Blaggers‘ Banquet: charity begins at Hawksmoor23 Nov 2009 by Ben Bush
Last Sunday’s Blaggers’ Banquet was nothing short of a triumph, and a credit to Sig and Niamh for their all their hard work in taking a group of bloggers with little in common except a certain keenness for food and drink, and turning them into what passed for a halfway respectable restaurant crew. Particular respect to Niamh, who was have a pretty awful time of it in her private life but kept this all to herself and put on the bravest of faces throughout a very busy day and a hectic service.
My day started, as most of the crew’s seemed to have done, with a hangover: we were all, it seemed, determined to recreate the authentic restaurant worker experience. But after a restorative fry-up and I took myself to Shoreditch to find assorted other bloggers milling around the first of what would be dozens of boxes of blagged goods. I had come rather late to the blagging effort but at the eleventh hour I had persuaded Sillfield Farm to part with a brace of plump chickens and a pound or so of sausages. When the scale of other people’s blagging became clear (20kg of meat from Donald Russell anyone?) this meagre offering was starting to look a bit derisory, and I decided I’d better throw myself into the fray and make myself as useful as possible to make up for my laughable effort.
I was nominally there to reprise the many hours of my youth spent behind bars but there were at least two others already sorting through the crazy amount of blagged booze, so when a call went up from the kitchen for extra volunteers I stepped forward. There followed a brilliant few hours in Hawksmoor’s tiny kitchen, peeling carrots and potatoes, prepping leeks, braving and shaving fingertips on the mandolin and working through two of the three stages of the triple-cooked chips that would eventually grace plates in the evening. Oh, and making parsnip crisps. Who knew chopping veg and deep-frying could be so rewarding?
As dusk fell it dawned on us that punters would be arriving soon, so a now-full complement of bloggers swung into action clearing away the remaining boxes, transferring copious amounts of treats to the goodie bags our lucky customers would be taking home, polishing wine glasses and laying tables. I met the rest of the bar team and we worked out what drinks we’d be serving. The full list would include champagne, quince champagne cocktails, Sipsmith gin and vodka martinis and obscene amounts of wine and beer. It was about this time that one of our number invented what quickly became known as the Blagger-tini, a surprisingly palatable affair based on vodka, balsamic Galliano and Chegworth Valley apple and raspberry juice, garnished (if you were lucky) with lemon and basil. So much more than the sum of its parts…
After that there was very little time to think… 50-odd paying customers duly arrived – possibly just outnumbering the bloggers – and were treated first to champers, canapes and cocktails and then to a hearty feast that included, among other things, monkfish tartare, Mexican beef stew, Lancashire hotpot, buffalo steaks, boob-shaped jellies, chocolate fondants and stupendous quantities of cheese. From my vantage point at the bar, in between mixing crazy numbers of martinis, it was clear that both the kitchen brigade and the front of house crew were doing a sterling job. Given that very few of them had professional experience this was some achievement and a testament both to the orgnisation and skill of the team leaders and the enthusiasm and commitment of everyone involved.
After a prize draw and an entertaining auction during which Fire & Knives editor Tim Hayward efficiently turned further blagged goods into a load more money for Action Against Hunger the guests and their goodie bags began to leave. The bloggers all mucked in in an effort to return the restaurant to something close to respectability, and I managed to make myself my first (official) martini of the evening with the last measures of gin… only for one over-efficient bar worker (I’m talking about you, Hayward) to tidy it up.
As for that brace of chickens, it turns out they were vital for both an incredible stock and some delicate canapes made from the skin. The fate of the sausages is less certain but I like to think they fed the early shift at Hawksmoor in the morning.
It was a hell of night and a great effort from everyone involved. And fortunately (for you) there’s still time to get involved. Blagged items and promises are still coming and new items are going up for auction every day. So get yourself to eBay now for some imaginative – and worthy – Christmas shopping.