Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 22 - Dieudonné's (Ryder Street)

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CHAPTER XXII

DIEUDONNÉ’S (RYDER STREET)

“I THOUGHT your Galatea a superb creation and flatter myself I gave an entirely new reading of the part of Chrysos’s slave,” I said ; and our leading lady was kind enough to say in reply that through force of genius I raised the part of Chrysos’s slave into a principal character.
   
I never inflict the fact upon my friends, but I am an amateur actor. I do not play Hamlet or Othello, for owing to the jealousy of” casting” committees, those parts are never offered me. I have some original readings which the world will be startled by when I do play Hamlet; but I can, I believe, get more expression into such sentences as “My lord, the carriage waits,” than any other amateur who has ever trodden the boards of St. George’s Hall.
   
The leading lady of a troupe of which erst­while I was a member—a little difficulty over the allotment of the part of Young Marlowe was the cause of my ceasing to assist them—was anxious to see Réjane as Gilberte in “Frou­Frou.” Her husband, a worthy man, but with [-157-] no taste for the higher dramatic art, and in the habit of saying sarcastic things as to amateurs and amateur acting, preferred the Empire to the Lyric; hence I had the honour of escorting our leading lady to see Réjane, and asked her to dine with me at Dieudonné’s as a preliminary.
   
It was while she trifled with a sardine at the commencement of dinner that I remarked that her Galatea was a superb creation—it really was not at all bad—and she complimented me very justly on my Chrysos’s slave.
   
We had a table close to the window, and looked over a bank of flowers across to the rather sombre houses on the opposite side of Ryder Street. But if the look-out is not of the brightest, the inside of the room on the first floor is charming—the perfection of a room to dine in on a hot day. It is all in white. The two pillars in the centre of the room are white, the great dumb-waiter is white, the walls are white. There are delicately-painted panels, with gentlemen and ladies in powder and silk and brocade limned upon them; the ceiling is the work of an artist, and there is here and there a touch of gold in the framing of a screen or the capital of a pillar. One little shade on each of the bunches of three electric lights, that are held by brackets from the wall, is pink, the others white. On the tables there were flowers in vases of silver. The downstairs room, which is smaller, is equally cool-looking and tastefully decorated.
   
M. Guffanti, the proprietor, slim, and with a moustache that a cavalryman might envy, [-158-] had come to ask whether the table he had reserved for us was to our liking, the bottle of Pol Roger was in the ice-pail within reach of my hand, and I was just going to tell our leading lady with what pleasure I recalled her Lady Teazle when we played in the schoolroom at Tadley-on-the-Marsh, and to ask her candidly what her opinion was of my rendering of the part of Joseph’s valet, when Giovanini, the maitre d’hôtel, came up with a bunch of flowers in his hand. Giovanini, bushy of eyebrows, and with whiskers that are almost Piccadilly weepers, evidently regarded our leading lady with much respectful admiration ; for he presented her with the bunch of roses. And indeed our leading lady might well compel admiration, for she was looking superbly handsome, and was wearing all her diamonds. Her appearance reminded me, as I told her later, of that evening when she made such a hit as the heroine of “Plot and Passion,” at Slopperton, and I played, with some distinction, I trust, the part of Grisbouille.
   
What our leading lady’s impressions were of my rendering of the valet in “The School for Scandal” I shall never know, for the arrival of the consommé Nelson turned the conversation, and I was asked as to the identity of all the people who were dining. There were two ladies at a table by themselves—Dieudonné’s is one of the places where ladies can dine by them­selves, without fear of any inconvenience—whom I put down as country cousins who had come up for a fortnight’s shopping and sight-seeing in town. There was a family party: husband, [-159-] wife—a stern lady with spectacles, who took immense interest in the leading lady when she overheard me call her the Ellen Terry of the amateur stage—and two children. There were two colonels and an admiral, who were going to escort two ladies to the theatre; there was a large party of French people, a very pretty dark- eyed girl among them; there were a handsome American lady and her husband; there was a Royal Engineer just off to Malta, who had played hero’s parts with the leading lady—I should not wonder if he was the fellow who cut me out of the part of Young Marlowe; and there were a dozen other people whose identity I could not determine. This was the menu of the dinner, the customary table-d’hôte meal, a menu to which the leading lady seemed more inclined to devote attention than to my remarks on my own rendering of various characters:-

Hors-d’oeuvre variés.
Consommé Nelson.
Crème Brésilienne.
Saumon du Rhin bouilli. Sauce mousseline.
Caneton braisé Fermière.
Noisettes de Béhaques Romaine.
Poularde de Surrey à la broche.
Salade.
Haricots verts à l’Anglaise.
Bombe favourite.
Petits fours.
Laitances sur toast.
Salade de fraises.

When the creamy-pink salmon was put upon the table, M. Guffanti, going the rounds of the [-160-] tables, came and asked if everything was to our satisfaction, and as I thought it might interest the leading lady, I asked him what had become of Madame Dieudonné’s little room and the pretty things that were drawn and written on its walls.
   
Before Dieudonné’s became the handsome hotel and restaurant that it is now, it was a boarding-house which stood in high favour with such of the French artists and sculptors and singers and actors who crossed the silver streak to perfidious Albion. The table-d’hôte  dinner, at which Mdme. Dieudonné took the head of the long table, was a celebrated institution. No one could come without being vouched for by some of the habitués, and most of the people who might be found at the board were of European celebrity. Madame had a little parlour, which was a kind of holy of holies, and on the walls of this all the most celebrated of the celebrities who were the amis du maison either drew a sketch or wrote a quatrain, or dotted down a bar or two of some favourite air, and the names that were signed below the sketches and the scribblings were some of those that stand highest on the roll of fame. M. Guffanti told us that in spite of all precautions the walls were spoilt, and that Madame’s little parlour was now the ante-room downstairs with the Watteau panels, where people sit after dinner and drink coffee.
   
The duck was excellent, but to be absolutely critical I thought that the vegetables had lingered a thought too long by the fire, and if the weather had not been as muggy and stifling as it was I [-161-] might have suggested that the lamb from which the noisettes were cut would have been better for a little longer hanging. For the rest of the dinner I had nothing but praise, and the salad of strawberries, as cold as ice could make it, was delicious. I ordered coffee and some chartreuse in crushed ice for the leading lady, and some fin champagne for myself and asked for my bill.
   
While disposing of the coffee I thought that my chance had come to get the leading lady’s real opinion of my conception of the character of Joseph’s valet, and began explaining at length my method of entry to announce the arrival of Charles Surface; but the leading lady rather brusquely asked for her cloak, and said we should miss part of the first act of “Frou-Frou.”
    I paid the bill—Two dinners, 15s. ; one bottle 89, 13s. ; two cafés specials, 1s. 6d. ; two liqueurs, 2s. ; total, £1:11:6—and helped the leading lady on with her cloak. I think she might have listened to my ideas as to the valet’s entrance. These amateurs—all but myself—are so in­ordinately selfish.
   
5th July.