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CLARIDGE’S (BROOK STREET)
THE Princess was passing through town, and wrote that she would graciously deign to dine with me.
The responsibility of giving dinner to a Princess, even though she be not a British Princess, but the bearer of an Italian title, is no light one. Claridge’s, “the home of kings,” occurred to me at once as the right restaurant at which to entertain Her Highness, for the new and stately hotel that has sprung up in Brook Street has a quiet grandeur that is in keeping with its old nickname.
The Claridge’s of the past was a comfortable hotel with convenient suites, but its outside was as philistine as any doctor’s house in the street. Now the towering red-brick structure, with its granite columns, looks like a veritable palace. The proprietor in old days was very much in evidence. He felt the responsibility of having Royalty under his rooç and was always waiting in the hall to make his bow. So keenly did he appreciate his proud position that once, when an [-305-] enterprising artist took a room at Claridge’s, so as to be able to observe a Royal personage who was going to be gently caricatured in a weekly paper, he being made aware that the crime of lèse-majesté was being committed, politely but firmly insisted on the artist taking his portmanteau and paint-brushes elsewhere. Royalty might be caricatured, but it should never be said that the crime was committed at Claridge’s. Nowadays Claridge’s is in the hands of a company, and though, no doubt, M. Mengay, the manager, is present to make his bow when Royalty arrives, he would not dream of expelling an inquisitive artist ; indeed, all the caricaturists in Europe would be welcome if they had the wherewithal to pay their bills, for Royalty in the new Claridge’s is given a separate house, and so is effectually shielded from prying eyes.
The right touch of grandeur is given in the porte-cochère, where the roadway is paved with indiarubber, so that even the horses shall go softly, and where the pavement is of marble. It takes a great number of men—six, I think—to open the doors of Claridge’s, and to show the visitor into the hall; and as a great number of servants to do very little is one of the characteristics of Royal residences, the home of kings in this way asserts itself at its gates.
I went in the afternoon to order dinner and secure a table. The six men let me in, and two higher officials were at my service to direct me to the restaurant; but I did not need any guidance, for when the new Claridge’s was opened I had wandered at will through all the rooms, [-306-] had admired the great stone fireplace in the smoking-room, had passed through the many suites on the higher floors; Louis Quinze suites, Louis Seize suites, Empire suites, Sheraton and Adams suites, and had peeped into the Royal suite with its blue and green and crimson rooms, and mahogany furniture.
In the restaurant I found an old acquaintance in the shape of M. Deminger, the maître d’hôtel. All the small side-tables for the evening were taken, he said; but a table for four should be converted into a table for two in order that I might be accommodated. The dinner I left to
M. Nignon, the chef de cuisine, whose handiwork I knew well when he was at Paillard’s, and M. Nobile, the manager, asking only that the dinner should be short, and saying that though I wanted a good dinner I did not, as I am not a crowned head or a very wealthy man, want an inordinately expensive one.
At eight punctually the Princess arrived, and was received with ceremony by the six at the doors. She was wearing her sable cloak, which always seems to me to be longer and handsomer than the furs worn by other women, and a dress of delicate black lace over some soft white material. The pearls and diamonds that are one of the heirlooms of her husband’s family, were round her throat, and there was a sparkle of diamonds amidst the lace of her dress.
The restaurant at Claridge’s is a dignified room. The windows are draped with deep red curtains and purple portières ; the carpet carries on the scheme of quiet reds, and the chairs have [-307-] morocco backs of vermilion, with the arms of the hotel stamped on them in gold. The white plaster ceiling is supported by great arches, the bases of which and the walls of which are panelled with darkish oak, into which patterns in olive wood are set. The quiet-footed waiters in evening clothes, with the arms of the hotel as a badge on the lapels of their coats, are in keeping with the room. It is a restaurant that is essentially quiet, a restaurant where hurry on the part of the diners would be out of place, a restaurant where good digestion should be inseparable from appetite. The music of the band under Meyer van Praag lends itself to the benevolent atmosphere of the place. It is soft enough and far away enough not to interfere with conversation. One of the lessons that most restaurant managers refuse to learn is that an aggressive band spoils a good dinner.
This was the menu that M. Rouget, the second maître d’hôtel laid down by my plate as we took our seats:-
Poulet de grain à la Carifnon.
Délice de jambon frappé au champagne. Bécassine flambée Empire.
Asperges Anglaises à la d’Yvette.
While I was reading this through with appreciation the Princess was looking round
[-308-] the room and at the people dining. The wide spaces left between the tables met with her thorough approval, for the fact that one’s neighbours hear every word that one says at many of the London restaurants is not an incentive to conversation. A lady in white at the next table to ours also met with approval, and the Princess, serenely secure in the consciousness of being perfectly dressed, could afford to praise another woman’s gown. Four men dining together at the tables drew from the Princess what sounded to me like a long extract from “Debrett,” and I added an item of information as to the owner of a handsome face that was to be seen at one time on the stage, and which marriage withdrew from the gaze of the public.
