Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 11 - The Savoy under Mons. Ritz (Thames Embankment)

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THE first information that I received as to Mrs. “Charlie” Sphinx having returned from Cannes was in a little note from the lady herself, delivered on Sunday at lunch-time, to the effect that Charlie had been asked to dine that evening with his official chief, and that if I was not otherwise engaged I might take my choice between dining quietly with the pretty lady at her home, or taking her out somewhere to dinner.
I went to the telephone at once.
“No. 35,466, if you please”; and being switched on to the Savoy, and having asked for a table, I received the answer I expected, having applied so late, that every one was taken, but that the management would do what they could to find space for me in a supplementary room. This meant dining in one of the smaller dining­rooms, and as at the Savoy the view of one’s neighbours and their wives is no unimportant part of the Sunday dinner, I went to head­quarters at once, and asked if M. Echenard, the [-74-] manager, was in the hotel, and if he was, would he come to the telephone and speak to me.
M. Echenard was in the hotel, and as soon as I had secured his ear I made an appeal to him that would have melted the heart of any tyrant. I wanted to take Mrs. Sphinx out to dinner, and he must be aware that it would be quite impossible for her to dine anywhere except in the big room of the restaurant.
“If it is possible, it shall be done,” said M. Echenard, and, telling him that I would come down by cab at once and order dinner, I switched off the telephone, wrote to Mrs. Sphinx that I should like to have the felicity of taking her out, and would call for her a little after eight, and then went down by cab to the Savoy.
In the office on the ground-floor, an office crowded up with books and papers, I found M. Echenard—who, with his little moustache with the ends turned upwards and carefully trimmed beard, always has something of the look of the Spanish señores that Velasquez used to paint— and his spectacled secretary.
I could have a table in the big room, I was told, and, having achieved this, I wanted to be given one of the two tables on either side of the door of entrance, tables from which one can see better than any others the coming and going of the guests. This was impossible. There was, however, a table for two which had been engaged, but the taker of which had given up his claim at the last moment; and though dukes and  scions of Royalty would have to feed in the supplement­ary rooms, Mrs. Sphinx should have that table.
[-75-] The ordering of the dinner came next, and to take on one’s self the responsibility of this with such a chef as Maître Escoffier in the kitchen is no small matter.
Hors-d’oeuvre, of course, and then I suggested Bortch as the soup, for of all the restaurants where they make this excellent Russian dish the Savoy takes the palm.
Timbales de filets de sole à la Savoy, hinted M. Echenard, and though I didn’t quite know what that was, it sounded well, and went down on the slip of paper. I wanted a mousse for the entrée, for I know that there are no such mousses to be got elsewhere as the Maître can make ; and then M. Echenard suggested Poulet de grain Polonaise, and as he described the method of cooking, and how the juices of the liver soaked into the bird, and the essence of the chicken permeated the liver, I gave up my first idea of the celebrated canard en chemise. That was my idea of a little dinner, but M. Echenard insisted on the finishing touches being administered by a parfait de foie gras, English asparagus, and pêches glacées vanille. It was a dinner that had, perhaps, an unusual amount of cold dishes in it; but it is one of the customs of Savoy cookery to have, if possible, one cold dish at least in the menu, for, the hot dishes being served scrupulously unadorned, the cold ones give M. Escoffier and his staff a chance of showing what they can do in the way of decoration.
Mrs. “Charlie” Sphinx, being a soldier’s wife, was ready to the second when I called for her, and during the few moments that I had to wait [-76-] in the ante-room of the restaurant, with its two fireplaces, its white-and-gold paper, great palms in pots, comfortable armchairs of terra-cotta colour, and Satsuma china, I could look with a comfortable superiority on the less lucky men who were sitting staring at the door and looking disappointed each time that the African gentle­man, whose place is there, swung it back to admit some lady who was not the much-expected guest.
