I’m not sure what madness transpired to make the both of us think this would be a hilarious way to spend a decent amount of cash, but I found myself in the weeks before my guy’s visit eagerly booking seats for two at London’s Medieval Banquet.
Neither of us had ever been to one of those Medieval Times-style restaurants in North America. Neither of us were Dark Ages nerds (though I did like the HBO Game of Thrones series a lot). Neither of us even particularly cared or liked participatory theater dinner experiences. And yet I called two or three times to confirm our Sunday night booking and one of the first things he said to me after stepping off the plane was “Can’t wait to eat… like KINGS!”
I don’t really know how to structure or review the experience because it was both thrilling and underwhelming. I still can’t tell if I enjoyed it or not, or if I would ever do it again. It definitely left an impression – I’ve been thinking about it every day since… but whether that’s because it was fun or because I feel it could have been done so much better is still up for grabs.
But before I go off starting my own medieval restaurant chain… I present: The Experience – Time lined.
5:30pm We arrive and are given the option to wear “medieval costumes” to get into the spirit of the night. They’re £10 each. We say yes, of course. My guy finds leftover food stains on his first choice. The girl dresses are in slightly better condition, though the one I end up choosing turns out to be slightly itchy. But that’s fine – being mildly uncomfortable was a hallmark of the time period!
A fun note: the person taking my reservation accidentally took my last name down as “Charles” – funny, I’m sure I had spelled it out to them over the phone… but I dig it, the name Elaine Charles sounds quite Olde English. Or at least British romance novel writer-ish.
6:10pm The dinner gets off to a late-ish start. We’ve been stuck between a Russian couple who looks like they have no idea what they’re doing here and one older guy from Oregon who must be vastly understating his enthusiasm for Medieval dinners because I can not believe anyone would want to try this out on their own. Apples and a giant hunk of bread sit in the middle of the table. We’re not sure if they’re for eating or decoration.
A man plays Handel on a piano off to the side.
“Isn’t that a little… anachronistic?”
“The fact that we have utensils is anachronistic.”
Luckily, the ale and wine has arrived – and it’s all you can drink! Nothing helps reduce the awkwardness of sitting in an itchy rented dress among complete strangers than a little ale and wine. Especially when, after some light conversation you realize the Russian couple doesn’t really understand English and the man from Oregon doesn’t seem comfortable looking people in the eye. I immediately down a couple glasses.
6:30pm The first course arrives, along with an explanations of how to act medieval (yell wench! bang your fists on the table!) and a singing introduction from the restaurant staff. The first course is a brown vegetable mash soup and that giant hunk of bread.
7:00pm Here comes the Cold Cuts course! Well.. first we’re treated to a singing King Henry VIII and acrobatics – apparently every course must come out only after we’ve seen some singing, dancing and an acrobatic show. Look at how flexible the ladies were back then!
I have to admit, when I first saw that cold cuts were on the menu, I was picturing a big spread we could pick at throughout the night. It was a little disappointing to instead just get this spoonful of stuff:
What you’re seeing is roast beef, some form of tart British cheese, smoked ham and a pate on top.
7:30pm More singing! More acrobatics! Sometimes happening at the same time!
And then… our main course: Chicken and Potatoes. I’ve never been to a Renaissance Faire but I was under the impression that the only appropriate Medieval meal is a giant turkey leg that you grab and smear all over your face. Eating chicken and potatoes with a knife and fork just doesn’t feel like it’s bringing out my inner Tudor.
8pm There is no jousting, but there is a knight fight.We’re asked to support one of the two knights fighting before they begin their test of skills. I pick the guy on the right because he tried to make conversation with us before the dinner began and man, you’ve got to support that dedication to what must be one of the most embarrassing jobs in the restaurant industry.
8:15pm And shortly after the knight fight, it’s time for dessert: Fruit compote and clotted cream.
Soon after, we’re told to get up and dance in a circle with all the performers and as soon as that dance is done, Rihanna starts playing. Apparently it’s time to either be drunk enough to use the Medieval Banquet as a night club… or leave. We choose to leave.
So yeah. To be fair, there were a lot of highlights: the staff was genuinely nice – and seemed surprisingly happy to be there. Same goes for some of the other customers, who really got into the whole costume and fist banging and hooting. The performers did have talent. Also fine: the wine.
Still, I didn’t think I came in with expectations, but obviously I had some and they weren’t really met. And I think most of those expectations centered around the food. Honestly, I’m not asking a themed restaurant to give me something Michelin-starred – but there were so many menu tweaks that would’ve made this more of an experience than a lady hula hooping and that I can’t imagine cost much more. Grapes would’ve been more fun to grab at than apples (and nuts even more so). We didn’t really need cold cuts individually served, just let us cut the cheese and pate ourselves. Roast the chicken rather than braise it so that we don’t even need utensils.
Wait a second… this gives me a good idea for my next dinner party… hmmmmmmm.
Medieval Banquet // Ivory House, St Katharine Docks UK E1W 1BP // telephone: 020 7480 5353