All the way back at Christmas I was given two Groupon vouchers; one to do a chocolate class and the other to do a pasta making class. Both were located in Central and West London and were of places I had never heard of before.
On researching the chocolate one, based at the Smart School of Cookery, I felt comfortable with being able to work around my allergies and that the course would be lead by people with knowledge. It was the one I was more excited about but the overwhelming thoughts about having to go into Central London and doing the course by myself made me want to be ill.
The pasta one made me nervous just looking at the website (since updated); it looked amateurish and the appearance of it alone would have stopped me from personally booking anything. They had a different dish on offer to be cooked evevy month and every single one was either a food I detest or am allergic to and I was skeptical about being able to work around that.
Both of the vouchers loitered out of sight until my partner bargained with me, arranging them both for the same day and agreeing to come with me but it was him that got them booked.
So Saturday 11th March came around and on my one proper day off from work a week the alarm got us out of bed at 6am (just what I wanted with a 3am start for work the next day!). Leaving the house was challenging enough and not helped by needing to take a tram, a train and then the DLR just to reach the first destination.
Eventually we rolled up to West India Quay. Does anybody else find the DLR causes serious motion sickness as it zooms along? Getting to step onto solid ground and walk around was somewhat of a blessing. The venue was just a short stone throw away from the station and as there was some spare time we were able to walk slowly looking at the surrounding views.
If you ever needed a sign you have entered a bit of a wanky bit of London just look for the topiary. In the case of the stuff outside the little complex of the chocolate course it rather made me chuckle as it looked like a stretched out version of the poop emoji 💩.. I mean it is going to take ages for it to grow into an actually impressive or nice looking spiral but good luck to them!
The outside of the kitchen and shop was pretty basic and the bookcase in the window was full of various products they sell (all far too overpriced, of course) and promote at the end of the course. The only thing that interested me was a whisk that folds flat but I know so many places where they could be purchased cheaper and given how the guy doing the class was trying to rush us out of the door at the end I did not even bother asking about it.
As a group we went about making various products but it felt very rushed and like everything had to be done at a specific moment to ensure the course was completed bang on 11am. There was no real passion from the chef going through everything, especially after he said he was much more of a savoury than sweet person, and it was very clinically put together.
My responsibility stretched to chopping some after eights into 16s. He nearly picked me to do some mousse making but changed his mind and said “actually we’ll come back to you”. Little did he know I already had experience making everything on the menu and that it would not have been any form of challenge for me to do some mousse work.
Most of the food was tasty enough though my thoughts on baked banana were only further confirmed with it not being something I would personally lean towards doing. I did ask a question on if the bananas needed to be green or if they could have ripened up a bit but the response was short and snappy of them just not needing to fall apart. He was not really keen on any questions… not sure he even wanted to be there at all that day.
Because everything was using dark chocolate it was all very rich and at points a little too intense. Whilst dark chocolate is generally healthier it is also more bitter and with a combination of everything involving so much dark chocolate there was very little sweetness in the food. Even the honeycomb mainly seemed to taste of bicarb rather than having a hint of sweetness and I feel the peanut brittle would have done better if the peanuts were slightly broken up before having the caramel placed on top.
It was a weird two hours of my life and perhaps it is just because everybody else was doing it with a partner or friend that increased my feeling of discomfort but this is not something I would recommend to people. Spend an extra few pounds and instead go on a course where you get your own mini oven or workspace and actually get to take part more and more importantly with somebody that actually gives a damn about the food they are helping you to create.
So after that experience seeing my partner and being able to go and get some brunch in a local Spoons was a huge relief. Everybody in the chocolate class was going on about being full but that was because they ate so much honeycomb but it was seriously so bicarb packed I don’t know how they managed it and I left most of the banana and peanut brittle plus the fact I had been awake since 6am I was pretty hungry.
It was possibly the fanciest Spoons I have ever seen with multiple sections that could be used for function rooms. Fresh paint, airy rooms, large windows, carefully selected decor and toilets that wouldn’t look out of place in an interior design magazine. With so many seats to choose from it was easy enough to grab a quiet spot on a copper-esque table that had some fantastic ring marks from cups over the years.
I opted for the large vegetarian cooked breakfast as the bacon in a Spoons is generally disappointing. We haven’t had breakfast in a Spoons for quite some time so are unsure if they have just upped their game or if the Ledger Building suppliers just have an incredible choice in bread. It was everything you would expect but whilst eating it and a large glass of orange juice we had chance to discuss the class I had just attended as well as go on about other things that had happened during our weeks and there is something nice and comforting about actually spending a bit of quality time catching up with phones away (once this photo was taken of course).
Then we were off again via the DLR and district line to Chiswick. The venue was originally Acton but when my partner informed me it had moved to W4 I knew it was Chiswick and discovered that I had actually improved my London knowledge six months into my job.
As there was still some time to spare before heading to the venue for the pasta class we decided to go along Chiswick High Road and pop into a few shops (mainly Waterstones, Paperchase and Tiger) whilst I couldn’t help but laugh at the numerous young women leaning over flower stalls to grab an instaworthy shot before walking away and not purchasing any to the heartbreak of the stall owner. We then spent a while sitting on a couple of benches people watching; one of our favourite things to do when out and about.
Eventually it was time to head off to the Catholic Church Community Centre… though my partner received a call from the woman running the class to say she would be late and for us to pass the message on to people as they arrived so he stayed with me a while before heading down to the bar to watch the rugby.
After a while we were in the required room and things were getting set up. One thing you expect from a cookery class is a room with a sink, a proper oven and secure tables and chairs right? This room had two pianos in it, tables the required assembling and a plug for the induction hob to be plugged into. Think church function hall but ten times smaller and more pathetic!
The woman teaching us about pasta and gnocchi seemed to know her stuff and was able to share her Italian background and understanding of making pasta dishes. But she also seemed keen on the odd shortcut; pre-boiling the potatoes at home so we could promptly pell them despite it being easier to do the warmer they are and pre-making the ‘sauce’ to put on at the end.
Once I had finished ricing my cold and poorly peeled potatoes it was looking a little more promising about how the rest of the lesson would go but again communicating instructions such as how much egg and where to put it was rushed over.
She said to quickly mix the squid ink into the potatoes without overworking it and as a result I became nervous about trying to get the mixture to be roughly even in shade. By this point I was already incredibly dubious about the texture of the gnocchi and the current playdoh feeling did nothing to settle that.
An attempt was shown at how to cut and shape pieces of gnocchi but given previous times of eating the stuff I had never encountered a ridged one. Originally I assumed the ridges were to help gather up a tomato sauce that the chickpeas and prawns would be in but there was no such proper sauce to speak of.
Eventually on eating they were as disgusting as they smelled, appeared and felt to the touch. I ate a few and then, like many people, shoved the plate away a little. I got the feeling that now a lot of people understand the method they might be going away and trying recipes from elsewhere.
Whilst the classes happen in such an inadequate room there is literally no way in the room that the class could be recommended and given her approach even if a more suitable venue was found I would be fairly uncomfortable suggesting it to you.
So there we have it; I spent a day doing two cookery classes and neither of them quite lives up to my hopes and expectations.the chocolate one was better but still far from anything I would deem a success.