Mrs. Sphinx was in blue and white, and was Swearing diamonds and turquoises. She had on for the first time a new diamond crescent, and looking round the room where everybody was smart I was pleased to be aware that the lady I had the honour of squiring was quite the smartest there.
And the company in the restaurant, the great room with mahogany panels, golden frieze and gold and red ceiling, of the Savoy on a Sunday night is as fine a society salad as any capital in the world can show. There was on this par­ticular evening in our immediate vicinity, a lady who once won celebrity on the stage, which she left to take a title, and then become the chatelaine of one of the great historical houses of England there was a good-looking fellow who was one of the best-known men about town and left fops- alley at the opera for the green-room of a comedy theatre ; there was an Indian prince, the first swallow of the dusky, jewelled flight that comes each summer to our shores ; there was the manager of one of the best-known of our comedy theatres, with whom was dining one of the most [-77-] beautiful of our actresses and her husband ; there was a lady who has the notoriety of having nearly ruined the heir to the throne of one of the kingdoms of Europe, and whose brown diamonds are the envy of all the connoisseurs of the world; there was a party of South African stockbrokers, who from their appearance did not suggest wealth, but whose united incomes would make the revenues of half a dozen Balkan principalities. And around the tables the waiters in their white aprons and the maitres d’hôtel and the silver-chained sommeliers moved noiselessly, and the master-spirit of the whole, M. Ritz, just back from Rome, with his hands clasped nervously, almost, with his short whiskers and carefully-clipped moustache, a duplicate of the present Secretary of State for War, went from table to table with a carefully graduated scale of acknowledgment of the patrons. M. Echenard was there also, and there is no restaurant in the world in which the chain of responsibility from manager to waiter is carried out with greater thoroughness. Mrs. “Charlie” Sphinx was doubtful as to trying the caviar. I should have remembered that she did not care for it ; but the grey-green delicacy in its setting of ice tempted her, and she owned to almost liking it. About the Bortch soup there could be no two questions, and the cream stirred into the hot, strong liquid makes it, in my humble opinion, the best soup in the world. The fish, a fish-pie, with its macaroni and shrimps, was delicious, and then came the triumph of the dinner. Cased in its jelly covering, served on a great block of ice, [-78-] melting like snow in the mouth, Maître Escoffier’s mousse was an absolute masterpiece. The poulet, too, was as good to eat as it had sounded when M. Echenard had described it to me, and the parfait de foie gras was another delight. The asparagus and the ice were but the trifles of the dinner; but the ice swan that bore the little mock peaches was a very graceful piece of table decoration.
Mrs. Sphinx through dinner, while sipping her glass of Clicquot, had told me all the gossip of southern France; of the dance at the club at Cannes at which she had arranged the cotillon and led it; of the races of the big yachts for the various cups; of a magnificent scheme she had evolved, by which, now that the Guards have been sent on foreign service, Gibraltar was to become a second Monte Carlo or Nice, a scheme which would involve a few batteries and case- mates being removed to make way for a casino, and when we had drunk our café Turc, brought by the brightly clothed Asiatic, and when I had smoked my cigarette and my guest had despoiled the great basket of roses on the table, the band, which plays delightfully, softly, and unobtrusively, had come to the end of its programme, and it was time to be moving. This was the bill, a moderate one for such an admirable dinner:- Two couverts, 1s.; bortch, 3s.; sole savoy, 6s.; mousse jambon, 6s.; poulet polonaise, 8s.; salade, 2s.; foie gras, 6s.; asperges verts, 7s. 6d.; pêches glacées vanille, 7s.; one bottle champagne 133, 15s.; café, 2s. ; liqueurs, 2s. ; total, £3:5:6.
[-79-] When I put Mrs. Sphinx down at her house-door, her last words were, “That mousse was an absolute dream.”
12th April.
*** The following are the recette of the timbale de filets de sole Savoy, kindly written out for me by Maître Escoffier, and two menus of typical Savoy dinners for a party that numbers six or eight, a dinner-party in fact.

