This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
The great firm of London caterers mentioned above as instituting a Duval restaurant in the English capital "on trial," in that proceeding did but give another example of the wonderful push and enterprise which has made them famous as the leading firm in the refreshment catering line of the present time, probably of any time, for the number and magnitude of their contracts have no parallel, and a history and description of their operations alone would fill a book. Messrs. Spiers and Pond (the latter recently deceased) are Australians who went to London and commenced business in a small way. The individuality of the firm, like that of the Duval's in Paris, was merged in a stock company after awhile, and the most remarkable of their operations since have been in the line of catering for thousands at a time at expositions and celebrations. Still they have a number of restaurants in operation in various parts of the great city, the largest and perhaps the best representative of their particularly English methods is the Criterion, which a correspondent of the Boston Advertiser describes as follows:
" One of the unique fixtures of London, and a fixture which has nothing resembling it in any city of the United States, is the far-famed Criterion, that monster purveyor to the wants of the inner min, both fluid and solid.
"New York has her Delmonico's and Boston has her Young's; but the Criterion is not to London what these two vast eating establishments are to their respective cities. Both Young's and Delmonlco's cater to the ultra-fashionable class to a greater or less extent, while that class of people in the English metropolis, when they dine publicly at all, frequent the Me-tropole, the Langham or the Bristol. Still, at the Criterion one finds at different times almost all classes of people, from the countryman, the business man, the howling swell, up to that class which just falls short of the 'very nobs' themselves.
"The Criterion fronts on Picadilly, Regents Circus, from which busy, noisy locality one ascends a few broad steps and finds himself in the main dining room and bar of Messrs. Siers and Pond's sumptuous eating house. You find none of that gaudy show in decoration which is peculiar to our American bar room or dining hall. Everything about the place speaks for itself in the good, true, heavy, old English style.
"Your attention is first attracted as you enter the Criterion by the stalwart retainer, with his silver chain around his neck, ready to answer any and all questions which the new-comer might put to him, and to direct you this way or that. On your left as you enter and at the further end of this apartment is what to the native American might be considered as the most peculiar feature of this most complete establishment.
"To the man who is accustomed to order his champagne cocktail or his gin-fizz from a row of 'bar-keeps,' clad in their spotless linen and duck, their whole make-up the very pink of perfection, the sight of eight or more fine, buxom, wholesome looking English girls behind the mahogany would probably be a novel, not to say a pleasing and interesting picture. At any rate, pleasing or displeasing, this is in store for him who visits the Criterion, and the writer believes that hundreds of visiting Americans go in there just for the purpose of feasting the eye on this array of female talent.
"Thesebarmaids are all of them selected for their fine physique, their hair cut short, man fashion, their white collars turned down over their black gowns. They are girls of good repute, attending strictly to their business, and allowing no familiarity or freedom of speech, although a part of their stock in trade is to be possessed of pleasing and taking manners, easy flow of words, a certain knack at wholesome repartee, and other like characteristics which shall command a certain amount of custom. At this bar you will find groups of men, young and old, calling for their • mug of bitters,' their "thr'penny' or 'fo'penny' glass of 'cold Irish' or 'cold Scotch,' and these latter drinks are not served to the customer in the bottle, with the privilege of taking a 'bath' or anything of that sort. If you call for a 'fo'penny Irish' you get a 'fo'penny Irish' and no more. Your girl in black draws it from little wooden kegs, measuring it in a gauged measure, pouring it into the glass and setting it before you.
"There is no elaborate display of glassware. Great shining 'beer pulls' show themselves at stated intervals, and heavy decanters of sherry, port and other wines are in sight everywhere. These, together with a goodly display of dainty bits just suited for the noon-day lunch, and not forgetting the girls behind it, go to make up the furnishing of the noted bar. Everything here is straight, no mixed drinks being served.
"Directly opposite the bar are small tables placed In little crescent-shaped alcoves, around which are luxuriously upholstered wall seats, the very place for a cozy tete-a-tete lunch with your best friend.
"Do you wish for a mixed drink? The place for that is the American bar, in a little room leading off the main room. Here one can get American drinks served in the most approved American style. The only thing about them that might not be approved by all Americans is that the price for every drink served over this bar is one shilling; with no two-for-a-quarter transactions about them. The sherry which you pay 'fo'penny' for at the large bar is the identical sherry which you pay a shilling for at the American bar, a fact which proves that one must know the ins and outs in order to save his pence. The American bar is patronized to a considerable extent by Englishmen as well as by the nationality after whom It takes its name. This, as well as the main room, is patronized by the American colony of actors which of late have been so favorably received in London.
" Nearly opposite the further end of the bar you pass through an embossed glass door and down the easy flight of steps which lead you into the famous 'Grill Room.' Placed around this room are little tables for two, covered with snow-white cloths. Here you can order a 'chump chop,' a broiled pork sausage with broiled tomatoes, all of which dishes are specialties of the grill room. Steaks or cuts from the joints are served here in the most approved English style, and are kept nicely hot with little pewter covers for each individual plate, which fit over it to perfection. In this 100m the patrons are of a more solid character, with here and there the paterfamilias with his rosy-cheeked daughters in town for a day's shopping. There is a back entrance to the grill room from Jer-myn street, by means of which ladies can enter without being obliged to run the gauntlet of observing eyes in front of the bar. As you pass out of the back entrance you run accross one of those omnipresent 'drop-in-a-penny ' affairs, by means of which you may obtain a finely flavored Egyptian cigarette if you wish it.
"The two stories above the main room are fitted up with special rooms, set apart for different classes of dining. As you go up the stairs you meet with placards, for instance, on which you read ' Diner Pari-sien, 5 francs,' and on which placard is given the bill of fare for the day. On another you will see ' Dinner, 5 shillings,' together with an English menu. In this French dining room the waiters are all French and small individual tables are daintily set, each table lighted by candela-bras in the evening, placed in the centre and shddlng a 60ft and pleasant light over the room. The English dinner Is such as would meet the requirements of the purely English good-liver. Other rooms are devoted to the use of private parties.
"Perhaps one of the pleasant features of the Criterion is what is known as the 'Glee Dinner.' The room where this is given occupies almost the entire upper floor of the building, and is a very large and spacious apartment, with tables holding from four to a dozen, the whole room capable of seating 200 or more. The dinner costs you 'three and six,' with three pence additional for attendance. For this moderate sum you get soup, fish, choice of several joints, choice of?everal entrees, choice of several vegetables, followed by a sweet. The attractive feature, however, is the music given by a chorus of glee singers to while away the waits between the courses. On a raised platform at one end of the room is a double quartet of men and a dozen or more boys, chosen from the churches, who sing old English glees at intervals during the evening, while dinner is going on, and the music is really admirable.
" Such are a few of the many features of the Criterion. The whole establishment is over the Criterion Theatre, where Wyndham's famous company nightly delight London audiences, and which theatre is, as every one knows, entirely below the street level. In coming out of the building you find yourself once more in busy Piccadilly with its continuously passing throng, and you say to your friend, 'see you again to-morrow night in the glee room at six.'"