The Blaggers‘ Banquet – The Day Itself by Billy Abbott
Sunday rolled around, as it often does, and after my day of walking on Saturday I had an even greater test – The Blaggers’ Banquet (I’m still not sure about that apostrophe).
As someone with an empty Sunday I turned up at Hawksmoor at a worryingly early 11:30am (although that was 30 minutes late due to a long coffee queue at the rather excellent Market Coffee House, the best coffee place round Spitalfields) to help set up the bar, my assigned place for the night. After a few moments of examining root vegetables I was whisked off to act in my standard role of fetcher and carrier, picking up beer from the George and Vulture and then working with Dan to get things iced up and organised for the evening. One of the bonuses of working in the ‘chilling’ team was that you can’t do a lot while things are getting cold, so I turned my hand to a bit of parsnip peeling (killing that bonus), for the excellent parsnip crisps that appeared during the banquet, before being a general dogsbody.
Wow. I really do have an impressive gut.
As the sky turned dark more helpers appeared and our first important bar staff duty rolled in – tasting the wine. Denise TheWineSleuth was the first of our sommeliers to arrive and I happily slurped at the wine with her, making appropriate faces and comments. It seems that I was the only person on the team to like the Chardonnay, as my untutored white wine palate tends to the woody, but there was a general agreement on the excellence of the Portugese red (although there were allegations of favouritism after last week’s wine blogging conference in Portugal…).
Wine wasn’t really the responsibility of my team, so we got on with the setting up of our menu – beer, cider, soft drinks and cocktails. On the beer side we were heavily loaded, with London Pride and Martson’s Pedigree on the more traditional end, and Daas Witte, and Curious Brew Brut and Admiral Porter (the latter of which I may have obtained a few bottles of, and might be drinking one of at the moment). The Witte was a solid bottled wheat beer, with maybe a touch too much in the way of floaty yeast if the bottle caps and necks were anything to go by, and the Brut was a crisp lager produced using the same yeast as the british sparkling wine that greeted out guests. As a fan of dark beers the porter stood out for me – an easy to drink dark beer with quite a lot of fizz. I suspect it might work better if not quite so fizzy, but it worked surprisingly well for a beer style that is normally known and appreciated for its flat murkiness.
Cocktail-wise we put together a fairly simple list, using up the Sipsmith Gin and Vodka that were blagged, as well as the Fevertree tonic (which definitely makes a better G&T than Schweppes but still tastes Wrong to someone as indoctrinated as I), some Bramley & Gage quince liqueur, some of the Raspberry and Apple juice that we got from a company I can’t remember the name of and a bottle of vermouth that was picked up from the Tesco over the road by a generous barperson (although based on the number of martinis that didn’t get across the bar I suspect enlightened self interest played a part). As the board in the photo above (drawn by my fair hand) says, along with the obvious beverages (although I would like to point out that our martini contruction skills became rather excellent within moments of the bar opening and constructions involving twists, olives, shakes and stirs flowed until blindness started setting in for both punters and staff) we also put out a Cornish ‘Champagne’ cocktail, with a sugar cube and dash of quince liqueur added to a glass of the Chapel Down fizz, and the mysterious Blagger-tini, as invented by the lovely Mel Seasons and including secret ingredient X – Galliano Balsamico, part of a case of special boozeb;agged by Huw, bossman of Hawksmoor. I can reveal that that the Blagger-tini consisted of Vodka, raspberry and apple juice, and Galliano Balsamico. Exact proportions I leave as an exercise to the reader, but as the Galliano isn’t meant to be available in the shops yet it may be difficult to experiment.
Along with the boozing I also managed to blag some music, in the form of Julian and Steph of Georgia Wonder. I’ve known Julian for a while on Twitter (and I thank him yet again for his introducing me to The Old Coffee House, purveyors of Brodie’s beer, in Soho after the Amplified conference earlier this year) and saw them play a small gig in Chiswick earlier this year (where I ended up getting very drunk and saying little else than ‘Mastodon are, like, really great. You know Mastodon, right?’ to Georgia Wonder’s occasional 3rd man and Mastodon fan, Dev of Little London) and despite not being a ‘background music’ kind of band decided that the banquet sounded silly enough that they’d like to come and have a play. They serenaded the mostly chatting crowd as they arrived, and may have played around slightly to see if people were actually listening – the assistant manager of Hawksmoor may not have noticed the very long version of one song, but he did notice a repeat. When the punters sat down for dinner Julian and Steph left them to dinnery chatting and ran off for pastures new. They’ve got a new EP out Real Soon Now (which I may have bought a few copies of to help fund the release) and are rather good.
Food appeared, food was eaten. Happy punters availed themselves of our services and became happier still. The barstaff sampled drinks, for quality control reasons, and we also became happier. Jelly boobs from Bompas and Parr were wheeled out and much amusement was had in their extraction – the nipples had been made from a specially formulated jelly that was harder than the main body of the boob, but was annoyingly just as susceptible to melting when we immersed them in warm water to try and release them from their moulds. They were also covered in 24ct gold sprinkles though, for that extra element of class.
Anyways, after the boobs (and a rather excellent chocolate brownie and chocolate truffles) came coffee, courtesy of my heroes at Square Mile, and cheese. I was especially impressed with the cheese and while I may have said differently on the night, favouring the Gorwydd Caerphilly, the cheddar (Barber’s 1833) was rather spectacular.
Then came the normal closing down fun of a gradual chivvying of people through the door and cleaning. Much as I love being a barman I always forget the amount of work that is left after the punters are thrown into the street. Glasses were run through the glass washer, leftovers were moved around the restaurant and drunk people were rearranged from corner to corner. I ended up running away at about 1am, realising through the martini haze that all the tubes were now shut and eventually jumping into a cab. My driver was grateful to get a decent fair on a Sunday night and thus let me tell him my life story. What a nice chap.
So, the inaugural Blaggers’ Banquet is now done. However, Action Against Hunger needs the cashes and we are not done yet. On top of the meal (which ended up being a full house after a few final days of frantic ticket selling) there is also an ongoing selection of auctions, with new bits and bobs going up each day. As of writing the available lots are a visit from a chocolate van and a 3lb pork pie. 3 pounds. That’s a pie. Bid early, bid often!
Now, lets see if Niamh is silly enough to try and organise something again next year…
The bar team were me, Mel Seasons, Dan, Ben Bush, Tim Hayward and Elly
There’s a pile of stuff available on Twitter, probably including a pointer at this post, under the hashtag of #blaggersbanquet. Someone else currently beats us on Google, but that can’t be for long…
Photos are by Mark of Food by Mark, used under the CC Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivative Works license, apart from the rubbish one of the cheese, which is all mine.
I also seem to have bought a domain for writing a booze blog on. This is what happens when you talk to food bloggers when drunk. They didn’t even have to point and do a ‘one of us!’.