While we trifled with the hors-d’oeuvre the manager came to our table, and in the course of conversation told us that the Portuguese Ambassador had entertained H.R.H. the Prince of Wales in one of the private dining-rooms the evening before. I felt inclined to say that I, too, entertained the great ones of the earth at Claridge’s, but I reflected that humility was becoming in me, even though a Princess had been kind enough to dine with me.
The thick soup was good; but in no way remarkable. I do not care for thick soups, and the Princess only took a few spoonfuls from her plate. The sole, with its oysters and truffles, was very well cooked, and so was the chicken, with its savoury stuffing of macaroni and truffles. The délice de jambon was a triumph, light and dainty, with a delicate blending of flavours, a [-309-] dish which marked the man who made it as an artist in his calling. The bécassine was a toothsome mouthful, the asparagus was good, and the bombe Claridge was as admirable in its way as the délice had been. An excellent dinner, as a whole, with two dishes that were supreme works of culinary art. We drank the wine of the good widow Clicquot.
I paid my bill. Two couverts, 2s.; horsd’oeuvre, 2s.; crème Princesse, 4s.; sole, 4s. 6d.; poulet de grain, 12s.; mousse jambon, 4s. 6d.; bécassine, 10s. ; salade, 1s. 6d. ; asperges, 8s.; bombe, 3s. ; café, 2s. ; liqueurs, 3s. 6d. ; wines, 15s.; total £3:12s.
Dinner over, we sat in the comfortable reading- room, where the chairs of blue silk striped velvet match the cerulean tint of the walls, until the brougham was announced, and the Princess was duly ushered out by the faithful six.
*** M. Nignon, the chef of Claridge’s, was in days past the chef at Paillard’s in Paris, the best- known perhaps of all the restaurants there. He has brought with him to Claridge’s many specialities in cooking. This is a list of the dishes which he has given me as specialities of the Claridge’s cuisine.
Bortsch à la Russe—Consommé Madrileine—Consommé à la Parme—Consommé Czarmina—Consommé veloutine à l’Impérial—Crème Comtesse—Crème Waleska—Crème de chapon Virien—Crème ambassadrice.
Truite saumonnee à la d’Artois — Truite saumonnée à la Villard—Turbotin soufflé à la Maréchale—Turbotin au vin du Rhin à l’Allemande—Sole à la d’Aubigny—Sole au madère à la [-310-] Valois—Suprême de sole à la Valiéra—Suprême de sole en épigramme à la Mondaine—Suprême de sole à la d’Orléans— D’Artois de sole à la Polignac—Huîtres à la Kotchoubey.
Noisettes de filet de boeuf
à la Ropan—Noisettes de filet de boeuf
à la Colbert—Tournedos
à la Valencia—Tournedos
à la Chancellière — Tournedos
à la Cambacères — Tournedos
à la Valence—Médaillon de pré-salé Chanford—Médaillon de présale
à la Cléo de Mérode—Noisettes d’agneau Ainélie—Noisettes d’agneau Beaumanoir—Côte de
boeuf flambée Empire—Filet de boeuf flambé
à la Brechlair—Coeur de filet de boeuf Cancléan— Poularde Rozollie—Poularde soufflé
à la Royale—Poularde
à la bière
à la Russe—Poularde St-Cloud—Poulet reine au fumet
à la Carignon—Poulet reine
à la Florentine.
Chaudes et Froides.—Mousseline de jambon chaude au champagne—Mousse de poularde au porto doré—Mousseline d’épinards à la Maintenon — Mousse de Langue chaude à l’Ecarlatée — Mousse de foie gras chaude à la Parisienne.
Froides.—Jeannette de poularde—Délices de pois—Ballotine dc yolaille sur socle.
Ris de veau
à la Norvégienne—Aspic de volaille
à la Ducale— Caneton de Rouen
à la Claridge—Caneton de Rouen en surprise
—Ramequin au nid—Poularde cendrillon—Terrine de foie gras au porto à la Savaraff—Croustade de blanc de volaille Châtelaine.
Darne de saumon à la Pickla—Truite saumonnée à la Suédoise—Truite saumonnée Ratelière — Langouste à la Césarine — Homarde à la Parisienne—Escalopes de turbot Bagration— Turban de supreme de sole Victoria—Turbotin à la Moscovite— Queues d’écrevisses en chartreuse—Mousse de homard Le Run— Salade de Poisson à la Russe
Ponchardrin à la Bourdalouse—Soufflé Palfit—Soufflé Vizir—Soufflé Metternich—Mignon soufflé à l’Orange.
Bombe Claridge—Bombe Suzette—Bombe Prince de Galles— Biscuit Tortone—Cremolata—Pain d’Espagne Comtesse Marie— Pièces Vénitiennes — Tutti frutti — Trauch Canelli — Orange crémeuse—Fraises Archiduchesse.