A Great Scottish Tradition

A Great Scottish Tradition

 

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,

Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!

 

These carefully chosen words, that ring out in happy halls across the British isles every year, were dedicated to the mighty Haggis in Robert Burns’ playful Ode to a Haggis. A few years after his sad demise, a small group of his friends gathered together to celebrate Burns’ wonderful life with a night of hearty food and even heartier whisky. The ritual was repeated the next year and the next and the next, and by the start of the 19th century, it was a fully formed tradition that was celebrated in many towns. The “Scottish Bard” lives on with us even today, through the wonder of his words and through the merry celebration that has come about in his name.

 

As you might expect from an event devised by a company of poets and artists, the whole thing is a little odd. A playful sense of ceremony permeates the entire evening, which all begins with the arrival of the haggis. The dish, a mixture of offal, spice and oatmeal stuffed into a sheep’s stomach lining, arrives amidst a fanfare of bagpipes and, a few moments after the grand platter hits the table, a speaker will give a boisterous reading of Burns’ aforementioned poem. When you think about the ingredients of the haggis and consider the usual centrepieces of such social gatherings, there is something remarkably mischievous about this sense of ritual and grandeur. It’s done in a very lighthearted, cheerful sort of way that Burns’ himself would surely have approved of.

 

It’s a presence that many London restaurants have overlooked with their interpretations. With large booking fees, and complex sides or enriched haggis, they add a sense of pomp to the occasion that feels more than a little strange. This is the evening where sniffing the fine bouquet of an expensive red seems a little silly, where the most important thing is that the beer is flowing and the whiskey is Scottish. It’s a simple occasion that’s more about the food’s heartiness as it is about a subtlety of flavour and delicate taste combination. The traditional accompaniments- neeps (parsnips) and tatties (potatoes)- are both robust, heavy flavours that perfect for mixing with haggis and a pint of bitter.

 

With it’s boisterous, wholehearted merriment, the Ceilidh Club is one of the places that really gets it right. Everyone lucky enough to book a ticket there knows exactly what they’re getting and that’s fun.

It’s what you would expect from an organisation that describes the evening as “the highlight of our year”, because to them this is an event that’s easily equivalent to New Year’s Eve.  They offer something a little bit different from the rest of the London scene, something that truly reflects what the evening is all about.

 

The 3 hours of dancing that bookend the evening are as important as the drink and the traditional dishes. The food itself is simple in all the right ways, and there’s something remarkably rich and earthy about the combination of offal and root vegetables.  Their method of stripping the frills, rather than the thrills, of Burns’ Night is a winning one which is why they’re out pick of the celebrations.

 

What elements do you think are essential for a Burn’s Night celebration?


February 13, 2018

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