Saturday, 26 November 2011

Thanksgiving Feast at Bootleg Banquet

Having heard so many great things about Bootleg Banquet, I've been keen to attend one of their dinners for ages. So it seemed fitting to give it a first whirl for a proper feast like Thanksgiving.  The legend behind Bootleg Banquet is Pieter Maritz, who hails from South Africa and has established himself well and truly on the London food scene with his successful catering company, Pestle & Mortar. His passion for creating delicious food is evident, and when he's not busy catering for lavish functions, he's hosting fun, unusual supper clubs in the form of Bootleg Banquet.

Bootleg Banquet takes place in the Pestle & Mortar HQ, accessed by a small, unassuming entrance on a back street in Shoreditch. My friend and I made our way up the dark, dingy stairwell, feeling slightly apprehensive as to what the venue would be like. We were pleasantly surprised to arrive inside a gorgeous candlelit room where Pieter and his team greeted us with a warm welcome and a Camparini cocktail. 

Gradually, the diners arrived and we took our seats at the two communal tables which were beautifully decorated with an autumnal flair. The large open-plan kitchen made a great 'stage' for the diners to watch the dinner come to life. It was a fun, buzzy ambience with good music and a great crowd. The fellow diners on our table were a really friendly and interesting bunch and we all chatted away, whilst tucking into the most delicious dinner ever. The enormous turkey was cooked to perfection and all the trimmings did it complete justice. Not to mention the pecan pie. Even though it's an American tradition, I think we were all very thankful indeed to be indulging in such an amazing feast! 


Camparini Cocktail
Chestnut, Pancetta & Celeriac Soup
Roast Turkey with Pork, Sage, Walnut, Apple & Prune Stuffing
Purple Sprouting with Shallots & Bacon
Roast Garlic Creamed Potato
Roast Sweet Potato
Cranberry Sauce & Gravy
Homemade Cornbread
Pecan Pie with White Chocolate Ice Cream

My friend and I both agreed it was a splendid evening, and we left feeling very full and happy. It may have been my first visit to Bootleg Banquet, but it certainly won't be my last. And it's worth keeping in mind that Bootleg Banquet is also available for private hire, so could be the most perfect party venue.

Bootleg Banquet
Pestle & Mortar Catering
Twitter: @bootlegbanquet
£35-£40 BYO wine

Monday, 21 November 2011

Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Admist the hustle and bustle of Whitechapel, lies Britain's oldest manufacturing company, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. It was established in 1570 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I) and is still going strong, producing beautiful bells of all shapes, sizes and sounds. In fact, one of the most famous bells in the world was made here, providing the chimes to a much-loved London landmark. Big Ben. It was cast in 1858 and is the largest bell ever to be cast at Whitechapel. It weighed 13½ tons and a cross-section of the bell still surrounds the door entrance at the foundry today.

As well as Big Ben, the foundry has produced other famous bells including the American Liberty Bell (1752); the world's heaviest change-ringing peal at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, and the first ever change-ringing peal of 16 bells at St Martin's-in-the Bullring Church in Birmingham (1991).

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is situated within a row of Grade II listed buildings, and has remained pretty much unchanged over the years, almost appearing as a time warp amongst the medley of surrounding architecture on this busy East London street. It's strange to think that whilst the foundry has been there, such monumental events have taken place around it, including World War II and the gruesome murders of Jack the Ripper.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is a unique and historical place worth investigating. There are public tours available on most Saturdays throughout the year (when no foundry work is taking place), which are so popular, they get booked up as far as a year in advance! I'm still hoping to explore the tour sometime, but meanwhile I recently popped along to check out the shop and museum which was small but informative. My favourite thing being the mass collection of bells I spotted outside in the courtyard. Whether you like big bells, handbells, clock bells or turret bells, they've got the lot. Quasimodo would have felt right at home here. Ding dong!

Whitechapel Bell Foundry
32-34 Whitechapel Road
London E1 1DY
020 7247 2599

Store & museum open Mon-Fri 9am - 5pm
Foundry tours - occasional Saturdays (advance booking)

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Office Party The Show

You know those cheesy sitcoms which usually have an episode involving an office party with stereotypical staff wearing naff outfits, embarrassing photocopier moments, boring speeches and dodgy entertainment? Well there's a show in town called Office Party which is just like that, and you can be part of it. "Why on earth would I want to go to such a cringeworthy party?" I hear you cry. Because surprisingly, it's actually a lot of fun. An ironic, riotous hoot in fact. And besides, some companies really do have office parties like that, and they're not even being ironic!

