David, the co-owner, was hosting the class. He explained to us that the purposes of putting these classes on were for people who really appreciated food, to show the skill of butchery and how much work is put into those lovely, well-presented morsels of meat in restaurants. He knows what he's talking about too; Allens is London's oldest butcher, and they supply meat to many of London's restaurants like Le Gavroche. He then deftly showed us a whole lamb butchered in about 5 minutes flat; it was seriously impressive. It was all about the skill in knowing where to cut and where to make precise incisions, moving the lamb around him as he worked his way round. Myths of butchery being a macho, testosterone-fuelled muscle competition were debunked when David told us not a lot of strength was required; just knowledge.
After a few health and safety tips, we got stuck into portioning up a chicken. I am rather ashamed to say I've not done this before, but under David's watchful eye, it was surprisingly easy.
Legs were carved off with the oysters,and wings were removed. We were instructed how to carve the breasts off as supremes, perfect for chicken kievs.
We were each then presented with a whole oxtail. Each joint on the tail is the same size, and if your super-sharp knife doesn't glide through it easily, you're going wrong. I went wrong a few times and David's colleague, Michael, patiently helped me along.
Next, we were to portion up a French-trimmed rack of lamb. David demonstrated it to us and it looked like hard work; there were saws involved. I told myself to stop being such a wimp and before long, I was sawing my way through with determination. Bones were scraped, fat was trimmed off and I was left with a new skill and a seriously good-looking piece of meat.
I knew something of the complexities of aging meat after The Hawksmoor steak tasting, and David explained that at Allens, all their beef is aged on the animal. They go to great lengths to ensure their meat is aged well so that no mould grows on it and you're left with impeccable product. After sniffing the deep beefiness of the fillet on the left, I was astounded when, as a treat, we were presented with a 3 bone piece of sirloin to take off the bone for a roasting joint. Knives started slicing away with myself in particular fretting over whether I was doing it right. It's not a cheap cut and I was very nervous.
Gristle was sliced off, knots were demonstrated (a few times - they're tricky little things) and I was left with my masterpiece.
Roughly an hour and a half later, our lesson was over. Time passed quickly; David is a natural host, the other butchers helping out were entertaining and accomodating. I had such a good time and really surprised myself by overcoming my squeamishness. All the meat we had butchered ourselves was wrapped up and bagged for us to take home - it's a serious haul and the bags strained at my fingers. The chicken carcass is bubbling away into stock as I type and I know for the next couple of weeks I will be eating extremely well.
If you're a fan of meat (and why wouldn't you be?), I suggest you book yourself in immediately. At £100 it may seem dear, but given that you take a haul of meat home - what type and cut changes, especially according to the seasons - and you learn some valuable lessons. We all left grinning and plotting what to do with our treasure; it's well worth it. For more details visit their website.
Allens of Mayfair
117 Mount Street,
London W1K 3LA
Tel: 020 7499 5831
Read other accounts HERE and HERE.
Flickr stream of the course is HERE.