Timbale de filets de sole Savoy

(Proportions pour six couverts)

    Avec de la pâte à foncer, préparez et cuisez une croûte à timbale; après l'avoir vidée glacez-la intérieurement et tenez à l'étuve. Préparez une petite garniture de bon macaronis cuit tendre, lié avec de la bechamelle et parmesan rapé, beurré et pincée de poivre rouge.
    Prenez huits filets de sole moyenne, tendre et bien blance, aplatissez-les légèrement, salez-les, masquez-les avec une mince couche de farce de poisson aux truffes; roulez-les sur eux-mêmes en forme de petit baril; entourez-les d'une bande de papier beurré. Rangez les files de sole dans une casserole ou plat à sauter, en ayant soin que la casserole suit juste de grandeur pour les maintenir serrés; mouillez-les avec un bon court bouillon au vin blanc, faites partir le liquide en ébullition, couvrez la casserole, laissez pocher sans bouiller douze a quinze minutes.
    Mettez dans une casserole dix-huit écrevisses moyennes aruec beurre, un demi verre de vin blanc, sel, et poivre; couvrez la casserole et cuisez les écrevisses dix a douze minutes sur un feu vif; aussitôt vif retirez la chair des queues; mettez-les dans une casserole avec deux bonnes truffes
[-80-] coupées en lame, un morceau de beurre, tenez au chaud. Avec les carapaces préparez un beurre d’écrevisses.
Faites réduire quelques cuillerées de bonne béchamelle avec addition de crème double, passez Ia sauce a 1’étamine et ajoutez le beurre d‘écrevisses, tenir au chaud; au moment de servir garnisser le fonds de la timbale avec le macaronis; dressez sur le macaronis les filets de sole à la garniture de truffes et queues d’écrevisses, saucez le tout avec la sauce préparée au beurre d’écrevisses; recouvrez la timbale et servez bien chaud.

Make a crust (pâte à foncer) for the timbale. Bake it and scoop out the inside, then glaze the inside, and keep it on the stove. Get ready a little garnish of good macaroni, cooked until it is soft, add Béchamel sauce, grated Parmesan cheese, butter and a pinch of red pepper. Take eight fillets of medium- sized soles, tender and very white. Bat them out lightly, salt them, and just cover with a thin layer of fish stuffing made with truffles. Roll the fillets into the shape of little barrels, and put a band of buttered paper round each.
Arrange them in a saucepan, or a shallow pan (à sauter), taking care that this saucepan is of such a size that the fillets are all packed quite closely together, moisten them with a good strong stock, made with white wine, and then let all the liquid boil away. Put a cover on the saucepan, and let it simmer but not boil for twelve or fifteen minutes.
[-81-] Put in another saucepan eighteen medium-sized crayfish, half a glass of white wine, salt and pepper, cover the saucepan, and cook the crayfish, from ten to twelve minutes, on a brisk fire. Then take the flesh of the tails, put it in a saucepan with two nice truffles, cut in slices, and a piece of butter, and keep warm. With the shells of the crayfish, prepare a crayfish butter.
Boil down a few teaspoonfuls of good Béchamel, with (double) cream, pass the sauce through a tammy, add the crayfish butter and keep warm. Just before serving, put the macaroni at the bottom of the timbale, arrange the fillets of sole on the macaroni, a garnish of truffles and tails of crayfish. Pour over it all, the sauce already prepared with the crayfish butter. Cover the timbale again, and serve very hot.

Canapés Moscovites.
Pommes d’amour.
Consommé aux nids d’Hirondelles.
Filets de truite aux laitances.
Désirs de Mascotte.
Caneton de Rouen en chemise.
Petits pois aux laitues.
Suprêmes d’écrevisses au Château Yquem.
Ortolans Cocotte au suc d’ananas.
Coeurs de Romaine.
Asperges à l’huile vierge.
Belle de nuit aux violettes.

Canapés aux crevettes rouges.
Consommé Nurette.
Paillettes au Parmesan.
[-82-] Mousseline d’éperlans aux truffes.
Filets de poulet au beurre noisette.
Artichauts aux fines herbes.
Agneau de lait à la broche.
Petits pois frais.
Nymphes glacées au champagne.
Cailles aux feuilles de vigne.
Salade Mignonne.
Asperges d’Argenteuil.
Pêches de Vénus voilées de l’Orientale.


