Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 34 - The Monico (Shaftesbury Avenue)

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HE, a gentleman on the Stock Exchange, who has generally a stock of good stories, mentioned in the course of a letter to me that he had heard a really good tale of the last bye-election, and would tell it to me the next time that we met, as it was too long to write. Now, that particular election is fast becoming ancient history, and if that story had to be retailed to my circle of country friends, it would have to be done quickly. Therefore I wrote to my stockbroker, who lives in Shaftesbury Avenue, and asked him to name a day to come across the way, and dine at the Monico.
The day settled, I went to the Monico and interviewed the manager, Signor Giulio C. Nobile, a gentleman of stalwart figure, with a pleasant smile, and a small but carefully-tended moustache. I wanted to kill two birds at a stone—to hear the story and to see what the Monico and its cooking were like, for it is a restaurant which somehow or other has not fallen within the circle of my usual dining-places.
[-248-] I asked Signor Nobile what he considered the speciality of the great restaurant over which he presides ; and though he was anxious to give me a specially ordered dinner, I came to the con­clusion that I could best test what the establish­ment could do by trying the 5s. table d’hôte in the Renaissance room on the first floor.
“Dinner at 7.30 for two, if you please, and pray remember that I want exactly the table d’hôte dinner that all your customers get,” was my last request to Signor Nobile, and he smiled and said that that should be so.
At 7.30 my facetious stockbroker friend, ruddy of face, his moustache carefully curled, and his expansive white waistcoat garnished with gold-and-coral buttons, appeared on the scene. As the lift, engineered by a smart page, took us up to the first floor he began: “It’s the funniest story you ever heard, and will make you die of laughter. There was a doubtful elector and _____“ But the lift stopped, and there was Signor Nobile bowing and smiling on the landing.
“We have five minutes to spare, Signor Nobile,” I said, “and while they are putting the hors-d’oeuvre on the table, will you take us round the house and show us the different rooms ?”
The Signor led, I followed, and my friend the stockbroker brought up the rear. First we went into a great hall on the first floor, where a smoking-concert was in progress, and thunders of applause were greeting a gentleman in evening dress who had just concluded a song. “It is some one going abroad, and they are giving him [-249-] a send-off,” was Mr. Nobile’s explanation. Next we went down to the ground- floor through a hail, where people were sitting at little round- topped tables drinking various beverages, and down some steps into a German beer saloon, with pigmies and other strange creatures painted on the walls. Up again to the first floor, through a long grill-room with little white-clothed tables in four rows, then a peep into a restaurant, and a flight in the lift up to the second floor, where solemn gentlemen in black were eating a dinner of ceremony in a very pretty saloon with an Egyptian room as a reception-room next door. Our five minutes were over, we had seen most of the big rooms of the house, and, descending, we took our places at a table by one of the windows in the Renaissance Saloon.
“Now for that story,” I said; but my stock­broker was puffing and blowing. “Give a fellow a few minutes to get his breath, after rushing him up and down stairs at racing pace,” he said so I turned my attention to the room, the menu, and the company. The room is a symphony in old gold and grey. The paper has a gold pattern on a grey ground, the long line of windows have soft grey curtains. At one end of the room is a great clock above a large mirror. The ceiling is a series of square frames enclosing circular painted panels. The orchestra is in a balustraded balcony, with an arch above it, held high by two pillars. In the centre of the room, among the little tables, a palm grows out of a great vase. There are blue glass shades to the electric globes that drop from the ceiling, and the silver lamps [-250-] that stand on the table are curtained with crimson. Waiters in white waistcoats and black coats, and white-aproned sommeliers, with great silvered badges, come and go past the clerks’ desk, which stands below the orchestra.
The diners, mostly in pairs, were fitting occupants of the handsome room. There was a very beautiful lady with a big diamond where the centre parting of her hair left her forehead; and another lady in a mantilla, who would have many gallants with guitars below her windows had she lived in Seville. Most of the couples were evi­dently going to the theatre, and left soon after we arrived. This was the menu

Hors-d’oeuvre variés.
Consommé Bortsch.
Crème à la Reine.
Soles à la Nantua.
Poularde Valencienne.
Tournedos Princesse.
Canards sauvages. Sauce Port wine.
Biscuits Monico.
Petits fours.

When my stockbroker had drunk his Bortsch, which was well made, he began: “It is rather a long story, but it will make you die of laughing. There was a______“ but at that moment Signor Nobile, who had been smiling in the distance, came up with a leaflet on which was inscribed the names of the Royalties who have from time to time honoured the Monico with their presence. [-251-] There are evidently some regiments with Royal colonels who always go to the Monico for their annual dinner.
“Go on with your story,” I said, when Signor Nobile had once more smiled himself into the background; but a waiter had just then shown us a tempting dish of filets de sole a la Nantua, a plat really admirably cooked, and as my stock­broker took up his fork he said, “Yes, and be pilloried by you in print for talking to you while you are eating. Not me.”
The poularde, a fine fat bird reposing in a bed of rice, satisfactorily disposed of, I told the waiter not to bring the tournedos for a few minutes, and settled back in my seat to hear the story of the doubtful elector.
“It’s a long story; but you’ll die with laughing when you hear it,” my stockbroker began again.
“There was a voter, and he would tell nobody Just then the band commenced the overture to “Guillaume Tell.” Now, it is an excellent band, and M. Paul Bosc, the conductor, is an admirable soloist on the violin; but when it gets to work at a Rossini overture the music takes the place of conversation, and my stock­broker stopped abruptly and waited for a better opportunity. Before the band had concluded the waiter had given us our tournedos.
The wild duck we were given a la press, and when we had eaten our slices of the breast I said, like Demetrius, “ I wonder”; for I was wondering whether all the pretty ladies and good-looking gentlemen had been treated as well as we had been. Five shillings is not a very large sum. Chickens [-252-] and wild-duck cost money, even when bought wholesale, and we had been given a whole chicken and a whole wild-duck. “If I were you,” said the stockbroker, philosophically, “I shouldn’t trouble to wonder. I should either eat my dinner —and it has been a good one so far—or else I should listen to an interesting story as to the doubtful elector.”
I took his advice, in so far as eating my dinner was concerned, for the biscuit was capital.
Signor Nobile came up to ask if the dinner had been satisfactory, and I had only pleasant words to say to him. Then my stockbroker drew a long breath, and was about to begin, when once more I interrupted him. “Pardon me,” I said, “let me order coffee and liqueurs, and pay my bill. The orchestra is enjoying ten minutes’ interval, and there will be, once the bill is paid, nothing to interrupt the flow of your discourse, nothing to mar my enjoyment of it.”
This was the bill :—Two dinners, l0s.; one bottle 210, 16s. 6d. ; liqueurs, 5s. ; coffee, 1s. total, £1:12:6. This paid, I prepared to enjoy a really good story. “There was a voter who would tell no one on which side he was going to vote,” I commenced, to gently lead my stock­broker up to his story. But he looked at his watch. “Very sorry, my dear boy,” he said, “but I have an appointment in two minutes’ time I daren’t break. I must tell you the story another day. It’s a bit long, but you’ll die with laughter when you hear it.”
I have not as yet heard that voter story, and am still alive.
6th December.