Thursday, 15 October 2009

Tea, dosh, dykes and cops

Baking blind

Elegance and grace

Vivienne Westwood shoes!

1930s vintage outfit bought specially for this event

Proper holes!

I made these!

Sexy waitresses!

Psychic in the shed...Bethea Jenner

This post could also be entitled 'my bloody awful week'. But I've learnt a lesson: look more carefully into things before I agree to them.
It also brought up issues about how honestly do I blog about things? On the one hand I want to promote the best face of my restaurant, on the other, I'm interested in telling the truth, being transparent about the good and the bad.
The Sunday tea you will note I did not blog about. I was bewildered as to how to present it. The guests were lovely, dressed in vintage clothes. It was a particularly good atmosphere. Teas do tend to be rather girly. Only three men, beautifully done up in suits and hats, braved the occasion. The only man I know who fesses up to loving tea and cakes is Bellaphon and he's not even gay. He's used to being surrounded by sugar-high women at these events. But he's in Malaysia at the moment.
One highlight was Bethea Jenner, my astrologer friend who set up as 'psychic in the shed'. The shabby chic shed looked wonderful and Bethea worked very hard, doing non-stop readings for four and a half hours. I asked guests to cross her palm with silver. One took this literally and gave her 10p.
My savoury dishes...filo triangles stuffed with feta and butternut squash, edged with poppy seeds, Aga griddled crumpets (beautifully holey, looked almost shop-bought, this time), tartelettes with sun blush tomatoes, capers and anchovies, smoked salmon and Marmite and cucumber sandwiches all went well. My meringues, baked for 6- 8 hours in the Aga, were good, as usual.
The problem lay in the fact that I'd decided to do the tea in conjunction with another website. In previous collaborations with others, we cook together, at my house, on the Aga. Aga-cooked food is a hallmark of my restaurant. This time, the lady involved did not want to make the journey to Kilburn. Which was surprising, considering it was she that proposed the tea. But it meant that I could not maintain any quality control on the food that was, after all, going out under my name.
She arrived two hours late on the day of the tea with cupcakes that looked like dry dog turds. I was cringing with shame. But it was too late to do anything about it. We'd already had scuffles about tickets. She assured me we would sell
"hundreds of tickets, in fact put the prices up!"
I stuck with the same price. A week before the tea, we'd only sold 8 tickets. I find it really embarrassing have to tweet about selling tickets. Fortunately most of the rest sold just after my appearance on BBC breakfast news. She claimed that it was due to her tweeting about her #macarons. Yeah right. In fairness her macarons were the best thing she baked. But there weren't enough for everyone.
"They will just have to share" she pronounced.
When you are charging people you cannot make statements like that.
She wanted ten guest list tickets for her friends and colleagues. For a tea of 30 people, it's not reasonable to ask for a third of the places for free.
We had a standup row at the end. Suddenly she wanted money for the tickets. But we'd already agreed that I would pay for the ingredients, it was at my place, I pay the bills, I'd get the ticket money. There isn't much profit.
The girls that waitressed, pictured above, were lovely however, looking cute in the vintage pinnies. They mucked in without acting like Lady Muck.
I worked till midnight on my own clearing up having started at 3am. Lady Muck had complained about how much hard work she'd put in making the dog turds. Welcome to catering darling...
At the end of the night I counted up the bottles in the recycling, 23. I only had the money for eight bottles...another thing that has never happened before.

Rosewater meringues

Mocha meringues

"What's that? Is it a pie?" "No it's focaccia" "Why isn't it flat?" "Er..."

Tasting the salsa and guacamole...they liked it, but they didn't buy it!

The second disappointment of the week was my role in the London Restaurant Festival my participation isn't mentioned on the site, thanks guys, but I was mentioned here. I was so flattered to be asked, the first home restaurant to take part. There is a weekly food market at Covent Garden. Could I do hot food there? The stall, electricity and signage would be for free, but I'd be expected to provide equipment to heat up the food and of course, buy the food.
I had no idea how much I would sell. I begged favours from the lovely Clare of Beetroute, to borrow her soup kettles, burner, disposable cups and spoons. I bought glass jars and packaging from Lakeland Plastics. I pushed my designer to make labels. I worked three days with little sleep preparing food, writing italic labels and tying gingham ribbon around pots. Unfortunately due to the postal strike, much of my promotional material I'd ordered didn't arrive.
Aga offered to provide an oven for me to cook on for the day. Covent Garden refused permission, making up all sorts of objections. Stung by their negativity, that should have been a warning sign to me.
When I arrived at Covent Garden 15 minutes late, exhausted from lack of sleep and early morning baking, I was told I wouldn't be let in. The security guard asked the market manager to speak to me, but he refused. Eventually he came, said I was too late.
"But I'm part of the festival" I said "people are expecting me, and I'm supposed to give a talk."
The market manager shrugged.
"So shall I just go home then?"
"Yeah, if you want" he said and walked away.

