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Robert Burns

Burns night in London: Let’s party the Scottish way!

By Berlioz Deborah

Burns Night is a time for commemorating national poet Robert Burns' life and work. The event takes place on 25th January each year, on the writer’s birthday, and is traditionally celebrated with poetry, song, and a hearty Burns Supper.

An old Scottish tradition

Bagpipe player
Bagpipe player

“But who is this Robert Burns and why his birthday more than 200 years after his death?” the French would probably ask. Such ignorance would undoentubtedly shock, and potentially even insult some Scots… Robert Burns is in fact their national poet, their bard, their national pride and joy (yes, he even comes ahead of Nessie) and it is practically impossible to count the number of books, poems and websites dedicated to him.

Though he died in 1796 at the age of 37 in the direst poverty, this poetic genius left us numerous poems, songs and letters. Hailed as the Ploughman’s poet because of the recurrent theme of pastoral pleasures in his work, Burns is often regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement. But he is, above all, the best known poet to have written in the scottish language, and therefor a matter of national cultural pride.

The first Burns Suppers were organized a few years after his death by a group of his friends and acquaintances to honour his memory. Through the years, it became a real institution of Scottish life, and such a part of national identity that the suppers now occur all over the world, wherever scots and Burns lovers are to be found.

Haggis and whisky
Haggis and whisky

So in what exactly does this supper consist? In fact, Burns suppers can range from an informal gathering of friends to a huge, formal dinner. But there are some indispensable key elements. First you should not forget it is a Scottish night! So you can’t avoid bagpipes and whisky! But the central element of the Supper remains the Haggis, a Scottish speciality made of a sheep’s stomach bag filled the ends of the animal (lungs, liver and heart), onions and oatmeal. Not for the faint of heart (and stomach).Finally, no Burns Supper would be complete without the recital of “Ode to the Haggis”, a poem in which Burns celebrated this special dish.

Such celebration does not exist on the other side of the Channel. In fact, French people do not have any official national writers or poets. Of course, we are very proud of a lot of our authors, such as Victor Hugo or Emile Zola, but none really have the status of national icon, and above all, none are celebrated as Burns is in Scotland. It is quite strange actually when we know how French people love to boast about their "culture" and their language. So, if one writer should be France's national one, which one do you think it should be?


Where to celebrate Burns Night in London?

This year is the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth, so expect some extra special celebrations in honour of Scotland’s favourite son. So, if you want to party in the Scottish way, just follow France in London's lead!



This Scottish restaurant will celebrate the birth of the poet with a five-course gourmet supper, along with all the traditional Burns Night displays, including a piper to pipe in the haggis. After dinner, you will enjoy some Ceilidh dancing and customary Celtic tunes. Booking necessary.

Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 January from 5pm

Location: Albannach, 66 Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DS

Tel: 020 7930 0066

Prices: from £125 (inclusive menu and matching beverages)



Boisdale of Belgravia
Boisdale of Belgravia

Lasting from Monday 19 to Wednesday 28 January, Boisdale’s celebrations will make you believe you are really in Scotland. Expect all the classic Burns Night’s traditions, counting bagpipes, set menus featuring Scottish sourced ingredients and plenty of whisky. Reservations are required. 

From 19 to Wednesday 28 January, from 7pm

Location: Boisdale of Belgravia, 15 Eccleston Street, London SW1W 9LX

Tel:  020 7730 6922

Prices: set menus from £47.50 to £69, including a noggin of whisky with the haggis



Finborough Theatre

Finborough Theatre
Finborough Theatre

The Finborough Theatre will serve up a lovely and cheap Burns Night with a traditional three-course meal, including Scotch broth, Haggis and Scottish cheese (a vegetarian menu is also available), plus music and poetry from the Live Canon Ensemble.

Sunday 25 January at 7.30 pm

Location: Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED

Tel: 020 7244 7439

Prices: £28, conc. £24


Ceilidh Club Burns Night

Ceilidh Club
Ceilidh Club

If you are looking for a cheap venue where you can both eat and dance, the Ceilidh Club’s Burns Night’s events are just what you need. The association will hold four separate events between Friday 23 and Saturday 31 January at Hammersmith Town Hall. And since dancing could make you hungry, there will be plenty of haggis, neeps and tatties included in the price of the tickets.

Frday 23, Saturday 24, Friday 30 and Saturday 31 January

Location: Hammersmith Town Hall

Prices: £20, conc. £10




Some recipes to prepare your own Burns Supper

And what about celebrating Burns Night at home? You’ll just need some good friends, a CD of Scottish music, a good bottle of whisky and, of course, the haggis. Here are the recipes you will need to prepare a perfect Burns Supper.

The Haggis 

Haggis with neeps and tattis
Haggis with neeps and tattis

The quantities of suet, onions and oatmeal, below, vary according to the size of the pluck.


1 sheep's stomach bag and pluck (heart, liver, lungs and windpipe)

250g-1kg/½lb-2lb pinhead oatmeal, or a mixture of medium and pinhead

125g-500g/4oz-1lb suet, finely chopped

4 onions, finely chopped

2-4 tbsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp dried mixed herbs, or 2 tsp chopped fresh herbs


1. Begin the day before you want to cook the haggis. Wash the stomach bag in cold water, scrape and clean well. Place into a large bowl of clean, cold water.

