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A menu from 1913

This menu was found among the archives of the London businessman Ernest B. Rubinstein, an amateur playwright and theatre critic in the early decades of the twentieth century. Rubinstein was also the father of Patricia Rubinstein (1915 -2003), who later wrote acclaimed children’s school fiction under the pseudonym Antonia Forest.

It was through her father’s interest in the theatre that the young Pat became familiar with English Drama, particularly Shakespeare, to whose plays, among others, Rubinstein took his daughter. Theatre came to play a significant part in Forrest’s fiction, and it is likely that the Marlow family of her books took their name from the author of Dr Faustus.

The Rubinstein archive also contains a number of theatre programmes, many devoted to much lighter drama and operetta, which suggests that the Rubinsteins were regular West End theatregoers. As the accompanying menu offers a 'Theatre Dinner' among its modest, rather than sophisticated fare, it is likely that such  dedicated playgoers as the Rubinsteins were more interested in fine drama than fine dining . Although the restaurant is not named, it may have been one of the many cheap eating places that catered for the less well heeled theatrical crowd, including, presumably actors and singers, which would have been another reason why the stage struck Rubinstein could have chosen it. The restaurant may possibly have been a Lyons Corner House, a chain of cheap restaurants that started up in 1907.

It is interesting to note how fashions in eating have changed in a hundred years. Although most of the dishes would still be available now, though perhaps not on the same menu, others have disappeared entirely. Anyone for 'poached egg on anchovy toast' or what about 'scotch woodcock' ? I was surprised not to find oysters, which were still cheap back then, but we do see 'caviare on toast' for a shilling, which can’t be  bad. However, the five course 'Theatre Dinner' for a mere sixpence more is an even better bargain. Some things, however, don’t change. Eating-house owners still make their biggest mark-ups on cups of tea—in 2013 I reckon an outlay of £4 on tea would generate a gross profit of around £80.In 1913, a pot at 3d (1.5p),would make a commensurate mark-up. [RMH]

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2 thoughts on “A menu from 1913

  1. Anonymous

    I live in Maine, in New England, where Finnon Haddock(or as we call it, "Finnan Haddie") is still a staple of old coastal families. It should only be cured with smoke and sea salt and is usually served in a cream sauce over mashed potatoes or toast. There isn't much here for theater, but we have plenty of fish.

    Thank you for your blog. Good books are essential to surviving Maine winters.

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  2. admin Post author

    Thanks to you in Maine, good to hear the Finnan Haddie is still a staple. Sometimes that cream sauce has some horse reddish in and in some places (in UK) they put it in the mashed potatoes too!. N

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