Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 18 - The Avondale (Piccadilly)

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CHAPTER XVIII

THE AVONDALE (PICCADILLY)

WHILE I sat in the anteroom of the Hotel Avondale and waited for the Epicure, whom I had asked to come and dine with me, as a general practitioner would call in a specialist in a delicate case, I pondered over the vicissitudes which, during the past few years, have befallen the hotel that has now come into the hands of the two young and energetic men from the Savoy.
  
It opened with a great flourish of trumpets, I remember, as the Cercle de Luxe, just at the time that Society seemed inclined to take to dining clubs, and the Amphitryon was always full, and the Maison Dorée glittered scarcely a stone’s-throw away. I was much impressed then with the gorgeousness of the staircase, with the walls of reddish, marble, topped by white, veined with black, and above that a broad painted frieze, red in tone, studded with portraits of Elizabethan worthies, which marbles and frieze and portraits remain to this day. There were gorgeous pictures then in the smoking-room, downstairs, of Elizabeth, or her nobles, going in State on [-129-] the Thames, and hawking and setting out to war, which pictures, when I peeped into the room before going upstairs, seem to have vanished. The room in which I was waiting for the Epicure was in those days a drawing-room of excessive gorgeousness, and I can recall that I thought that it was not for a simple ordinary man like myself to sit on yellow satin sofas that shone like looking-glasses. Now the room has nice panels of old-gold brocade and the sofas and curtains are in deep blue velvet. An American flag, draped over the principal piece of furniture in the room, shows of what nationality most of the guests at the Avondale at present are.
  
What was the cause of the non-success of the Cercle de Luxe, I do not know, for the dining- room was charming, and the cookery was undeni­able. The next development of the house was as a cosy hotel, with the big rooms broken up into little suites of apartments, the anteroom turned into a dining-room, where a very good table-d’hôte dinner was served, and a bid made to attract well-to-do couples who liked hotel life. I looked over the hotel at the time of this trans­formation, and thought that if ever I married I would spend my honeymoon in No. 9, which was a particularly charming suite of apartments. I am, however, still in a state of single blessed­ness, and No. 9 has been converted into the kitchen of the restaurant, for Messrs. Garin and Eugene have broken down the partitions, restored the dining-room to its former proportions, and are trying to make the Avondale a little Savoy in Piccadilly.
  
[-130-] The Epicure arrived on the stroke of the hour, and we went into the dining-room, where I had retained a table by the window. It is a pleasant room now, and will be even better when the new decorations have toned down under the influence of the London climate. There are pillars of black and white marble with gilded capitals and marble mantels, and the walls are frescoed by some modern artist. Opposite to us on the broadest space of wall a Diana worked in high relief in plaster was backed by a view of the falls of the Rhine, and on either side in panels were a lady in an Empire dress and a gentleman of the same period teaching a merveilleuse how to look through a telescope. There was an appetising show of fruit on the table in the centre, the straw­berries being on the summit of a great block of ice. A Moorish gentleman, who I expect does nothing more ferocious than make coffee, made a fine splash of colour in his crimson and gold.
  
The Epicure having announced that he was not hungry, and that he could not drink champagne, I felt that the menu which had been devised by the management, and had met with my entire approval, might be too long for him, and I thought regretfully of the bottle of Moët and Chandon which I had ordered to be put in the ice-pail just long enough to get a chill into the wine. This was our dinner:

Hors-d’oeuvre.
Bortsch.
Soles bonne femme.
Selle d’agneau de lait.
Petits pois française.
[-131-] Pommes nouvelles.
  
Rouen Rouennasse.
Coeurs de Romaine.
Asperges de Paris.
Macédoine de fruits au Kirsch.

    The Epicure looked at it, bust said nothing; and I felt that so far I, in company with Messrs. Garin and Eugène, had at least escaped censure. The Epicure approved of the lights on the table, which were like a bunch of three pink lilies, the cups all pointing inwards, but thought that the globes suspended from the ceiling were too bright and might dazzle the eyes, thereby interfering with the full enjoyment of a dinner. M. Garin, who stood by in an immaculate frock coat, gave the Epicure to understand that this should be put right at once.
  