I phoned the Covent Garden management, only voicemail. I called the London Restaurant Festival PR who, grim faced, got on the phone and sorted it out. All this time I could see trucks going in and out, unloading.
Finally allowed in, I was told it was one stall, then another. It took time to get tables. There was no electricity to heat up the soup kettles or burner. I didn't get electricity until 5pm. I sold four cups of soup.
The promised signage never arrived. It was freezing and most of the punters just wanted free tastings, not to buy. Everything on my stall was home baked, home-made, nothing was bought in. This fell on deaf ears at Covent Garden. It's mostly tourists who just want a cheap bite to eat. Covent Garden is like Disneyland, full of sweepers, neo-classical architecture and pristine cobbled streets. No wait, I've got that the wrong way round.
I also started my period that morning so I wore two sanitary towels to 'be safe', first day heavy flow and all that. This led to the real lowpoint of the day, when I went to the public toilet in Covent Garden. As I was leaving the cubicle the large African toilet attendant, looking tired and put upon(for all I know she has a Phd in rocket science in her own country) said to me with righteous but simmering indignation
"Excuse me...what IS that?"pointing to the floor.
I looked down and saw one of the sanitary towels had fallen out.
"I'm so sorry" I stammered, my lip trembling "I've had such a terrible day" I continued as I bent down to throw it away.
As I returned to my stall, tears now threatening to flow, Simon Davis, one of the founders, with Fay Maschler, of the London Restaurant Festival came to talk to me. He looked like a foodie version of James Hewitt, handsome with slicked back hair, a tailored suit and a cut glass accent.
"I've just been to the most wonderful lunch at Pierre Koffman's pop up restaurant on the Selfridges roof. Tonight I'm eating at the London Eye in one of the pods."
I shivered as I listened to this. I wished I could afford to go to these places. It's the London Restaurant Festival's first year, there would be teething problems. But all of these other restaurants are established and financially backed. They were making money. As a one woman operation I cannot really afford to lose money. I must have lost about £500 plus I'd cancelled Saturday's dinner to have time to do this. But as Simon explained
"We are dependent on third parties such as Covent Garden market"
Simon bought a jar of salsa as a sop to my feelings. I understand that Covent Garden had some kind of accident cutting off the electricity that morning (but just to my section) but I actually checked beforehand about this as I had regularly heard reports about power cuts there.
"That's no longer a problem" the Covent Garden PR lady firmly assured me.
It seemed to me that that Covent Garden management were very harsh with me about my lateness but allowed themselves all kinds of leeway to make mistakes. There was little communication between the market manager and the PR company. He had no idea I was coming.

Billed below the 'pizza acrobats' (this is all soo Spinal Tap) at 6.30pm I went to give my talk 'How to start your own underground restaurant'. I'd imagined it would be indoors for it was a cold night. But I was standing outside The Hub, a Silverstream caravan, in the dark, competing with a shop blaring out music. I felt like I was at Speaker's corner...'roll up, roll up...'

My first words were...
'The reason I started the Underground Restaurant is because I can't afford to go to most of the restaurants promoted by this festival'....
Out of the few people that were there, two worked for the London Restaurant Festival, one worked for Covent Garden Market, one was Beetroute Clare who brought her friend, one was a blogger and there were three women who hadn't the foggiest idea who I was; two of whom seemed more interested in the free gin and tonics, actually little cans with straws in them, and the chance for a sit down. I abandoned my prepared talk and chatted, on the hoof, about why and how I started. Forty minutes later, answering questions, I got a furious text from my teen who had bunked off school to help me with the stall while I talked.
'I have to go home to do my coursework. I'm cold and hungry'.

As I left, I noticed that the jar of salsa bought by Simon Davis was abandoned in the Silverstream caravan...

Room service for the teen.

Finally Lesbian night at the Underground Restaurant was a success except for the fact that my teen is in full GCSE sulk mood. The ladies asked me her whereabouts, I replied
"She's in her bedroom, calling Childline (on repeat dial) no doubt"
It's a different atmosphere when it's all ladies... to this heterosexual woman it feels as if there is a missing smell, a pheromone that is lacking...
I wanted a gay female crew for the night, but my keenest volunteers were all men, the culinary equivalent I suppose, of a man on finding out that a woman he fancies is gay asking...
"Cool, can I watch?" (Can you imagine a woman asking a gay man that?)
My straight waitress was asked by one of the ladies...
"are you one of the fraternity?"
We giggled in the kitchen as she reported this. Surely she meant sorority?

