes from Rimini in Italy – a place called San Patrignano, which is a drug rehabilitation facility. They run a four-year programme there: the patients are 50 per cent self-sufficient and they make the delicious panettone. It’s the best I’ve ever tried.
Christmas is such a traditional time of year, and I also think we all are rather fascinated with older things, which we find charming. It reminds us of good times and how lovely old traditions are. And that’s a huge part of Claridge’s. That history creates something magical. I wish I had that recipe, but I think we’re all fans of it.