    “Drive to the Strand entrance of the Savoy, but don’t go into the courtyard,” I told my cabman; but he insisted on driving down, and his horse slid the last ten yards like a toboggan.
    It was in the afternoon and few people were about, and I looked into the grill-room to find a maître d’hôtel, and to ask him if he could tell me where M. Joseph was at the moment. Smiler, the curry cook, appeared instantly. Because I talk a little bad Hindustani, Smiler has taken me under his protection, and thinks that I should not go to the Savoy for any other purpose than to eat his curries.
-It was not Smiler, however, whom I wanted to interview, but M. Joseph; and messengers were sent to various parts of the hotel to find the director of the restaurant.
A little man, with rather long grey hair, bald on the top of his head, with very dark brown eyes looking keenly out from under strong brows, with a little grey moustache, Joseph arrests [-83-] attention at once, and his manner is just the right manner. In a short black coat, white waistcoat, and dark trousers, he came to meet me, and put himself entirely at my service. I very soon told him what I wanted. Since the change of dynasty at the Savoy, Joseph, who temporarily left his Parisian restaurant, the Marivaux, to come to the banks of the Thames, has been the dominating personality among the Savoyards. That being so, I wanted him to tell me something of his climb up the ladder of culinary fame, I should be much obliged if he would take me through his kitchen, and as I proposed dining in the restaurant that evening, I should be glad if he would think me out a dinner of the cuisine Joseph. I ended by saying that I had invited a lady to dine with me.
“A lady !“ said Joseph, in rather a startled tone; but I assured him that the good angel who was to be my guest knew as much of good cooking as any male gourmet, and was aware that there are some culinary works of art in the presence of which conversation is an impertinence.
“I will give you soup, fish, roast—nothing more,” said Joseph; and misinterpreting my silence, he went on: “In England you taste your dinners, you do not eat them. An artist who is confident of his art only puts a small dinner before his clients. It is a bad workman who slurs over his failures by giving many dishes.” This is exactly what I have been preaching on the housetops for years, and, being thoroughly in accord on that subject, we settled down on a sofa in the corridor for a chat.
[-84-] I am the worst interviewer in the world. I had been told that Joseph was born in Birmingham of French parents, that he is an adept at la savate, and that the one amusement of his life is pigeon-flying; and when I accused him of all this he pleaded guilty to each count. Directly we began to talk cookery I had no cause to ask leading questions. It is the absorbing passion of Joseph’s life. “If I had the choice,” he said, with conviction, “between going to the theatre to see Coquelin or Mme. Bernhardt and watching the faces of six gourmets eating a well-cooked dinner, I should choose the latter.” When I referred to the dinner at which some of the great lights of the theatrical world were present, and he cooked a considerable portion of the dinner in their presence, Joseph replied that as it is the art of actors and actresses to make an effect on the public, he wished to show them that there could be something to strike the imagination in his art also.
Since ‘67, when Joseph entered the kitchen at Brébant’s as a marmiton, he has given all his mind to cookery. He has been in every position that goes to the making of a real artist, and even when he walks the streets “looking at my boots” he is waiting for some flash of inspiration. “I cannot sit down in my office and create a new dish to command. An idea comes to me, and when I am free I try it in my own kitchen at home. I never experiment on the public.” Many other things he told me, of how as a schoolboy he used to peep into the kitchens of the Anglais and other big restaurants in envy of [-85-] the cooks, and of the genesis of some of the dishes in the long list of the specialities of his cuisine. With a sudden turn to the subject of literature, Joseph wrote down for me his con­tribution, made the day before, to a young lady’s album. This is it:-
C’est la première côtelette qui coûta le plus cher à l’homme — Dieu en ayant fait une femme.”
Then, passing the table-d’hôte room, with its great marble chimney-piece and walls with an Oriental pattern on them, on our way we went to the kitchens, where M. Henri Thouraud, the chef, a tall, plump, good-looking Parisian, with a light moustache, received us.
First, I was shown the means of communica­tion between the kitchen and various parts of the hotel, and the close touch kept between M. Joseph in the restaurant and the chef in the kitchen, each knowing the other’s methods, for they have worked together off and on for twenty years ; and then my attention was turned to the arrangement of the kitchen and the battalion of cooks, every man having his duty assigned him, every man having his place in that chain of responsibility which runs from chef to marmiton.
Every master of the culinary art has his own ideas as to the arrangement of his kitchen, and M. Joseph has made some changes from the arrangements of Maître Escoffier in the great white-tiled room in which the roasting and boiling is done.
Two plump fowls were spinning and dripping before the roasting fire, there was a steamy heat [-86-] in the air, and I was rather glad to move into the cooler atmosphere of the rooms on a lower floor, where I was shown all the good things ready to go to the fire or the buffet.
It was explained to me that though the English beef is good for roasting, the French beef only is used for bouillon, and looking at the two I could understand the reason. The vegetables and all the poultry for the Savoy come from France, and I was beginning to feel quite ashamed of England as a food-producing country, when a handsome compliment to the English mutton restored my confidence. The long array of birds, from turkeys to snipe, resting on a bed of crushed ice with a free current of air round them, looked appetising, and so did the fish and the score of varieties of cold entrées, most of them embedded in amber jelly, and the petits fours and sweet— meats fresh drawn from the oven. The carving of the harps, and birds, and Prince of Wales’s feathers out of a solid block of ice to form pedestals for ices is artist s work, and so is the making of baskets and flowers from sugar.
M. Joseph slightly went beyond his three dishes in the menu I found awaiting the good angel and myself:—

