Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 4 - Romano's

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CHAPTER IV

ROMANO’S

SOMETIMES after a period of depression one wants a tonic in dinners, as one does in health. My gastronomic malady had been a family feast at which I had sat next to a maiden aunt who, after telling me that I was getting unpleasantly fat, recounted anecdotes of my infancy and childhood all tending to prove that I was the most trouble­some baby and worst conducted small boy that ever was. Something had to be done to banish that maiden aunt and her anecdotes from my memory. The happy thought came to me that, as the antidote, I had better, as I wanted cheering up, ask Miss Dainty, of the principal London theatres, to be kind enough to come out and dine at any time and at any restaurant she chose to name. I sent my humble invitation by express early in the day, and received her answer by telegram "Yes. Romano’s. Eight. See I have my pet table. I have been given a beautiful poodle — Dainty. Be good, and you will be happy."
  
At luncheon time I strolled down to the [-23-] restaurant, the butter-coloured front of which looks on to the Strand, and the proprietor, "the Roman," as he is called by the habitués of the establishment, being out, I took Signor Antonelli, his second in command, into my confidence, secured the table next to the door, sheltered by a glass screen from the draught, which I knew to be Miss Dainty’s pet one, and proceeded to order dinner. Antonelli—I must drop the Signor—who has all the appearance of a cavalry colonel, led off with hors-d’oeuvre. I followed with, as a suggestion for soup, crème Pink ‘Un, a soup named after a light-hearted journal which practically made “the Roman’s” fortune for him. Then, as there were some beautiful trout in the house, the only question was as to the cooking of them. Truite au bleu, my first thought, was too simple. Truite Chambord, the amendment moved by Antonelli, was too rich; so we compromised by Truite Meunière, in the sauce of which the lemon counteracts the butter. Côtelettes de mouton Sefton was Antonelli’s suggestion, and was carried unanimously; but I altered his pheasant, which sounded greedy for two people, into a perdreau en casserole. Salad, of course. Then, taken with a fit of parsimony, I refused to let English asparagus go down on the slip of paper, and ordered instead artichauts hollandais. Vanilla ice en corbeille and petits fours wound up my menu.
  
When the handsome lady arrived—only ten minutes late — she swept like a whirlwind through the hall—past the flower-stall, where I [-24-] had intended to ask her to pause and choose what flowers she would—in a dress which was a dream of blue with a constellation of diamonds on it, and as she settled down into her seat at the table, not quite certain whether to keep on the blue velvet and ermine cloak or let it drop, I was told the first instalment of her news at express speed. I need not look a crosspatch because she was late, the pretty lady said. It was the fault of the cabman, who was drunk, and had driven her half-way down Oxford Street. What was a good name for a poodle? The one she had been given was the dearest creature in the world. It had bitten all the claws off the Polar bear skin in the drawing-room, had eaten up a new pair of boots from Paris, had hunted the cat all along the balcony, breaking two of the blue pots the ever­greens were in, and had dragged all the feathers out of the parrot’s tail. Was Sambo a good name? Or Satan? Or what? Why couldn’t I answer?
  
My humble suggestions as to a name for a poodle having been treated with scorn, Miss Dainty turned her attention to the hors-d’oeuvre. There were no plain sardines among the numerous little dishes on the table, and the ordinary tinned sardine was what her capricious ladyship wanted—and got. The crème Pink ‘Un was highly approved of and I did my best to explain at length how the combination of rice with a Bisque soup softened the asperity of the cray-fish. Miss Dainty, changing the subject, demanded to know what the seascapes, which are framed all round the room, in mauresque arches, were. I told her [-25-] that the distemper paintings of deep blue sea and castles and islands and mosques, which are the principal features of the room, a room in which everything, the clock, the musicians’ gallery, the electric light brackets, are of Eastern type, were views on the Bosphorus ; and, thinking to amuse, related how when the paintings were first put up, a celebrated battle-painter and myself had volun­teered to give an up-to-dateness to them by adding some Armenian atrocities to lend life to the pictures, and of “the Roman’s” horror, under the impression that we really meant to do as we said. My humorous anecdote fell rather flat, for Miss Dainty, who did not care much for her trout, though I thought it very excellent, but a trifle too buttery, said that that was just the sort of silly thing I would do.
  
The quiet person with a silver chain round his neck had brought our bottle of St-Marceaux, and the clean-shaven little Italian waiter in a white apron had replaced the trout with the cutlets à la Sefton. For these Miss Dainty had nothing but praise, which I echoed very heartily.
  
“Your dinner — everything go right, eh, Mister Esquire?” and “the Roman,” a dapper little Italian in faultless dress-clothes, with a small, carefully tended moustache, a full head of black hair, turning grey at the temple, and talking English with a free admixture of Italian, stood by our table, going his round to see that all the diners were satisfied. Miss Dainty did not ask for the deep-red carnation that was in “the Roman’s” button-hole; but before he had passed on she was pinning it into her dress, and [-26-] when I ventured a very mild remark I was told that if I had not been mean enough to let her pass the flower-stall without offering her a button-hole she would not have had to accept one from anybody else—a retort which was scarcely fair.
  
I asked Miss Dainty if she knew who the pretty lady dining with a good-looking grey-haired man at a table at the end of the room was. She did know and gave me a full account of the lady’s stage career, and while the perdreau en casserole was being cut up we ran over the professions of the various diners who occupied the triple line of little tables running down the room. The two men dining by themselves were powers in the theatrical world. “May I ask them to come and take their coffee and old brandy at our table?” I asked, and Miss Dainty graciously assented. There were as well a well-known theatrical lawyer talking business with the secre­tary to a successful manager; a dramatic author, who was proposing plays to a colonial manager; a lady with golden hair and a permanent colour to whom a small Judaic youth was whispering with great earnestness; a well-known sporting lord, dining by himself; a music-hall agent laying down the law as to contracts to a journalist; two quiet ladies in sealskin coats; and many others, nearly all connected with the great army of stage-land.
  
