Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 29 - The Cafe Royal (Regent Street)

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CHAPTER XXIX

THE CAFÉ ROYAL (REGENT STREET)

My sister-in-law is the daughter of a dean. I do not make this statement through family pride, but because it is pertinent to what follows.
  
Man and boy, these six years or so, I have known little Oddenino, who now rules the destinies of the Café Royal. The little man, with his quiet, rather nervous manner and big serious eyes, went from the management of the East Room at the Criterion to the Washington in Oxford Street, then to the big hotel at Cimiez, and has now put the Café Royal into shape.
  
During the summer of 1897, I was one day, towards lunch-time, pacing up and down the passage which leads from the pillared door in Regent Street to the café and grill-room portion of the big establishment, a passage which has on one side the bookstall where the French papers are on sale, and on the other the manager’s offices, when a door opened and Oddenino appeared. I asked him what he was doing in the Café Royal, and he told me that he had come as manager. Then he put his head on one side and considered [-210-] me. With the utmost politeness he suggested that I was waiting for a lady, a soft impeachment which I admitted, and that I was not in the best of tempers, which was also true. He was deeply grieved, but tried to console me by saying that when I came back to town in the autumn I should find a comfortable room upstairs to wait in, and went on to tell me of the other improve­ments he intended to make. One great grief he had, and that was that some people thought that the company that frequented the restaurant was rather Bohemian. How anybody could think so, I told him, I could not understand, and as a triumphant proof of this I told Oddenino that the first lady whom I would bring to dine in the redecorated restaurant should be my sister-in-law, the daughter of a dean.
  
In the autumn the opportunity arrived for carrying out my promise. My brother was away slaughtering many driven partridges in Wiltshire, and my sister-in-law—did I mention that she is the daughter of a dean ?—was left in solitary dignity in town. I went in the after­noon of the day we were going to dine to apprise Oddenino of our impending visitation — that word has a comforting clerical sound—and to order dinner.
  
My sister-in-law is not partial to shell-fish, so the oysters with which I should have begun the feast were not to be thought of; nor were most of the most delicate ways of cooking a sole to be considered. My sister-in-law has always said that my idea of a perfect dinner is semi-starvation, so I included two entrées instead of one in the [-211-] menu. This was the dinner which I, in consultation with Oddenino, settled upon

Hors-d’oeuvre Russe.
Pot au feu.
Sole Waleska.
Noisette d’agneau Lavallière.
Haricots verts a l’Anglaise.
Parfait de foie gras.
Caille en cocotte.
Salade.
Pole nord.

When I suggested an ice, and Oddenino wrote down pole nord, I asked him what particular ice that meant. It was only a cream ice served on a pedestal of clear ice, he said; but he thought that pole nord to end a menu sounded grand and mysterious.
  
I should, out of compliment to my sister-in-law, have liked to have driven up to the Café Royal in an equipage such as dignitaries of the Church use, with a hammer-cloth and a white-wigged coachman; but a humble coupé had to suffice.
  
We went up the staircase, which has been regilt and refurbished, and has more flowers and plants than of yore, and into the little waiting-room at the top of the stairs, which Oddenino had promised to have built for me to save wear and tear of my temper. It is not a very large waiting-room, a promise only of better things to come, a slice of the first of the big rooms partitioned off by a screen of mirrors. Some easy-chairs look comforting even to a hungry man, and, no doubt, not only my temper, but [-212-] that of others, will profit by it in the future. A table had been kept for us in the first room, and when my sister-in-law had settled down she began looking carefully at the diners at the other tables. I asked if there was any one whom she expected to see, and was told that she was looking for the actresses I had promised to point out to her. Our table commanded a fine view of the room we were in and the big room, the windows of which look on to Glasshouse Street. There was scarcely a vacant table, but nowhere could I see an actress to point out to my sister-in-law. There was a celebrated doctor, clean-shaven and with white hair, dining tête-a-tête with his wife there was a well-known barrister, invincible in licensing cases, who was giving a dinner to his wife and daughter; there was a big dinner-party of men all hailing from the Stock Exchange; there was a smart little lady talking hunting to three entranced youths; but nowhere could I see a face that I recognised as belonging to an actress.
  
My sister-in-law thought that she had been defrauded, but luckily the fat waiter, an old ally of mine, appeared at the right moment with the caviar, and the sommelier was anxious to know whether I would have the Clicquot vin rosée, which poor M. Nicol used to say was the best champagne in the cellar, iced. My sister-in-law approved highly of the soup, and indeed it was excellent, simple and strong. Then came the sole Waleska, and I was anxious to see whether my sister-in-law—who, I have omitted to state, is the daughter of a dean — appreciated the delicacy of the sauce and the almost imper-[-213-]ceptible flavouring of cheese. She did, and I forgave her on the spot for not liking oysters. The noisette d’agneau was not quite on a par with the glory of the remainder of the dinner, for the tiny morsels of lamb, the foundation of the plat, might have been more tender; but I am sure that if the dear departed geese of Strassburg could have looked upon their livers, placed snugly in a great terrine, to which the blocks of truffle gave a half-mourning effect, and covered decently with a fair coating of transparent jelly, they would have been consoled for all their over-eating and subsequent demise.
  
