Ah Christmas. Easily summed up in a burst of ‘F’ words: Family. Friends. Festive! Fun. Food. Full. Flatulence. Fights. Fatigue. But mostly, if you’re lucky, food. Every year, as the 20s of December approach, my food memory thrills.
Long, Frankenstein tables with uneven joins, surrounded by every rickety, three-legged chair in the house and groaning under the weight of elbows, paper crowns, traditional chow and uncharted eats. Heaps of whiskered stripey prawns; bowls of plump cherries, frosty from the fridge; tentatively nibbling at the side of a whole poached salmon whose milky black eyes watch for my reaction; pavlova icebergs with whipped cream snow drifts, stained by the blood of tropical fruit; sugar dusted cookies; messy thick slices of salty pink ham; mince pies whose spicy sweet guts were not the ground meat I expected; sagging salads; tiny jars of Bo Peep boiled lollies from Darrell Lea; potatoes, forced into every conceivable form; a pirate’s bounty of chocolate coins; dry meat, from all kinds of bird and beast; the blanched almond patterns decorating Nan’s Christmas cake; custard, skulled from the carton while crouching behind the fridge door. And no matter what menu springs to your mind and mouth, indigestion is surely our common bond. On a warm night in mid-December, friends come together for fun before the family and fights, at Bloodwood in Sydney’s Newtown. We are a group of twelve, with a list of food intolerances longer than our list of tolerances, including but not limited to: seafood, gluten, uncooked egg/raw fish/cured meats/soft cheese (pregnant ladies), chickpeas, alcohol, dairy, garlic, onion, leeks, chives, shallots, cherries, grapes, bread, sugar, meat, partridges and pears. Also, one goose among us has aching, freshly lasered teeth and strict orders to ‘eat only white’. We’re those people. In the basement private dining room we kiss, shout compliments and make jokes across the long table, while our waiters anxiously memorise which intolerance sits where; then the $50 per head set menu rolls out. Boards of Brickfields soy and linseed bread with marinated olives, ham hock jam, mushroom terrine and house made pickles are first lambs to the slaughter. The GF few have individual GF bread plates, vegos and preggos avoid the jam and everyone loves pickles. So far, so good. Bloodwood’s touted polenta chips with Gorgonzola sauce are next, crispy golden batons dunked in the warm, sharp, cheesy goo. Special tofu sauce suits the dairy free, preggos and extra-cautious – tick. Cured Cradoc Hill lamb with kohirabi, mustard fruits and tamari almonds, grilled king prawns with corn capsicum and basil, plus pickled eggplant with bean curd, iceberg and five spice are tweaked and altered to exclude onion, garlic and other triggers. As the meal progresses it becomes apparent just how special our needs really are, the dishes becoming slightly incoherent. Tasty, but confused. Baked barramundi with miso, mizuna and broccolini, and Coorong Angus beef brisket with mushrooms, green beans and cracked wheat are both pleasingly salty and suitably adapted for the chosen ones. The spread of desserts includes a trifle-ish concoction, a warm, jammy pastry tart, GF/DF chocolate something-something, and an Asian-influenced coconutty situation for all comers. In the spirit of Yule, the friends are full, the waiters are fatigued and we’re all dreaming of stretchy pants and a lie down. Tis the season for tolerance and Bloodwood put up a gracious and valiant fight against our dietary lack of it. And hey, toothy, there’s no such thing as a white Christmas in Australia.