Victorian London - Food and Drink - Restaurants, incl. hotels, taverns, chop-houses - City eating places

The luncheon-time alone was fruitful of delights. When I first joined the service [of the Post Office, ed.] the luncheons were procured from neighbouring taverns; but Colonel Maberly's sense of the fitness of things was annoyed by encountering strange persons wandering through the lobbies, balancing tin-covered dishes and bearing foaming pewter-pots. Rumours were current of his having been seen waving his arms "hishing" back a stalwart potman, who, not knowing his adversary, declined to budge. Anyhow, these gentry were refused further admission, and a quarter of an hour - a marvellously elastic quarter of an hour - was allowed us in which to go and procure luncheon at a neighbouring restaurant.
    There were plenty of these to choose from. For the aristocratic and the well-to-do there was Dolly's Chop House, up a little court out of Newgate Street: a wonderful old room, heavy-panelled, dark, dingy, with a female portrait which we always understood to be "Dolly" on the walls ; with a head waiter in a limp white neckcloth, with a pale face and sleek black hair, who on Sundays was a verger at St. Paul's; but with good joints, and steaks and chops and soups served in a heavy old-fashioned manner at a stiff old-fashioned price.
    Almost equally grand, but conforming more to modern notions, was the Cathedral Hotel at the corner of St. Paul's Churchyard, where there was a wonderful waiter with a graduated scale of gratitude, on which we were always experimenting and imitating. Thus, for the donation of a penny, he, looking uncomfortable, would mutter, "Thenk, sir;" for two-pence he would audibly remark, "Thank you, sir ;" for three-pence he would make a grand bow, and say, " Thank you, sir; I'm 'blaiged to you." He never varied his programme, though we often tried him. Only last year I saw him, very little changed, walking on the esplanade at Worthing, and looking at the sea as though he regarded it rather as a penny customer. At the Cathedral, too, was an old gentleman, a regular habitué, who, as I am afraid he was, a Radical, delighted in the perpetration of one mild joke. He would secure the Morning Herald, the Tory organ of those days, and when he had perused it would hand the paper to his opposite neighbour with a bow, and the observation, "Would you like to read any lies, sir ?"
    We impecunious juniors, however, ventured seldom into these expensive establishments. For us there were cheaper refectories, two of which achieved great celebrity in their day: Ball's Alamode Beef House in Butcher Hall Lane - I believe Butcher Hall Lane has disappeared in the City improvements, but it used to run at right angles with Newgate Street, near the eastern end of Christ's Hospital - where was to be obtained a most delicious "portion" of stewed beef done up in a sticky, coagulated, glutinous gravy of surpassing richness; and Williams's Boiled Beef House in the Old Bailey, which was well known throughout London, and where I have often seen the great old Bailey advocates of those days, Messrs. Clarkson and Bodkin, discussing their "fourpenny plates." Williams's was a place to be "done" by anyone coming up for the London sights; and there were always plenty of country squires and farmers, and occasionally foreigners, to be I found there, though the latter did not seem to be much I impressed with the excellence of the cuisine. In those days, too, we used to lunch at places which seem entirely to have disappeared. The "Crowley's Alton Ale-house" is not so frequently met, with as it was thirty years ago. The "alehouses" were, in fact, small shops fitted with a beer-engine and a counter; they had been established by Mr. Crowley, a brewer of Alton, on finding the difficulty of procuring ordinary public-houses for the sale of his beer; and at them was sold nothing but beer, ham sandwiches, bread and cheese, but all of the very best. They were exceedingly popular with young men who did not particularly care about hanging round the bars of taverns, and did an enormous trade; but that was in the pre-Spiers & Pond days; and, I am bound to say, all the facilities for obtaining refreshments, and generally speaking the refreshments themselves, have vastly improved since then.

Edmund Yates, His Recollections and Experiences, 1885
[chapter on 1847-1855]