In London, Christmas is the whole month of December. I see that now, from a distance. It’s about mulled wines on 2nd as much as it’s about turkey sandwiches late on 25th. A mince pie after every meal. The whole kit and caboodle. You only have to go outside to feel Christmas arrest your whole shivering body. But you don’t mind being cold for Christmas.
In LA, we’ve been struggling to find it. Is it at the Hollywood Christmas Parade? Not really – that’s just the Batmobile and the BTTF Delorean and Knight Rider driving past you while Scientologists hand out flyers and onions sizzle. Is it in the syrups of seasonal Starbuckses? Rich and I tried our luck on two different Holiday Beverages and sadly when we received them we couldn’t tell them apart, even though one was “tea” and one was “coffee”. Is it at the shops? I did feel festive in the slow-moving queue at Sur La Table waiting to buy a pancake bauble I can’t use until next year.
We went to Musso and Frank’s for what we hoped would be a Christmassy dinner. We’ve been eating a lot of quick, snacky stuff here – sushi, tacos, Korean barbeque, breakfast, pie. So we were excited to have the kind of dinner that comes in several parts and allows you the luxury of time to get drunk. You know, dinner.
Musso and Frank’s is old Hollywood – red booths, slivers of gold light, coat-stands, waiters in red waistcoats, all of that. They had wreaths up. I was mad for it. One of the first things I heard when I got in there and began to lose my tiny mind was: “You’re at the back, in Jack Nicholson’s booth”. How could you not be razzle-dazzled by that? It’s good. I’m afraid it’s the whole point of Hollywood.
I ordered a whiskey sour and it came with a straw, which I removed because it wasn’t how I saw tonight going. I was wearing a black and gold playsuit and burgundy boots and lipstick and big earrings. Rich had a martini which is what you’re supposed to have and that’s a crying shame because they’re disgusting. They remind me of downing triple vodka shots when I was 15.
To start, I ordered “iceberg lettuce wedges”. I hoped but didn’t know for sure the wedges would come with blue cheese and bacon and loads of gloopy, creamy dressing. They did! Plus brioche croutons. And the dressing was in a boat! What a jubilant lettuce; what a way to get this show on the road.
Rich got a French dip for his main course. Over the last few weeks – having never eaten or known a French dip – we’d been getting steadily electrified by the idea of one. So, in he went. A big beef sandwich with beef jus for dipping and a huge pile of truffly, garlicky crisps. I was a little surprised at the fervour with which he attacked it at the beginning. He’d taken care of the first half by the time I’d twirled some spaghetti round my fork and noticed my meatballs had cheese inside.
He ate the sandwich but not the crisps and then we swapped plates so he could twirl some leftover spaghetti and I could just have crisps and red wine, which is what I always want really.
I talked about whatever for a bit and then suddenly, realising he hadn’t been replying much, Rich went: “I’ve gone quiet”. The black beef juice was hitting him, and hard.
I looked down at it. Black as tar, with a single strand of my hair lying across its surface. We started playing the game, “out of 10, how sick does the following thing make you feel?”. Cod goujons got a 6. An apple got a 0. Chocolate mousse got a 7. Chicken soup with lokshen and kneidlach got a 4. A battered sausage got a 10.
A battered sausage got a 10.