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Monday, 7 March 2011

Victorian Ladies Who Lunch, Or: Luncheaon Places and Tea Rooms for Ladies:

More from the 1893 edition of the handbook: London of Today: An Illustrated Book for This Season, and for All Seasons” Which was also my source of inspiration for the previous post about ladies shops. After thumbing through a further few chapters, I came to a chapter entitled;
 “Luncheon Places and tea Rooms for Ladies”

Thinking that it may fit in with the post on the subject of ladies shopping, I read on. The Author, one Charles Eyre Pascoe does come across as slightly chauvinistic in his writing, and one can quite easily imagine him being the loud, round fellow with the biggest cigar and the glass that never empties at the party, guffawing at every joke with gusto. I have never seen a picture of him, but I imagine him to resemble General Melchett as played by Stephen Fry in Blackadder goes Forth.

Please enjoy the article. All establishments mentioned are, again in bold.

Luncheon Places and tea Rooms for Ladies

The business of public refreshment for ladies shows some signs of merging itself in one of national interest. Common-place as it may at first sight appear, it is one, nevertheless indicating gravity. Women are proposing, and very properly, to have their say in this matter. It is no longer the trivial one, very easily comprehended, of “rubbing shoulders” with a parcel of male persons in public restaurants. It is the far weightier one, less readily understood, of women’s emancipation of which we are told it is quite too idle to talk, til “woman” herself is prepared to give up buns and tea!
Truly, buns and tea suggest no food convenient for me; nor indeed any very inviting variety to the English national chop, albeit served from a silver grill along with vegetables, bread and cheese.

But let that pass.

The Daily News – and the Daily News is of honourable report – says that a want of dignity and character has been discovered in the hitherto (as most of us had supposed) comforting sight of

A lot of women seated at marble-topped tables, munching dyspepsia-breeding cake, and sipping unwholesome tea from thick white bowls conventionally known as tea-cups.”

The cup of tea, and stodgy bun, or pallid scone (with due modicum as may be supposed of creamless butter), are held to correspond to the male persons’ whiskey-and-soda; and are as concretely ruinous of digestion as “coker-nut chips” and “chewing-gum.”

“Contrast” says a local reforming lady who raises the interesting larger question of women’s diet; “contrast the dinner of the average well-to-do maiden lady, with that of the equivalent bachelor.”

Ay, contrast.

We are for showing the how, the when, and the whereabouts in London to contrast, if it so please the lady. By Epicurus! What a tale might we unfold. What lovely “set-scenes” at separate tables lit by the electric light, might we discover here and there, graced by the presence of bachelors old and young did the humour fit, and our purse respond, or the lady herself proffer her own sweet aid in the interesting adventure.

But let us seek no further contrast than that which the married man’s London luncheon presents – the city luncheon for example. Let us for convenience sake peep into “Pimms” in the Poultry at the luncheon hour, and note the avidity with which the juicy, but costly Whitstable “native-oyster” is made away with; the refreshing male-lobster devoured, the appetising salad of crab enjoyed, the havoc made upon game pie, soused salmon, cold birds of various kinds, hams of Yorkshire curing, sandwiches of caviare, and so on. Contrast that kind of meal, excellent and varied in every degree, flanked by, let’s say, “fiz,” clarets, hocks, and ales, with that other kind of meal generally offered the “married woman” and her flavoured freer sister, luncheon-hunting, after shopping, in London.

Let us see what is already provided in London in the way of restaurants generally frequented by ladies. There are the chop-places and dining-rooms at the railway stations to begin with. The Italian restaurants, some good, some bad, everywhere to be seen in London are largely patronised, because they are cheap. Herein we mark the true unselfishness of woman who eats her own scant “chop” there, that her husband may commemorate her birthday at the Café Royal. St. James’ Hall, Piccadilly, and its near neighbour, the Criterion, are convenient luncheon resorts, after “doing” the art galleries. “Gatti’s,” in the Strand, provides a not-too-dear meal. Then there is “The Grand’s” grill-room (downstairs) opposite Charing Cross Post Office, neat, clean, comfortable, and not too expensive.

In Regent Street are several confectionary shops, if you like that sort of thing, and a small, but well-managed restaurant, named “The Parisian” on the east side, almost fronting Conduit Street. It displays a sufficiently varied daily bill of fare, and its charges are considerably less than those of more pretentious neighbouring restaurants.
With ladies shopping, Regent Street way, The Parisian appears to be a favourite midday place of refreshment. “The Burlington” (west side) is also a ladies’ luncheon and dining place, best resorted to perhaps when a little party of four is pre-arranged. Verrey’s (corner of Hanover Street) can serve the neatest little French dejeuner if you don’t mind a matter of five (or more) shillings. The same may be said of the Café Royal, upstairs, where ladies go. And if you have no further use for a golden piece, there is The Savoy restaurant considered about the best of its class in London. In addition to all these, The Metropole series of London hotels advertise a table d’hote luncheon for 3s 6d.

If “Tea-in-town” has any attractions, the opportunity of gratifying an appetite for that generally refreshing afternoon stimulant is within reach almost everywhere. The ladies shops have taken to serving it: Liberty (in regent Street) among the number. All “the stores” (Army and Navy, Civil Service, and the rest) follow the vogue in this respect. The Italian restaurateurs have turned their attention to tea; but one must have a strong stomach to avail of their samples. About the most pernicious beverage ever concocted is what we may define as urn-tea-stewed.
And the worst samples of that are chiefly retailed at railway refreshment rooms and exhibition places.

The refreshment rooms of Messrs J. & B. Stevenson, bakers and confectioners, generally spacious, clean, and well-supervised – to be met with in many of the leading London thoroughfares – are convenient for the midday tea. You will find there retailed well-made bread, rolls, cakes, pastries, and so on, in large variety, and “snacks” of this, that, and the other comestible at very moderate prices. Moreover, you may have your quite separate tea pot of “fresh-made tea” and your marble-topped table all to yourself, if you wish to meditate alone. The cost of roll, butter, and tea at these places will not exceed 6d. A good example of Stevenson’s establishments may be found on the south side of Ludgate Hill. “A.B.C” or Aerated Bread Shops, are to be found all over London.

The Vienna Café Restaurants may be commended as supplying exceptionally good coffee. Buszards (197,199 Oxford Street), Fuller’s American Confectionary Depots, are among the favourite places for ices; and if you are Bond Street way, at the south-west corner (Piccadilly end), you will find “Stewart’s,” originally established here as a “baker’s shop,” two centuries since, when Piccadilly was in its babyhood. It has a comfortable and pretty luncheon-room, visited by many ladies of the fashionable quarter at all seasons of the year, and also much in favour with Americans tired of sight-seeing, and doing the galleries, and “just longing for a cup of tea.”

In Regent Street (No 106) near Glasshouse Street, are the dining and tea-rooms of “Bonthron’s,” well known for many years as a West-end bakery and confectionary establishment. This is a firm dealing in sundry specialities, among which, it may interest some to know, gluten bread and biscuits have a deserved reputation throughout England. A convenient place of rest and refreshment for ladies is this same “Bonthron’s.”

Perhaps, ladies, your gentleman friend could treat you to a scant chop to commemorate your birthday this year…

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