The hors-d’oeuvre the Epicure passed without any remarks, and I felt that they at least were satisfactory.
  
Bortsch is a soup of which I am very fond, and I like the softness that the spoonful of cream mixed with it gives. The Epicure did not take cream in his, and I wondered why, but thought it wiser not to ask. He said that the soup was good, and I began to feel reassured as to my dinner, while the good-looking maitre d’hôtel, who was hovering round our table, positively beamed on him.
  
The Soles bonne femme, with their sliced mushrooms and excellent sauce, I thought very good; but the Epicure felt that it was time to assert himself; and said that though the dish was undeniably well cooked, still it was not in [-132-] sufficient contrast to the soup to be exactly the right plat for a perfect dinner. I did not exactly understand what he meant; but I shook my head and said that no doubt that was so.
  
Meanwhile, the room had been filling up. A well-known newspaper proprietor who is also a celebrity in the hunting-field, was giving a dinner to two pretty ladies, one of whom wore a beautiful necklet of diamonds and the other a three­fold rope of pearls, and to two other men. A magnate of the Stock Exchange had brought another member of the House to dine, two or three couples—Americans, I think—the ladies mightily smart, had come in and taken their places, and a well-known explorer, who was giving a dinner-party, but whose guests had not arrived, looked in to see that his table was all in order.
  
The saddle of lamb was excellent, and as the Epicure ate the delicate white meat, cooked to a turn by the excellent M. Dutruz, the chef; he launched out into anecdotes as to the great love that real epicures have for these babes and suck­lings, and of the personal inconvenience to which they have even been known to put themselves to obtain their flesh. The peas, with the suggestion of sugar and onion with them, also met with high approval. But the Epicure would not pass the duck. I should have eaten it and seen no harm in it; but not so the Epicure. “C’est un peu faisandé,” he said, and would not touch it. A cut was brought from another duck; but he would have none of that either. Both Messrs. Garin and Eugene were on the scene at once, and explained. All their poultry came from [-133-] Paris, a fresh stock each day, and they could not imagine how such a thing could possibly be. The Epicure was stern. He pointed out to them that it was a judgment on them for going to Paris for their ducks instead of to London, and incidentally lectured us on the method of preparation of the Rouen Rouennaise. I wanted to eat my slice of duck, so I scraped off the luscious brown sauce, and suggesting that it might be the sauce and not the duck that was at fault, left a bare platter. The Epicure looked at me as a traveller does at an Earthman, but said nothing.
  
The asparagus, the Epicure said, was delicious, and the atmosphere cleared again, and he also ap­proved highly of the macédoine. His claret, he said, was good, and I know that my champagne was excellent; but just as a parting salute to Messrs. Garin and Eugene, he rubbed some of the liqueur brandy on the palms of his hands, smelt it, and used it as a text on which to discourse of the failure of the grape vine in Cognac and the ravages of the phylloxera.
  
When I asked for my bill I told Messrs. Garin and Eugene that I thought they had given me an excellent dinner, and not to distress their minds too much about the duck, as an epicure, if he was not severely critical, would not be an epicure. This was the bill: Two dinners at 10s.6d., £1:1s.; one 127, 16s.; half 44, 3s.6d.; one seltzer, 6d. ; two café double, 1s. 6d.; liqueurs, 3s. ; cigar, 1s. 6d. ; total, £2:7s.
  
31st May.
  
