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THE TIVOLI (THE STRAND)
LA PRINCESSE LOINTAINE was passing through town on her way to Rome, to her
husband’s palazzo—to the great grim building where the big suisse stands on
guard by the entrance, and soft—footed servants in black move noiselessly
about the high tapestried rooms. Her note with the tiny monogram and the coronet
on it said that she was at the Savoy for a few days, and would I come and dine,
on her last evening in England, and talk of old days?
I always call the pretty lady who has the honour of bearing the name of one of the oldest families of Italian nobility, “la Princesse Lointaine,” for the glint of sunlight her presence brings comes so rarely and vanishes so quickly. It was at the old Delmonico’s, at one of the assemblies, that I first met her, an American heiress in her second season, light-haired, large- eyed, with that perfect tact that comes naturally to American and French women. I had letters of introduction to her father, and she, taking entire charge of me as the stranger in the land, [-260-] made me feel at home, and stamped that ball in my memory as one of my pleasantest recollections. She was married a year later in Rome, and I thought never to see her again; but one day at Fort William, in Calcutta, I got a note with a little monogram and coronet, brought by a peon from the Great Eastern Hotel, and I found that my Princesse Lointaine and her husband, travelling round the world, were making a fortnight’s stay in the city by the Hugh, before going on to China and Japan. I showed her and her husband the forlorn grandeur of the empty palaces of the dead King of Oude, the spot where the Black Hole was, the church by the river where the first sturdy British traders left their bones, and all the other sights of Calcutta. They sailed away, and the next time that I saw her was at Venice one summer when Queen Marguerite had gone there for the bathing, and the grave husband, in some office about the court, had gone there also. Once again I saw her in her Roman home. And now, passing through from New York to the grim palazzo in Rome, she had written me a couple of lines to tell me to come and talk to her.
I would not let her give me dinner at her hotel; for in London she was the stranger and my foot was on my native flagstones, and I suggested that if she would not mind a very quiet dinner she should do me the honour of dining with me almost next door at the Tivoli, where I knew we should be quiet, where the dining-room is a very charming one, where the [-261-] music is not loud enough to interfere with conversation, and where, with M. Aubanel in supreme command, I felt sure that the cooking would be good. If she cared to go on to a theatre, I would take a box somewhere. A line in reply told me that I might pick her up at the Savoy and take her on to dinner, but that after dinner she would sooner sit and talk than go to a theatre, for there was much packing to be superintended before bedtime.
I could not, as I was taking la Princesse Lointaine away from the Savoy and Maitre Escoffier’s masterpieces of cookery, leave my dinner to chance, so in the afternoon I went and interviewed M. Aubanel, the manager, who, mustachioed, with a full head of black hair brushed off from his forehead, is as well known on the Riviera, where he has an hotel, as he is in town.
As one of the cooks under M. Racoussot, the chef is a Russian, and was one of the great Cubat’s assistants, I knew I was safe in ordering Russian hors-d’oeuvre. A very plain soup, sole (cooked in any fashion that did not include moules, of which shellfish I remembered that the Princesse was afraid), a very plain entrée of meat, snipe, asparagus, and an ice, were my requirements, and the menu, as M. Aubanel sketched it out, ran thus:-
Poule au pot.
Filets de sole Florentine.
Côte de boeuf aux legumes printaniers.
[-262-] Salade Romaine.
Asperges vertes. Sauce mousseline.
The Princesse was waiting for me when I drove up to the Savoy. She was
wearing a magnificent cloak lined with ermine, and I could catch the glint at
her throat of the diamonds and pearls which had been heirlooms in her husband’s
family for many generations. I felt at the sight of so much grandeur almost
ashamed at the simplicity of the dinner I had ordered.
The Palm Room at the Tivoli has been decorated so as to form an excellent background to a pretty and well-dressed woman. The walls are panelled with some soft material of two shades of dark green which looks like stamped velvet. There is a breast-high decoration of soft coloured marbles. The pillars are chiefly of gold, and the ceiling, the pattern of which is formed by palm leaves, is white and gold. There are soft dark green portières and curtains, and the chairs are upholstered in dark green velvet. Orange shades to the electric globes which hang from the ceiling diffuse a soft warm light over everything. And no prettier subject for a handsome background to show up could be found than the Princesse when she had shed her furs. Two little light curls came down upon her forehead, the pearls and diamonds were her throat ornaments, and her dress was all white and silver. The lace of the bodice looked to me as if it were one of the wonders of Benares make, and round her white arms were three broad bands of silver lace.
[-263-] The hors-d’oeuvre, on a second small table, were placed alongside the round table, prettily decorated with flowers, which had been arranged for us in one corner of the room, and one of these delicacies, a soft, creamy pâté, in which the taste of anchovies dominated the other ingredients, was excellent.
The Princesse was in high spirits and brimming over with gossip about New York. I heard all about the glories of the latest mammoth hotel, and was told of the lovely decorations of the new Delmonico’s, and of the dinner-party the Princesse gave there on its opening night. I was given a description of most of this year’s débutantes in the city of Gotham, and was entrusted with the whole truth as to the anonymous letter scandal. Many other things also I was told, most of which I have forgotten.
The soup was plain and good. The filets de sole, with the taste of parmesan, the thin slices of truffle, the thick green sauce and fried soft roe were excellent, though, to be severely critical, the taste of the cheese in the plat was just a little too pronounced.
From New York the Princesse jumped to Rome. She dilated on all the pleasures of the coming season in the City of the Seven Hills, trying to induce me to make holiday after Christmas and exchange Bond Street for the Corso. Rome, it seems, is to be exceptionally gay this winter, and I assured the Princesse that it was not the will that was wanting to change the sight of fog-blurred streets for the view of the swell of snow-topped Soracte through the sparkle of the Roman air.
[-264-] The côte de boeuf served like a gigantic cutlet with a paper frill on the bone, was very tender, and the snipe were succulent morsels. The asparagus was rather hard, but asparagus in December is not a dish to be captious about. The bombe was a magnificent erection, looking like a wedding-cake, and the Princesse, accepting its name as a compliment to herself insisted on taking the sugar flowers it was decorated with back to her hotel with her as a trophy.
We sat and sipped our coffee and Curaçao Marnier and chatted, while the band, behind a gilt grille, played pianissimo music, and the diners at the other tables gradually went off to theatres and music-halls. Our fellow-diners were not very smart. Indeed, the monde qui dine does not seem yet to have taken to the Tivoli, which deserves a trial, for the cook is first class and the dining-room a beautiful one.
At last the Princesse Lointaine said that she must go home and pack, so I asked for my bill. I am afraid that M. Aubanel treated me too kindly in the matter of prices, but I could hardly argue that matter out while the Princesse waited to be taken back to her hotel. One Moet, cuvée ‘36, 13s.; hors-d’oeuvre, 1s.; poule au pot, 2s.; filets de sole, 2s. 6d. ; côte de boeuf, 4s.; becassines, 4s.; salade, 1s.; asperges, 5s.; bombe, 2s.; café, 1s.; liqueurs, 2s.; total, £1:17: 6.
“You won’t come to Rome, then, this winter? “ said la Princesse Lointaine as she bade me good-bye, and I sorrowfully answered that I only wished I could.
[-265-] *** Mr. A. A. Tate is now manager and proprietor of the Tivoli restaurant, and a 3s. table-d’hôte dinner in the palm-room and good plain cooking in the grill-room seem now to be the specialities of a restaurant which at one time entered into competition with the Savoy, the Princes’, the Cecil, and the other restaurants of la haute volée.