Mary Berry’s Christmas Party review: This show is festive escapism at its finest

Mary Berry welcomes ‘BBC News’ presenter Huw Edwards, ‘Poldark’ star Eleanor Tomlinson, sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, and comedian Joe Lycett into her kitchen to whip up Christmas recipes

Clémence Michallon
New York
Monday 17 December 2018 15:24
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Mary Berry welcomes Huw Edwards, Eleanor Tomlinson, and Dina Asher-Smith to her 2018 Christmas Party
Mary Berry welcomes Huw Edwards, Eleanor Tomlinson, and Dina Asher-Smith to her 2018 Christmas Party

When Mary Berry announced in 2016 she would leave The Great British Bake Off as the show moved from the BBC to Channel 4, many lamented the end of her judging partnership with Paul Hollywood. But band break-ups can sometimes be blessings in disguise, offering the chance for successful solo careers to blossom. Of course, Berry had begun spreading her wings before the end of her run on Bake Off, with programmes such as Mary Berry Cooks and Mary Berry’​s Absolute Favourites. Now Mary Berry’s Christmas Party (BBC1), which had a well-received debut last year, is further proof Berry is doing just fine without Hollywood. She’s a home cooking star in her own right, up there with the Nigella Lawsons of the world, and she never needed anyone in her kitchen but herself.

Except at Christmas, that is, when four special guests arrive to provide the witty banter and emotional connection expected of a holiday special. This year, she’s joined by the BBC’s Huw Edwards, Poldark star Eleanor Tomlinson, sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, and comedian Joe Lycett. Berry has picked a recipe for each of them – three types of sausage canape for Edwards, meringue roulade for Tomlinson, halloumi with a fresh tomato chutney for Asher-Smith, and chicken and mushroom pie for Lycett – and the guests, in turn, share with Berry their family classics.

They are eager to please and oh-so-scared of disappointing Berry, which – mild spoiler alert – doesn’t happen. This is, after all, Berry’s kitchen during the holidays, not the Bake Off tent on semi-final day.

It is nice, and still somewhat revolutionary, to see an 83-year-old woman running her own TV show. Berry is an expert at playing to her guests’ personalities, be it Asher-Smith’s perfectionism or Edwards’s fussiness about food – he can’t stand tomatoes nor mayonnaise; mustard of any kind is, he says, “disgusting”. Hearing Berry question Tomlinson about dreamy male co-star Aidan Turner – and “all those love scenes” they have together – makes for a sweet, funny, and very on-brand Berry moment.

The one-hour show ticks several more Berry boxes: there’s excitement for boozy desserts and time for “a little tipple” while everything bakes. The words “sheer perfection” – a classic Bake Off phrase – are uttered. It’s escapism at its finest, an hour during which the most stressful thing that could possibly happen is a failed pastry.

Although she provides a couple of vegetarian alternatives, Berry certainly isn’t trying to please the non meat-eating crowd: there’s pork and fish and poultry aplenty. Between guests, Berry shares her recipe for fillet of beef, explaining the cut is expensive but worth the splurge during the holidays – with the apparent assumption that if you want to treat yourself at this time of the year, you can and should do.

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It’s hard to say how many viewers will actually try to replicate Berry’s recipes. The dishes aren’t quite an afterthought but they are essentially a vehicle for the cosiness many crave at this time of the year. There is something rather earnest about Berry’s interactions with her guests – Lycett’s nostalgia when he recreates his grandmother’s date and walnut loaf, Berry’s patience when she shows Tomlinson how to separate eggs – that just might leave you craving quality kitchen time with your own loved ones.

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