The city lesbians didn't seem to be sure what sort of event they were coming to...few had heard of me. But they soon relaxed and were particularly appreciative of my photos on the walls. I really like making dinners for 'minority' or specialist groups, especially anything that supports women but I'm not sure I like doing private events. It's strange when people don't know it's my house, when it becomes the organiser's event and not mine. It is my home after all, not just an anonymous space.
The final bit of news I had was that a blogger who came to the quiz night brought as a guest who was, unknown to me, a policeman. I don't have a problem with that but this copper was then interviewed for the BBC Breakfast News piece. His colleagues saw him on TV and reported it to the bosses. The bosses reaction?
"We don't mind but you looked a bit scruffy"


  1. Oh dear, a couple of really negative experiences then! I wish I could have come to the tea (I was knee deep - no make that over my head - in knitted poetry at the time), if you did another one I'd definitely come. Maybe on your own this time or in conjunction with Raretealady would be absolutely perfect. And the macarons! People can't share macarons! They need more than one each! The crumpets look scrumptious though. Sigh.

  2. what can I say? you need a large cup of tea and a lot of hugs...

    Remind yourself that all things pass - you know what you are doing, your usual set up works for you. Sometimes new things work, sometimes the best thing is to ditch them quickly and move on.

    {{hugs}}} here are some hugs to be going on with...

  3. Gosh you poor thing! Sounds like the week from hell. Having met Simon I can safely say he's a genuinely decent bloke, and I'm sure he would have seen to it that you were taken care of had he known. As for the tea party collaboration, whoever you paired up with sounds like an utterly unscrupulous character. Who on earth would behave like that in someone else's home?! And then to actually steal from you......??? Dear oh dear oh dear.

  4. F & T:People can't share macarons, absolutely right!
    Jo: I'm not too bothered now, but doing 3 events in one week was too hard. Moving on quickly now...
    Still my whole purpose of setting up this blog was to talk honestly about the ups and downs...

    Gastrogeek: I'm not accusing her of stealing. I'm just stating the fact that money was missing or not taken or drunk or something. I dont know!
    I just think she was overconfident...about her ability to cook, about how you put these events on.
    I think people underestimate how much work goes into it.
    I make loads of mistakes, but it's a firm rule never to let them leave the kitchen.
    This is also why you must leave enough time to prep properly. Not only for the things that go right, but also for the things that go wrong, the stuff you have to throw away and start again.
    It may be a home restaurant but I do try to maintain as high standards as I can.

  5. Oh my! When it rains it pours! I wish I could do something! Let you put your feet up on a nice soft armchair whilst I made you a cup of tea and some cake perhaps?! Sounds like you need a friendly act from someone to restore your faith in people! Poor you...really, what an lot of stress and bother! Just know this, you've got lots of readers here who are behind you 100%, who want you to succeed and do well and love what you do.
    Some people out there -lady muck, covent garden manager etc are just idiots - rude, inconsiderate, a waste of your time. Let them fall by the wayside, pick yourself up and keep on going - you're better than they are! xxx
    Ps Love some of those shoes! xxx

  6. Ugh - my commiserations. I suppose you can view it all as a series of learning experiences, but it sounds like a horrendous week. The macaron/dog poo lady sounds an absolute piece of work; well done not bonking her on the head with a ladle.

  7. What a time you've been having! Everybody above has already said it though - have a rest now, learn from the mistakes, trust your instinct (especially poignant with Lady Muck and her behaviour), but mostly just slow down a wee bit!

    You are brilliant and you're doing what you want to do and doing it well. You can afford to take your time. Maybe not financially yet, but strong foundations are being laid for your fabulous future.
    Time for a little rest and a moment to step back. Pamper yourself for a day before the whole thing starts again.

    Crumpets look amazing! As do the meringues.... XXX

    Oh, and I almost forgot to say - Whilst I'm an enormous fan of positivity, I personally think it's important to be truthful in the blog. It's refreshing and reveals the humanity behind your restaurant, rather than just the usual load of corporate tosh that gets put out there by the rest.

  8. Sorry to hear about your week, didnt make it to covent garden but have found Broadway Market a great foodie market.

    I may not be much of an aficionado on tweeting, I must have made a big twit of myself tweeting tickets! A girl has got to try and ekk out a living, no matter how meagre.

    But I do know about giving talks. Always. always ask exactly where, and to who. A lesson learned the hard way after arriving to the middle of spitalfields market and been giving a megaphone, positively cringe inducing.... Read more

    It sounds like you did well...under the circumstances.

