Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 33 - The East Room (Criterion, Piccadilly Circus)

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CHAPTER XXXII [sic, ed.]


“I WANT father to take me to see ‘The Liars,’” said pretty Miss Carcanet (“Brighteyes” to her friends), “but he says that he sees too many of them as it is in his club smoking-room, and won’t go with me.”
There was naturally only one thing to do, and that was to offer to take Lady Carcanet and Miss Brighteyes to the play at the Criterion.
Sir George was evidently relieved at not having to go to the theatre, and thanked me. “It is just the play that ought to suit you,” he added, “for I hear it’s all about menus and sauces.”
Lady Carcanet, however, could not go to the play. She was retiring to Brighton to escape the fogs, and did not know when she would come back. Sir George settled it all, however, over the walnuts and the port. He had to preside at a political dinner one day in the coming week, and if I would take Miss Brighteyes out to dinner and to the play that night [-238-] it would take a responsibility off his shoulders. “Let the old woman get away to Brighton, and don’t say anything till she’s out of the way. I am all for letting the girl enjoy herself freely; but Maria thinks that no unmarried girl should stir without two chaperons and a maid to guard her.” I nodded assent to Sir George’s opinions, but I knew that he would never have dared to call Lady Carcanet “the old woman” to her face.
    I bought the tickets for “The Liars,” and on the morning of the day I was to have the responsibility of chaperoning Miss Brighteyes I went to the Criterion, to the East Room, to order my dinner and choose my table.
M. Lefèvre, the manager, is an old acquaint­ance of mine, for once before the East Room was under his direction, and now, with M. Node and Alfred as his adjutant and sergeant- major, he still keeps a watchful eye over all that takes place there. He is an enthusiast on cookery, and should one day write a book on the introduction of good foreign cookery into England, for he talks of M. Coste and Maûtre Escofiier, and the other great pioneers of culinary progress, with real enthusiasm.
There are three tables, one of which I always take, if possible, when I dine in the East Room. One is the little table in the corner by the entrance from the ante-room, another a table sheltered by a glass screen, and the third a table in the corner at the far end of the room. I told Alfred to keep me the table at the far end of the room; and then M. Lefêvre—tall, with a [-239-] thin beard, with strong, nervous hands, that he clasps and unclasps as he talks—arrived, and we talked over our menu. Caviar I preferred to oysters, for I did not know whether Miss Bright- eyes cared for shellfish, and then we passed to the consideration of the soup.
I suggested that it should be a consommé, as I did not want a heavy dinner, and M. Lefèvre hit on exactly the right thing, a consommé de gibier. Next came the fish, and as the details of the fillet of sole with soft herring—roe, and the sharp taste of prawn and crayfish to make the necessary contrast were unfolded, I nodded my head. Cailles à la Sainte Alliance we settled on at once, and then came the difficulty of the entrée. I wanted a perfectly plain dish, and in a grilled chicken wing and breast we found our way out of our difficulty. There was a novelty, a method of cooking bananas that M. Lefèvre, who believes that bananas are not sufficiently appreciated, wanted us to try.
The menu completed read thus

Potage consommé à la Diane.
Filets de sole aux délices.
Suprêmes de volaille grillés.
Carottes nouvelles à la crème.
Laitues braisées en cocotte.
Cailles à la Sainte Alliance.
Salade de chicorée frisée.
Croûites à la Caume.
Soufflé glacé à la mandarine.