*** Since writing the above the Avondale has firmly established itself as one of the fashionable [-134-] dining-places, and, following the example of most of its elder competitors, has become a company with Hachett’s, the Whitehorse cellars, as a second asset of the company. Hachett’s, of which the dining- room, underground, has always had a good cheap table-d’hôte, is now managed by M. Eugene, while M. Garin is in command at the Avondale. Amongst interesting dinners I have eaten at the Avondale, one of the most interesting was a “Household Brigade Magazine “ one, a dinner which the staff of the Magazine, written by Guardsmen for Guardsmen, hold from time to time. This was the menu of the feast, and it is a good example of a dinner, not a very expensive one, for some twenty guests—

Canapes a la Russe.
Petite marmite. Bisque d’écrevisses.
Turbotin. Sauce mousseline.
Volaille Derby.
Selle d’agneau Richelieu.
Bécassines rôties.
Salade.
Asperges vertes.
Bombe Martinique.
Ananas glacés.
Petits fours.
Soufflé Viennois.

I asked M. Garin to give me the recipe of Bortsch Soup, which I always think the best soup in the world, and here it is, as written out by M. Dutruz, the chef—

BORTSCH SOUP

Ayez in bon consommé avec lequel vous manquez un morcelle la marmite comme il est l’usage pour le consommé extra, faites blanchir un morceau de poitrine de boeuf que vous ajoutez et une caneton que vous faites rôtir pendant [-135-]  quelques minutes, le tout étant cuit, coupez les filets du canard et le maigre du bceuf en petit carré d’un dessin centimètre, passez votre consommé a la serviette, ayez d’autre part une Julienne de légumes, avec beaucoup de choux. Servez notre potage en ajoutant aux legumes les morceaux de boeuf et canard plus un jus de betterave rouge de façon de liu donuer une couleur rougeâtre et un peu de poivre moulu frais; envoyez une saucière de crème à part.

Take a good stock, and nearly fill the saucepan with it, as is usual in the case of a rich soup. Blanch a piece of brisket of beef, add this, with a duckling which has been roasted for a few minutes. When all is cooked, cut some slices off the duck and cut them up into little squares of less than a quarter of an inch, cutting up the lean part of the beef in the same way. Pass your sauce through a linen strainer. Have ready some Julienne made with vegetables, with plenty of cabbages. Serve your soup, after adding the vegetables, the pieces of beef and duck, and also the juice of a beetroot so as to give the soup a red colour, and a pinch of freshly ground pepper. Send up a sauceboat of cream separately.
  
Not only did M. Garin give me the soup recipe, but he sent me the recette of soufflé de filet de sole à la d’Orléans, a dish invented by the Duc d’Orleans, who is one of the best patrons of the Avondale. It has a double interest, through being an interesting dish, and showing Monseigneur le Duc as being an expert in the detail of the haute cuisine.

[-136-] SOUFFLÉ DE FILETS DE SOLE A LA D’ORLEANS

Choisissez des filets de sole bien blancs, les parer et ciseler, les farcir d’une farce de poisson aux truffes et rouler en forme de paupiettes, faites pocher doucement avec du vin blanc, faire reduire la cuisson, ajouter trois cuillères de béchamelle, le toute étant bien réduit lier avec deux jeaunes d'oeufs et mélanger a votre appareil en ajoutant de belles lames de truffes fraiches chauffées au beurre assaisonné at sel et beaucoup de mignonette, placez vos paupiettes sur un croûton trés mince dans une timbale en argent et recouverte de l’appareil à souffler, faites cuire pendant quinze minutes au four en soupoudrant de parmesan (cheese) dessus de façon à prendre belle couleur.—Ce plat doit être servi de suite.

Choose very white fillets of sole, cut and shape them to the proper size, stuff them with a fish stuffing made with truffles, and roll them up en paupiettes (in thin pieces, with the force-meat inside). Well boil down the liquor, add three spoonfuls of Béchamel sauce, and when the whole is well reduced add two yokes of eggs, and mix in your soufflé pan, adding some nice slices of fresh truffles, warmed in butter, seasoned with salt, and plenty of mignonette pepper. Place your paupiettes on a very thin crust in a silver timbale. Place in the souffle apparatus, cover over, and cook in the oven for fifteen minutes, first having sprinkled it on the top with Parmesan cheese so as to make it a good colour. This dish must be served immediately.