TITLE: A Cocktail Party
NUMBER: Series 2, Episode 1
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: September 29, 1997
[Oddly, Amazon Instant Video presents this one out of order, putting “Lunch” first instead.]
The field trip takes them to the bar of the Dorchester hotel, where the doorman, “Ted” (or possibly “Dave”?) greets them by name, with seeming foreknowledge and affection.
[UPDATE: According to The Two Fat Ladies Ride Again, his name is Edward Whitcombe.)
(The bar’s manager [?], “Guiliani” [??], also comes in and embraces Jennifer. [UPDATE: According to Spilling the Beans, it’s Gino.)
DISHES: The menu is one of cocktail hors d’oeuvres. Jennifer makes fried fish balls out of bacalhau, the salt-dried cod of Portugal.
[In The Two Fat Ladies Ride Again, she says the recipe “was taught to me in Portugal by Jonnie Cobb.” Perhaps she means this John Cobb, author of An Anglo-Portuguese Free Trader?]
She also does “devils on horseback,” chicken liver-stuffed prunes wrapped in bacon.
FOOD TIPS AND LORE: The bacalhau must be soaked 24-36 hours. Jennifer suggests doing it “in a running stream, like they do in the monasteries of Portugal.”
Failing that, she says you can either soak the fish in a bowl, changing the water frequently, or leave it in the sink with the tap running, “which the Water Board won’t like, but the hell with them. They charge us so much money and do so much ‘leaking’ themselves.” (Clarissa’s shoulders shake with laughter at this.)
The prep for the fish balls is somewhat bizarre. In addition to the day- to day-and-a-half-long soak, they are poached and then broken apart by hand in a serviette.
Clarissa says she has Russian friends (“Yusupovs or Roloffs or Romanovs or something like that”) who hold traditional blini parties in the days leading up to Lent. [In Spilling the Beans she mentions a friend Olga who was descended from the Romanovs.] They can be served savory or sweet.
Buckwheat is a “relative of the rhubarb and the common dock.”
Phyllo must be kept under a damp cloth once unwrapped, or it will dry out.
“Like all offal,” chickens’ livers should be slightly undercooked. Soaking prunes makes them easier to pit, and soaking them in tea gives them a nice flavor, according to Jennifer. An alternative to the devils on horseback are “angels on horseback,” which switch in oysters for the chicken livers.
Clarissa says her fritter dish would be best with Brazilian malagueta chilies, but she couldn’t find any.
Palm oil is more reactive than other cooking oils.
ON HEALTHY LIVING: Getting out of the sidecar, Clarissa says, “I think I’m getting stiffer – not enough red meat.” She also says that while yogurt can be used in the blini batter, Russians prefer cream. (“Sensible creatures,” says Jennifer, rather firmly.)
During the second segment, Jennifer excuses herself to have “a longer on my ottoman”; “with your hubble bubble, no doubt,” Clarissa says.
REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST: Jennifer has spent time in Portugal [in Cooking, she says Portuguese cuisine is “streets ahead of any Spanish cooking”], and speaks Portuguese with an attendant at the Embassy.
Clarissa: I once traveled to Northern Ireland with a piece of salt cod which I had soaked but not cooked.
Jennifer: Oh, the smell!
Clarissa: Yes, it was a very small airplane, and they all kept looking at each other’s feet and looking deeply suspicious, and I just sat there looking innocent with my book and pretending I didn’t have a carrier bag under my seat.
[Clarissa tells this story in Spilling the Beans:
[Jennifer was supposed to . . . burst into a Carmen Miranda number but was refusing to cooperate. She sang at the drop of a hat but not when she was supposed to. I think it reminded her of her mother making her perform.I told Pat [Llewellyn] to tell her to actually drink the caipirinha even though it was only 10 a.m.]
[Apparently it worked. – WK]
LITERARY/CULTURAL REFERENCES: The ladies find working with phyllo dough very exciting.
Jennifer: There’s not a man on my ottoman, there hasn’t been one for weeks./There’s not a man on my ottoman, he’s gone off to fight the Greeks.
[I was unable to dig up a source for that rhyme. – WK]
During the epilogue, the ladies relax on the Embassy’s balcony, where Jennifer says “I feel like Evita!”
STYLE WATCH: Clarissa wears her famous lemon blouse. Her hair is elaborately done (for her) and her makeup is unusually heavy.
XENOPHOBIA ALERT: Clarissa does a Russian accent while making her blinis and impersonates an Italian waiter at one point. [Her pronunciation of jalapeño – “jallapeeno” – also never fails to crack me up. – WK]
ON DRINKS AND DRINKING: During the field trip, the ladies take the Ambassadress’s chauffeur, “Joseph,” to the Dorchester hotel, where he teaches them to make caipirinhas [the national cocktail of Brazil] in the bar.
Ah, the dear old Dorchester. I used to come here and sit and listen to Mike McKenzie and sit on these barstools until I fell off ’em.
[In an interview, Clarissa once said Mike McKenzie was the piano player in the bar, and that she and Clive, who fans of this series may know was her boyfriend who died in the 1980s, used to come to the hotel together and request “As Time Goes By.”]
SUGGESTIONS OF SEX:
Clarissa: Do you go to many cocktail parties these days?
Jennifer: I do, as a matter of fact, but they’re now called “drink parties.” And they go on much too long. I mean, it says “six to eight,” and I’ve seen people coming, they’re coming at nine. Well, it’s extraordinary!
Clarissa: Do you have any useful tips for picking up men?
Jennifer: Well, I watch it – I watch it. And I’ve noticed the most successful thing is when you get these lovely girls, and they, [whispers:] they pitch their voices very low like this, so the man can’t hear them – and then they have to get nearer and nearer. And that always works, and you’ll find that in a few years’ time they’ll have marriages and children behind them. Whereas I come, you know, I say, “HELLO, DEARS!” and I don’t get on with anybody!
Clarissa follows this up with a [fairly lame] example of her own seduction techniques:
Clarissa: I go off and look interestingly at some picture or piece of furniture, and invariably somebody will come up and talk to you. And then you’d say, “I don’t think Louis Cane dates, really; he’s beyond fashion.” And then they get very bored and go away.
Jennifer [nodding]: “Don’t give me that Louis Cane routine.”
(Here’s an example of Louis Cane, in case anybody’s interested:)
MEMORABLE MOMENTS: Clarissa instructs us to warm the milk to “just blood heat.” Jennifer does a sort of “ta-da” move when Clarissa mentions her “kitchen fairy.”
PHONY BUSINESS: Jennifer claims to worry that she said “We’re two fat tarts for the Ambassador” when she announced their arrival in Portuguese.
MISTAKES: Clarissa burns at least two of her blinis.
There are dubbed-over instructions about how hot to boil the oil for the fish balls. In a rare editing error, Clarissa’s voiceover telling how to cook her shrimp is dubbed over a shot where her mouth is not moving.
[Interestingly, in Spilling the Beans Clarissa says because of the discipline of Patricia Llewellyn and the production team, true continuity errors on the series were rare, despite how she and Jennifer wouldn’t pay close attention to which hands they were using to stir, etc., during the multiple takes. She says that “in the whole of the three and a half series there is only one error” – sadly she does not mention if this is the episode it occurs in!]
When the second cooking segment begins, Jennifer is bent over and peering at the stovetop, but it’s not clear what the issue is.
TRADEMARKS: Clarissa uses antique pans when cooking her blinis. Jennifer puts a shitload of parsley into her fish balls. (There isn’t any other way to put it, I’m afraid.) She forms the fish balls with her hands, “which of course [are] spotlessly clean – for the viewers, who worry about such things.”