I went along to the Office Party show with a friend last week and we didn't have a clue what to expect. Arriving at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, we were redirected next door to the 'Product Solutions' company head office, stopping off first for a few glasses of Dutch courage at the nearby Shillibeers bar.

We arrived at the office and were promptly issued with our name badges for our relevant department. For one night only, Cath and I were employees in the Domestic Services department of Product Solutions. We joined the rest of our team for a glass of punch and a few Cliff Richard tracks whilst our team leader, Susie (completely overdressed in a brilliant spangly butterfly top) got us all in the mood for the night ahead.

Before long, Helen the head of HR turned up and asked certain members of staff (Cath and I included) to follow her to the board room for a meeting, during which Helen broke the news that we'd all been fired! Now part of the unemployed gang, we were given new name cards so we could then be who or whatever we wanted to be. Cath decided she would become 'Cliff Richard's Girlfriend'. Just to make Susie jealous. It worked.

We then joined our fellow 'colleagues' in the main room for the office party itself. There was a brief moment when I stopped to question whether this was genuinely fun, and I realised it must be as I was thoroughly enjoying myself. We headed to the bar and really got into the swing of it. I won't tell you every detail as I think it's worth going to check it out for yourselves, but suffice to say the party involved some tragically hilarious entertainment, some team building games, a company speech from the sleazy, shiny-suit wearing CEO, Brian (which Cath was listening to so intently, I think she had forgotten it wasn't real), and of course some truly terrible disco-dancing.

The audience got so into character, it was hard to differentiate who was an actor and who wasn't, which of course was the name of the game. The entire evening was a complete laugh, and in true office party style, we drank too much wine and knew it was time to go home when we started re-enacting the Human Centipede on stage... The relief being it wasn't a real party so we didn't have to face real colleagues at work the next day.

I would highly recommend getting a bunch of friends together and going to the Office Party for a fun night out. It would also be a great place for a real company or office department to have their party, making it doubly ironic.

Office Party
Product Solutions Head Office
North Road
London N7 9EF

Box office: 020 7609 1800
Nearest station: Caledonian Road
Running until 24th Jan 2012
Tickets £20-£35

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Crossness Pumping Station

Lurking on the banks of the River Thames, out towards Thamesmead is the most beautiful sewage pumping station you'll ever see. I know 'pretty' and 'sewage' are a strange combination of words to share a sentence, but believe me, it's true. Crossness Pumping Station is a masterpiece of Victorian engineering excellence. The ironwork is so detailed and intricate, it feels as if it should have been a cathedral rather than something as dull as a sewage works. Crossness was opening by Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales in 1865.

Crossness was created by the well-known 19th Century civil engineer, Joseph Bazalgette. This was one of his greatest achievements and played an instrumental part in relieving London of cholera outbreaks and helping clean the River Thames which was basically so full of raw sewage, the whole of London stank of poo! Not helped by a particularly hot summer in 1858 when the stench was so bad, it became known as The Great Stink. The cholera epidemic resulting from this killed over 14,000 Londoners, so our man Joseph was brought in to save the day. And he did. He designed a vast sewerage system which radically improved the health and sanitation of Victorian London.

On one of the rare occasions that Crossness opens to the public, a friend and I headed to the depths of Abbey Wood to check it out. It's a strange place to find in the middle of nowhere, and the Victorian buildings alone are wonderful. But when you don your obligatory hard hat and set foot inside the pumping station itself, it really is quite magnificent. And being a girl, I don't have a huge interest in things like beam engines, so that's saying something!

Building Crossness was such a massive project, 318 million bricks were required which created a national shortage at the time. There are four rotative beam engines at Crossness built by James Watt & Co, which pumped sewage into a reservoir where it was stored and then released into the Thames only when the tide was going out and away from central London. The engines were named 'Victoria', 'Albert Edward', 'Prince Consort' and 'Alexandra'. Even though these engines are no longer used, the 'Prince Consort' engine has been completely restored so you can see how it would have worked back in the day.

As well as the pumping station, Crossness has an interesting fitting shop which is still in use, so you can watch men beavering away with welding machines and big chunks of iron (I told you I don't really know much about this kind of thing). And there's a room displaying cabinets full of old-fashioned loos and some interesting facts about what people used to use to wipe their bums before loo paper was invented. Corn cobs or mussel shells anyone? Ouch!

Crossness is definitely worth visiting, but it's only open to the public sporadically, so do check their website for further information. There are several days throughout 2012 when you can visit, the first being Sunday 22nd April.

The Crossness Pumping Station
The Old Works 
Crossness S.T.W. 
Belvedere Road 
Abbey Wood 
London SE2 9AQ

Tel: 020 8311 3711

Nearest station: Abbey Wood
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