The Britannia, Victoria Park E9

Do you support the grow local theory? You know, less food miles, supporting community producers. I hope my local pub does, as lately I’ve been going with the ‘eat out local’ approach instead.

The Britannia was taken over about a year ago and changed from a dodgy old men’s pub, inhabited by squatters and terrorised by squirrels, to gasto-bistro-bugabooland.  Don’t let the family-friendly policy put you off though – it’s fairly cavernous and there’s room for kids to tear about without unduly bothering anyone.  Even me, with a famously low patience threshold.

It’s best to check the website to see what’s on offer day to day and visit during the week if you can as it’s chock-a-block at the weekends.  When the new menu came out last week, we picked a selection of starters instead of mains:

:: Winter Roasted Vegetables with Poached Egg ::

Only comment is that the squash could have been cooked slightly longer. Coming from a culture that boils veg into submission, this could be a personal preference.

:: Venison Terrine ::

Dense, meaty, unctuous.

:: Chicken Tortellini in chicken broth with pearl barley ::

My personal highlight of the array of starters and I’ve since ordered it as a main. The tortellini are heavy little parcels, herby and delicious.

:: Butternut Squash and Cashel Blue tart ::

Buttery pastry and my favourite Irish blue cheese. Ok, I have no idea how many Irish blues there might be. This one is good, very good.

Stars:  *****

Although it’s definitely getting better, the service is the only reason that the Britannia loses a star. They seem to juggle about with the numbers of staff, particularly at the weekends but they’re generally pretty affable.  They fire up the grill at the weekend and held a series of BFI screenings during the summer. All in all – it’s everything you could want in a local.

The Britannia Pub, 360 Victoria Park Road, London E9 7BT. 020 8533 0040

What Katie Did: Fascinator Workshop

Earlier this month I went to a fascinator workshop at What Katie Did boutique in West London.

I’ve been to many really good crafting spaces and providers over the past year or so, and tried many different crafts with various teachers.  I’m pretty meh about this particular offering.

So what were we promised?

Sunday 13th December : make your own fascinators

1-4pm, £45

Choose from either a mini tophat or a sinnamay hat-base to create a beautiful fascinator to take home and keep. Learn how to manipulate feathers, attach ribbons and trimmings and pick up tips and tricks for creating glamorous and individual headwear.

You’ll have access to the WKD fabrics in case you’d like to make a pair to match a corset, and also a receive a 10% What Katie Did discount voucher to spend in the boutique on the day of the class. Tea and cakes will be served.

All materials inclusive

All sounds good so far, yes?  Apart from the bit about ‘make a pair’ which I assume referred to a previous workshop on making pasties. I went along with three friends – I had some problems finding the shop which were entirely my fault (it’s inside a shopping centre which was somewhat hidden by the tat market that takes place on a Sunday). So me, three friends, in this very pretty shop, full to the rafters of pretty corsetry – and five other girls. Nine of us, with one teacher. Sometimes that kind of ratio can work. Not there. Firstly, the workspace wasn’t at all appropriate. We were using hot glue guns on the floor of what is normally the changing area. Bloody uncomfortable, apart from anything else.  Fail.

We had three model heads to use for positioning fripperies and net on sinamay bases or mini top hats. As it happens there were four natural groups within the class so we made do. But there was nowhere near enough space – we were using the top of a display cabinet as a table and others worked on the floor – and only one or two stools. Come to that, only two people could have tea, as only two cups were to be found.  The promised cakes were supermarket mini muffins although some participants were offered bubbly on arrival. Not all of us, mind you. Fail.

How was the teaching? Well I’ve been to some classes with Ruka from Sugarlesque at other venues. She’s very enthusiastic and when we could get her attention, she taught us handy tricks about attaching net and how to singe elastic. But she was in demand in a group of nine and is a little haphazard, forgetting to tell us to do certain steps (like cutting felt shapes to the size of the base) before starting, which made things more difficult later, and getting pulled away to other people frequently. It was similar to other classes I’ve taken with her – she’s very talented as a maker but needs a schedule as a teacher.

