Victorian London - Food and Drink - Restaurants - 'Hancock's Dining Room' (Punch, 1842)


    This magnificent pile of building was erected some years back in Rupert-street, and still stands a memorable monument of the perfection to which the honest sons of the hod have carried the useful art of bricklaying.
    The progress of this celebrated structure was rather curious, and the mind is literally overwhelmed by contemplating the irresistible force with which "the business" has extended itself from the ground to the first floor, and ultimately burst out across the yard in a range of brickwork, which is commonly termed the "large room" in the conventional language of the habitual customers.
    We shall beg the reader to accompany us up the staircase, which is approached through a door, that obligingly opens either way, and thus a party going in is prevented from a collision with the party coming out by one or the other receiving intimation (in the shape of a blow on the head from the door itself) that some one is on the other side of it. Having reached the stairs, when we have ascended five or six, a pleasing delusion is practised on the visitor. He continues straight on down a small flight of ten steps, when he finds himself hemmed in between a door, a window, and a washing convenience. The latter of these is liberally fitted up with a towel of the stoutest diaper, and a square of soap may be found until about twelve o'clock, after which hour it is seldom to be met with, for it is supposed that it gets into the hands of a frequenter who is not very well off "chez lui" for the article alluded to.
    Upon getting out of the triagonal enclosure, which we have humbly endeavoured to describe, we continue our ascent of the principal (indeed, the only) staircase, and find ourselves on a commodious landing, where we are met by the seductive glances of a pair of waitresses, who seek to win us by the mute eloquence of looks to the rooms they respectively attend upon. The least pretty of the two generally attempts to make up for personal drawbacks by a rapid and luscious recital of a series of sentences down the waiter-pipe, and "one of beef," "two of veal and ham," "one of mutton, well done," "six of greens," "eight of potatoes," run through our ears with such velocity, that we rush forward almost unconsciously and find ourselves under the seductive influence of James the waiter, of the large room which we have already alluded to. This extraordinary individual is one of the most accomplished members of the profession to which he belongs, and carries everything before him by appearing not to care an execration about anything. The nonchalance with which he wipes away the crumbs, and repeats in a monotonous tone the contents of the bill of fare for the day, is regarded as one of the finest triumphs of art; and the tact with which he parenthesizes his oration, giving not only a catalogue of the joints, but a brief synopsis of their present condition, may be placed among the proudest triumphs of synthetical eloquence. We will attempt a specimen of the style we are alluding to - "Roast beef; roast lamb (very good cut); roast mutton; calf's head (just up); boiled beef; boiled leg of mutton (rather low); roast goose; roast pork (only the loin left, no leg)." The effect of this - while the crumbs are all the time being brushed gradually off - must be heard to be conceived, and it has long ranked James, of Rupert-street, as the prince of waiters at the metropolitan dining- rooms.
    We must not, however, lose sight of our interior. The building is a magnificent quadrangle, the two ends being shorter than the two sides, one of the former being appropriated to the fire-place, and the other to the door; while of the latter that on the right is intersected with windows, and that on the left is picturesquely fitted-up with an unbroken series of hat-pegs and a mahogany timepiece.
    The ground-plan of this room is divided into several compartments, each of which forms a separate box, in the middle of which is a table, supporting a decent cloth, with a water-bottle, a salt-cellar (without a spoon) and in the liberal proportion of one to three, a mustard-pot. In one corner of the room is an ingenious piece of machinery for raising the dishes; and it is calculated to hold four plates of meat with two of greens at the same instant.
    The floor is entirely laid down in the centre with a strip of strong oil-cloth, and the seats are surmounted with rich remnants of cheap but choice carpeting. In the centre of the ceiling is a chandelier, and on the chimney-piece is a small wine-glass liberally stocked with toothpicks.
    Some of the most distinguished characters of the present day are said to have been frequenters of these rooms during the early part of their career; and we could point to a well-known repetiteur in the band of one of our theatres, who, in company with the now very eminent flute who occupies at this moment a stool in a well-known orchestra, always, when he dined at all, went through that interesting but somewhat expensive ceremony at the rooms in Rupert-street. The waiter takes a melancholy pleasure in pointing out the vacant seat of the famous repetiteur; and indeed the spot is generally to be distinguished by an inverted tumbler, which James affectionately places every day exactly in front of the seat that his late exalted customer was wont to occupy.

Punch, Jan-Jun. 1842