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A delux treat for the hostess with the mostess

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19:12 CET+01:00
As Christmas nears, Kathleen Harman feels under pressure to be the perfect hostess. A trip to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Stockholm was a good way to get some tips.

Tipping Point

I am approaching the Christmas season with all the joyous anticipation of a well fed turkey. But as Rudyard Kipling would say, if he were a Swedish feminist, if you can keep your head while all those around you are losing theirs, then you are real woman.

I don't quite know how it happened, but on Christmas Day I appear to be catering for the world and his wife, all meaningful and casual relationships in between, not to mention a supporting cast of sugar-crazed toddlers, who will no doubt be marauding and pillaging their way around my apartment while their parents wade deeper and deeper into egg nog oblivion.

I admit to being somewhat out of my depth in organising such a big event so I went out and bought Micael Bindefeld's book 'Fest' (Party), a glorious tome packed full of advice on how to throw the perfect bash. Mr Bindefeld is Sweden's top party organiser and he has certainly turned entertaining into an art form.

It became clear from the outset that I have an awful lot to learn: my idea of ‘casual' dining usually consists of a mountain of something out of a packet, a cool box-full of beer and the obligatory wine box. For Mr. Bindefeld, a relaxed supper means co-ordinating cuisine, porcelain and flower arrangements. My idea of ‘formal' is basically the same catering theme as my ‘casual' menu, but with the inclusion of paper napkins and cutlery. Mr Bindefeld's, on the other hand, involves ostrich feathers, candelabra and ice sculptures.

There is an entire chapter devoted to explaining the importance of beautifully hand-written invitations as a way of expressing both one's regard for one's potential guests and to give a glimpse of the treat awaiting them at the actual event. I realise now, too late, the sheer rudeness on my part of having used a hastily typed email instead of rickshaw courier to convey my invitations. It will serve me right if I am left all alone to babysit the army of sugar-crazed toddlers while their parents dash off to spend Christmas Day with an all together more glamorous and deserving hostess.

After having read ‘Fest' from cover to cover, I am now aware that I must make more of an effort in terms of general décor. I don't think that my collection of multi-coloured baubles from IKEA and a wind up dancing Santa as a centrepiece is really going to cut it. Instead, I'm going to have to plump for black and um, more black, for my jolly sophisticated Christmas colour scheme.

Likewise, if I want to do this entertaining thing properly, I do need to cast a more critical eye over my friends and anyone who is found to be lacking in the aesthetics department will either have to be uninvited (by rickshaw courier) or be asked to go and sit in another room and watch a dvd with the marauding army of sugar crazed toddlers.

And I do need to take a leaf quite literally out of Micael Bindefeld's book when it comes to being a calm, sleek and gracious host . The photos in his book show him tweaking the odd place setting or handing around exotic nibbles while managing to look cool and handsome and smiling all at the same time. I, on the other hand, will be a frazzled, sweating wreck, gritting my teeth while repelling the marauding army of sugar crazed toddlers with a wooden spoon and a saucepan lid, cursing the fact that my new Vivienne Westwood dress is completely covered in indelible turkey fat.

With Christmas being just around the corner, I thought I had better do some homework into the art of being a gracious host so I took myself off to lunch at Lux, Stockholm's Michelin-star restaurant, to see the experts at work. I had heard great things about this place but when I was tipped off by a friend that you can get a two course husmanskost (traditional Swedish) lunch for 110 kronor, it did seem almost rude not to investigate further.

The restaurant is located by the water on Lilla Essingen , looking back down Lake Malaren in the direction of City Hall. The name 'Lux' has nothing to do with ‘Luxury' as I had first thought, but rather it is short for Electrolux, which used to have a big factory on the island. The restaurant itself is in the building that housed the company canteen and it has retained a very unostentatious style…apart from the beautiful arched windows that look out on to the waterfront, the décor is really quite unobtrusive, with the food clearly being the focus of the dining experience.

And just as Micael Bindefeld says, it is the attention to detail that makes the difference. Our tradition pea soup was ladled out from a tureen beside the dining table, rather than being sloshed in bowls from the kitchen. It came with three different types of grain mustard on the side. The garnish of ham, onion and sausage was presented in a separate casserole dish and the staff were so attentive that we really felt special.

Even the restrooms had little toothbrushes, which is really thoughtful – especially if you've had a bit of a garlicky lunch and have got to go back to a cramped office. Your colleagues will thank Lux for that particular addition.

So, Lux was a lovely experience, both in terms of food and service, and one that I cannot recommend too highly. If only I could remain a guest forever, but alas no. I'd better be off to practise my ice sculpture whittling and toddler repelling techniques.

‘Fest' by Micael Bindefeld, ISBN 978-91-27-02590-5

Lux Stockholm, Tel: 08-619 01 90, Address: Primusgatan 116, 112 67 Stockholm, www.luxstockholm.se (see website for daily ‘husman‘ special).

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