Bon Viveur visits The Marquee, Egon Ronay’s restaurant near Harrods

Egon Ronay, along with Raymond Postgate, has become a byword for good food guides in the UK. But did you know that  the ‘ Bon Viveur ‘ double act of Phyllis ‘Fanny ‘ Cradock and wine expert husband ‘Johnnie ‘ reported on it with great enthusiasm in their 1955 guide to hotels and restaurants in London and the provinces ?

Here is their report:

‘London’s most food-perfect small restaurant. Two restaurants, in fact, for the price of one. By day this chic rendezvous draws women of international elegance who provide the restaurant with an ever-changing mannequin display as they nibble the now famous brioche toast and drink impeccable coffee in tall glasses. It is, in short, a baby Sacher’s ( from Vienna) , where Viennese and Swiss gateaux compete in popularity  with Hungarian Dobos. By night the counters of patisseries and cocktail snacks disappear. Padded banquettes, candlelight and pink tablecloths form  background to tranquil dining and the light flickers on climbing plants, the striped, canopied ceiling, the fruit baskets and the impeccable cheese board on the cold table. The Marquee is always filled with couples—romance thrives upon good food and wine. We single out for special commendation the luncheon-time Omelette du Chef with fresh crème and mushrooms (6s 6d) and the Poulet au Riz Sauce Supreme ( 6s. 6d ) plus an excellent table d’hote luncheon for 7s 6d.

In the afternoon the Savoury Gateaux, 2s per slice, is a superlative bonne bouche ; foie gras mousse , mousse of smoked salmon , egg puree and anchovy paste are layered with brioche bread and subtly garnished into gateaux form,

By night Bisque d’Homard (4s 6d) and a magnificent 9s 6d Bouillabaisse lead on to Quenelles de Brochet-the real Quenelles for 7s 6d., a delicate 7s 6d Sole Florentine, Rognons Bange (7s 6d.) with cream and wine, and occasionally a gateaux which is without equal in this town, rather ineptly christened Walnut Souffle Gateaux. But do not bother about its name. Taste it. It is made without any flour at all and is rich in cream and rum. The commendable wines include a light, clean steinwein to marry with fish dishes ( 27s 6d) , ’47 Haut Brion ( Chateau-bottled)  37s. 6d., ’45 Leoville Barton 29s. 6d, and ’49 Vosne Romanee 21s. Amusez-vous bien mes enfants!

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The Good Food Guide is launched

Good Food Guide Leader mag pic 001Last year we featured some Jots based on entries taken from the 1960 -1 edition of the Good Food Guide. Recently we were lucky to find among a run of the entertaining Leader magazine dated 20 May 1950 an article by the Guide’s founder, social historian Raymond Postgate, announcing the launching of ‘The Good Food Club’, as it was then known.

The tone of the article is a refreshing mixture of enthusiasm for the future of British eating-out and a denunciation of hospitality practices present and past. ‘We have been extremely patient ‘, Postgate complains, ‘but now the last excuses have ceased to be valid, Food is ill-cooked in hotels and restaurants, or it is insufficient, or it is badly and rudely served up—or all three ‘.

By 1950 much of the rationing to which much home produce had been subjected for ten years was gone, as had the 5s ( 25p) meal limit imposed by the Ministry of Food ( see a previous Jot). So, in Postgate’s opinion, hotels and restaurants now had no excuses not to serve up generous portions of good quality food with courtesy. But as Leonard P Thompson demonstrated in his account of poor hospitality in 1948 ( see recent jot) such experiences were the rule rather than the exception.

The article brings up some revealing points. We had no idea that back then drinks could not normally be served in hotels after 10 o’clock at night. That rule seems absurd today. However, we were aware that sixty odd years ago the Basil Fawlty style of hotelier cited by Postgate was more common than today—the reason possibly being that Cleese’s character acted as a corrective to poor service. It is also interesting to discover that in 1950 ‘ English law does not allow you to tell unkind truths about hotels and cafes, unless you are very rich and don’t care about libel actions ‘. Today, thanks to the excellent Trip Advisor, the angry recipient of poor accommodation and disgusting food can do just that with no fear of a letter from Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Runne landing on the doormat. Which is how it should be. Continue reading

A Cod Medieval Menu

design-for-chelsea-arts-club-ball-1914Found, part of a menu for the Chelsea Arts Club Ball, which was held at the Albert Hall, March 4th 1914:

Some clear Soupe—warme, ‘tis for one ande alle.

Ye Baron of Beefe, roasted ande tender

Ye Wilde Boare, hys Heade—a dishe for ye Kinge

Large Surrey Capons withe Truffles—no bones argale, eate fearlesslie

Ye Tastie Ham spyced as atte Yorke

Ye Venyson Pasty—tastilie cooked

Chykens, plump ande temptinge—trye them.

Ye Kindlye Oxe , hys Tongue

Agayne Chykens mayde toothsome by Galentyne

Dishe Pastys with Pidgeons —ryghte sustainynge

Beefe cunninglye cooked with spyces—try it

Raised Pastrys with Bubleyjocks, as they doe them in Yorkeshire—ryghte good

And thene some green stuffes with Dressinge .


This year, this famous society Ball, in which fancy dress was de rigueur, must have had medieval England as its theme, although the drawing by Alex Jamieson (pictured), which sold in 2014 at Bonhams, does not suggest this. Contemporary reports record this Ball as being particularly weird and wonderful. Just a few months later many of the male party-goers would have found themselves leading troops into battle in the Flanders mud. Too many, alas, would never dance again. [RH]

A Very Private Dinner, 1912

In the year of the Titanic and the Antarctic disasters here is the handwritten menu --found among the papers of Ernest B Rubinstein, of a special meal—possibly a marriage feast—held by members of the Rubinstein and Laurance families at 42, Boundary Road, South Hampstead.

Not that remarkable you would think, although on closer inspection some of the dishes are unusually named -- 'Sole distrait a Laurance,' 'sauce Agnes', 'poires matrimonial,' 'gelee avec raisin d’etre'. If the dinner was held to mark a marriage—and 'poires matrimonial' strongly suggests this-- then it was a marriage that produced one of the most original children’s writers of the twentieth century.

That writer was Patricia Rubinstein, aka Antonia Forest (1915 – 2003 ), who was born three years after the dinner, later attended South Hampstead High School, just a few minutes walk from 42, Boundary Road, and who learned her love of literature, and particularly drama, from her stage-struck father, Ernest B. Rubinstein, whose signature heads the list of diners that appears on the reverse of the menu.

Others signatures include that of Kate Rubinstein, an Irish Protestant whose marriage to Ernest introduced her into a Jewish circle in Hampstead whose members were to contribute their signatures and messages to Patricia’s autograph book of 1924—another item found among the Rubinstein papers. Two other Rubinstein signatures on the menu were probably those of Ernest’s siblings.

It could be said that Antonia Forest guarded her privacy every bit as jealously as J. D. Salinger did his own. For most of her life she lived quietly in Bournemouth. Even her devoted fans did not know her real name and in one of her very rare interviews she studiously omitted any meaningful details of her parentage and early life that might help a biographer. Because of this, the career of her father as a prominent theatre critic, versifier and amateur playwright, has remained shrouded in mystery---until now. But we can at least surmise that the much more prominent man of the theatre, Harold Rubinstein (1891 - 1975), who as a lawyer defended Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1960, was a relation-- possibly a nephew.[RR]

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]