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EPITAUX'S (THE HAYMARKET)
THE handwriting on the letter was familiar. The letter bore a U.S.A. stamp. I wondered why Miss Dainty, of all the principal London theatres, whom I had seen off one day last summer from St. Pancras, whence she started for the land of Dollars, and from whom I had not heard since, should have suddenly found reason to correspond with me.
Miss Dainty informed me that she was having a high old time in the States, that she was drawing a princely salary, that Jack, the fighting fox-terrier, was very well and as pugnacious as ever, and that she had not yet made up her mind which of the many wealthy men who had laid their money-bags at her feet she was going to marry. The real reason of the letter lay in the last sentence, in which she told me that a real nice girl who had been her roommate on tour, was coming to England, to join a theatrical company, by the steamer that would carry her letter, and would I, she wrote, be of any service to the fair stranger I could, for her sake.
[-331-] I wrote to the theatre introducing myself, at Miss Dainty’s desire, asking if I could be of any service, and suggesting to Miss Belle that if she would be kind enough to let me talk to her for half an hour, I should like to do so on Sunday across a dinner-table, and proposing Epitaux’s in the Haymarket as being quiet and bright.
Miss Belle, in a little letter ending, “Yours cordially,” wrote that she would be pleased to dine, and added that Miss Dainty had often spoken of me.
In one matter Epitaux’s is deficient—there is no entrance lounge or waiting-room. A very smart little buffet, with ornamental glass windows, faces the Street, and alongside this a narrow entrance passage, gorgeous in white and gold, leads to a short flight of steps and the glass doors which shield the restaurant. I had asked Miss Belle to dine at eight, and I waited at the street entrance, hoping that instinct would point her out to me when she arrived.
Two men drove up in a hansom. A brougham disgorged a married couple. Then a hansom came with a clatter down the Haymarket, pulled up, and a lady, good-looking and very becomingly attired, opened the doors and prepared to get out. The commissionaire put the guard over the wheel, and Miss Belle, for there could be no doubt that it was she, jumped down before I had time to introduce myself and offer a hand.
Miss Belle said a pretty word or two as to the invitation to dinner, and hoped she was not late; and as we went up the entrance passage she told me that she considered Miss Dainty the [-332-] sweetest girl upon earth, and that she would have recognised me from the picture that Miss Dainty had shown her.
Miss Belle allowed me to help her off with her coat, while I explained that I had chosen Epitaux’s for our dining-place because it is comparatively small, and that I was not likely to miss her arrival, as might have happened at Princes’ or the Savoy. The pretty lady, looking round the dainty bonbonnière of a restaurant— with its walls of the lightest cream colour, its pilasters and cornices picked out with gold, its panels of deep blue-green stamped velvet, its musicians’ gallery filled with palms, under which in a glass-enclosed room a young lady in black serves out the wines and liqueurs, its blaze of electric lights on the walls and its shaded lights on the tables—approved thoroughly of my choice. She had been at parties at Princes’ and the Savoy, the Cecil and Romano’s, since she arrived a fortnight ago; but she thought Epitaux’s, which was new to her, very snug and nice.
I hoped that Miss Belle had had a good passage, but she had not; and I trusted that to make up for bad weather she had had pleasant fellow-passengers ; but the passengers seemed to have been as indifferent as the weather.
Messrs. Costa and Rizzi, the two proprietors—one tall, with a moustache that a cavalryman might envy; the other short, with a grizzled beard—had been hovering by the table, and the head waiter, with the carte de jour in one hand, and the menu of the table-d’hôte dinner in the other, was waiting for orders.
[-333-] I chose the table-d’hôte dinner—
Croûte au pot. Crème Dubarry.
Filets de sole Portugaise. Whitebait.
Côtelettes d’agneau aux pointes d’asperges.
Canard sauvage. Salade.
Céleri à la moëlle.
Biscuit glacé au chocolat.
Canapé de laitances à la Diable.
—and ordered a bottle of G. H. Mumm, 1889. Miss Belle, having settled down into conversational mood, told me that she had rooms in a house in Bloomsbury in which some of the other ladies of the company lived. “We girls go about together. We go everywhere, and nobody ever says anything to us. Yes, sir. That is one thing I will say about Englishmen, as a rule they are not fresh.” She was quite surprised that English girls did not do the same. In the security of this sisterhood there was nowhere she and the other girls could not go. The night before, five of them had taken a private room at the Trocadéro, and had supped by themselves with great content, rejoicing in the absence of man. The London policemen were the institutions that “in your dirty old town” met with thorough approval from Miss Belle. She warranted them polite and ready to answer questions. “If you ask anything of a New York policeman you get a hard look back and that’s all.”
The croûte au pot was strong, but too salt. [-334-] I am, perhaps, prejudiced against the eternal croûte au pot and petite marmite. Miss Belle, who took the thick soup, approved of it highly. The filets de sole Portugaise were admirable.
We had a table at the far end of the room from the kitchen, which accounted for the whitebait, excellently cooked as it was, not being as hot as whitebait should be.
I felt that I had cross-examined Miss Belle as much as politeness allowed, so I told her something of the history of Epitaux’s; how the site was originally that of Foote’s Theatre in the Haymarket—Foote the witty buffoon, who was a big enough man in his day to pose as a rival to Garrick—and how at a later period it became the Café de l’Europe. Here, in the ante-early-closing days, after’ the midnight farce at the Haymarket Theatre next door, the stern critics of the pit would come to eat their chop, or Welsh-rabbit, or tripe and onions, and talk learnedly of plays and players till two in the morning. And I told Miss Belle of the old Epitaux’s in the Opera colonnade, the name of which has been transferred to the new establishment in the Haymarket; how in the early Victorian days it was one of the very few restaurants where good French cookery could be found, and how the Iron Duke and other famous men used to give little dinner-parties there.
Then Miss Belle took up the running, and told me of the restaurants of modern New York, of the up-town Delmonico’s, which has been built since I crossed the herring-pond, and of [-335-] Sherry’s, Martin’s, Burns’s, and Shandley’s, the three latter Bohemian, but not the less comfortable for that.
The cutlets were excellent, and the asparagus the best I have tasted this winter, while the duck was cooked to an absolute nicety. The biscuit glacé au chocolat was as delightful and evanescent as a good dream. Altogether it was a very good dinner, though the cook did have a little accident with the salt-cellar in preparing the croûte au pot .
Miss Belle told me of her tour in the same company with Miss Dainty, of adventures at “one-night stands,” of cowboys who brought their bronchos for the ladies of the company to ride, and other tales that amused me much while we drank our coffee and liqueurs. “Guess I’ve talked a streak,” she said, when in a pause I asked for my bill.
Two dinners, 15s. ; two cafés, 1s.; champagne, 14s. ; liqueurs, 2s. ; total £1:12s., was what I paid.
Printed by R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, Edinburgh