As offices head out for their Christmas parties, bunk off work early for festive drinks and plan their Secret Santa gifts for each other, us freelancers – busy earning a crust in the solitary confinement of our home offices – can end up feeling a bit left out. Hence why, this year, I thought it would be fun if I and a few of my other freelance friends got together for our own Christmas lunch. I had forgotten that – unlike those easily-herded office workers – freelancers can be a tough crowd to pin down.
It started well with twelve people invited, eleven acceptances and one table booked at The Mall Tavern, an excellent pub just off Notting Hill Gate. The Mall Tavern is a favourite of mine because a) it allows dogs (I have a border terrier puppy called Scrabble); b) it’s next to a great dog-walking venue – Hyde Park; and c) it serves up dreamy bar snacks (Pork Crackling with Bramley Apple Sauce, warm Soda Bread with butter and Chicken Liver Pate with Pickled Onions, to name a few) alongside a well-judged, original and reliably well-executed menu consisting of things like Chicken Kyiv (their spelling) and Cow Pie. Yum.
About five days before we were due to meet, I bumped into two of the freelancers supposed to be coming, Alice and Robbie, on Portobello Road. Robbie is an energetic musician who plays in a band called Maybe Myrtle Turtle and together they co-own Humphries & Begg, a wonderful fashion label that takes inspiration from their own inimitably off-beat style. “Oh Darling!” said Alice, “We forgot to tell you, we’re off to Prague!”
I called the Mall Tavern to change the booking to nine people. But a couple of days later I got a message from Geordie Barrie, a talented photographer friend: “I’m afraid I’ve got work now on Friday. F***ing freelancers are so unpredictable! Sorry for the late notice!” I called The Mall Tavern again, who were most understanding. But, on Thursday – the day before we were due to meet – my friend Tash Tillie, who runs Gone Rural, a business importing tableware crafted by local artisans in Swaziland, also called: “I’m so sorry, but I’m completely broke. Could I join you later for a drink instead?”
And so, on Friday, Dave Watts (best man at my husband’s and my wedding and the best photographer in the world – he also took the snaps here), Frances Watts (his talented illustrator wife), myself and Scrabble wandered up to The Mall Tavern. As we tucked into some Aspall Ciders, Louisa Jones (another brilliant illustrator) pitched up and helped us polish off the pork crackling while we waited – and waited – for the others to show up. But the other three freelancers expected – fashion stylist, Saskia Price; fashion photographer, David Yeo; and videographer, Freddie Barrie all failed to materialise. “I think you should name and shame them on your blog,” suggested Dave. And so I have – naughty people!
Of course, four friends, some crackers and food that included a beautifully cooked pork chop with kale, parsley mash and a tasty, rich gravy (mine); a sea bass fillet with pumpkin, sage and nutty butter (well chosen Louisa!); fishcakes with beetroot and tomato butter (Fran’s choice – good but a little on the small side, she said) as well as a melt-in-the-mouth plate of confit duck (Dave), a bottle of nice Malbec and a round-it-all-off plate of The Mall Tavern’s famous salted caramels (sinfully good!) still made for a jolly old lunch. Freelancers might be a bit useless at times, but The Mall Tavern (and its charming staff) made for a Christmas party that rivalled any office affair. Roll on next year, I say!
The Mall Tavern
71-73 Palace Gardens Terrace,
T: 020 7229 3374