Petite marmite.
Sole Reichenberg.
Caneton à la presse. Salade de saison.
Fonds d’artichauts a la Reine.
Bombe pralinée. Petits fours.
Panier fleuri.

We were among the familiar surroundings, [-87-] the walls of mahogany panelling, the golden ceiling; but there was one novelty, and that was that pushed up to our little table was another one, with on it a great chafing-dish, some long slim knives, and a variety of little plates containing lemons, grated cheese, and a number of other condiments, and while we drank our soup, made with the famous bouillon, of which I had been told the secret, Joseph mixed the delicate liquid in which the slices of sole were later to be placed, soaked the croûte in the savoury mixture, and, finally, on the white filets placed the oysters, pouring over them also the foaming broth.
The good angel was equal to the occasion. Not only was she radiantly handsome, but she appreciated the special beauties of this most excellent sole; and when Joseph came back to the table to carve the duck, he knew that his audience of two were enthusiasts. In an irrever­ent moment I was reminded of the Chinese torture of the Ling Chi, in which the executioner slashes at his victim without hitting a vital part in the first fifty cuts, as I watched Joseph calmly, solemnly, with absolute exactitude, cutting a duck to pieces with a long, thin knife; but irreverence faded when the rich sauce had been mixed before our eyes and poured over the slices of the breast—the wings and legs, plain devilled, coming afterwards as a sharp and pleasant contrast.
The Panier Fleuri, which ended our dinner, a tiny fruit-salad in a basket cut by Joseph from an orange, was a special compliment to the good angel. The bill was: Two couverts, 1s.; champagne, 18s. ; marmite, 2s. 6d. ; sole Reichen­[-88-]berg, 5s.; caneton à la presse, 18s.; salade, 1s. 6d.; fonds d artichauts, 2s. 6d.; bombe, 3s.; café, 1s. 6d. ; liqueurs, 4s. ; total, £2:17s.
It was no empty compliment when on leaving I told M. Joseph that the dinner was a perfect work of art.

*** The following are the Créations de Joseph:-
Sole de Breteuil—Sole à la Reichenberg—Filets de soles Aimée Martial—Sole d’Yvonne—Pomme de terre Otero—Pommes de terre de Georgette— (dédié a Mlle. Brandès)—Sole Dragomiroff—Pilaff aux moules—Homard à La Cardinal—Homard Ld. Randolph Churchill — Queue de homard Archiduchesse—Homard d’Yvette — Darne de saumon Marcel Prévost—Filets de maquereau Marianne— Filets de sole Duparc—Côte de boeuf Youssoupoff—Poularde Marivaux—Poularde Vladimir—Poulet Gd. Maman—Poulet Archiduchesse—Caneton à la Presse—Caneton froid Jubilé—Foie gras Souvaroff (chaud ou froid) — Bécasse au Fumet — Filet de laperau à la Sorel—Cailles à la Sand—Aubergines “Tante Pauline” — Crêpes du Diable — Crêpes Christiane—Pêches Cardinal—Pêches Rosenfeld— Le Soufflé d’Eve—Fraises à la Marivaux—Ananas Master Joe—Ananas de Daisy—Les paniers fleuris aux quartiers d’Orange.