Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 17 - The Hotel Continental (Regent Street)

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CHAPTER XVII

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 shown before.
   
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 her.”
   
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 her education.
   
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:-

Hors-d’oeuvre variés.
Consommé Sévigné.
Paupiettes de merlans Héloise.
Tournedos grillés Judic.
Poularde rôtie.
Salade.
Asperges au beurre fondu.
Soufflé glacé Victoria.
Petits fours.

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, 1s. ; 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 d’hôtel.