Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 6 - The Hans Crescent Hotel

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CHAPTER VI

THE HANS CRESCENT HOTEL

IF I had to set an examination paper on the art of dining, one of the questions I should certainly ask the examinee would be: “What occupation or amusement would you suggest for your guests after a dinner at a restaurant on Sunday?” The Hans Crescent Hotel management have answered this question in a practical way; and not the least pleasant part of a dinner at the smart hotel Sloane Street way is the coffee and liqueur and cigarette taken under the palms in the winter garden, where the red-shaded lamps throw a gentle light, and M. Casano’s band playing Czibulka’s waltz-whisper, “Songe d’amour après le bal,” sends one back in a dream to the days when an evening of dancing was a foretaste of the seventh heaven, and every woman was a possible divinity.
  
The Editor does not write long letters, but the card with his initials at the bottom gave me place and time, and told me that I should find myself one of a partie carrée. What was the exact reason of the dinner that the good Editor [-39-] gave to the gracious lady and the handsome niece and myself I do not know; but I rather think that it was a propitiatory offering made for non- appearance on the editorial tricycle when warned for escort duty to the gracious lady, who had gone that day for a long bicycle ride. If it was so, the dinner at the Hans Crescent Hotel, plus the excuse given, whether it was church-going or letter-writing, did not save the Editor during the evening from little barbed conversational shafts as to sloth and laziness and the evil habit of lying late in bed on the Sabbath morning.
  
I never commit the unpardonable offence of being late for dinner, and three minutes before my time I was waiting in the oak-panelled hall, which, with its stained-glass window, big stair­case with a balcony at the back, its palms and great fireplace, always looks to me like an elab­orate “set” for a scene in some comedy. The hands of the clock stole on to eight o’clock, and that feeling of righteousness which comes to the man who is in time when he believes that his fellow-creatures are late fell on me, when, on a sudden, M. Diette, the manager of the hotel, grey of hair and moustache, a black tie under his “Shakspeare” collar, and a faultless frock-coat, appeared, and recognising me, asked me whether by chance I was the gentleman for whom the Editor and two ladies had been waiting some ten minutes in the drawing-room. So it came that when I went into the drawing-room, where the two ladies were looking at the brocades in the panels and the editorial eye was fixed on the clock on the mantelpiece, it was I who had to [-40-] stumble through apologies, and I felt conscious that my tale of waiting in the hall sounded hideously improbable.
  
M. Diette himself showed us to our table in the dining-room, which is as near a reproduction of an old baronial hall as modern comfort, electric light, and civilisation will allow. The baron of old, in the days when each man cut his own portion off the roast meat with his dagger, might have been able to boast of the open fireplace in green Connemara marble and the panelled walls, but the handsome frieze and the carved oak pillars would have been beyond his artistic dreams. He would probably have preferred rushes to the Oriental rugs that half cover the oak floor, and he would certainly have thought the palmery seen through the open French window in a glow of rosy light a vision called up by some magician.
  
The Editor, stroking his pointed beard with satisfaction, was reading through the menu, the gracious lady and the handsome niece were noting, one by one, the celebrities dining at the other tables, and the head waiter was standing watching the Editor with the calm but deferen­tial confidence an artist shows when an important patron is inspecting his work. A minor servitor, a thin tape of gold on the collar of his livery coat and wearing white gloves, was also in attendance, and the overture in the way of hors-d’oeuvre à la Russe was before us.
  
In quick succession our ladies had named the tall, slim, titled lady in black, who had come in leaning on a stick; the good-looking young [-41-] musical critic, who was entertaining "Belle" and a very pretty girl; a newly-married Earl and his wife; the handsome stockbroker and his wife, who in the summer are to be found not far from Maidenhead Bridge, and at whose table were sitting the most hospitable of up-river hostesses and her son; a millionaire, who was entertaining a tableful of guests; and one or two titled couples whom the gracious lady knew, but whose names meant nothing to me. I was able to add my quota by pointing out a steward of the Jockey Club, at whose table was the owner of the good horse Bendigo.
  
The Editor, having learned that we all pre­ferred for the moment claret to champagne, put down the menu with a little sigh of anticipatory gratitude, and ran his finger half-way down a page on the wine list. This was the menu which the gracious lady looked at, and then handed on to me:-

Hors-d’oeuvre à la Russe.
Consommé Brunoise à la Royale.
Potage en tortue.
Suprême de saumon à  la Chambord.
Tournedos à  la Montgador.
Poularde a la Demi-Doff.
Caille rôti sur canapé.
SALADE.
Flageolets Mtre d’Hôtel. Bombe Chateaubriand.
Corbeilles de friandises.

The handsome niece had approved of the people at the other tables as being most of them interesting and good-looking, had said she liked [-42-] the table with its decoration of a ring of yellow flowers and leaves drawn round the basket of friandises, and we began dinner with good appetite and good temper.
  
The clear soup with its patchwork ground of minutely chopped vegetables seen through the amber of its liquid was excellent and hot; the fish deserved a special word for its sauce, in the making of which an artist’s hand had been employed; and the tournedos with their attendant “fixings,” to use an Americanism, a symphony in rich browns with the scarlet of the tomato to relieve it, gave no loophole for captious criticism. We had been talking of the respective merits of houseboats and cottages as summer residences, and from that had drifted on to the subject of the wonderful steam launch that the Editor owns, and inventions generally. The gracious lady had said her say on the wonders she knew of; and the handsome niece, not to be outdone, described the invention of the age through which by means of a little metal case half the size of the smallest pill box, every man is to make his own soda-water, which is to supersede all other inventions as a fuse for big guns, and is going to drive dynamite out of the field; and I, fired by the spirit of healthy emulation, had just started an account of the flying machine by which I hoped to reach Mars, to which the ladies, not noticing the twinkle in the Editor’s eyes, were listening gravely, when the waiter brought the poularde a la Demi-Doff. The Editor was the only one of us who took any, and he, in very excellent French, told the head waiter, who was [-43-] hovering round, that he thought it good. Whether it was that the gracious lady had caught the tail-end of the editorial smile at my Munchausen flying-machine story, or whether the non - appearance of the tricycle was re­membered, it matters not ; but the Editor was gravely warned not to talk Hindustani at the dinner-table.
  
The quails were a trifle over-cooked, and the artistic hand which had made the sauce for the salmon had not mixed the salad, which was too vinegary. I think our negative criticism must have hurt the feelings of the waiter, who probably paused on the way from the kitchen to wipe away a tear, for the flageolets, excellently cooked, were not quite as hot as they should have been. Then the dinner got into its stride again, for the bombe was admirable.
  
The band had been making music for the past half-hour in the winter-garden, and the diners at the various tables had gradually left the oaken hall for the tables, each labelled with the number of the corresponding dining-tables and name of the host, reserved under the rosy lamps and the palms. The violins played with a delightful softness, the rings of cigarette smoke curled and vanished up towards the glass dome. From table to table the men went, saying a word here, staying for a chat there; and at last, when the little band had played Gounod’s “Ave Maria,” and ended with the wail of Miska’s “Czardas,” it was time to gather in the hall to say good-night and be off homewards to the land of Nod. This was the bill that I asked [-44-] the Editor to let me glance at:— Four dinners at 10s. 6d., £2: 2s. ; three bottles claret, £1:10s. ; cafés, 3s. ; liqueurs, 3s. ; total, £3:18s.
8th March.
*** Mr. Francis Taylor has now taken Mons. Diette’s place as manager. Mons. Heiligenstein, as chef rules the roast, and boiled, and fried.