The simplicity of the great temples of gormandizing in the metropolis,- I
mean, of course, the CITY,-is exceedingly gratifying to the man of taste. Let
West-End dining-rooms, Haymarket supperhouses, and “dead meal " shops
boast their carpeted floors, cushioned seats, and mirrored walls, as a set-off
to their thin soups, stale fishes, and besteamed roast meats; give me the
saw-dust floor, the bare bench, the naked walls, the turtle, venison, and
oyster-pies of Birch's. You enter the shop of Colonel Pattypan, as the profane
termed the gallant alderman, whose name still lives immortal in Cornhill ; there
is no show, no set-out of coloured comfits, or stale confectionery; on the
counter reposes, patiently, and with the resignation of a martyr awaiting
execution, the royal turtle, monarch of the cargo ; he weighs - we are ashamed
to say how much he weighs ;
" He lies like a warrior taking his rest,
With his tortoise shell around him."
You pass through the kitchen; beautiful are the coppers, the redbrick ovens, the hot plates; none of your back-kitchens, shoved away in the rear of the house, as if unworthy of sight or smell. Birch's kitchen stands next to his shop in position, as in fame.
Then, the soup-room; no nonsense; no gilding on the gingerbread ; clean, scrupulously clean, neat but not gaudy, are all the appointments of the turtle-room ; glasses of fair water, and plates of toasted crusts, with white table-cloths, are all you see before you. That gurgling noise in the dark corner beyond the skylight expresses the enjoyment of a fat old gentleman over his plate of soup ; and the slight accidental hiccup behind the door, from the lady with the ermine muff and tippet, is the result of a mistake on the part of our waiter, in making the second glass of punch a leetel stiffish, or so. I like to know the price of a folly beforehand ; though the money in my pocket, as I sat in Birch's soup-room, was nearly at a white heat, I could not resist asking the price of a plate of soup.
I dashed through the kitchen, and out of shop-door, like a flash of lightning.
John Fisher Murray, The Physiology of London Life , in Bentley's Miscellany, 1844