Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 21 - A Regimental Dinner (Hotel Victoria, Northumberland Avenue)

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CHAPTER XXI

A REGIMENTAL DINNER (HOTEL VICTORIA, NORTHUMBERLAND AVENUE)

THE honorary secretary of the Regimental Dinner Club, who is the gentleman who, in one of the little rooms, somewhat resembling loose boxes, of Cox and Co., the military bankers, presides over the ledgers containing the accounts of Ours, had sent six weeks ago to every member of the club, and that means nearly every officer past and present, a notice that the annual dinner of the regiment would take place at the Hotel Victoria, on a certain day in Ascot week, at 8 P.M.
   
“Regimental dinner, sir ? Yes, sir. Cloak­room third door to the right,” said the impressive porter who, in gold-banded hat and with gold buttons to his blue coat, stands at the front door; and farther on, at the corner where the long corridor joins the passage, a waiter with a cherubic face waved a cotton-gloved hand in the direction one was to go.
    Hat and cloak left, an oval piece of pasteboard taken in exchange, and a monetary transaction [
-150-] concluded with a gentleman at a little table, another white-gloved hand was waved towards the drawing - rooms, and there in the farthest room of the long suite was assembled a collection of gentlemen in dress clothes, of all ages, most of them bronzed and clean-shaved, though a beard here and there belonged to some one who had left the colours. There was a glint of silver from miniature medals and the sparkle of a couple of orders. It was not the ordinary assemblage that waits patiently with legs apart and hands under the coat-tails for dinner to be announced; it was an assemblage in which much shaking of hands was going on, and intermingled with greetings were such scraps of conversation as, “Haven’t seen you for years” ; “Yes, a fortnight’s leave from Ireland to do Ascot” ; “Home on sick leave, but feel fit enough now”; “A big dinner to-night: thirty-three dining.”
   
There was so much talk that dinner was announced three times before any one took any notice, and then there was a little block at the door, for the Generals hung back for a moment from leading the way, and the subalterns were not, before dinner, sufficiently assertive to take precedence.
   
The stream of black coats set at last down the corridor, and on our way we caught a glimpse of the bright scene in the table-d’hôte room, where all the little tables were occupied, and where the band was playing. We passed some pretty girls coming out of the drawing- room — one subaltern audibly regretted that the presence of the fair sex was tabooed at [-151-] the feast—and we turned into the oak  banqueting-room. 
   
There was a long table down the middle of the room, and at the centre of this the General who is the colonel-in-chief of the regiment seated himself with, on either hand, two Generals who have in their time held the regimental command. The getting into their places of the other guests at the banquet was rather like the game of musical chairs, and three unfortunates were left seatless. This, however, was soon rectified; there was a general squeezing up to make more room, and it was found that there was plenty of space at either end of the table for two places to be laid. Some one, beyond the original thirty-three, had been able to run over at the last moment from Ireland, and somebody had come up unexpectedly from the depot, and somebody else had thought that he had sent in his name to the secretary when he really had not.
   
It is an impressive room. There is a very broad frieze, on which rosy cupids gambol against a gold background, above the panels and carving in deep-toned oak. Across a large stained-glass window some warm - coloured brown curtains were almost drawn-to; a tall chiffonnier, bright with glass and napery, cut off the serving-room; clusters of electric lights sparkled in the skylight which forms the roof. A centre-piece and some great silver cups stood among the flowers, banks of which ran the whole way down the table, and which were of the colours of the regimental ribbon, with scarlet poppies to suggest the tint [-152-] of Her Majesty’s uniform. There was a button­hole of the same coloured flowers by each guest’s plate, and the cover of the menu repeated again the familiar colours. This was the list of the feast

Hors-d’oeuvre variés.
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Vins.
Milk Punch.
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Tortue claire.
Darne de saumon à la Mathilde.
Suprêmes de filets de sole glacés Danoise.
Blanchailles au Kari.
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Fine old East India Madeira
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Château Carbonnieux

Nageoires de tortue Washington.
Coquilles de foie gras Mireille.
Poularde à la Matignon.
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Boll and Co., 1884
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G.H.Mumm and Co.
Ex. Qual., Ex. Dry,
Cuvee
'65, 1889
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Selle d’agneau. Sauce menthe.
Haricots verts sautés au beurre.
Pommes nouvelles fondantes.
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Haut Bages, 1875
Feuerheera's Zimbro 1994 Port

Jambon de York à  la Kalli. 
Fèves de marais Maître d’Hôtel.
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Sorbet.
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Cailles de vignes et ortolans sur toast.
Salade Romaine.
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[-153-] Asperges en ranches. Sauce Argenteuil.
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Otard's Old Liqueur Brandy.
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Johannis Water.

Fruits à  la  Creole.
Bombe Japonaise. Petits fours.
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Dessert. Café noir.

    As a privileged grumbler I began the dinner with finding fault, for there were no finger-glasses as an accompaniment to the crevettes, which were among the hors-d’oeuvre, and the Boll, which was the champagne I tried, had not been iced sufficiently—if; indeed, it had seen the ice-pail at all. But the turtle-soup was soothing, and the next supply of champagne that came round was of the right temperature.
   
In the pause between the soup and the fish one could gather better than in the crowded dining-room who were present. On the chair­man’s right was a General who had been knighted by Her Majesty for his services in an African campaign; on his left the commander of the forces in an island fortress, who in his time had led a battalion of the regiment on active service; opposite to him was the lieutenant-colonel, who has added to the sheaf of the regiment’s honours in the latest Indian campaign. A couple of majors, home from India, sat together ; a group of retired officers, now most of them squires on their country estates, had gathered at a corner to talk over old times, the Governor of one of Her Majesty’s gaols was being much chaffed as to his present employment ; and the rest were [-154-] chiefly the bronzed, healthy, light-moustached young Englishmen, cast in the mould that tells the world at once that a man is a soldier, and fresh from manoeuvring in Ireland or guarding the marches at a great Indian frontier station.
   
The turtle fins and the saddle of mutton were excellent, and the ortolan I secured was as plump a little fellow as ever found the shelter of a vine leaf; but when we came to the asparagus I was constrained to ask the head waiter con­fidentially what the hard sticks were with a little soft place at the end, tasting more like a Brussels sprout than any vegetable that I knew of. The poor man, who wore a worried look, said that they were the best procurable in France, and turned for confirmation to a manager of many inches, who, his hair brushed up to a point, and wearing a pointed beard, was leaning with folded arms on the top of the chiffonnier, and con­templating the scene. Our little difference of opinion as to the quality of the asperges d’Argenteuil concluded, the fruits and ice handed round, the General in the chair rose, and in a few well-chosen words—for soldiers neither care to make long speeches nor to listen to them— proposed the health of the Queen, which was drunk standing ; and as loyal subjects who wore, or had worn, the scarlet, we applauded the suggestion of our Colonel that a telegram should be sent to the proper quarter, and that Her Majesty should know that the officers of one of her oldest regiments had saluted her at their annual gather­ing. Then the diners broke up into groups, for every one had much to say and much to hear, [-155-] and there were more speeches, and the healths of “officers past and present” were drunk, and courtesies exchanged with another regiment dining in the same hotel, and it was near the stroke of midnight when most of us remembered that we had to be up betimes to go to Ascot on the morrow.
  
21st June.