At this period of our dinner little Oddenino came up, and I asked him to point out some of the alterations to my sister—in-law. He showed her the new lamps, which cast a pleasant rosy light on the tables ; the new carpet; sent the maitre d’hôtel to fetch samples of the new china and glass and silver which by now have been taken into use; explained how the kitchen, which is under the rule of M. Charles, has been doubled in size; and how the serving arrangements, which of old were coram populo, and carried out with an accompaniment of shrill female voices and much clashing of plates, were now safely concealed behind a wall of mirrors. I told Oddenino that I thought that even now too much noise came through the open door which leads to the serving-room; for I hold a really good dinner to be so sublime a thing that the homage of absolutely silent attendance is due to it; and the little man, looking suddenly as sorrowful as if he had lost a near relation, [-214-] promised to have swing doors put up, so that not a whisper should penetrate to the dining-rooms.
  
The quails were delicious. Their flesh almost melted in one’s mouth, as my sister-in-law re­marked. When the pole nord came the ice proved not to be an ordinary one, but a semi­fluid delicacy cased in harder cream ice. The ice pedestal was in the shape of a bird resting on rocks, and when I made a feeble little jest about Andrée’s pigeons my sister - in - law laughed. I reproved her austerely, telling her that if she laughed thus she would be taken for an actress. Whereon she retorted that she did not want to be taken for an actress, but that she wanted to be one. I opened my eyes in a query, and she said that if actresses were given every night such a dinner as she had eaten she wanted to be an actress.
  
I paid my bill while my sister-in-law admired the beautiful flower-decked Minton china, a trayful of which was brought to her, the glasses with a golden N and a crown on them and the heavy silver. The bill was : two couverts, 1s. hors-d’oeuvre, 2s.; pot au feu, 2s.; sole Waleska, 3s. 6d.; supreme d’agneau, 3s. 6d.; haricots verts, 1s. 6d. ; parfait de foie gras, 4s. ; caille cocotte, 5s. ; salade, 1s. ; pole nord, 2s. 6d.; café, 1s. 6d.; one bottle ‘67, 15s. ; liqueurs, 2s.; total, £2:4:6.
  
I told my sister-in-law that if we were not to miss the first act of the play we were going to see, we had better be going, so she laid down the straw through which she had been sucking her crème de menthe, and with a sigh, a tribute of remembrance to the quails, put on her gloves.         [-215-] I have now a sister-in-law who is the daughter of a dean, but who wants to become an actress.
  
1st November.

*** Since writing the above the Café Royal has definitely taken its place once again as one of the first-class restaurants of London. Little Oddenino has continued making improvements, putting in a lift, making a cloak-room, and adding generally to the comfort of the place.
  
I asked the little man to send me the menu of a dinner given to the late Mr. “Barney” Barnato before he started on his ill-starred journey to the Cape, and also to ask M. Charles to give me the recette of the soles Waleska. M. Oddenino sent me a menu, which is a good specimen of a Café Royal dinner for a large party; but which I do not recognise as the Barnato menu, and also the recette for filets de sole St-Augustin — named after him, for his “ front name “ is August — the very latest delicacy in fish.
  
Here are menu and recette

Solera
1852
Hors-d’oeuvre Russe
Huîtres natives
Consommé Prince de Galles
Turbotin à la Polignac
Veuve Clicquot
1889
Suprême de volaille à la Montpensier
Côtelette d’agneau de lait à la Regence
Corbeille de pommes soufflée
Giesler 1884
Extra Dry
Parfait de foie gras
Bécassine rôtie sur canapé
Salade de coeur de laitue
[-216-] Château Lafite
1875
Nageoires de tortue à l’Américaine
Asperges nouvelles Anglaise. Sauce mousseline
Martinez
1863
Ananas glacé
Soufflé au fromage
Grande Fin Champagne, Waterloo
1815
Corbeilles de fruits
Café

Here is the recette of the filets de sole St-Augustin, to which both M. Charles, the chef and M. Oddenino, its godfather, have set their signature—

Recettes de filets de sole St.-Augustin

Prenez une belle sole bien fraiche, enlevez-en les filets, pliez les en deux, mettez-les dans une casserole avec un morceau de beurre, sel, poivre et un bon verre de champagne.
  
Faites cuire les filets de sole, aussitôt prêts retirez­les et faites réduire la cuisson aux trois-quarts, ensuite ajoutez-y une demie-pinte de crème et laissez réduire un moment le tout ensemble.
  
Mettez a part dans une casserole vingt-quatre queues d’écrevisses avec une truffe fraîche emmincie, un peu de beurre, sel et poivre, faites chauffer le tout doucement et mélangez ensuite votre sauce avec la garniture.
  
Dressez les filets de sole sur un plat rond, saucez par dessus, ajoutez un peu de fromage rapé pardessus, faites glacer au four et servez très chaud.

[-217-] Take a large, perfectly fresh sole. Fillet it. Fold the fillets in two, and put them in a saucepan, with a piece of butter, salt, pepper, and a glassful of champagne. Let the fillets cook until they are done, then take them out, and boil down the stock to three-quarters, then add to it half a pint of cream, and boil it all down together, for a moment. In another saucepan (a silver one), put the tails of twenty-four crayfish, with a truffle, freshly cut up, a little butter, and a little salt and pepper. Let this get hot very slowly, and mix your sauce with the garnish. Arrange the fillets of sole on a round dish and glaze them over. Serve very hot.