Eating to thud of dance music not my idea of a festive treat
CHRISTMAS party nights are in full flow as restaurants, hotels and venues put on events to capture the festive market.
Many offer packages with entertainment thrown in and such was the case at Burton's National Brewery Centre, formerly Bass Museum.
The tourist attraction, which gets visitors from all over the country, has been offering festive party nights in a marquee on the town centre site.
The price for a three-course meal, plus coffee, mince pies and disco, seemed reasonable at £29.95 a head, so your spy and a group of friends booked it weeks ago.
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However, I still had bad memories from a different event last year. I went along to a festive party night at a highly regarded hotel, which delivered a poor main meal with uncooked sprouts. Catering en masse for 200-plus people is clearly no easy task.
It was icily cold last Friday when your spy arrived at the National Brewery Centre. It's a big site, with plenty of parking and a Brewery Tap pub.
Unfortunately, I failed to bag a car space at the front of the building and had to head to the back. But at least parking is free.
Crowds of partygoers had gathered in the pub but were soon ushered through to a giant 250-seater marquee. We had been told we would be sitting down to eat at 8pm.
A blast of cold air was inevitable as you walked from the pub into the marquee outside. It had heaters, but I was glad I had something warm on.
Catering was on a grand scale. The place was packed with Christmas party gatherings on round tables of eight. At one end was a dance floor and a DJ who initially played Christmassy background music.
We had ordered our meals in advance and my starter was gala melon with fig and Black Forest ham, with raspberry dressing. It didn't set my tastebuds alight and I couldn't see any fig. I wished I'd had parsnip soup instead. Others in my party had twice cooked cheese soufflé. The staff, though extremely pleasant, seemed to struggle a little to bring everything out at the same time.
At this stage, all was well but things started to go awry. There was a huge gap between the starter being served and the main course.
In fact, when the mains finally started coming out at 9.35pm, one table broke out into spontaneous cheers and applause.
It was closing in on 10pm when our main courses arrived. I was so hungry I considered eating my Christmas hat. But my turkey was piping hot, served with nicely cooked mixed vegetables.
However, at this point the DJ decided to get the party started. After an apology for the delay, blamed on a problem with the ovens, the music was turned up and the disco began.
So, instead of enjoying our main meal amid friendly conversation, we were forced to shout to ask for the salt.
The age differences between guests also took their toll. The younger party animals hurled themselves onto the dance floor with gusto, irrespective of whether they had eaten or not. They had come to boogie. I was desperately wishing my chair wasn't backing on to the dance floor. I was beginning to feel like Scrooge.
Tucking into your turkey with a relentless disco "thud, thud, thud" assailing your ears isn't ideal.
The turn around on the next course seemed slow, too. It must have been 11pm before the desserts and coffee arrived. I had chocolate truffle torte, with creme Anglaise, while others chose plum pudding or lemon tart.
The menu also specified mince pies with coffee but, though I got a cuppa, my mince pie never arrived. Staff did their best but it was dark and the dance floor was heaving. I guess it was hard for them to keep track.
Because of the food delay, it was announced the night would finish at 1am instead of midnight. Full marks for trying to make amends but, for me, the disjointed meal spoiled the night. Others enjoyed it come what may. That was clear from the lively dance action.
No doubt the problem with the ovens was an unfortunate one-off. But, in these harsh economic times, when a night out is a rare treat, venues need to get things right.
Christmas party night three-course meal with coffee and mince pies, plus disco £29.95. Party nights run until December 22 and a Christmas menu is available at the Brewery Tap restaurant until December 23.
Where: National Brewery Centre, Horninglow Street, Burton. For list of events visit www.nationalbrewery-centre.co.uk or call 01283 532880.