Tuesday, 2 March 2010
Allens butchery class, Mayfair
If there's a better afternoon to be had anywhere than hacking apart a variety of top quality meat, then I'd like to know about it. Allens of Mayfair, at 117 Mount Street - that's just opposite the Connaught and a few doors down from Nicky Clarke hairdressers, to give you an idea of the area - run butchery classes at their stunning Victorian shop every Wednesday at 1pm and attract a remarkable variety of punters (50/50 male/female most surprisingly) keen to learn more about that mysterious journey between the fresh animal carcass and the neatly trimmed cuts on your plate. I was lucky enough to be invited to this fascinating place with a handful of other food bloggers to see how badly I could disgrace myself when let loose with a chainmail glove and a dangerously sharp knife.
The first animal to suffer at the hands of my knife skills was a plump, yellow corn-fed chicken. From this, we were shown how to separate the breast and the 'drumette' (the forebone closest to the breast) together into what I was surprised to learn was called a "supreme" - aren't these the ready meals you get from Tescos? And also, who knew all these years I'd been carelessly hacking through the part of the chicken Marco Pierre White cherished so much he would get through 40 or 50 chickens in an evening service just to separate this one part - the "oyster"? You live and learn.
Next, a whole oxtail, which satisfyingly and smoothly separated into a dozen or so equal widths, ready for braising - providing, that is, you managed to find the millimetre or so between the joints that your knife could slide between. Easier said than done, believe me.
Then, a whole back of lamb was painstakingly sawn, sliced and trimmed into a pretty 8-rack, the kind you'd see in any high-end butchers but here, we were slowly and deliberately told, they remove the bitter, tougher top layer of skin so as to leave only the soft white fat on the rack. It's how the top hotels like it, and who are we to argue? Having watched David, the head butcher, perform this task in a matter of a few seconds, it was therefore rather humiliating to still be sweating and swearing away at the 'sawing' stage well after most other people had bagged and tagged their pieces. Eventually David put me out of my misery and finished it off himself, in the manner of an impatient parent tying their child's shoelaces.
The sight of an enormous 3-rib rack of sirloin was enough to put the smile back on my face, however. Gorgeously marbled, and clearly of a very high quality, we were nevertheless trusted to remove the roasting joint from the bone and have a go tying it up with butcher's string. The first bit, I had no problem with; it was only when attempting to tie up the joint neatly into a shape that resembled something you'd be happy to put in your oven that I eventually had to ask for yet more help. The shoelace-tying analogy was even more appropriate this time around.
So despite my cack-handed attempts at various tasks, and my sore (or should that be saw?) arms, I left Allens grinning like an idiot. It was fascinating and hilarious fun. Also, I know £100 seems like a lot of money for an hour and a half's course but you get to take all the meat home with you(!), and an 8-rack of lamb, a whole jointed chicken, a whole oxtail and a massive roasting joint of beef (note: I believe usually there is something involving pork instead of the sirloins we were given) must be pretty close to being worth £100 even without the expert tuition and tour of the oldest butchers in London. The next day, after slicing that joint up into nice thick steaks, I roasted them on my trusty Weber BBQ over a fierce heat. They were absolutely stunning.
There was talk, towards the end of the afternoon, of the restaurants that Allens supplies, all prestigious establishments including Le Gavroche, Zuma and - my ears pricked up at this - Rules. In fact, when the season is right, Allens run game butchery classes, showing people how to pluck and gut my beloved grouse, as well as (for those with a strong stomach) the notoriously bloody and strongly scented hare. Sign me up.
I was invited to Allens butchers. Courses cost £100 and can be booked here. Many thanks to Hollow Legs for the pictures - it's remarkably difficult to operate an iPhone with a chainmail glove on.
Other reports of the afternoon can be found at:
Eat Like A Girl, Oliver Thring, Food Stories, and Hollow Legs