2. Wash the pluck and place it into a pan of boiling water. Let the windpipe lie over the side of the pan and place a small jar underneath to catch the drips. Simmer gently until all parts are tender - this depends on the age of the animal but is usually between one and two hours.

3. Place the cooked pluck into a large basin, cover with the cooking liquid and leave overnight.

4. The next day, preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

5. For the stuffing, spread the oatmeal out on a baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and toast for around ten minutes, or until thoroughly dried out but not browned.

6. Drain the pluck, reserving the cooking liquid. Cut the windpipe off and discard, along with any skin and black parts. Chop or mince the heart and lungs and grate the liver. Place into a large bowl and mix well.

7. Add the toasted oatmeal, suet, onions, salt, pepper, herbs and about 570ml/1 pint of the liquid the pluck was boiled in and mix well.

8. Drain the stomach bag. Fill the bag to just over half full with the stuffing mixture. Press out the air, sew up the top of the bag and prick with a long needle.

9. Place the haggis into boiling water and simmer for three hours, pricking with a needle again when it swells. Alternatively, the bag may be cut into several pieces to make smaller haggis, in which case cook for only 1½-2 hours.

10. Serve hot with 'neeps', 'tatties' and a glass of good blended whisky.

The bashed neeps 



500g/1lb 2oz yellow turnips (swede), trimmed and peeled

2 tbsp butter

1 tsp freshly grated ginger or pinch ground ginger

salt and freshly ground white pepper

handful fresh chives, chopped, to serve


1. Place the swede into a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook until tender.

2. Drain the swede and return to the pan. Place over a very low heat for a few minutes, stirring, to remove the excess moisture.

3. Add the butter and ginger to the pan and stir well. Cook for a few minutes, then mash with a potato masher until smooth. Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground white pepper.

4. To serve, place onto serving plates and sprinkle over the chives.

Chappit tatties 

Tatties (mashed potatoes with greens)
Tatties (mashed potatoes with greens)


For the greens


1 large handful nettle tops, chopped, OR

1 small handful fresh chives, chopped, OR

6 spring onions, finely chopped, OR

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, OR

1 large handful fresh peas, or frozen (defrosted) peas

300ml/½ pint milk

For the mashed potatoes

1kg/2¼lb floury potatoes, cooked, peeled and mashed

125g/4½oz butter, plus extra, to serve

salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. For the greens, place your chosen greens into a small saucepan with the milk and simmer gently for a few minutes until tender. Alternatively, add the greens to the heated milk and only warm through, or warm the milk and leave the greens raw.

2. Place the milk and greens into a pan with the mashed potato and butter. Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper and place over a low heat. Cook the mixture, stirring well, for a few minutes, until smooth.

3. To serve, place servings of the tatties onto warm plates. Make a dip in the top of each portion and place a knob of butter into it to melt, 'Irish style', if desired.

And don't forget, if you're going to do it, you might as well go the whole way and sing its praise with Robert Burns' very own words...


 Ode To A Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,                 cheerful

Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!

Aboon them a' ye tak your place,                 Above

Painch, tripe, or thairm:                                 paunch/guts

Weel are ye wordy of a grace worthy

As lang's my arm.


The groaning trencher there ye fill,

Your hurdies like a distant hill,                             buttocks

Your pin wad help to mend a mill                         skewer

In time o' need,

While thro' your pores the dews distil

Like amber bead.


His knife see rustic Labour dight,                         wipe

An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,                         skill

Trenching your gushing entrails bright                     Digging

Like onie ditch;

And then, O what a glorious sight,

Warm-reekin, rich!                                                 -steaming


Then, horn for horn, they strech an' strive:             spoon

Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,

Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve,                 bellies/soon

Are bent like drums;

Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,                     burst

'Bethanket!' hums.


Is there that owre his French ragout

Or olio that wad staw a sow,                                 sicken

Or fricassee wad mak her spew

Wi' perfect sconner,                                             disgust

Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view

On sic a dinner?



Poor devil! see him owre his trash,

As feckless as a wither'd rash,                         weak/rush

His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,

His nieve a nit;                                                 fist/nut

Thro' bluidy flood or field to dash,

O how unfit!


But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,

The trembling earth resounds his tread.

Clap in his walie nieve a blade,                             choice

He'll make it whissle;

An' legs, an' arms, an' heads will sned,                     trim

Like taps o' thrissle. tops/thistle


Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,

And dish them out their bill o'fare,

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware                     watery

That jaups in luggies;                                 splashes/porringers

But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,

Gie her a Haggis!


06/03/2012 - front said :

Hi Lucy,I don't know if you remember me, I mieelad you a bit about home educating and I joined noshed, however I ended up enrolling my little girl in Primary school. I've now been revisiting the idea a bit and wondered if you could email me so I can pick your brains a bit, specifically about HE in our area. (If it helps to jog your memory, we met at the Lighthouse museum with a few other families!) I think you should be able to see my email address but if not, post on here and I'll add it.Amber

23/01/2009 - magnificent_moosettina said :

I've had many a better "French Ragout" than haggis. They vary considerably in flavour, some sweet, some bitter, some tastelesss, some peppery (The haggis 'no the ragout!).
Nevertheless everyone should try at least one Burns Night in their life. Perhaps the only French equivalent is "ortelans"- illegal it appears, as a mythic meal!
Good article, glad to know as half Scottish, there is life left in the "Auld Alliance"!


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