Then, having nothing in particular to do for a quarter of an hour, I walked round the building [-240-] with M. Lefèvre, looked in at the Great Hall where the statue of Shakespeare gazes contemplatively down upon the chairman’s head at big public dinners; the hall next to it, which is only one degree smaller in size; the Masonic temple and the Chapter-room; and the prettiest room of all, the room in which the French dinner is served, on the walls of which is an Oriental design of roses which would not have been out of place in one of the pleasure chambers of Akbar at Agra.
In the evening, before Miss Brighteyes, who was to be escorted as far as the ante-room to the East Room by Sir George, arrived, I had a few minutes in which to go and see that all was ready at my table, and to look round to see whether there was anybody whom I knew dining. It was, I should think, the first occasion on which I have dined in the East Room and have not recognised a single face; but all the ladies appeared very smart, all the men were well groomed, the usual type of diners at a good restaurant. If I had looked at the book in which the names of people ordering dinners are noted, I should no doubt have found that there were a dozen people among the well-dressed diners whose names are familiar in our mouths as household words.
The little ante-room, with its green and cream walls, its mirrors, its big fireplace, and its comfortable chairs, is cosy enough to have a soothing effect on a worse-tempered man than myself; and my patience was not much tried, for Sir George formally handed over Miss Bright-[-241-]eyes to me not five minutes after the time at which I had ordered dinner.
Miss Brighteyes looked very delightful in a dress of some white gossamer material with spangly adornments, which resembled diamonds, scattered over it. She wore a diamond brooch and a necklet of pearls with a diamond clasp, which had been her birthday presents from her father on her seventeenth and eighteenth birthdays.
When Miss Brighteyes gets up on her society high horse she reduces me to comparative silence. While I was being given some details as to beautiful decorations at St. George’s on the oc­casion of her cousin’s wedding, I tried in vain to make Miss Brighteyes understand that the caviar she was eating deserved some attention, but she was not to be turned from her account of an aisle decorated with chrysanthemums and palms.
Had a man dared to talk to me about the Grafton Supper Club while he was drinking the delicious consommé I should have reproved him, and asked him to reserve conversation for the interludes of the repast; but Miss Brighteyes, not thinking in the least of the serious responsi­bility of eating a good dinner, chattered gaily of Miss Mary Moore’s black and white dress at the supper a week gone by, and reeled off a catalogue of names from the Peerage of the men who had been her partners at the little informal dance that followed the supper.
While I ate with appreciation the délices de sole, I was told why Miss Brighteyes preferred Princes’ to Niagara as a skating-rink, or vice versa, I forget which.
[-242-] With the suprême de volaille I was given a short account of a party at the Bachelors’ Club to see a magic-lantern entertainment, and when the cailles à la Sainte Alliance were brought up Miss Brighteyes was beginning to tell me of some charades, at her aunt’s house, acted by children. But the quails were a dish in the presence of which I felt that small talk must cease. “Miss Brighteyes,” I said gravely, “cast your eyes around this room. You see dainty panels of dark green traced over with gold, you see red and gold cornices, a ceiling of cream and gold studded with lights innumerable, bronze velvet curtains, yellow-shaded lamps, fine napery, glass, and silver. All this is but the framing to what is contained in this little earthen terrine. Into the interior of a little ortolan M. Gastaud himself, the chef cuisinier, has introduced a little block of truffle and other delicacies. That little ortolan has been imbedded in a quail, and this sacred alliance, over which M. Jeannin, chef des cuisiniers, has smiled, has been served up cooked to the instant for your delectation. Is this a moment, then, young lady, to talk of children’s charades? Is not thankful silence better?”
Miss Brighteyes appreciated the solemnity of the moment, and also ate the bananas—which she said were very good—in silence. It was not until she had begun her soufflé that she found voice to tell me about a new and very smart cycling club of which she had been asked to be an original member.
I paid the bill: couverts, 2s.; caviar, 4s.; potage, 2s.; filets de sole, 3s.; suprêmes de [-243-] volaille et légumes, 8s.; cailles, los.; salade, 1s., croûtes à la Caume, 2s.; soufflé glacé, 2s.; vin, “‘62”(a capital bottle of claret), 5s.; eau minérale, 6d.; liqueurs, 3s.; café, 6d.; total, £2 3s.
“Now,” I said to Miss Brighteyes, “we will go down to the theatre and listen in comfort to a discussion as to sauce Arcadienne and sauce Marguérite.”
29th November.

