Medieval Banquet, St Katharine Docks, LondonDINING, QUIRKY PLACES, SHOWS/FESTIVALS/HOLIDAYS, STAFF, THE UK — By JM Merchant on June 1, 2012 at 01:01
Story by staff writer JM Merchant. Photos Copyright © Joanna Abram.
ONE OF THE greatest things about London is its history. Everywhere you go there’s something from the past to fascinate and astound.
Walking from Tower Hill station you pass not only some of the largest remnants of the Roman wall that once defined the city boundaries but also the Tower of London itself, famed as being a place of incarceration and torture for enemies or “inconveniences” of the Crown.
Taking the tunnel under the road that becomes Tower Bridge you soon find yourself in St Katharine Docks, a bustling marina with plenty of restaurants and characterful shops. Many of the buildings were formerly cargo warehouses, used to store tea, rum, spices and ivory, among other things.
Legend has it that in the tenth century, King Edgar the Peaceful founded the Guild of the Knights of Portsoken. He set his knights three tasks of bravery, chivalry and valour: one above ground, one below ground, and one in the water. He gifted the land where St Katharine Docks now stands to the thirteen victors.
So where better place is there, in honour and celebration of those thirteen knights, to hold a medieval banquet several times a week?
The Medieval Banquet is a historical-themed dining experience. For the last few years the theme has had more of a Tudor flavour, with an actor portraying Henry VIII presiding over the night’s festivities.
Descending the stairs into the depths of an old ivory warehouse, my friends and I were lead through the bustle of other patrons by our very own wench to our table in a bay named Nonesuch Palace. Milling about the floor were four finely-dressed ladies, King Hal sat upon his throne, and three knights bedecked in chain-mail and carrying swords were propping up the bar.
Our wench ensured we had a plentiful supply of ale and wine and instructed us that should we wish to get her attention we were to shout “Wench!” as loud as we could. She also told us that rather than applauding the acts we saw that night, we were to bang our fists on the table to show our appreciation.
The show was broken down into four sections (or medleys, as I later discovered), separated by a break for each course of the meal.
Each medley saw us entertained by the bright and flirty royal dancer and wowed by the flexibility and grace of two contortionists, who performed hand-balancing, hula-hoop and aerial hoop arrangements. The performing acts were accompanied by the formidable vocal talents of King Hal and a lady of the court and a lustily-played piano.
I can tell you now that I loved the food. It was all very simple, but with great flavour. The first course was a seasonal vegetable soup, light and creamy with just the right amounts of vegetable. It was amusing watching my friend Emma try to figure out how to eat it when we weren’t provided with spoons. The second course was a platter of tasty smoked and chilled meat and cheese.
Towards the end of the third medley the dancers and wenches dragged everyone up and onto the floor to dance. Emma and Michelle were the first out of their seats while myself and Dani held back to laugh at them.
In reverence to the great beast, the company carried the boar’s head around the floor in a regal procession. In actuality, it was Sir Eldredd wearing a pig mask and eating an apple, but you got the idea.
The main course of the meal was by far my favourite. Again, nothing fancy, just well-roasted, flavourful chicken with honey-roasted parsnips, onions and potatoes. It was yummy, and I could have eaten much more of that than I had opportunity to.
Dessert was fruit compote with wonderfully thick real cream, accompanied by a duel. The knights came out onto the floor to garner our favour in the forthcoming challenge. We were supporting Sir Edward of Swinedon. With great zeal he fought Sir Daniel and won, the crowd near deafened by their own cheers, and went on to face Sir Eldredd. The clashing of steel on steel was soon replaced by the thump of fist to face and knee to gut as the swords were discarded. Clearly a brawler, Sir Eldredd came out the victor—only to be defeated by Sir Daniel, who was again defeated by Sir Edward, the reigning champion.
The festivities were brought to a close with all the punters being pulled onto the floor for one last dance with the company, before being jolted back to the present day by the Black-Eyed Peas and “I’ve Got a Feeling.”
The disco was a great way to end the night. It was fun watching the wenches and ladies dancing and playing with the children, as well as the members of one of the stag parties making fools of themselves.
Since visiting the banquet I’ve had the honour of joining the team as a covering technician—meaning I have ultimate control. Mwah-ha-ha-ha! *choke*
It’s a giggle to work on as well as to visit as a patron. But how all those chicken left-overs get into my bag at the end of every night I really do not know . . . maybe it’s the ghost of Sir John!
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JM Merchant (or Jo Abram to most) lives in the North End of London, although she aspires to the West End. An occasionally employed sound engineer and stage manager, most of her time is currently spent reading pirate tales as she works on her first novel. She blogs and posts short stories at Am I A Writer Yet? and tweets as @JMMerchant86.