I’d expect to come away from a workshop with a list of suppliers, and instructions or illustrations to remind me what we’d done in class. We did get a 10% off voucher to spend at the shop – but couldn’t shop that day because the shop was closing early for the staff Christmas party. Fail.

So who could show them a trick or two?  You always leave the Make Lounge with handouts covering what you’ve done; plus a list of suppliers if they don’t sell the tools and materials themselves. Sweet Pea Flowers lays on an amazing spread for afternoon tea during the floristry masterclasses (my review here).  The Making Space keeps class numbers to the appropriate size for the space.

Stars: *****

I came away with something fun that I’ll wear to one of the many upcoming balls and burlesque events.  I didn’t learn very much that I didn’t know already or couldn’t have gleaned from internet tutorials, and the £45 might have been better spent at the Milliners’ Warehouse or the Trimmings Company.

Update: I received an email from the owner of What Katie Did, and now know that the classes are entirely the responsibility of the teacher, WKD takes no money for the classes and indeed was under the impression that all of the equipment needs (from crockery and catering to chairs) were well taken care of, as well as providing a dedicated space for glueing etc.  I think that future workshops there will be run rather differently, and class sizes will be kept to six as was always intended.  It sounds as if it’s worth giving it another shot

What Katie Did boutique, 26 Portobello Green, 281 Portobello Road, London W10 5TZ

Hummingbird Bakery: Coconut Meringue Cake

When I realised I’d need a hammer to make the Hummingbird Coconut Meringue Cake, I instinctively developed reservations about it.  ‘Fresh coconut tastes better’, declared the author. I’m sure it does, in much the same way that basking under the sun on a private beach on Necker warms your bones more gratifyingly than a sunbed in the local tanning salon.

Note to self: sometimes you can ignore the author.

Note 2 to self: no, no you can’t. Other people can. Get the hammer.

Welcome to a cake tragedy.  It started poorly – when you can’t get butter and sugar to cream, it doesn’t bode well for a light fluffy cake. I wondered if the butter had been too cold, so I consulted the cakey gurus. Yup, I phoned my mother and father. Baker of birthday cakes for many years, and former commercial bakery owner/manager respectively. Maybe it could have been softer was the consensus, but sure keep beating it and see what happens.  You can’t make it any worse.

No better either, it seems. The ratio of sugar:butter at 370g:70g just didn’t seem right to me.  It had the consistency of grainy melted marzipan. I chucked it and started over.  It didn’t improve much. I persevered. Someone wrote, tested, proofread this book, right? It must be correct. Note 3 to self – errata do occur.

I looked up the errata. They were no help, but you now have the Brooklyn Blackout Cake recipe should you be brave enough to try it.

I baulked slightly at the seven eggs required for the meringue frosting but started separating. You know the sage advice about separating the eggs into a cup and then putting the whites in a bowl? Of course I wasn’t doing that. On the seventh egg I sliced neatly through the yolk and the yellow plummeted into the Sea of Albumen. I know I should have chucked it all out but I removed as much as I could instead and made up the meringue frosting. With a lot of extra sugar. It was still runny as all hell, so I mixed in some of grated coconut for texture and to bind it. A bit like mixing mud and straw as building materials. Just really sweet mud. On the plus side, if I ever want to recreate Tunnocks Snowballs at home, I’ve got the filling cracked.

Oh, why did I need the hammer? To pierce the eyes of the coconut and drain the milk, then to smash open the shell later. My neighbours looove me now.

Stars: *****

It was better the next day. It could really do with being two tiers rather than three, it’s simply too much cake and the sugar rush from the amount of frosting required to cement it together could put you into a coma. The texture was so dense it reminded me of breeze blocks.  I’m a fan of the book but won’t be making this again.