As we stood gazing at The Shard from the banks of the Thames, myself and the group knew we had well and truly arrived in the bustling corporate sprawl that is London. Here was the start of our 2-day adventure in the big city where we would gain invaluable knowledge and insight into the workings of just a few of the biggest names in hospitality within not just the country but on the world stage. As we headed down the Thames, some of the group with heavy eyes after just arriving off the sleeper train (well known for their lack of shut eye), we looked forward to our first experience of the day.
The first venue on our schedule was Somerset house, originally a Tudor palace turned major art and historical building. From holding a 12-person party costing £250,000 in the middle of the courtyard, to hosting the Film4 festival with roughly 80,000 covers over a 3-day span, Somerset house caters for a whole host of different events. We met up with Orla, who is part of Levy Restaurant group – the company who brings together a collection of hospitality businesses, including Somerset house as well as others we would later visit during the day. Orla gave us a tour around the building and during our visit, we got see a range of art exhibits, including part of a worldwide exhibition representing views on 80 different countries. Among many good points of the tour, I feel the most beneficial and memorable moment was meeting with Richard Robinson, Head Chef at Tom Aikens “Tom’s Kitchen” restaurant situated within Somerset house (This is where we would later return to for dinner and a good one at that!). The passion and exuberance oozed out of him as he described his journey through life, the good, the bad and everything in-between. It made me feel ever more determined to keep working hard at life and what I am dedicated to achieve.
After a quick tube journey followed by a short, brisk walk in the glowing London sunshine, we appeared at our second location for the day, HMS Belfast. Once a flagship light cruiser within the British Navy turned floating museum on the Thames, must be one of the most intriguing places to go for your work’s night out or wedding reception. Like Somerset house, not only is there a “Tom’s Kitchen” on site but plenty of opportunities to host an event steeped in a historical setting. The staff did not let the extraordinarily small kitchen or the very peculiar gangways let quality and service be affected and it even seemed they took it in their stride. Orla had organised a tour around the ship, although had forgot to mention it was filled with weird, wonderful yet sometimes scary life-sized dolls re-enacting wartime duties. This was great to see how others within the industry adapt and overcome obstacles at the workplace and still provide a good service with a smile on their face.
Final stop on the first day was the stupendously large, O2 Arena and waiting for us there was Nigel Smith, Executive Chef within the Levy group at the O2. From Disney on Ice to the Brit Awards, hot dogs to a 3-course gourmet meal, Nigel described the constant challenges his team faces in catering for any specific customer at any given time. After shouting around the large arena to test who got the best echo and having a karaoke in the Sky lounge bar, it was time for dinner! Back to Tom’s Kitchen at Somerset house where we received fantastic food and service to refuel us after a “hard” day’s work. It was time to chill and reflect on our day before getting ready for Day 2.
10AM the next morning and after waiting for a few slow risers at the hotel reception, we were back on the road again. This time our destination was the esteemed Buckingham Palace. Still in doubt that we were going to see around the Queen’s house, we arrived right as the changing of guard was taking place where thousands gazed through the fences, cameras at the ready to snap one of the most symbolic actions to occur within the British Isles. As we waded through the many onlookers, our guide for the day was waiting for us and only after a brisk security check, we were standing within the walls of the Palace. One room after another, each as elegant and regal as the next, we were shown places which seemed just too grand to be real. Mark Flanagan, full title a mouth full, Royal Chef and Assistant to the Master of the Household at The Royal Household, provided an insight of life in service to the Queen. The kitchen that is truly fit for a Queen, the wine cellar larger than my house! There are so few words that seem fitting to describe the fascinating sights in the Palace. Mark unfortunately failed to budge on the stance to not tell us the Queen’s favourite meal was but invaluable tips in how to entertain some of the most powerful people in the world. Whilst still treating them the same as your average citizen who could be invited to a state dinner was one of few of my favourite moments!
Reflecting on the trip to London, I feel so grateful that I was given a chance to see these wonderful venues, meet so many delightful people and in general have an amazing learning experience with fellow friends. No amount of thanks to the organisers from both the apprenticeship and the venues feels adequate to what we got to see during the trip!
Scottish Apprentice in Hospitality – Skibo Castle