    And as for the menstrual slip up, hey only women bleed..

  9. Youch - it's tough at the top!

    I found the same thing - you need a PR machine behind you if you're going to do festivals. A lot of people that go are looking for as much as they can get for free - which is great unless you're on the other side of it. A lot of people go to the ones round here but they tend to be tourists, so anything you give away free won't lead to any business in the future. I learnt the hard way to put a value on everything - so don't go near them.

    I also learned the word no about 3 years ago - changed my life.

    Things can only get better!

  10. Sorry to hear about the last few weeks you've had. Take care of yourself and don't let people get you down.

  11. Awwww- bummer of a week. If it's any compensation lots of your post has made me chuckle out loud!
    Actually I guess that's not much compensation really. It is definitely very frustating when you put lots of effort into something but you don't get any support from the people allegedly organising the event.
    I think I've seen the post about the tea on the 'partner' website and note that there doesn't seem to be any mention of you, which just seems plain rude.
    As other people have said you obviously care a lot about what you are doing, write a fantastic blog, and make amazing looking crumpets!

  12. I came to the Citypink event and loved it - especially the salted caramel sauce. I'd read about you in Metro a while ago. I wish Citypink had been more upfront about who you were. I'd have been more excited about the night instead of thinking how the hell am I going to get back home to South London when the Jubilee line is playing up. It sounds like you've had a shocking week. I prescribe a long hot bath and a large glass of red wine. If you do decide to do another lesbian event, I'd be happy to help out on the night.

  13. Oh deary me. That's really bad behaviour from her, I hope she's thoroughly ashamed of herself.

    Sorry to hear your week was so bad. Onwards and upwards!

  14. Although I sympathise with you, I'm really shocked to hear your comments on the large 'african' woman and comments about 'her country'. This has really put me off your blog, although I'm sure you couldn't care less. Please at least be more thoughtful in the future.


  15. That's true Alice, whilst I was in the midst of howling embarassment and picking up my soiled sanitary towel, feeling like the uber white colonial bitch, I should have checked precisely which country in Africa she came from.
    Fastest Indian: I'm glad it made you laugh (by the way need your postal address to send you the Harumi book).
    James: yeah gotta learn to say no. I'm new to all this so it's a steep learning curve.
    Anon: re Citipink. Yes, I didn't fully understand that.
    Kitchen Jezebel:Love Broadway Market. I think Covent Garden has been made so bland, so corporate, like so many markets in London. Big business and councils have squeezed the life out of Covent Garden. In the 70s I used to go there alot, but no Londoners ever go there now. It's full of tourists and out of towners. Eliza Doolittle would feel very uncomfortable.
    I guess they are trying to attract artisanal stalls but they need to make a slight effort to cooperate with stall holders who after all are investing a great deal of time and money.
    CC: yeah the shoes were great werent they?

  16. Oh no, what a bloody AWFUL set of crappiness.
    I'm so sorry if I contributed by not being able to come over to help with the label printing that day; it was a bit short notice for me (with my obsessive diary planning personality) but if I can help with anything else of that nature, in future, let me know. Just give me a bit more notice and I'd happily come down to help.
    It's so upsetting when you bend over backwards not only to do your best but to help others shine too and then they not only don't put in the same effort they throw yours back in your face as well.
    I know how stressful it was preparing for the stall when I did it for a day on the food market, not for the special restaurant festival thing. And I had mum and husband helping as well. To do all that work mostly on your own, and then to deal with postal strike, complete communications meltdown re them not knowing you were coming, lack of electricity, banning of the aga... oh my god!
    Again, good on you for being brave enough to blog the truth of it and so sorry to hear about this tough series of shiteyness.
    There are many of us who have huge admiration and respect for what you achieve, who recognise how much work it is and how generous you are to others starting out in similar ventures...
    Don't let it grind you down.
    X X X

  17. Hello,

    I just discovered your blog through London Food and Drink. My name is Bethany and I write the blog here in London as well. A few other bloggers and I are organizing a conference on Food Blogging on the 28th of November, 2009 in London.

    We would love it if you could join us. Depending on the number of food bloggers who RSVP, we hope to also have guest speakers talking about relevant issues to Food Blogging such as “How To Improve On Food Photography” or “What Makes A Good Food Blog” amongst others. In any case, it will be an opportunity to meet other food bloggers, some of which are coming from France, Germany and even India, and network, eat delicious food and have a good laugh.

    For more information please visit

    We hope to see you there.

    Bethany and the other organisers; Mowie Kay- Mowielicious, Jamie Schler- Life’s a Feast and Hilda Saffari- Saffron & Blueberry


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