For all that it's increasingly hard to make money, let alone a living, out of this food writing lark, it's certainly not without its compensations. An endless whirl of breakfast meetings and cocktail soirees, openings and anniversaries, lunches, launches and good old-fashioned dîners à deux keep one tremendously well-fed and watered while also constituting a pretty enviable social life, with only the prospect of high cholesterol, gout or the dreaded NFI to worry about.
But best of all are the occasional really great commissions that come along, the kind that leave you cackling Muttley-style and wondering aloud "This is work?" as you fire off your invoice. The kind that saw me dispatched recently by les Deux Messieurs, the luxury travel guide for which I am the gloriously-titled Editor-At-Large, to The Landmark Hotel in Marylebone to experience their unlimited Champagne brunch.
Now if you're a pedant like me you'll be asking which it is that's unlimited, the Champagne or the brunch. And like me, you'll be delighted to know that it's both. Served every Sunday afternoon in the Winter Garden restaurant beneath The Landmark's soaring eight-storey atrium, brunch here consists of a vast all-you-can-eat buffet served with free-flowing Drappier Champagne, for £80 a head.
If, even taking into account the potential for drinking your own body-weight in fizz, that sounds expensive, rest assured that the quality and quantity of the food are commensurate with the price. Table after table groans with freshly-prepared, regularly replenished fare - hot breakfast favourites and an omelette station; salads, sushi and whole sides of smoked and cured salmon; four - four! - roasts with every imaginable trimming and various gravies, and a couple of stir-fries and stews.
Alyn and I went, as should you, with empty stomachs, determined to try as much as we could; I won't exhaust you (or rather, disgrace myself) by itemising absolutely everything we ate. But we especially liked herby, coarse sausages from the full English counter; the fun build-your-own Caesar salad bar; thick ribbons, cut-to-order, of wonderful beetroot-cured salmon; dainty, colourful temaki and nigiri sushi; and beautifully, bleedingly rare beef sirloin, swimming in gravy made with the roasting juices.
The best, however, came last, with the astonishing selection of desserts and patisseries available for afters. Having as sweet a tooth as I do, I was in seventh heaven faced with the stacks of macarons, mousses and possets, the cheesecakes, brûlées and brownies. Little fruit tarts packed with huge, plump blackberries nestling on crème pâtissière and bite-sized squares of passion fruit cheesecake were my particular favourites. Oh and did I mention the white chocolate fountain with fruit skewers for dipping? I might have visited that just a couple of times.
Throughout the afternoon (your table is yours for the whole 12.30-3pm sitting) a pianist and double-bassist entertain with an eclectic medley of music, and if we were surprised at some of the choices -'Suicide Is Painless' and the German national anthem, anyone? - it provided the perfect acoustic backdrop to the satisfied murmur of the guests and frequent popping of Champagne corks.
Unsurprisingly given the price and the setting (The Landmark may not be as grand as some of London's grande dame hotels but is still very obviously five-star) the Sunday Champagne Brunch mostly attracts dolled-up diners celebrating special occasions; when the pianist broke off from 'Single Ladies' to play 'Happy Birthday' more than one table assumed it was for them. But with so many restaurants now pushing how casual they are as a selling-point, it's rather refreshing to find somewhere where Sunday best is still de rigueur.
It's saying something that, having spent a great deal of time lately staying and eating in some very fancy hotels for les Deux Messieurs, this experience genuinely felt like a treat. Nice work, if you can get it. And if not then heck, just treat yourself.
Posted by +Hugh Wright