We usually have a make it up as you go along sort of Christmas. My parents, over recent years, have gone the 'canny be bothered' route and don't even get out the twelve inch silver tree with antique pipe-cleaner ornaments or if they do, my mother saves electricity by not using the lights (you realise now that I'm effectively dead if she reads this - thankfully she things the FT is "far too dear" and doesn't buy it).
Meanwhile my husband's family, though Muslim, have embraced the holiday with all the enthusiasm of can-can dancers for high kicks, at least I assume those demented women do actually enjoy kicking, otherwise there seems no real reason for doing what otherwise looks like a painful and very undignified contortion. So as Scots living in England, and Arabs living in America, we manage to get the worst of all worlds: dry turkey with family secret stuffing (the secret being why you put hot-dogs in it and then contemplate eating it), Middle Eastern fattoush salad with sumac, American tinned cranberry sauce cut into fridge-fresh medallions and sweet potatoes with marshmallows. I contribute with a dumpling full of watch-your-teeth twenty-pence pieces, and whisky syllabub whose alcohol content I lie about. You get the drift.
So in the mood for good tidings, I thought I'd try another sort of Christmas dinner, and given that I live in Notting Hill Gate, home of Carnival, I thought I'd try a bit of Caribbean. Somehow, Camden Town, where even the shop-window models wear gangsta bandannas, wasn't quite what I had in mind. I mean, it's not exactly Basil's Bar on the beach in Mustique. However, the Mango Room just by Camden tube was offering a Christmas menu, so I spoke to Papa, the Jamaican chef to check the food was the kind of thing he would be eating at home over Christmas. "It's the same." he said, "except not so much pepper. They think it too hot here if I put as much pepper as we like." So, I booked.
Sadly, I didn't ask the right questions. The restaurant was/italics/ doing a Christmas menu, but only if you pre-book, pre-pay and there are more than five of you.
"Oh dear," I wailed, through threatened tears of flu and missed deadlines.
"But if you booked it even for tomorrow we could do it," explained the waitress.
"Okay, fine, can I book it and have a take way?"
"No, we don't do take way."
I then begged the sous chef to give me a few sample dishes so that I could write about the restaurant, but he doubled the minimum order from five people to ten, shrugged and said they didn't need the publicity as they were full every night. .
We looked around the restaurant and counted - there were four people there - but then, it was only lunch.
As it turned out, it wasn't such a disaster - apart from the big spread of roast parsnips, sweet potato and plantain, only two of the dishes on the Christmas menu were not available on the ordinary menu - Tiger Prawns with tomato, basil and coriander sauce, and roast duck with berry jus, sage and thyme - neither of which were dishes I'd discussed with the Jamaican chef. Strangely though, with no-one shouting yo, ho, ho - our appetite and pre-Christmas cheer had waned a little.
The restaurant is quite sweet - with bare varnished floorboards strewn with Turkish carpets, old tapestry seat covers and orange walls, and I will tell you what we, eventually, ate - but be warned, they don't need your custom.
We shared some ebony wings marinated in chilli, pepper and garlic then roasted and served on a bed of leaves with diced yellow peppers, drenched with honey dressing. I'm not a big lover of chicken wings, myself - they always make me feel so depressed - all those wingless chickens cut up like car parts. To follow, goat curry or grilled red snapper with mango would have been ideal, as would spinach & okra with rice and coconut, but sadly the latter dish wasn't available. Instead we ordered ackee (which tastes like something between avocado and egg), served with chunks of avocado, tomato, fried plantain and spinach, together with some rice and peas and jerk chicken with a spicy sauce that almost blew the cobwebs away.
Everything, even the chicken wings, was fine though naturally without the wonderful sun-tan freshness you would get if you were lying on the beach in Jamaica - though since the head chef is from New Zealand, there are Pacific Rim influences everywhere on the menu. We followed with banana and mango brulee - thick, creamy custard with chunks of bananas, errant mango, and a splash of rum, the only alcohol in our very Spartan lunch.
But this year, we're having a very special transatlantic sort of Christmas. I will be sitting celebrating the birth of the son of God which half the family don't believe in, and the end of Ramadan, which the other half think is a chain of hotels, on a plane eating reheated festive food from a plastic tray.
Pass the crackers and have a good one.