Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 30 - Frascati's (Oxford Street)

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CHAPTER XXX

FRASCATI’S (OXFORD STREET)

I AM beginning to flatter myself that I am a success in clerical circles. One week I took out to dinner my sister-in-law—who, I omitted to state, is the daughter of a dean; and the next week I successfully entertained a dear, simple­minded, white-haired old clergyman who had come from his parish in the North to London on business.
   
Two little boys home from Harrow are sitting at a table by an open window, looking through the frame of rose sprays and streamers of virginia-creeper to the turn of the road in the foreground, where the black wood of the sun­dial, put up to commemorate the battle of Waterloo, stands out against the rose red of the old brick wall behind it, where one of the posts of the village stocks still exists as a warning to evildoers, with beyond, in the middle distance, the great horse-chestnuts and the village cricketing ground, which serves as a promenade for the postmaster’s geese. The whole landscape is closed in by a great forest of firs, on the outskirts [-219-] of which red roofs and the tarnished gold of thatch chequer the dark green. Behind the two little boys stands a curate fresh from Oxford, who is trying to hammer into their thick little heads the translation of
   
     —cur apricum
   
     oderit campum—
his own thoughts all the time, like theirs, being on the cricket-ground, and not with Quintus Horatius Flaccus. That is the picture that always comes to me when I think of my old clerical friend.
   
He was a keen cricketer, and bowled under­hand with a cunning break from the off which was too much for the yokels of the teams that our village eleven annually held battle with ; and those daily two tiresome hours over, our holiday task done, he would bowl, at the net put up in the neighbouring field, as long as we chose to bat. His one dissipation now is a visit to London annually to see the Oxford and Cambridge cricket-match, and he always stays when he comes to London at my mother’s house. Un­expected business had brought him south last week, and one evening he would have been alone had I not offered to take him out somewhere.
   
Where to take him was a puzzle. I did not think that he would appreciate the delicacy of Savoy, or Cecil, or Prince’s, or Verrey’s cookery; the refinements of the Berkeley and the Avondale, and the light touch of M. Charles’s hand would be as naught to him. Luckily I remembered [-220-] that last July he had been taken to dine at Frascati’s, by a friend and old parishioner of his, and that the place and the dinner had made so great an impression on him that his conversation for the next day consisted chiefly of praise of the gorgeous palace in which he had been entertained. If Frascati’s had proved such a success once, I saw no reason why it should not be so again, and suggested that we should dine there, a suggestion which met with decided approval; so I tele­graphed to ask that a table might be reserved for me upstairs.
    My previous experiences of Frascati’s had been chiefly confined to the grill-room, a gorgeous hail of white marble, veined with black, with a golden frieze and a golden ceiling, where I often eat a humble chop or take a cut from the joint before going to listen to Dan Leno or some other mirth-provoker at the Oxford next door; but looking at the great restaurant after we had settled down into our seats I could quite under­stand that the building would appear as gorgeous as a pantomime transformation-scene to the eyes of any one not blasé by our modern nil admirari London. There are gold and silver everywhere. The pillars which support the balcony, and from that spring up again to the rooç are gilt, and have silver angels at their capitals. There are gilt rails to the balcony, which runs, as in a circus, round the great octagonal building; the alcoves that stretch back seem to be all gold and mirrors and electric light. What is not gold or shining glass is either light buff or delicate grey, and electric globes in profusion, [-221-] palms, bronze statuettes, and a great dome of green glass and gilding all go to make a gorgeous setting. The waiters in black, with a silver number in their button-holes, hover round the tables; somewhere below a string band, which does not impede conversation, plays. My old tutor rubbed his hands gently and smiled genially round at the gorgeousness, while I told the light-bearded manager that what I required was the ordinary table-d’hôte dinner, and picked out a Château Margaux from the long lists of clarets.
   
This was the menu of the table-d’hôte dinner:

Hors-d'oeuvre variés.
Consommé Brunoise.
Crème Fontange.
Escalope de barbue Chauchat.
Blanchaille.
Filet mignon Victoria.
Pommes sautées.
Riz de veau Toulouse.
Faisan rôti au cresson.
Salade.
Pouding Singapore.
Glacé vanille.
Fromage. Fruits.

    A platter divided into radiating sections held a great variety of hors-d’oeuvre, the rosy shade of the lamp threw its light upon a magnificent bunch of grapes on the summit of a pile of other fruits, and the manager in the background kept a watchful eye upon the waiter who was putting the consommé Brunoise on the table. I could not help wondering whether my telegram had not in [-222-] some way divulged the fact that I carried a fork under the banner of the Press and that I was getting in consequence a little better treatment than the ordinary. Certainly my bunch of grapes looked like the one that the Israelitish spies brought back from Canaan, in comparison with the ones on the other tables, and the chef had no niggard hand when he apportioned the truffles and little buttons of mushrooms to our dishes of the escalope de barbue and the riz de veau Toulouse.
   
My old tutor was considering the diners at the other tables benignantly, and having quite an unjustifiable belief that I know the face or everybody in London, asked me who they were. Whether we had come to dine on an exceptional night I do not know, but all our fellow-guests were in couples the men, I should fancy, principally gentlemen who spend their days in offices in the City, or in banks, fine specimens, most of them, of young England; and the ladies with them, either their wives or ladies who will eventually honour them by becoming so, as handsome representatives of British womanhood as I have ever seen collected under one roof. Out of all this gathering of stalwart men and pretty ladies there was not a single face that I recognised, and I am afraid I went down in the good old man’s estimation as being a walking dictionary of London celebrities. My old tutor said that the escalope de barbue was excellent, and it certainly looked good. I tried the whitebait, and found it too dry. The fillet was good. The chef had surrounded the riz de veau with [-223-] truffles and tiny mushrooms and many other good things, and my old tutor, who ate it, said that it was excellent.
   
The little tables on the ground floor had all filled by now, and the lady behind the long bar, with piles of plates on it, and with a long line of looking-glasses behind it reflecting many bottles, was very busy. A subdued hum of talking and the faint rattle of knives and forks against crockery mixed with the music of the band.
   
The pheasant was a fine plump bird; the ice was excellent. I insisted on my old tutor having a glass of port to end his dinner, and after much pressing—for one glass of wine is all he allows himself as a rule at a meal—he was over-per­suaded. Then he rubbed his hands and beamed, and told me stories of his own schoolboyhood: how he once fought another boy, now a Colonial Governor, and smote him so severely on the nose that it bled; and of a dreadful escapade, which still weighs on his mind—nothing less than going to see a race-meeting, and being subsequently soundly birched.
   
This was the bill I paid :—Two dinners at 5s., 10s.; one bottle 6A, 7s.; half-bottle 61, 5s. 6d., total, £1:2:6.
   
My old tutor went away with his enthusiasm of the summer still unimpaired; and when next I have a country cousin to take out to dinner I shall go to Frascati’s.
   
8th November.