All over the world Scots gathered together on Friday 23rd to celebrate Burns Night, the birthday of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns. This year because our Dining Out editor was stuck in Goa, an invitation was extended to me to experience the festivities first hand at Marco Grill. The restaurant is located just off the Fulham Road adjoining Stamford Bridge Stadium; a perfect location to feed the hordes of hungry Chelsea fans who might feel like treating themselves to a fancy steak. This is what Marco Grill normally offers, but tonight it was breaking its tradition of serving luxury steaks for a much older one, the celebration of Robert Burns’ life. This took form in an impressive four course authentic Scottish feast, which included Haggis, bagpipes, poetry and the obligatory dram of whisky.
The restaurant was set up as for a formal banquet with large stern men dressed in kilts and traditional Scottish attire, which was slightly at odds with the décor of the place; a glitzy modern look with a glittering column at the centre of the room,which was quite endearing.. The night started with a speech on Robert Burns and a shot of whisky, so far so good. This was followed by the first course, a bowl of Partan Bree, a luxuriously creamy crab soup, intensely rich and flavoursome with delicious morsels of crab meat hidden in it. An impressive introduction to Scottish cuisine.
Next up was the ceremony of the Haggis; the most impressive entry for an individual dish imaginable. The haggis is marched around the room on an ornate serving plate accompanied by bagpipe players and rhythmic clapping from the entire room. The Haggis then has the famous Burns poem “Address to a Haggis” read to it by our speaker in a booming Celtic voice, proclaiming the merits of the Haggis as the greatest of foods. “Is there that owre his French ragout/ Or olio that wad staw a sow/ Or fricassee wad mak her spew/ Wi perfect scunner/ Looks down wi sneering/ scornfu view/ On sic a dinner?”
Fortunately the dish lived up to the hype, which I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting; again another very rich and powerful dish though presented very humbly with plain boiled “tatties and nead” (potatoes and swede.) This was fitting both to balance the strong, filling meat as well as symbolising the honest approach to Scottish cooking and life that Burns himself was talking about.
The mains did not have quite the same fuss made over it, but was still a real treat of Braised Beef Cheeks in Red Wine Sauce. You may be noticing a theme in Scottish cooking which is a tendency for meals to be very rich, warming and filling. This was no exception; the beef was beautifully tender served with a generous amount of red wine sauce and creamy mash potato. By the end everyone looked absolutely stuffed and with the copious amounts of whisky and wine served throughout, the restaurant had turned into a festival hall.
At this point it truly felt like you got Burns Night and right on cue speaker John Canamore got up and recited the legendary “Immortal Memory” a personalised tribute to the poet’s life. The speaker told of the man’s time as a party animal, a lover and as a champion of equality which was genuine, insightful and added a sense of comradery to the event. Perfectly encapsulated in the recital of “A Man’s a Man for a’ That”, charmingly at odds with the plush Chelsea stadium based Marco Grill. “Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord / Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that; / Tho’ hundreds worship at his word, / He’s but a coof for a’ that: / For a’ that, an’ a’ that, / His ribband, star, an’ a’ that: / The man o’ independent mind / He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.”
Address Opening Times
Stamford Bridge, Fulham Road, Tue – Sat 18:00 – 22:30
London, SW6 1HS Sun – Mon Closed