Esoteric London

No. 470: Conduit Street, W1

Posted in Eating places, Food by esotericlondon on December 16, 2011

Sketch, Conduit Street, London, W1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

Knight’s London – Charles Knight, 1842:

There are, it appears, about two hundred places in London which can fittingly come under the denomination of eating-houses, occupying a place between the hotels on the one hand and the coffee-rooms on the other. At all of these places joints of meat are dressed every day, depending for variety on the extent of business done, but generally including boiled beef and roast beef, as well as the necessary appendages for the formation of a dinner. In some of these houses the quantity of meat dressed in a week is quite enormous; and it seems pretty evident that the greater the sale the better the quality of the articles sold – or perhaps we may take it in an inverse order, that the excellence of the provisions has led to the extent of the custom.
Some of these dining-rooms are the scenes of bustle during only a few hours of the day; while others, either from the extent of their trade, or the different classes of their visitors, present a never-ceasing picture of eating and drinking. Some, such as a celebrated house in Bishopsgate Street, are frequented almost entirely by commercial men and City clerks, who, during a few hours in the day, flock in by hundreds. Then again others, such as Williams’s boiled-beef shop in the Old Bailey, and a few in the neighbourhood of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, are frequented almost entirely by lawyers’ clerks, witnesses, and others engaged in the law or criminal courts. In all such cases there is a ‘best’ room for those whose purses are tolerably supplied; and a more humble room, generally nearer to the street, for such as can afford only a ‘sixpenny plate.’ Again, on going farther westward, we find, in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden and the Haymarket, dining-rooms in great plenty, the visitants at which are altogether of a different class. Here we may see actors, artists, paragraph-makers, and foreigners, most of whom seem in much less haste than the City diners. In this quarter of the town there are many French restaurateurs, whose rooms present the agreeable variety of ladies dining without any restraint from the observation of the male visitors.
It is observable that in some houses the waiter gives the diner a long detail of the good things which are ‘just ready,’ while in others there is a printed bill-of-fare placed before him. The latter is certainly the most systematic method; for, by the time the nimble waiter has got through his speech, we almost forget the first items to which he directed attention. In the ‘bill of fare’ all the dishes customarily prepared at the house are printed in certain groups, and the prices are written opposite those which are to be had hot on any particular day, so that a customer can at once see what provisions are ready, and how much he shall have to pay for them. In the opposite case, where the visitor knows nothing of the matter but what the waiter tells him, the routine of proceedings may be thus sketched: – The guest, perhaps a man of business who has but little time to spare for his dinner, enters the room, takes the first seat he can find (the one nearest the fire in cold weather), takes off his hat, and asks for The Times or the Chronicle. While he is glancing his eye rapidly over the daily news, the active, tidy waiter, with a clean napkin on his left arm, comes to his side, and pours into his ear, in a rapid but monotonous tone, some such narrative, as the following: – ‘Roast beef, boiled beef, roast haunch of mutton, boiled pork, roast veal and ham, salmon and shrimp-sauce, pigeon-pie, rump-steak pudding.’

[ Sketch opened in a Georgian town house in London’s West End in 2003. It has a cafe and patisserie, a bar and brasserie, and what used to be called a fine dining restaurant, divided into two parts, the Library and the Lecture Room. Some spaces are used as art galleries during the daytime. The interior decoration has been much talked about, especially the toilets which are individual egg shaped pods. Not having eaten there I can’t comment but I have been told you either love it or loathe it. R.D.]

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