Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Scotch Egg Challenge, 25th September

“No tickets, no entry fee, no reservations, and as many Scotch eggs as you can eat”. The Scotch Egg Challenge at The Ship promises much but failed to deliver. The idea is good, and I still like it, but the execution was severely lacking. This was only it’s second year and I’m sure it will get bigger and bigger. I hope it also gets better.

I’d been hearing about it on twitter for ages, and then on Monday decided to actually look up what and when it was. Turned out it was the very next day and I didn’t think I could go, so I put it on my List for next year. However, late Tuesday afternoon my boyfriend said he could get out of his plans early, so we could try to get there for 8. And this is what we did.

Perhaps we didn’t get as much out of it as we could have because we arrived late, and I admit, ended up leaving before the end. By the time we arrived, the room in which the eggs were being cooked and plated up, and the room in which the judges were sat, were seething masses. It was clear that our chances of getting any of the eggs being cooked were slim-to-none. Everyone was crowded around the two areas where eggs were likely to be ‘gettable’ - the service counter, and the judges, meaning you couldn’t see much of either. The only people who seemed to be relaxed and had eggs that looked like they might even be going spare, were the people who had reserved tables – the PR, press and sponsors.

For everyone else it was a free-for-all.

The crowd getting ready to pounce

The challenge is between 20 or so (I think this year it was 22) chefs/establishments to create and make the best scotch eggs. Condiments and accoutrements are allowed but will not be judged. The merit of the egg is judged on the egg alone. I was able to see the judges’ scorecards and they had three categories – taste, texture and appearance. This might well have been explained at the beginning of the night, but as I said, we were late.

Each team gets 15 minutes in the kitchen which must be strictly adhered to. They are to cook 2 eggs for the judges and then 10 extra eggs for the throng. Each egg is cut into at least 4. That’s around 880 pieces of egg for the public. It should have been more than enough for the numbers that were there. It could almost have been ‘as many Scotch eggs as you can eat’. Unfortunately it was more like ‘no Scotch eggs for you, unless you’re standing by the counter, refusing to move even after you’ve had some, in which case you get as many as you like’.

I have been to a few things where free food is on offer. It makes me question society and humans as individuals. What is it about free food that makes people turn into hyenas squabbling over a morsel of carrion? Things got heated at the Shoreditch Literary Salon for free pizza, but last night was a whole new level. Platters would be practically snatched out of whichever unfortunate (or fortunate) it was first handed to. We saw not once, but twice, people stooping to the ground to pick up the scotch eggs that had landed there after everyone had assaulted the person with the platter so aggressively, it had been surrendered to the mob and fallen. Seriously people – eating off the ground?! And it’s not like these are deprived people. I would say most of the people there were squarely middle class to whom a posh scotch egg was probably pretty standard fare of an evening spent sipping craft beers. But it was free, and therefore civility went out the window. This will always be a problem when the system assumes people will take a share and then move on for people to get their go. People are greedy, and when the next offering is slightly different to the first, second, etc, they will want a piece of that too. The system falls down.

The best place I’ve been that offers free food was Are you Sitting Comfortably? which gives attendees free chip butties. You’re asked if you want one when you come in, and when you’re seated, one is brought to you. Supremely fair and well organised. Could something like this be done at the Scotch Egg Challenge? I think so. Instead of letting the eggs come out batch by batch, maybe they could keep them all behind and then, during the 20 minute break, set up the 400-plus portions of scotch eggs on a table, buffet style. I think people’s queuing instincts would kick in and they would be far less inclined to take more than one or two quarters when everyone can see them, and when everyone is reassured that most people will get some. This could then be done towards the end of the evening as well for the remaining 440 portions. Or even saving up three or four batches at a time and having people mill through the crowd with them would avoid the bottle-necking and savage lunging.

This would also mean that people actually concentrated on the judging, rather than anxiously looking around, distracted by worrying they are missing out on the free stuff. Because isn’t the judging what it is supposed to be about? Before I even got there I had resigned myself to likely not getting any egg (and I didn’t) but I hoped to enjoy the competition.

Even this was a bit of a letdown. The judges were sitting down, barely visible amongst the standing observers. After each egg, they didn’t even really comment on it (unless the compere happened to ask one of them a direct question). They just quietly wrote down their scores on their own piece of paper. Unless you were standing right by them, you didn’t know what that score was. It would have been nice if the judges had a bit of a raised dias to eat on, and for their scores to be projected, or at least called out so that there was more focus on this. Behind the judges there was a screen so people watching the judging could still see what was going on in the kitchen, but I think that, if you made more of the judging (I hate to condone X Factor, but a bit more like that), then it should be the other way around.

The eggs are judged ‘blind’ so that the judges can’t favour a particular chef or restaurant, which is kind of a shame for the rest of us as you don’t know who you’re watching in action. But they are told what each egg is made with. I wanted to take a picture of the scorecard to remember all the different types but my camera battery let me down. Some of them sounded amazing, and the one egg we managed to get a good glimpse of looked amazing too. This was created with truffled ham, chips, duck egg and more truffled something. It looked amazing when it was cut into as well. I NEED to find out who made that egg! Presumably all is revealed at the end of the night, when the trophies are presented but for Stephen really took against the evening and demanded we leave early. If I find out that the end of the night turned into some kind of free egg orgy I shall be sorely disappointed. But please do tell me if it did, as all will be forgiven and I will be sure to go next year!