A little too much onion with the perdreau en casserole we both thought, otherwise admirable. Salad good, artichokes good, though we preferred plain vinegar as a dressing to the hollandais one, [-27-] and the ice delicious. Then Miss Dainty trifled with cherries cased in pink sweetness and sections of oranges sealed in transparent sugar, and our two friends from the table at the far end came across and took coffee and liqueurs with us, and talked of the old days when Romano’s was but a quarter of the size it is now, when it was far more Bohemian than it is now, when there was a little aquarium in the front window into which the sons of Belial used to try and force each other late at night, much to the consternation of the gold-fish, when everybody who took his meals there knew everybody else and the chaff ran riot down the single line of little tables, and when every Sunday morning a devoted but Sabbath-breaking band were led across the Strand by “the Roman” to see his cellars, "best in London," as he used to say.
  
All of a sudden Miss Dainty, whom these reminiscences did not interest very much, re­membered that the door of the parrot’s cage had been left open. She was quite sure that the poodle would be trying to kill the bird, and she must go back at once to see to the matter.
  
I put Miss Dainty, who said that she had enjoyed her dinner, into a hansom, two brown eyes full of laughter set in a pretty face looked out at me as she told me to be good and that then I should be happy, the cabman cried “Pull up” to his horse, and the pretty lady was off to the rescue of the parrot.
  
Then I went back and paid my bill: Two couverts, 6d.; hors-d’oeuvre, 2s.; crème Pink ‘Un, 2s.; truite, 2s. 6d.; côtelettes de mouton, 2s. 6d.; [-28-]  petits pois, 1s.; pommes, 1s.; perdreau, 6s.; salade, 1s.; artichauts, 2s.; glace, 2s.; champagne (107), 13s. 6d.; café, 3s.; liqueurs, 5s.; total £2: 4s.
  
22nd February.

   When I asked Antonelli for a specimen menu of a dinner of ceremony such as is often given in the pretty Japanese room on the second floor he looked pleased and said that I should certainly have it ; but when I asked for the recette of the crème Pink ‘Un he looked as doleful as if he had just heard of the death of his grandmother. But Signor Romano came to the rescue. “The chef he say that soup what-you-call-a secret du maison; but I tell him no matter secret or not he just write it out for you.” So I got my recette. This is the dinner, and a noble feast it is, that Antonelli recommends for a party of twelve. The Homard sauté à Ia Julien is a speciality of Romano’s ; but I have some respect for the feelings of Antonelli and the chef and did not ask for a recette of that.

Huîtres natives.
Petite bouchée norvégienne.
Tortue claire.
Crème Dubary.
Homard sauté à la Julien.
Aiguillete de sole. Sauce Germanique.
Zéphir de poussin à la Brillat-Savarin.
Selle d’agneau a la Grand-Veneur.
Petits pois primeur à la Française.
Pomme nouvelle persillade.
Spongada à la Palermitaine.
Jambon d’York braisé au champagne.
Caille à  la Crapaudine.
Salade de saison.
Asperges vertes en branche. Sauce mousseuse.
[-29-] Timbale Marie-Louise.
Bombe a la Romano.
Petits fours assortis.
Dessert.
Café.

Pink ‘Un Potage

The recette of the crème Pink ‘Un is as follows

Mettez dans une casserole deux onces de beurre, deux cuillères-à-bouche d’huile d’olive; coupez en petits morceaux une carotte et un oignon, que vous laisserez cuire pendant cinq minutes tout doucement. Avez ensuite vingt-quatre écrevisses vivantes, un livre de crevettes et six tomates fraîches, que vous mettrez ensemble; ajoutez une demi-bouteille de Chablis, et, après avoir assaisonné de sel et poivre cayenne, couvrez votre casserole et donnez vingt minutes d’ébullition.
    D’autre part prenez une livre d’orge perlée que vous aurez faite cuire pendant trois heures dans un bouillon ordinaire, brayez dans ut mortier vos écrevisses et crevettes, ainsi que l’orge, mélangez, délayez avec un litre de bouillon, passez ensuite a l’étamine; ceci fait, remettez votre potage a chauffer sans lui donner de l’ébullition; additionnez une reduction de cognac où vous y aurez mis une branche de tym, deux feuilles de laurier, an petit bouquet de persil, d’estragon et cerfeuil. Finissez votre potage en y ajoutant six onces de beurre frais et servez avec croûtons.

    Put in a saucepan two ounces of butter and two teaspoonfuls of olive oil. Cut a carrot and an onion into small pieces, and let them cook gently for five minutes. Then take twenty-four live cray-fish, a pound of prawns, and six fresh tomatoes. Put these in altogether, and then add half a bottle of Chablis, and after having seasoned with salt and cayenne pepper, put the lid on the saucepan, and let it boil for twenty minutes. Have ready a pound of pearl barley which has been cooked for three hours, in ordinary stock. Pound in a mortar the cray-fish and prawns, with the barley, dilute with a pint and three-quarters of stock, and pass through a fine sieve. This done, put the soup back to warm again, without letting it boil. Add then a little cognac, in which you have steeped a bunch of thyme, two laurel leaves, and a little bunch of parsley, tarragon and chervil. Finish your soup by adding six ounces of fresh butter, and serve with sippets of fried bread.