For once, if only for a few hours, he could forget the tiresome affairs of state and take a drink with friends. He might even play the spoons.
It was in such a state of mind that Mr Yeltsin entered the 15th-century Hall of Facets on Saturday night to enjoy an informal dinner with 50 friends, colleagues and publishers handling the release next month of the second volume of his autobiography, The View From the Kremlin. He was relaxed; there was to be no pressure. What he didn't know, however, was that he was almost sent to bed with no dinner at all.
Behind the scenes, Kremlin chefs were squaring up with Michel Roux, proprietor-chef at the Waterside Inn at Bray, Berkshire, who had been flown in specially to excite the presidential palate. The Russians, perhaps miffed that a foreigner had been brought in for the event, were horrified at Mr Roux's menu. It was not that the courses were unsuitable; but, at five, there simply were not enough to satisfy their President. They wanted to slip in a couple of extra dishes. Mr Roux, Britain's longest- established holder of three Michelin stars, was having none of it. The tension increased; voices were raised. And, finally, Mr Roux threatened to walk out.
'It was the first time since the Tsars had gone that a chef outside the country had worked in the Kremlin,' said Mr Roux.
'They were concerned that my five courses were not enough for the Russians as they are used to big banquets with seven or eight courses. There was some . . . discussion . . . around it. They didn't want to have their head on the chopper. But, in the end, they realised there was no need to worry.'
The meal - blinis au caviar beluga, fois gras, daube de boeuf a la beaujolaise, cheese and apple tart in Calvados - was, to the relief of the Russian chefs, an enormous success. And, oblivious to the crisis below stairs, Mr Yeltsin asked for a couple of spare spoons and bashed away.Reuse content