|The Red Lion in the 1930s|
A Georgian Giles Coren
Extracts from an anonymous ‘ Review of Taverns , Inns, Coffee Houses and Genteel Eating Houses’ published in the New London Magazine, July and August 1788.
The web has done part of my work for me by publishing the first part of this survey of eating places, which appeared in the June 1788 issue of The New London Magazine. Luckily, the second and third parts of this series remain offline. So here are some of the highlights of this witty and very politically incorrect survey of eateries in late Georgian London
Brentford Eights, an island in the Thames off Brentford
This is rendered famous for pitch-cock eels. It is likewise celebrated for a very favourite Dutch dish called Vater Zuchee. This dish is composed of perch, parsley-roots and vinegar, served up in a deep dish, with slices of bread and butter. The visitors of the Eights, in gormandising this dish, have no occasion for any other knives and forks than what nature has given them. It is common to eat with digits only.
If any stripling of fortune, whether a coxswain of a barge, or the supercargo of a post chaise, wishes to be indulged, he may be served here with zouchee to the amount of eight shillings a head.
Marlborough Coffee-House, Bond Street
Lord George Gordon used to say that this house was excellent for good fish. Do they purchase it off Philips—the Carnaby-market Cat—the best of all anglers?
The frequenters are fashionable, the fare is of the best quality, nor can ever the guests repine at summing up the total of their entertainment.
New Spring Gardens, Chelsea
This is a foreign house where indeed, to do them justice, they dress all kinds of French dishes remarkably well. They have very good French and Portuguese wines. Their tevel is delicate and their red port strong and genuine, without the fiery aid of British brandy. This house is a bumper every Sunday, in the tea and ordinary style. The prospect from the pleasure ground is perhaps the richest rural view of any. In the fore-ground are the verdant lawns of Pimlico. In the side and backgrounds, St James’s Park, Westminster-abbey and St Paul’s stand proudly pre-eminent. The service is neat, the entertainment good,the bill very moderate indeed! Excepting in rich eating and rich drinking, it is a complete rus in urbe.
Guildhall Coffee-House, King Street, Cheapside.
Frequented by all classes of luxurious citizens. Aldermen, Deputies, Common Councilmen, Gentlemen of the Long Robe attending the Courts, with a variety of others whose interest in pleasure leads them near the city senate. Here you may lodge and board ---or you may dine in private, aux prix raisonable. Rich soup is made here in the season, which the lawyers devour as eagerly as their briefs. The Port is good and the Sherry most excellent. It is, indeed, pretty plentifully distributed to the neighbouring cits. Sometimes the lawyers and common council gill it in a morning; and Pownall’s cellar has caused many a citizen’s question to be carried, and many a doubtful cause to be won. The address of Mr Pownal, and the attention of Mr Pugh give pleasure to all it’s (sic) visitants. The bill is very moderate.
Red Lion Inn, Hounslow.
A good house for post-chaises, good horses and good beds.There are two gardens belonging to it that are very pleasant for a solitary or a tete a tete walk. The larder is not variegated, but what it contains is of the prime. The port wine is good, and the tea and coffee excellent, nor should the clotted cream be forgotten. It is unadulterated, although chalk may be had very reasonable. The bill is very moderate for the western road, and the attendance prompt and pleasing.
Today, young and monied men about town will no longer find local fish dishes being served on Brentford Ait, a long, narrow island in the Thames, lying opposite Kew Gardens and Brentford High Street, which is now just a greensward. However, Eel Pie Island, further downstream off Twickenham, got its name by offering similar fishy fare in Victorian times and became a trendy hot spot in the swinging sixties. Incidentally, it is slightly worrying to read that parsley root was an ingredient in Zucher Zee. Back in 1785, when the Thames was less polluted, the deadly poisonous Hemlock Water Dropwort (cicuta virosa) would have grown profusely along its banks; and in the annals of toxicology there are numerous cases of ignorant people mistaking the roots of this dangerous plant for parsnips. Many died horrible deaths. Let’s hope no cooks on the Brentford ‘Eights’ made the same mistake.
A cit in Georgian slang was a ‘townsman ‘who traded. We would certainly like to know more about Philips, the ‘Carnaby-market cat’.
Not surprisingly, all of the eateries described have long vanished, although some of the buildings have survived. The Red Lion in Hounslow High Street, which Dickens knew, was flourishing (much changed) at least until the 1930s. It is now a Barclays bank.
To be continued…