London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by
Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 17 - The Hotel Continental (Regent
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for this book-]
THE HOTEL CONTINENTAL (REGENT STREET)
“So you are the man who is writing those articles about ‘Dinners and
Diners,’ “ said old Sir George, when I dined quietly last week with him and
Lady Carcanet. “Good Lord! Who’d have thought it!”
This sounded rather a dubious compliment; but pretty Miss Carcanet, “Brighteyes”
as her family nickname is, began to take more interest in me than she had ever
Did I go alone, or did I really take the people I said I did? she asked. And
I told her that I really did take the people I described. “Why don’t you
take Brighteyes to do one with you,” said Sir George. “It’s her first
season, and she is seeing everything that London has to show. She has figured in
print after the Drawing-Room, and one of the ladies’ papers has had a portrait
of her as a debutante of the season. Now you might lend your aid to immortalise
Miss Brighteyes said she would like it immensely, and though Lady Carcanet
did not think it at all the thing for a young girl to dine at [-123-]
a restaurant alone with a gentleman, Sir George said something about there
being no harm in being seen with an old buster, old enough to be her father—which
was a doubtful compliment to my grey hair. I, of course, was delighted, and
asked Miss Brighteyes to choose her day and her restaurant. There was the
Berkeley, which had then just been reopened, the Avondale, which is going ahead
with its new managers, Dieudonné’s, the Continental. I wanted to dine at all
of these, and would she take her choice.
“Is the Continental the hotel with a ruddy face and red pillars to its
portico at the bottom of Regent Street?” Miss Brighteyes asked, and when I
said that it was, she made that her choice.
“Dear me ! Isn’t that restaurant considered a little—well, a little
fast? “ came from Lady Carcanet, who very evidently disapproved of the whole
of the proceedings ; but I was able to reassure her on that subject. The
ladies who sup in the upstair rooms may not all be duchesses and countesses in
their own right; but there is no more respectable place to dine at, and there is
no better table d’hôte than is served in the downstairs room. I told Miss
Brighteyes that if she wanted to see the restaurant at its best we should have
to dine early, for most of the guests were sure to be going on to the theatre
either as spectators or players.
On Thursday Miss Brighteyes was going to the Opera to hear the CC Huguenots,”
and was to join her aunt there, so I was asked if Thursday would Suit, and said
“Perfectly.” Lady Carcanet looked discouragingly on the whole matter; but [-124-]
said, very freezingly, that in that case we had better have the brougham,
which could wait and take Miss Brighteyes to the Opera afterwards.
“Why didn’t you come to my Drawing- Room Tea?” was the beginning of the
cross- examination that I went through in the brougham, on our way to the
restaurant; and I explained that as a recorder of dinners I considered myself
exempt from teas, an answer which did not satisfy Miss Brighteyes, who pouted,
and said that I might have made an exception in her favour.
Miss Brighteyes’ cloak was deposited in a side room, my coat and hat were
taken from me and put in a locker in the hall, and we settled ourselves down at
a corner table in the room, dimly lighted by electric globes and by the red-
shaded candles on the tables. It is a most effective room, as I pointed out to
Miss Bright eyes, with its oil-paintings of figure-subjects framed in dark wood
over the mantelpieces, its line of muslin-draped windows down one side, and on
the other mirrors and the comptoir of dark wood, where between two palms one
catches a glimpse, under the glow of a red-shaded lamp, of the pretty face of
the lady enthroned there. A Screen of old gold comes pleasantly into the scheme
of colour. “Isn’t it delightfully improper to be dining alone with a
gentleman in a restaurant ! I do wish Madame Quelquechose could see me now,”
Miss Brighteyes remarked, as I looked through the three menus, one at 10s. 6d.,
one at 7s. 6d:, and one at 6s. 6d. Madame Quelquechose was, I may state, the [-125-]
head of the celebrated Parisian school at which Miss Brighteyes had finished
As the young lady had to be at Covent Garden at eight, and it was now seven,
I thought the shortest of the menus—the 6s. 6d. one— would suffice. Besides,
I hold that the best dinners are always short ones. Here it is:-
Paupiettes de merlans Héloise.
Tournedos grillés Judic.
Asperges au beurre fondu.
Soufflé glacé Victoria.
As Miss Brighteyes ate her plovers’ eggs she wanted to be told who the
different people dining at the tables might be. The bearded gentleman was one of
the best-known singers, and his name a household word. The other man with the
impress of the artist strong upon him was, I was able to tell her, the
well-known Wagnerian conductor, who at the time was constantly travelling
backwards and forwards between Bayreuth and Covent Garden. A pleasant-faced
gentleman with a dark moustache, who had smiled at me as I came in, was a
well-known comedian and manager; the gentleman dining with two ladies was a
cricketer of fame. There was the London correspondent of the Figaro dining with
another French gentleman.
Our soup was excellent. There was in it a savour of the sea which reminded me
of the [-126-] birds’-nest soup of China, and by that alone I should have judged M.
Baptiste Commaille, the chef to be an artist.
Before the fish arrived my cross-examination was continued. “Had I been to
a Levee?” I was asked; and when I said I had not, and that the reason of the
not having done so was that my practical study of the art of dining had made my
tunic too tight for me, and that I was not sufficiently wealthy just at present
to buy another to use for one occasion only in the year, I was told that I
should learn to bike, and that if I did I might come sometimes and take Miss
Brighteyes to the Park in the morning. Was I going to the big charity fancy ball
at the Empress Rooms, and if so, as what? I was not, I regretted to say, my
tunic not suiting better for balls than for levees, and my figure not being
quite in keeping with a Romeo costume from Nathan’s; but I learned that Miss
Brighteyes was, and that she was going in a copy of a costume of one of her
ancestresses, all light blue with the front laced across with pearls. The
ancestress had real pearls, but Miss Brighteyes was only to have imitation ones.
The fish I did not care for much, a merlan being rather a tasteless denizen
of the sea, but Miss Brighteyes admired the cream and pink of the plat
immensely, and thought that there was a suggestion for a dress in it. Then I
heard all about the recent balls, how charming the pink peonies were at one
house, and the lilies and palms at another, and so on; and was given a
disquisition on the dresses at the Drawing-Room, [-127-] of which all that I can recall is that one lady wore muslin with roses
painted on it, and ropes of wonderful pearls.
The tournedos, with their accompanying quarters of artichokes in batter and
scarlet tomatoes, were excellent, very excellent indeed, and so was the
chicken, delightfully brown, and done to a turn. The soufflé glacé Victoria,
which was brought in triumph by M. Garin, the maître d’hôtel, was encased in
a little summer-house of sugar, with the names of various papers blazoned on it—that
of the Pall Mall being over the door, I had finished my pint of excellent
champagne and Miss Brighteyes had sipped her lemon squash, a sinful drink, even
for a girl in her first season. I was selfish enough to take my coffee and
liqueur before I told Miss Brighteyes that it was ten minutes to eight, which
put her in a flutter, for she was anxious not to lose the overture.
This was the bill ;—Two dinners, 13s.; half 88, 7s. ; one lemon squash,
; half tasse, 6d. one liqueur, 1s. ; total, £1:0: 6.
*** There have been changes at the Hotel Continental since I dined therewith
the intention of putting my experiences in print. There is a new board of
directors, and the dining-room has put off its rather sombre livery of deep reds
and browns, and has adopted instead a bright dress of white and gold and
delicate greys. The curtains to the windows are pink, and the room is as bright
now as a flowergarden. Mons. Laurent has replaced Mons. Garin as maître