The ambassador’s receptions are noted in society for their host’s exquisite taste that captivates guests. You know that, I know that. Anyone who enjoyed the cheesier television adverts of the early Nineties will know that.
Imagine my excitement, therefore, when I received an invitation to a buffet supper at the real Italian Embassy. The friend who invited me was notified immediately that I accepted, and was very much looking forward to it. ‘See you at Ferrero Rocher House, 6 p.m. sharp!’ I said. ‘Let’s hope he really spoils us!’ And I hummed the old Ferrero Rocher theme tune.
‘Yes, you might want to tone down the Ferrero Rocher allusions a bit,’ said the friend, a businesswoman, who was thinking the occasion might provide her with an opportunity for some networking.
‘I’m just saying, I hope a butler with a tray comes round with a carefully arranged pyramid of chocolates in gold wrappers. And then I can say, ‘Monsieur, with zis Rocher you are really spoiling us!’ I mean, I’m going to be the Swiss lady in the black dress with the big blonde hairdo, right? You can be the one with the sleek black Miss Whiplash hair and the sparkly dress who sweeps past snootily, while swallowing a chocolate in one gulp.’
Such were my plans as the big evening approached. I don’t think I have been so excited about a social outing in years. ‘Really, you are becoming quite childish in your old age,’ I told myself as I put on my best black dress.
When I arrived at the imposing stucco-fronted building in Grosvenor Square, I was ecstatic to find a scene exactly like the advert. We were ushered into a beautiful, ornate room with waiters in uniforms carrying around nibbles and drinks on silver trays.
In the next room, a vast table was laden with a delectable supper consisting of Italian delicacies of every conceivable kind: huge salvers of Parma ham, entire Parmesan cheeses, platters of vitello tonnato…
‘The ambassador’s receptions really are noted for their host’s exquisite taste that captivates guests!’ I said to my friend. ‘Shh!’ she said. We had to pass through a welcoming line before approaching the table to help ourselves to food. At the head of the line was a handsome, dark fellow who looked like he might be the ambassador. He had a twinkly smile on his face. But there was no one introducing him to us, or us to him.
‘Is that the ambassador?’ said a lady behind me in the queue. ‘I don’t know,’ I said, ‘but he looks just like the one in the advert so I’m going to give him a good shake anyway.’
With a little kick in the shins at the right moment from my friend, I managed not to tell him he was really spoiling us in a silly accent. ‘Good evening,’ I said instead. ‘Very pleased to meet you. I’m Melissa.’
The handsome man we presumed to be the fount of chocolate pyramids nodded but didn’t say a word as he looked us up and down. How very grand and sexy of him. Thus, we progressed to the table of delicacies. There were at least a dozen different dishes spread out on one side of the table, where the journey began, and a dozen more on the other.
I should explain that my friend and I both have eating issues, although mine are mainly confined to social situations when I’m nervous. We looked at each other and a moment of panic passed between us. The plates were not big enough. Not nearly big enough. They were what you would call medium plates.
As I began to fork pieces of Parma ham and salami on to mine it was obvious it would be full by the time we were a few dishes down unless we came up with a better plan. My friend, who is more experienced at panic eating than me, said, ‘Right, I say we work our way to the halfway point then stop, eat, and start again at the other side of the table.’
‘Brilliant!’ I said. And that is what we did.
But after we had done the entire table and could barely move, and were sitting like beached whales at the side of the room on the ambassador’s little gold-legged ornate chairs, the waiters cleared the table and started reloading it with tiramisus, panna cottas and cantuccini.
‘Gah! We forgot to save room for desserts!’
We heaved ourselves up. My friend had long since forgotten her networking and began to reload her plate. We both made a beeline for a silver salver of chocolates, at which point I could contain myself no longer.
‘Mmm delicieuse!’ I said loudly, popping one in my mouth.
My friend gave up: ‘Excellente!’ she said, scoffing a confection.
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