** Since I wrote the above Mons. Lefèvre has had, through temporary ill-health and overwork, to resign his position as manager at the Criterion, being succeeded by Mons. Gerard. Mons. Cassignol has succeeded Mons. Jeannin as the king of the kitchen.
The decorations of the East Room have been altered, and it is now resplendent in white, gold, and moss-green. The West Room is now all pink, and a gilt musicians’ gallery has been put up in the redecorated entrance-hall.
Mons. Lefèvre being an enthusiast on the subject of bananas in cookery, I asked him if he would give the recette of the croûtes à la Caume, and as he said “certainly,” and seemed pleased to do it, I put in a request for the recette of the filets de sole aux délices, and that was given me as well.
I also asked Mons. Lefèvre to draw out for me two menus of what he would consider distinctive east-room dinners for four people and for ten. They were sent to me and admirably thought out dinners they are. This is the feast for four—

Consommé Prince de Galles. Crème de santé.
Truites de rivière a la Cléopâtre.
Epaule d’agneau de lait à la Boulangère.
[-244-] Petits pois nouveaux à la crème.
Caneton Nantais farci à la Rouennaise.
Salade Victoria.
Soufflé glacé a l’orange

And this for ten—

Huîtres natives.
Potage clair à la tortue. Crème Raphaël.
Darne de saumon au court-bouillon.
Cassolettes de laitances à l’Américaine.
Cailles à la Mascotte.
Noisettes de chevreuil à la Cumberland.
Haricots verts nouveaux.
Purée de champignons.
Chapons du Mans à la truffe.
Salade à la crème.
Asperges d’Argenteuil. Sauce mousseline.
Glacé Alaska.
Diablotins à la Joinville.

Suprêmes de soles aux délices

Rangez vos filets de soles dans un plat beurre; arrosez­les de vin blanc et faites-les pocher pendant dix minutes. Egoutez ensuite vos filets et dressez-les sur un plat oval. Faites réduire rapidement la cuisson avec un peu de bon velouté et un morceau de beurre d’écrevisses. Quand votre sauce est prète, jetez-y des queues d’écrevisses et recouvrez en vos filets de soles. Dressez aux extrémités du plat des quenelles d’écrevisses décorées à la truffe, et servez.

Arrange your filleted soles on a buttered dish, sprinkle them with white wine, and cook them for ten minutes. Then drain the fillets, and arrange [-245-] them on an oval dish. Boil down the liquor rapidly, with a little good velouté sauce and a piece of cray­fish butter. When your sauce is ready, throw into it the tails of the crayfish, and cover the fillets of sole with it. Round the edge of the dish place quenelles of crayfish decorated with truffles, and serve.

Croûtes à la Caume

Vous préparez vos croûtes avec de la brioche en tranches d’un centimètre d’épaisseur, que vous faites rôtir légèrement au four après les avoir saupoudrées au sucre. Vous les dressez en couronne sur un plat rond, au milieu, mais avec quelques losanges d’ananas au centre. Vous prenez des bananas pas trop mûres, mais surtout bien saines. Vous les jetez avec leur peau dans de l’eau froide que vous mettez à bouillir. Après deux minutes d’ébullition, les bananes sont cuites. Vous les retirez, vous les épluchez, et les rangez sur votre plat autour des croûtons. Vous arrosez l’ananas et les bananes d’une sauce abricot parfumée au Kirsch, et vous servez bien chaud, après avoir décoré de quelques fruits confits. C’est très simple. Toutes les ménagères peuvent faire ça. C’est cependant la façon la plus exquise de manger la banane.

You prepare your pieces of bread, or brioche, in slices about half an inch in thickness, and bake (or toast) them lightly in the oven, after  having sprinkled [-246-] them with sugar. Arrange them in the form of a crown upon a round dish, placing them in the middle, but with some pieces of pineapple in the centre. Take some bananas, not too ripe, but perfectly sound and good, throw them into cold water with their skins on, and let them boil. After boiling for two minutes the bananas will be done. Take them out of the water, peel them, and arrange them on the dish, round the croutons. Sprinkle the pineapple and the bananas with apricot sauce flavoured with kirsch, and serve very hot, after having ornamented the dish with preserved fruits.