On a positive note, the Ship seemed like a lovely pub, with a barbie going full swing in the vast beer garden. Definitely a place to bear in mind for whenever summer graces us again. And Oliver Peyton was there, which can never be a bad thing.


  1. My fiance @bladeboneinn made that egg you rave about! And he won!x

  2. How excellent! I must admit I didn't see many of the other eggs, but that one looked truly deserving. Congratulations to him! I hope it goes on the menu - I'll be seeking it out if it does!

  3. Hello. I am sorry you had a less than enjoyable experience and I appreciate your objectivity and good intentions but I think you are being unkind to the hosts who put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to ensure the event went as smoothly as possible. I was present at the 2011 event and I can assure you that this year's event was a great improvement. Furniture had been removed and cameras installed along with a PA system. Entrants were also required to submit double the number of eggs from last year. 23 x 12 = 276 - 46 for the 5 judges who, incidentally, shared some with audience too. The fatal flaw in the proceedings is that the sharing plates have to originate from the same point and understandably this is why people congregated close to the service counter. The service staff could have made greater use of covered platters perhaps but I suspect this may have caused a greater commotion as the 'ruck' would follow wherever the platter went. Sadly, people behave differently at free events possibly because they are less appreciable. There is another school of thought that suggests free events attract a greater number of people on lower incomes who lack social graces that many people come to expect but I will leave that for the Sociologists to discuss. Personally, I would have paid £5-£10 for a ticket in recognition of the investment put in by the entrants themselves. I estimate the ingredients alone for 12 top quality scotch eggs cost £40-£50. The moral of the tale is to plan ahead and arrive early.

    Best wishes. Paul B
    (at) billsykesdog

    1. Hi Paul

      It sounds like you and I actually agree on a fair number of things – that people behave appallingly when they get stuff for free and what the flaw in the whole procedure was. I think it’s fair to say that a bit of forethought might have prevented this. I was by the judges when they shared some of their eggs, but it could in no way compensate for the rest of the room either not getting any, or having to throw themselves into the scrum!

      Interesting point about free events, though I think in this case, judging by the crowd it seemed to attract, probably not so relevant. In my experience, there is no difference in social class when it comes to getting your mitts on free stuff – it is a very equalizing affair – everyone behaves like savages! :)

      To address your last point, an example: Wahaca recently gave away burritos, and with something like that, yeah, I totally agree - you should get there early if you want to get anything, expect to queue and also probably expect it not to be the greatest burrito you’ve ever had as they struggle to deal with demand. But Wahaca giving away burritos is a marketing gimmick. To appropriate one of your pointes, what with the amount of effort and creativity (and expense) that the competitors went through, I felt that this moved the Scotch Egg Challenge beyond gimmick for the Ship to a proper event (especially as the idea is not to grab your egg and leave, but to stick around for the whole evening). Although I did suspect that arriving late would mean missing out, they did say ‘as many eggs as you can eat’ which would suggest that it didn’t matter what time you arrived, there would be more than enough to go around (again, I stress, I was skeptical of this, but still, if you say it, you should deliver it.) If I were putting on an event, I would want people to come away from it saying “That was amazing – and I can’t believe it was free!” Not, “That was crap, but what do you expect when it’s free?”

      I don’t think I am being unkind when it comes to how much time and effort the hosts did actually put in (but maybe you have some insider knowledge). I am going to make some assumptions on this, but I would guess that The Ship was responsible for running the event. They wouldn’t have had to outlay anything for the kitchen/venue, nor presumably for the chefs as they were part of a competition, not working. They installed a camera, screen and PA system. They could easily have had this already, being a pub, but if not then this could easily be used again and thus seen as an investment and not that much trouble. Even saying that this year they moved the furniture is a bit flimsy – I don’t put on events but even I know to move the furniture in my flat out of the way if I have a party.

      I might also mention how they benefitted from this event and how that should incentivise them to have planned better but this is already way longer than I meant it to be!

      You say this year was a great improvement on last year. Hopefully that means next year will be better still, and they won’t underestimate a) how many people are likely to be there and b) how much the public needs to be kept in check, when free stuff means social mores are thrown out the window.

      I do agree with you in that I wouldn’t have minded paying a small fee to attend. I really love the idea (and love Scotch eggs). I think there is a lot of potential for this to turn into a worthy London tradition.

    2. 'There is another school of thought that suggests free events attract a greater number of people on lower incomes who lack social graces that many people come to expect but I will leave that for the Sociologists to discuss.'

      There's another school of thought that suggests people on lower incomes couldn't give a fuck about travelling half-way across London to sample a gourmet scotch egg!

  4. I can totally agree with this post. Girlfriend and I stayed to see the first two eggs (we got to The Ship by 6pm), then moved to the sanctuary of the beer garden. I don't know what the staff must've thought when they brought out each platter to the crowd - feeding time at the zoo?

    We did manage to have one of The Ship's own Major Scotch Eggs ordered from the BBQ outside, it was pretty good. Seemed like a nice pub overall, I will be going back but maybe when there's no free food on offer!

    1. Yes, me and my boyfriend liked the pub too. It's a bit far from us, but definitely somewhere we'll now bear in mind if we're over that way, especially if it's sunny.


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