Falafels, sous-vide cod and a haka: the tales of catering a wedding in Hackney

Posted on Posted in Food, Health, Wedding

“So what kind of events do you cater for? Do you do weddings? Because my best friend is getting married in August and is looking for a caterer.” The incredible power of networking (the same one that wound up with me having breakfast with the legendary Delia Smith, just saying) led me to having this conversation back at the beginning of 2018 following a corporate launch event I’d just done. I responded enthusiastically, with a touch of casual nonchalance, that of course I could cater a wedding and, indeed, that I would be delighted to. I’d done a starter course for a charity dinner for 140 people, canapés at a wellness event in the Shard for 80 people…how difficult would it be to do a wedding for 40?

Difficult it wasn’t, but a challenge it was. And an enormously enjoyable one at that. I was so fortunate to have had an absolute dream bride and groom-to-be as my clients. The menu I proposed was agreed to immediately, and the flexibility, communication and general awesomeness that they showed leading up to and during the wedding was incredible and so heart-warming to receive from such a young couple. Given that I would be doing everything myself and that the venue had no cooking facilities to speak of (Hackney is apparently too cool for that…I jest; the venue was the Old Dairy on Powerscroft Road and was completely unique – rustic chic, warmth and chilled-ness in equal measure), I needed a menu that was going to incorporate sharing elements and a buffet style in order to be able to produce excellent quality food without compromising on the service element.

The instruction I had from the groom was that he really loved fish and chips, and lamb. With the aforementioned lack of cooking equipment on site, I looked at innovative ways to incorporate these elements into the menu. I was so tired of seeing ‘mini fish and chips’ in little newspaper cones as part of a canapé selection (it seemed so cool and trendy a few years ago; now it’s just dated soggy batter, not to mention quite a heavy, greasy start to the proceedings). Instead, I created potato rösti as the base for the canapé, and then topped with flakes of beautiful cod loin which I cooked sous-vide in olive oil, salt and vinegar, and finished with a vibrantly verdant pee purée. The other canapés were arancini filled with a rich beef ragù (what was I saying earlier about fish and chips being heavy?) and chargrilled baby bell peppers, which I stuffed with homemade ricotta whipped with lemon and herbs. Given the little there was left over, they seemed to hit the mark. That could have something to do with the bottomless prosecco on offer though.

The ceremony went off without a hitch, I hasten to say, and it was absolutely beautiful – not a dry eye in the dairy. With the emotions and bubbles overflowing, and canapés devoured, the guests were ready to dive in to the wedding breakfast. The starters were a relaxed affair of homemade flatbreads to dunk into beetroot hummus, courgette and herb smash (cook courgettes down with garlic and olive oil until velvety soft, then chuck in some mint and lemon juice – heavenly, and a wonderful use of a courgette glut), smoky babaganoush topped with jewel-like pomegranate seeds and hummus kawarma – that is, hummus topped with marinated and fried lamb neck fillet that is bursting with flavour and pairs perfectly with the humble chickpea dip. I overdid the quantities as usual, but when did anyone ever complain about too much hummus?

The main event was served buffet style. I wanted everything to be rustic but colourful and packed with flavour, so incorporated a mix of elements to produce a feast that left no-one hungry. I had a whole gammon joint which I’d cooked for hours in cider then roasted with mustard and honey so it stood centre stage, burnished and majestic. I served chicken supremes and legs which I roasted with lavender from my garden and lots of lemon (shout out to GG Sparkes butcher in Blackheath Standard, who provided me with THE best quality meats I have used for a while and even delivered everything to my door for free). A couple of pea, feta and mint quiches went alongside, together with four types of homemade crackers, a cheese selection and homemade red onion marmalade. The salads were heritage carrots roasted with harissa and served with dukkah and labneh (I hope this is my own recipe as it got so much praise, I’d love to be able to receive it wholeheartedly), griddled courgettes with mozzarella and homemade pesto, and finally roasted cauliflower with pomegranate, hazelnut, parsley and halloumi. It was wonderful to be able to showcase seasonal ingredients all cooked with love for a couple who clearly had so much love for each other.

All the cutlery and plates were able to be tossed, dirty and haphazardly into the awaiting empty containers to be collected the next day, which meant that for once I was not at the mercy of the Fairy liquid and sponge. Happily, this allowed me to get on with the food for the late-night munchies section of the evening (much needed given the rather fantastic Gin & Tonic Station organised by one of the bridesmaids). I say it was much needed, but I’d quite forgotten to mention the cake which had travelled intact all the way from Bristol and made by the sublime Anna Cake Couture, which went down an absolute storm and which I was lucky enough to sample. I shall be dreaming of the coconut and raspberry layer for many a year, I feel.

I’d made some classic white and brown buns and some homemade ketchup to be stuffed with salty and alcohol-absorbing bacon; homemade falafel (disclaimer: Ottolenghi recicpe because he is a god) with hummus and freshly made wraps; and finally, ‘stove top pizzas’ – which were exactly what they say on the frying pan: classic pizza dough fried on one side, then flipped and topped with an array of classic pizza toppings, lid on to melt the cheese, and ultimately devoured by drunken party guests. I may have overdone it on the dough, but it was at least something to amuse the six-year old who – despite the jet lag having travelled from Australia – was the life and soul of the wedding throughout and even at 9pm showed no signs of flagging.

The bride being from New Zealand, there were a lot of Kiwi guests in attendance which meant that I got to see a real live haka – and not one that was rugby-induced. Apparently, they can only be performed at special occasions, so I’m not sure I will necessarily ever get to see one again. It was quite incredible – deeply emotive and so powerful it would have shaken even the most cold-hearted to the core. The British lads tried to counter it with a rendition of the national anthem, but most of them didn’t know the words. For shame. By the end of the evening it was quite definitely a resounding victory for New Zealand, even without Beauden Barrett on the field.

The trickiest part of the evening proved to be finding the least drunk man to help me get my full-size fridge back in my Zip van. Turns out you need four. And four times the amount of time you think. But the look of pride on their faces on having completed the manoeuvre made it all worth it.

 

If you’re planning a wedding with a guest list of up to 60 people, or know of anyone who is, and are looking for a unique catering service then please get in touch – I’d love to speak to you to see if I can help create your perfect wedding breakfast.

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