A Jewish charity fundraising dinner came to an abrupt end when a fire broke out at Camden Stables Market , north London, last night.
Langdon, an organisation which helps people with learning difficulties, was hosting a young professionals dinner for 110 guests at Shaka Zulu restaurant when a blaze was discovered at 8pm.
The restuarant was evacuated as fire-fighters dealt with the flames, with the guests looking on from the pavement outside
Sara Glaser, who organised the dinner, said: “The smoke was ferocious and all we could see was a huge ball of fire.
“The flames were twice the height of the building. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen."
The guests had just been seated when fire marshals entered and told them to leave.
Ms Glaser said: “We’d just told them to tuck into their starter. No alarm was sounded - the marshals just came in so quickly. At first I think we all just thought it was a drill.
“The restaurant is in the basement of the building and as we made our way out up the fire escape the smoke became really noticeable.
“The smell was potent and the higher we got the more we realised how serious it was.
“It was worrying. Among our party were some pregnant women.”
Ten fire engines and 72 fire-fighters tackled the blaze, with a total of 600 people told to leave the surrounding area. No casualties were reported.
London Fire Brigade borough commander Richard Welch said: “When fire-fighters arrived they were faced with a fire in a range of shops under railway arches and the smoke could be seen from miles around.
“Fire-fighters worked hard to bring the blaze under control and stop it spreading further.”
Reports suggest the blaze was started by an electrical fault at the rear of a store in one of the nearby railway arches.
Ms Glaser said: “It is amazing no one was hurt - the staff of the restaurant and the fire brigade were fantastic.
“We just hope we can rearrange our dinner and the fundraising isn’t effected.”
The South African-themed restaurant is in part of the Camden Stables Market recently purchased by Israeli tycoon Teddy Sagi in a deal worth more than 2.3 billion.
The market on the opposite side of Chalk Farm Road was struck by a major fire in February 2008.