Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Raven and the Writing Desk

I've always wanted to be part of a food fight. You know, proper grabbing grub off the plate and lobbing it across the room stuff. Never did I see myself chucking carrots around a basement full of back-combed bunny rabbits, while drinking carrot juice poured from cocktail shakers into martini glasses. But that is what happened on Sunday night, when Alice and I went to The Raven and the Writing Desk.

We arrived at 6 prompt, just as instructed, and a rather spiffing White Rabbit dressed in tweeds took our names and told us to wait. The queues began. One look at his pocket watch and the Rabbit sent us flying into the Milk Thistle. The darkness inside made us blink, while masked bunnies directed us up two flights of stairs where we emerged, wide-eyed and enchanted, at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. With tables and armchairs arranged around the room, we sat sipping a mysterious ginger drink. The Hatter handed round our starter: a teacup of salmon mousse (or goats cheese for vegetarians), beetroot and orange with a charcoal crostini. Dainty and delicate, this course was the perfect, gentle introduction to an evening of mayhem ahead.

A few Mad Hatter magic tricks later, and we were whooshed back down the stairs and into a dark, wood-panelled room. At the head of a long table stood a fearsome Queen of Hearts. One diner pulled her chair out ready to sit down and was bellowed at by the red Queen, who was accompanied by her husband and a rather sorrowful flamingo, mourning the loss of her own husband (beheaded by you-know-who and turned into a hot pink feather duster). Here, we ate rabbit (or wild mushroom and garlic) pie with baby carrot: the plate looked picture-book perfect and tasted just as good. After a final fill of the Queen and her charms, we were again summoned by the Rabbit and the smiley Cheshire Cat: a rather charming pinstriped fella hailing from Cheshire, Connecticut.

Down again we went to the world of Tweedledum and Tweedledee: a pair of naughty schoolchildren in the St Trinian's vein, all scuffed knees and wonky plaits. Chilled tomato gazpacho with nettle and chive bread and a pecorino biscuit awaited us; the soup deliciously robust and served in individual lidded jars, the bread and biscuit providing the perfect texture and richness to go with it. 'Dum and 'Dee threw paper aeroplanes, challenged us to chess, and generally made a nuisance of themselves, while those bunnies from before snuffled and hopped about, offering nibbles of carrot, and making mischief.

And then, the food fight. It really was as fun as I'd always hoped a food fight to be. More so, in fact. By this time, our inhibitions were down, we were fully immersed in the world of Wonderland. The attention to detail evident in every single aspect of this magical evening made the event something so special: carrots, half chewed and scattered on the staircase; playing cards pinned to vegetarians to signal their status; giant flowers adorning the Hatter's tea party; plastercast hands reaching up from the Queen's dining table.

When all the lettuce had been lobbed, we made our way back up the stairs for the finale. Our Very Merry Unbirthday Brownie, presented on cakestands and handed round by those naughty twins, gave our tastebuds one final surprise (a secret I think I'll keep). And, music turned up high, we drank and danced with the cast of wonderful characters who'd made our evening such a rare treat. No-one wanted to leave. Real life is really very dull once you've been down the rabbit hole.

Just a few tickets remain for The Raven and the Writing Desk on Sunday 5 May, £45. Book now.
All photographs taken by Alice Hendy and used with kind permission.
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