London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Dinners and Diners, by
Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis, 1899 - Chapter 14 - Le Restaurant des Gourmets (Lisle
[-back to menu
for this book-]
LE RESTAURANT DES GOURMETS
THE superior person and I were chatting in the club as to eating generally,
and he was holding forth on the impossibility of discovering any dining place,
as Kettner’s was discovered by our fathers, where a good meal could be had at
a very small price. I turned on him and rent him figuratively,
giving him a list that commenced with Torino’s and ended with the Hotel
Hanover, and asked him if he had been to any of them. He had not. His system was
to go to the Savoy or Willis’s, or the Princes’ Hall, and then to grumble
because he could not get his meals at those places at grill-room prices. I
finally pinned him by asking him whether he would, as a man and a discoverer,
come with me that evening and dine at the Restaurant des Gourmets. The name
seemed to tickle him, and he said something about going home to change into
dress clothes, which I assured him was unnecessary, and he then asked where this
he know the stage door of the Empire? And the superior person looked at me in
answer to that question with a look that showed me that he had a full-blown
Nonconformist conscience. I explained that the Restaurant des Gourmets was in
Lisle Street, as was the stage- door of the Empire, that I was not trying to
lure him to meet any fairy of the ballet, but that if he came with me he would
very probably find some members of the Empire orchestra dining, and as likely as
not M. Wenzel, the conductor, himself. Six was the hour I proposed to dine,
changing afterwards into dress clothes, to go to a first night at the Duke of
York’s, but the superior person sniffed, and said that that was too early for
any one to eat an evening meal. So I left him, and my ideas having been turned
towards the little Lisle Street restaurant, I wandered down there.
Lisle Street is not exactly an aristocratic
locality. There is next door to the Restaurant des Gourmets another restaurant
which has been newly painted, and which posts its bill of fare upon its front,
and there is the office of a musical publication ; but most of the rest of the
houses are dingy private residences. The outside of the restaurant is not too
inviting either. It has a double window with a yellowish curtain hiding the
inside from view, and the woodwork is painted a leaden gray.
It is well to be early at the Restaurant des
Gourmets, for by half-past six there is rarely a seat to be had at any of the
At six to the stroke I pushed back the door [-104-]
with its whitened glass panel, whereon is inscribed “Entrée,”
and was in the humble home of the connoisseur. A burly Frenchman with a beard,
another with his hair combed over his forehead in a fringe, and a third with a
slight beard and wearing a little grey cap, were drinking vermouth at one of the
tables; otherwise the room was empty.
I sat down at one of the tables, and a
waiter in dress clothes and a clean shirt put a bill of fare, written in cramped
French handwriting on blue paper, in front of me. The first item on the blue
paper was hors-d’oeuvre — hareng, saucisson, sardines, radis, beurre,
2d., and I ordered these delicacies and some soupe, paté d’Italie,
which also cost 2d., and then proceeded to look round.
The Frenchmen, talking volubly, had gone
out. Another waiter with a light moustache had joined the first one, and both
were regarding me with the interest the waiter always has in a chance customer
whose tip may be lordly or the reverse. Up against the window were piled little
bowls of salad, the green and white telling well against the yellow of the
curtain, and a great stack of long French loaves of bread cut into sections
which, with their white ends and brown crust, had something of the appearance of
a pile of little logs. In front of the window was a counter covered with green
baize, on which were some long uncut loaves, an earthenware bowl, a kettle, and
a bright metal machine that had a lamp under it, and contained either coffee or
soup. A comely Frenchwoman in black, [-105-] with
an apron, was behind this counter, and as the waiters gave her an order she
shouted it down a little lift, and the dish was presently hoisted up from the
At the far end of the room is a sloping
glass roof, with panes to lift up for ventilation. The pink paper on the wall
under this gives the touch of colour to the picture. The other walls are of
plain panelling painted a greyish white with pegs all round to hang up hats and
coats upon, and an occasional mirror in a dark wood frame. Placards with “Toutes
les boissons doivent être payées a l’avance,” and “La pipe est interdite”
are posted round the walls, and there were some flowers in vases on the
mantelpiece. The little tables to hold two or four were round three sides of the
room, with coarse but clean napery, glass bowls for the pepper and salt, with
little bone spoons, and thick glasses, and decanters of water. The couches
against the walls were covered with black leather, the chairs were of Austrian
bentwood. The waiter had put L’Eclair, a French newspaper printed
with the usual abominable French type, in front of me.
I nibbled at the bit of herring in a little
saucer, and drank my soup, which was just as good as if it had cost two
shillings instead of twopence, and then proceeded to order the rest of my
dinner, a proceeding which was regarded with mild interest by the little
Frenchman with a slight beard wearing the grey peaked cap, who had returned.
“C’est le patron,” said one of the
waiters, and I promptly introduced myself to him, and began [-106-]
to cross-examine him as to the identity of his clients, for the room was
filling very quickly. M. Brice sat on a chair by my table,
which now had its full complement of diners, for the burly, bearded Frenchman,
the other with the hair combed down on to his forehead, and a third with a
carefully curled moustache, had taken the three vacant places.
“That,” said M. Brice, indicating a dark
gentleman with a curled moustache, “is Chaudoir, the chef d’orchestre
at Sergeant Sole.”
“What?” I said, bluntly enough.
“At Sergeant Sole, where they are blacked.”
A sudden inspiration that Sergeant Sole was
St. James’s Hall came to me.
“And that,” pointing to a gentleman with
a red tie, “is the gentleman who does the socialistic writing for the Pall
Three clean-shaven gentlemen were
vaguely described as “artists,” and after gazing at a lady in black with
white hair for some time, M. Brice said, “That is an old woman.” The two
gentlemen sitting opposite this lady were the Messieurs Chose, of a firm in
Old Broad Street, and the three Frenchmen at my table were big men in the
greengrocery line, who come over two or three times a year to Covent Garden.
A clean-shaven, prosperous-looking
gentleman, with a young lady in black, entered just then, and a note of
admiration came into M. Brice’s voice as he told me that this was the coachman
of the Baron Alfred de Rothschild.
The turbot and caper sauce, which was the
most expensive part of my dinner, costing as
[-107-] much as 8d., I did not care for very much; but, on
the other hand, the gigot haricot, which followed it, was excellent. M.
Brice, who kept up a running accompaniment of conversation to my dinner, told
me that all the meat cooked at his restaurant was English.
There is no such thing as a wine list at the
Restaurant des Gourmets, and I had ordered at a venture a pint of vin
ordinaire, which the waiter told me would cost sixpence. It is a rough,
strong wine, and I suggested to M. B rice that it probably was of Corsican or
Sardinian growth. M. Brice shrugged his shoulders and from somewhere produced
a pint of claret, with the name of the late M. Nicol of the Café Royal, on it,
and told me that he was able to sell that at a very moderate price.
The omelette that I had ordered was as light
as a French cook always makes them, and the slice of brie that closed my repast
was as coulant as it should be.
Then M. Brice, still talking, made me out my
bill on the back of one of the cards of his restaurant. Hors-d’oeuvre, 2d.;
pain, 1d.; potage, 2d. ; poisson, 8d. ; entrée, 6d. ; omelette, 4d. fromage,
2d. ; half ordinaire, 6d.; total, 2s. 7d.