Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 7 - The Blue Posts (Cork Street)

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CHAPTER VII

THE BLUE POSTS (CORK STREET)

 “NONE of your d—d à la’s, and remember I won’t get into dress clothes for anybody.” That was what the old gentleman wrote, and it was not an easy matter to find a dining place and a theatre to go to afterwards that would suit my prospective guest.
   
The old gentleman lives his life in a little country town which is favourable to the growth of characters ; he always wears a plain, double- breasted broadcloth coat ; a bird’s-eye cravat, taken twice round his old-fashioned collar, folded in a manner that would puzzle a modern valet, and secured by a fox-tooth pin; his waistcoats, the irreverent youths of the club say, descended to him from his great-grandfather, and his watch chain is a leather chin-strap. He has a particular chair by a particular window of the county club on which he sits in the afternoon of non-hunting days, and drinks one stiff glass of brandy-and­water. He has never worn a greatcoat, never missed a day’s hunting for the last fifteen years, will walk a mile, run a mile, and ride a mile [-46-] against any man of his own age, and he is near seventy, dislikes the French on principle, and has never been to France, and comes to London as rarely as he can—very pressing business, the Cattle Show or a horse show being the only matters that would ever bring him up even for the day. The son, the grandson, and great-grandson of comfortable country solicitors, he preferred entertaining clients to advising them, always shut up his office on hunting days, and having a surplus of the world’s goods, for a bachelor, he lives a very comfortable life in the beetle-browed old house in the High Street, with its great garden behind, its dark dining-room with a glint of reflected lights from polished mahogany and massed silver, its crooked oak staircase, its panelled passages, and bedrooms, each with a huge four-poster bed, its carved chimney-pieces and uneven floors; with, as servants, a prim housekeeper, a fat cook—the only woman, he says, in the county who can make a vension pasty—and an old butler, with whom he argues as to the port to be drunk after dinner.
   
I know the old gentleman’s tastes, for he has asked me often enough to the wonderful oyster and woodcock lunches he gives, and the solid English dinners in which haunches of venison, saddles of mutton, great capons, turkeys almost as big as ostriches, cygnets, sucking pigs, and such-like dishes generally are the gros pièces, and it was not easy to select a suitable dining-place for him. He was up for the Hackney Show; had, after much pressing, consented to dine and [-47-] go to the theatre, and where to take him I did not know.
   
The melodrama of the moment at the Adelphi was the play I thought he would like, and, after passing by mentally my clubs, because he might not care to be the one man in morning dress among a white-cravated crowd, and the “smart” restaurants for the same reason, and also because nothing but brute force would keep a maitre d’hôtel from putting an à la on the menu, the happy thought came to me that at the Blue Posts the fare would suit my guest well.
   
I went down in the early afternoon through the Burlington Arcade, with its scent of perfumers’ shops and its Parisian jewellery, into Cork Street, where the tavern hides itself modestly.
   
I have but vague remembrances of the old house which was burned down. To-day, if one did not know that the house holds still to its reputation of being one of the very best places where old-fashioned British food is to be obtained, it might, with its tiled floors, its stained-glass windows and doors, its wall-papers of quiet artistic shades, its electric light, be one of those small restaurants where the Parisian art of cook­ing is cultivated. Past the stained-glass doors leading into the wine-bars, upstairs and into the dining-room, sacred to the male sex, with its six or seven little square tables, and two round ones, I went, there to find Frank, the head waiter, not yet in his evening garb, sitting and reading a paper. Frank, who, with his white moustache and whiskers and white hair parted in the centre, has still about him a suggestion of the soldier [-48-] who fought under the old Emperor William, has been for fifteen years head waiter at the Posts, and is a person to be confided in; so I told him particulars as to the old gentleman who was to be my guest, and asked for suggestions. The bill of fare, on a long slip of paper, which Frank put into my. hand would have gladdened the old gentleman’s heart. There was not an à la on it—not a word of French, “sauce tartare” excepted, and entrées were rigorously excluded. Frank advised soup, saying that all the soups were made from stock, no sauces of any kind being used ; but I mistrust the Britannic soup, for we are not a nation of soupmakers, and would have none. “Grilled or fried?” was the question as to the fish, and after due discussion I ordered a grilled sole. I was all for a porter­house steak, but at this Frank put his foot down. Rump steaks were the specialty of the house, he said, and explained how the cook kept the great joint of beef intact, only cutting a steak just before he put it on the grill, and this being so, a rump steak it had to be, with potatoes in their jackets, a salad, and cauliflower. Marrow­bones completed the dinner. For wine I ordered a bottle of Beaune supérieur and a pint of port.
   
At 7.45 to the second my old gentleman, his clean-shaven, ruddy face bringing a breath of country air with it, appeared, and as we sat at our table and waited for the sole, of which the cook had started the cooking as soon as I set foot within the dining-room, I was given much information as to the hackneys, told of some marvellous runs that the county hounds had had [-49-] lately, and was lectured on the iniquity of the farmers wiring their fences. Then we looked at the room and the company. The proof print of the coronation of Her Majesty which hangs on the soft green-coloured wall was approved of as being patriotic, the frieze with its little tablets bearing the names of authors and composers and the stained-glass windows and skylight were con­sidered Frenchified, and the Parian statuettes on the mantelpiece were dismissed as fal-lals. I wished that some of the stately bucks, habitués of old days, had been dining there — Mr. Weatherby in his blue coat and brass buttons, and a great publisher with his black satin stock; for the young gentlemen who sat at the other tables, most of them in dress clothes, though irreproachably correct, were not picturesque. 
   
Frank brought the sole, piping hot, still sizzling, from the bars. The cook had given it the necessary squeeze of lemon, and, watching my guest, I could see that the first item of my dinner was a success. The Beaune, warmed to just the right temperature, was as good a Burgundy as a man could wish with his dinner. Then came the steak, not a thin slab of meat, but a fine, impressive solid mass of beef, great of depth and size, the typical dish for Englishmen. I cut it, and in the centre there was the ruddy flush which is as pleasing to the devout diner as the blush on a maiden’s cheek is to the devout lover. The great potatoes, cooked in their skins, were so hot that they burned our fingers, the cauliflower was excellent, and there was a delicious beetroot salad powdered with spring [-50-] onion. ‘ Damme!” said the old gentleman, “they understand what a steak is, here.” Then came the marrow-bones, each swathed in its napkin with its attendant square of toast leaning up against it. Now the first essential in a marrow-bone is that it should be hot, and the second that it should contain at least a fair amount of marrow. Our bones were so hot that they could hardly be held in spite of the protecting napkin, and from each gushed forth a flood of the steaming delicacy.
   
We sat and sipped our port, and trifled with a Cheddar cheese. My old gentleman had objected to the waiters in such a Britannic house being of foreign birth; but I comforted him by telling him of the battles against the French in which Frank had taken part, and of the history of his maimed hand. “Fought the French, did he?” said the old gentleman. “That’s good. Damme, that’s very good!” He had put a date to the port, and opened his eyes when I told him how little I was charged for it. Indeed, all the items of my bill were small. Dinners, 10s. 6d. Burgundy, 7s.; port, 5s. 6d. ; total, £1 3s.
   
“I hope you have not dined badly?” I asked my guest as we rose to take cab for the Adelphi. “Well, my boy ; very well,” said the old gentleman.