Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 41 - Kettner's (Church Street)

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CHAPTER XLI

KETTNER’S (CHURCH STREET)

“I HAVE NO amusement at all now,” said little Mrs. Tota—we always called her Mrs. Tota up at Simla, for she was as bright and perky as her little namesake, the Indian parrot. CC George says that the night air brings on his fever, and refuses to go out after dinner.”
  
George looked up from behind his paper and grunted; but there was a quiver of his left eyelid which looked very like a wink.
  
“I never go to a dance now, and you know I love dancing. I never have any fun like we used to have at the Black Hearts’ masked balls at Simla; the only kala jugga I ever go into is the coalhole. I never eat a nice little dinner like you used to give us at the Chalet. I never do anything, or see anything, and all because George thinks he might suffer from imaginary fever.”
  
George from behind the paper moaned a mocking moan. “If George wouldn’t mind,” I said, “I should be delighted to take you out some evening, give you a little dinner, take you [-292-] to a box at some theatre, and to a Covent Garden masked ball afterwards.”
  
“Mind!” said George, reappearing from his paper with great suddenness. “Mind! Why, my dear fellow, if you will only be so kind as to do that I shall not be abused for a week. Take her out, and give her dinner and supper, a box at a theatre and a dance, and my blessing shall be with you all the days of my life.”
  
Mrs. Tota clapped her hands. “George, for once in your life, you’re nice,” she said.
  
“We’ll have a regular Simla evening,” I suggested. “The nearest thing I can think of to the dining-room in the little U.S. Club chalet would be a private room at one of the restaurants.”
  
Mrs. Tota looked to George for approval, and then nodded in acquiescence.
  
“The Savoy private rooms would be too big for our little party of two. Romano’s has some charming Japanese private dining-rooms. There is the turret-room at Scott’s, which looks down on to Piccadilly and the Haymarket. There are two sweet little corner rooms at the Trocadero, the bow windows of which command Shaftesbury Avenue. There are—”
  
“You seem to know a good deal about the private rooms of all the restaurants,” said Mrs. Tota.
  
“I have an elderly relative who dislikes noise, so when I take him out to dine—”
  
“Oh, him!” interrupted Mrs. Tota. “Go on with your list.”
  
“There are some very handsome little rooms at the Café Royal, and Kettner’s, and a lot more.”
  
[-293-] “What’s Kettner’s, anyway? “‘ queried Mrs. Tota; and I told her of the snug little restaurant buried away in Church Street, which was first discovered by two well-known journalists, a restaurant of comfortable nooks and corners, a restaurant of such individuality that when it was necessary to rebuild it a few years ago it was rebuilt as nearly as possible on the old lines, with its three or four public dining-rooms below, and its network of passages and warren of little rooms above. I told her of Louis, now in supreme charge, who has been part of Kettner’s since Kettner’s first became known to London; and of Henri, who has charge of the upstairs dining-rooms, and who, with his peaked beard and clean-shaven upper lip, is the type of maitre d’hotel that all the French artists who record the life of the boule­vards love to draw.
M    rs. Tota said that it sounded nice. She liked the name ; Kettner’s sounded a little un­usual, and she liked the description of the old- fashioned place.
  
Then I summed up: “You will very kindly pick me up at the club; we will dine at Kettner’s, then go across the way to the Palace Theatre, where I will have a box ; after that back to Kettner’s to put on your domino, which we will leave there; and then on to the Covent Garden ball, where we will sup in our box and stay until after the procession.
  
Mrs. Tota declared that I was a dear, and George grunted a few words of genuine thankfulness.
  
I went down to Kettner’s and interviewed [-294-] Henri. The nicest possible little dining-room and a very simple little dinner were what I wanted.
  
Henri put his head on one side, like a wise magpie, and suggested oysters as hors-d’oeuvre. I said that the idea was novel, but that I preferred caviar. Then Henri relapsed into deep thought. Petite marmite was his next suggestion, and on this I turned on him and rent him, figuratively, for every maitre d’hotel in the world seems to think that petite marmite or croûte au pot is the only possible beginning to a small plain dinner. Friendly relations were re—established, and this was our final effort so far as the menu was concerned—

Caviar.
Consommé à la Colbert.
Filets de sole à la Joinville.
Langue de boeuf aux champignons.
Epinards. Pommes Anna.
Poulet a la Parmentier.
Salade.
Asperges. Sauce mousseline.
Biscuits glacées.
Dessert.

and a bottle of Moet ‘89, just chilled, to drink with it.
  
Room A was the dining-room that Henri thought would suit us. So A was the room selected.
  
Mrs. Tota, in a very charming black dress with a pattern of tiny steel sequins on it, with a gorgeous ermine cloak and a mysterious bundle that I knew must contain the domino, picked [-295-] me up at the club and drove me down to Church Street. She was delighted at the appearance of the cosy little houses and the narrow entrance. Before we went to our dining-room above I asked Louis to take us through the kitchen, which, with its walls of white tiles and perfect cleanliness, is well worth seeing, and we peeped into all the public dining-rooms on the ground- floor.
  
“Isn’t this quite wrong ? “ said little Mrs. Tota, who was evidently enjoying herself. “Oughtn’t we to have slipped up the stairs like a couple of guilty things? Do you take your elderly relative round the kitchen?”
  
At that moment Henri appeared and said that our dinner was ready, and we went up the narrow stairs.
  
A little room, with a paper in which old gold and soft browns and green mingled, three windows with warm-coloured curtains to match the paper, bronze ornaments on the mantelpiece, oil paintings of Italian scenery on the walls, a tiny sideboard, a square table lighted by gilt candelabra holding electric lights—Room A is a very snug place to dine in.
  
“H’m, yes,” said Mrs. Tota. “Not quite like the room in the dear old Chalet; but quite near enough.”
  
Henri had taken us under his special protection, and had added half a dozen hors-d’oeuvre to the menu besides the caviar, and when the time came for our slices of tongue he appeared bearing a whole tongue lavishly garnished.
  
It was a capital dinner, well cooked through-[-296-] out, and as Mrs. Tota praised each dish Henri beamed more and more upon us. And Mrs. Tota chattered like her namesake. We talked about the famous masked ball at Simla, at which Field-Marshal Lord Roberts, disguised in mask and domino, went up to a humorous Irish lady, and, in a feigned voice, asked her for a dance, receiving a reply that she “hadn’t time to be dancing with boys to-night.” We talked of gymkhanas at Annandale,and picnics at Mashobra, of A.D.C. theatricals and town-hall balls, and we effectually brought the scent of the deodars into Soho.
  
Mrs. Tota finished her coffee and Curaçoa Marnier, and sighed as she drew on her gloves. “Those were good days,” she said, and I nodded assent.
  
I told Henri to bring me the bill. Two dinners, £1:1s.; one Moet, 15s.; two cafés, 1s.; two liqueurs, 2s.; total, £1:19s.
    “Henri,” I said, “you have let me off too lightly. It should be more than this”; whereat Henri went through an expressive pantomime which meant that to undercharge me was the last thing the management would think of doing.
  
We left the domino in Henri’s charge, and Mrs. Tota thought she would walk the few yards to the Palace. “If all dinners in private rooms are as pleasant as that, I rather think that I envy your elderly male relative,” said Mrs. Tota as we emerged into Church Street.
  
24th January.