Burns Night – East London style

burns night

It’s not everyday that you’re welcomed by a kilted piper at a night out in Hackney Central, so I have to confess, arriving at the grand exterior of the St. John’s of Hackney church and greeted by the sound of the pipes cutting through the night’s silence made me feel a tad regal. Nice start. I’m talking about last week’s Reach for the Bunting Burns Night Banquet, an event held at the aforementioned church on Saturday the 25th of January, the anniversary of the birth of Scotish poet and lyricrist, Robert Burns. He is celebrated and remembered every year with a Burns Supper, an event that has been getting more and more popular in London and not only in Scottish homes, societies or Burns clubs.

Reach for the Bunting is the perfect example of a new and revamped Burns Supper format. Organised by the Nest Collective and Adamotions, the evening provided all the Burns Supper classics and a lot, lot more. After being greeted and properly seated – in long communal tables – my party and I quickly made friends with those around us and engaged in animated conversation that lasted the duration of the dinner.

To our left, three Canadian girls, excited and curious about Burns, his supper and his poems. Luckily for them, companion number one in my party was a Scot truly in touch with his ‘Scottishness’ and coincidentally from Ayrshire, Robert Burns’ birthplace. He was happy to answer the girls’ questions and do the occasional translation during the poems. That is, when we could make out the words.

A mix of 450 people who just wouldn’t be quiet and a sound system stretched beyond its abilities meant a lot of Burns’ wonderful words were just not audibly clear. Mind you, he wrote in Scots, so there was the possibility of most not having a clue of what was going on anyway, even if the guests were silent and the equipment state of the art. To our right, a group of lads properly attired in kilts and properly accessorised with whisky flasks.

The evening’s host was James Morgan who welcomed the guests and invited the poets to the stage. After the Selkirk Grace, dinner was served. It went pretty smoothly, the logistics were all in place considering the size of the event and I was served all my courses in perfect timing – which in my book is within 15-20 minutes of finishing the previous one. Starter was a Scotch broth with Oatcakes, simple but very tasty, like a Scottish grandma would have prepared. The theatricality of it all is what I really like about Burns suppers, for instance the Piping In and Cutting of the Haggis.

In this particular occasion there was a short march from the kitchen to the main table, piper leading the way, chef carrying the haggis high above his head and fire-spinning lady doing her thing right behind him. After the ritual and a toast to the delicacy, the haggis was served, again simply presented, very tasty and traditionally accompanied by mashed neeps and tatties (that is, potato and swede for your and me). A couple of toasts later – A Toast to Rabbie and A Toast to the Lassies – and dessert was served, the very Scottish Cranachan, which was heavy on the cream and light on the raspberries. After dinner, the tables were cleared away and that was when the real party kicked off.

The ceilidh started, guided and lead by The Ceilidh Liberation Front, a talented and deliciously crazy band who got everyone going for hours. It was fun like I haven’t had in years. Brilliant. There was one little problem: the toilets, or rather the portaloos. They were, of course, outside and on a freezing January night that was far from ideal. That could have been overlooked had there been at least 10 of them there. There were only three for the ladies. It was brutal considering that numbers totalled 600 roughly – 450 during dinner, you do the maths (as I did while waiting endlessly in the queues). According to Adam Tafler, one of the organisers “Reach for the Bunting takes traditional aspects of Burn’s night and combine it with glitter, spandex and a festival atmosphere”. Agreed, face painters, fancy dressing, fierce dancing and a lot of laughter gave it this festivally feel (including the very festival-like loos). It was original, very merry and I can’t wait for the next one.

Reach for the Bunting Burns Night Banquet
25th January 2014

About Marianne Arake

Marianne Arake A Brazilian-Japanese Londoner gourmet, Marianne has been mad about food ever since she can remember. Avid restaurant goer, knowledgeable wine taster, passionate about produce and amateur writer, she knows a thing or two about food and drink and loves nothing more than eating and writing about it.


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