It’s often pointed out to me that I get up to some pretty weird stuff, which is true, but it’s generally for good reason. In this vein, there’s nothing quite as weird as Asda’s Christmas in July event which I pootled along to yesterday at the beautiful Vinopolis, just by Borough Market.
Asda had decked the whole place out with decorations, fake snow and twinkly lights, and it really did look rather beautiful. Of course, the big supermarkets have to showcase their stuff early due to magazine publication deadlines, but it also provides nosy people like me the opportunity to pop along and have a look at what’s going to be on the supermarket shelves coming up to Christmas 2013.
Asda have impressed again this year with some top ideas, especially in their Extra Special and Butcher’s Selection ranges. On the fish counter, I chatted to Jill Skipsey, Asda’s fish counter buyer. Whole salmons are one of the stars of the Christmas fish selection. If you’re feeling brave, you can take it home as is, or the in-store fishmongers will fillet it for you. I also tried some delicious little new starters: Extra Special hot smoked salmon with beetroot and horseradish was particularly delicious. They’re served in little clear pots, ready to pop straight onto the table. Also in this range of pots is Extra Special Potted Crab, and another one with smoked salmon. So easy when you’re busy faffing around with the Christmas dinner.
Talking of Christmas dinner, one of the most important purchases you’ll make is the turkey. This year, Asda have pushed the boat out with not one but two new free range offerings, one a heritage breed called Slate, which is ready for you to prepare yourself, and the other is already stuffed and layered with British Cherrywood-smoked bacon. They’re also introducing colour coding so you can choose the right size bird for your needs.
As usual, my buddy ‘Asda Jim’ (Head of Meat Quality, Jim Viggars) has made sure that the beef, lamb (yes, it’s not just for Easter – there’s a delicious boned stuffed shoulder on offer with a Christmassy apricot stuffing) and pork on offer is top drawer. There is a lovely 28 day matured beef rolled sirloin with mushroom stuffing, and a really interesting outdoor bred porchetta belly joint, stuffed with garlic, rosemary and thyme with lovely skin for crispy crackling.
I was really impressed with the amount of outdoor bred, outdoor reared and free range offerings generally, including in the pork pies and sausage rolls in the chilled party section.
Onto puds, then. Some special ones to look out for are the spectacular Chosen By You frozen chocolate and Coitreau bombe, a beautiful, glossy dome filled with Cointreau soaked sponge layered with orange liqueur chocolate cream. It looked amazing. I also liked the look of the enormous profiterole gateaux: chocolate sponge and whipped cream topped with chocolate covered fresh cream profiteroles. There are also some lovely individual serving boozy jellies that look beautiful.
Starting to feel slightly full, I moved onto the cheese section. I was rather wowed by a delicious Extra Special oak smoked Wensleydale, a scrummy nutty, sweet Comté and of course, creamy tangy Stilton. Asda have also introduced a really good cheese board with Extra Special cheeses: Wookey Hole, Manchego, Bleu d’Auvergne and Cornish Camembert (which I tried and is seriously good). Great for a pressie, it also contains Extra Special quince jelly. I think it was around £10 – what a great pressie to take to someone’s house this Christmas (hint hint, relatives…).
For sweeties and stocking fillers, look out for giant candy canes, gingerbread men and jazzies, rocky road snowmen on sticks and a seriously cute Santa beard lolly.
The wines are particularly good this year (the champers has won awards by the bucketload and is under £20) but I’m going to give them a proper test later on in the year and report back to you with full reviews.
And then, stuffed with cheese, mince pies and candy canes, I popped my sunglasses on and wandered back into the sunshine.