It’s the only meal I’ve been to recently where the waiting staff outnumbered the diners and where no less than three main courses were served but the so-called Blaggers’ Banquet was no ordinary occasion.
The idea was conceived by a group of London food bloggers led by Niamh of Eat like a Girl to raise money for Action Against Hunger. As one of our contributors on matchingfoodandwine and co-author of The Ultimate Student Cookbook, Signe Johansen was heading up the kitchen and the meal took place in my son’s restaurant Hawksmoor I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
The event was dubbed the Blaggers’ Banquet with self-conscious irony by the bloggers (some of whom have been accused of blagging over-enthusiastically in the past) but they certainly put their skills to good effect, persuading an impressive number of Britain’s best food and drink companies to part with prizes and ingredients for the feast. There was such a wealth of ingredients no-one seemed to know quite what to do with them at times but they managed astonishingly well without losing the integrity of the menu.
After cheese-inspired canaps of Brock Hall Farm goats' cheese topped with pomegranate seeds, mini kebabs of tomatoes and Laverstoke Park buffalo mozzarella and gougres we tucked into the first course of Fish for Thought monkfish tartare (with an unheralded tomato salsa which had obviously arrived on a late consignment). That was followed by a subtly spiced beef stew and carrots (loads of white pepper and a bit of allspice, I’d have said), hotpot-style lamb topped with sliced potatoes (comfort food of the highest order) and, taking advantage of the Hawksmoor grills, the tastiest Laverstoke Park Farm buffalo steaks with barnaise sauce. (Useful pointer for anyone organising a similar event - there wasn’t much last minute cooking to overwhelm inexperienced staff and a small kitchen)
By this stage I was flagging and failed to do justice to a sumptuously rich chocolate fondant cake baked by Sig from a recipe from French cookbook author and chocolatier Trish Deseine. Or a cheeseboard of Gorwdd Caerphilly, Barber’s 1833 Reserve Vintage Cheddar and Blacksticks Blue and an unidentified stinky cheese from Pong Cheese. I vaguely remember nicking a spoonful of Bompas and Parr jelly off my husband’s plate and wished I’d had more.
Sommeliers for the night Douglas Blyde of Intoxicating Prose and The Winesleuth valiantly tried to keep pace with the courses, offering multiple pairings from a vast range of donated wines. Stand-out combinations for me were a Lagar de Bouza Albarino with the monkfish tartare (from wineaux.co.uk), The Pastor’s Blend 2007 from Journeys End, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz from Stellenbosch in South Africa with the steak (Bibendum) and a smoky Meantime porter with the Blacksticks Blue.
Frankly if the contestants on reality shows like The Restaurant could do half as well as our bloggers they’d have Raymond Blanc offering them a restaurant in no time.
The fundraising effort goes on. You can still bid for some of the remaining prizes on the Blaggers Banquet page on ebay and I’ll keep this post updated with the running total of money raised for Action Against Hunger who you can of course support even if you weren’t able to come to the banquet by, say, buying their Christmas cards.
There's a superb set of photos of the event by blogger foodbymark on Flickr