Eating Out In Georgian London – A Regency Good Food Guide

My starrylanceting point for this post is a book that will fascinate anyone interested in Georgian London  – The Epicure’s Almanac: Eating and Drinking in Regency London by Ralph Rylance, edited by Janet Ing Freeman (British Library 2012).

In 1815 Rylance published the first guide to London eating, with, as he put it, the intention of guiding his readers to those establishments where they might ‘dine well and to the best advantage.’  Incredibly, Rylance claimed to have investigated all the locations himself, over 600 of them. His recommendations range from smart Mayfair hotels, inns, chop houses, markets, tea gardens and cake shops. Poor Rylance must have hoped his work would go into many editions, but it survived only the one and the publisher, Longmans, did not reprint.

Janet Ing Freeman has taken Rylance’s original text and investigated all the establishments he mentions, giving us notes on location and lots of interesting snippets about how they developed, who ate there and quotes from other sources. There are original maps to assist. Her detailed scholarly work turns Rylance’s book from a curiosity into a useable guide for the modern reader.

In addition to the places where one might eat there is a ‘Review of Artists Who Administer to the Wants and Conveniences of the Table’ ie shops for kitchen equipment and ingredients. These include Deakin’s Philosophical Kitchen Range which may be obtained from the inventor at 47, Ludgate Hill.  We are told it ‘combines economy with simplicity. It contains an improved oven for bread or pies; a capacious boiler, a place for several stewpans and saucepans with the addition of a moveable steaming apparatus…’ The boiler can also be used for distilling. The editor explains that ‘philosophical’ is used in the sense of ‘scientific’  and in 1817 prices ranged from 11 to 20 guineas.

One of the most frequently mentioned type of eating place is the oyster room. Oysters were cheap fast food and could be eaten at various shellfish warehouses and in most other eateries. Rylance mentions many oyster rooms such as Lynn’s at 145 Fleet Street where ‘the best accommodations are upstairs’, and Sawyer’s, St Martin’s Lane noting that it is, ‘One of the largest concerns of the kind in London, for the sale not only of shell-fish, but also of pickled and dried salmon, spruce beer and other beverages.’

In my collection I have this print, ‘A noted Oyster Room near the theatres -Time 3 o’Clock in the Morning’. (Drawn by Samuel AlOyster rooms_0001ken, published 1823). A very good time is being had by everyone and I strongly suspect that the gentlemen are not accompanied by their wives!

Another popular type of eating place was the coffee house, a very masculine preserve, where coffee was drunk, newspapers read and matters of business and politics discussed. Food was also served in many of them, for example the Piazza Coffee House in Covent Garden, founded by actor Charles Macklin, where ‘dinners for large and small parties are served up in the most consummate style of elegance.’

This illustration from Ackermann’s Repository of October 1811 shows the Auction Mart Coffee Room in Throgmorton Street. Auctions were often held in coffee houses and the Auction Mart was an attempt to move some of them into a purpose-built venue, although of course it still had to have its coffee room.  RylanAuction martce observes that it was ‘fitted up in very neat style. Here soups, and the usual coffee-house refreshments, are served up.’ The notes in the Repository are only concerned with the architecture, not the refreshments unfortunately, and the illustration shows an unconvincingly  quiet and uncrowded space.

Finally, for another type of establishment, we have the confectioners. As I have an invoice from Parmentier’s in my collection I’ve chosen that one from the many that Rylance describes. Parmentiers was located in Edwards Street (now part of Wigmore Street). ‘Here every article is perfected in the true Parisian style of excellence. You find eau de Cologne, pâte de guimauve [marshmallow confections], cachou à la rose, cachou à l’orange et à la violette [lozenge-shaped sweetmeats], papillottes avec devises [small candies wrapped in paper containing jokes or mottoes]. Here are to be had preserves and conserves, wet and dry, jellies, jams, coloured transparent pastes, fruits dried or preserved in French brandies, comfits, lozenges, drops of every colour and flavour, superior macaroons, and rout cakes of the most fanciful forms, with ices and creams.’ My invoice is for lemon and orange syrups.

Parmentier0001It is still possible to eat in some of the establishments that Rylance mentions. For example The Cheshire Cheese is still in Wine Office Court off Fleet Street, and close to the Bank of England you can eat at Simpson’s Tavern in Ball’s Court and the nearby George and Vulture in George Yard.

For my next post I’ll be discovering some recipes for popular foods in Georgian London.

 

21 Comments

Filed under Food & drink

21 responses to “Eating Out In Georgian London – A Regency Good Food Guide

  1. Elizabeth Bailey

    Great post. Loved the detail. Really want that book!

  2. I have that book too, Louise. Can spend HOURS dipping into it!

  3. Reblogged this on Ella Quinn ~ Author and commented:
    Wonderful post on eating out during the Regency.

  4. Enjoyed this. Looking forward to the next post!

  5. Another fabulous post, Louise! Now I need that book.

  6. helenajust

    That book’s on my wish list. I love the sound of Parmentiers; am I dreaming, or did that name used to be linked with violets? Little violet-tasting sweets?

    • You are thinking of Parma violet cachous, Helena. They are still available online if you Google them.

      • Kay

        Dear Louise,
        If you know of a link to a site selling the violet cachous in a little tin, please please divulge the details!
        I’ve been looking for some time and can only find a children’s version in a cellophane roll. Very similar taste, but none of the mystique.
        In hope,
        Kay

      • Dear Kay,
        Google Abbaye de Flavigny – they do lovely little tins of them. Available from Amazon and probably elsewhere (or anywhere in France!)
        Louise

  7. This is a wonderful book Louise – I too could spend hours looking at it! – so thanks for this great plug for it – maybe it will go into a second printing unlike Rylance’s original edition!

  8. Fantastic post, Deb! What a beautiful book, and exquisite illustrations. Only from the British Library I suppose. Maybe the first ‘Where to eat’ guidebook. Thanks for introducing it to us. After reading your post I tried to locate it but nowhere to be found. Not in our public library catalogue, not on Amazon or Book Depository.

    • The original edition is in the BL, but the version I have – with notes etc – is available on Amazon.co.uk (enter The Epicure’s Alamanac). If you are out of the UK it might be possible to get it direct from the BM bookshop https://shop.bl.uk – they have it in paperback – but you might need to contact them about postage outside the UK

      • Thanks Louise! Sorry addressed the wrong person in my comment above. Pls. feel free to change the name. Thanks! Beautiful blog you have here, Louise.

  9. Great post. Does the book mention Rules? I understand it was the first restaurant in London and it still serves great food.

    • Actually Rylance doesn’t mention Rules at all and the editor’s note for Maiden Lane is interesting: ‘It cannot be proved that some member of the family associated with today’s Rules Restaurant at no.35 had already established a business in Maiden Lane by 1815. Directories show that Thomas Rule was operating a barrelled oyster warehouse at no.52 Minories into the 1820s, but by 1830 he is listed at no.38 Maiden Lane, where his son Benjamin first paid rates in 1828.’ She says that Benjamin moved to no.36 and built new premises for the oyster rooms at no.35 in 1873.In the mid 20thc it expanded into no.34, which was built 1875-6.

  10. Pingback: In the squeezing of a lemon | Tangerine and Cinnamon

  11. KQL Australia

    Hi Louise
    Great post and of interest to me because my ancestors ran oyster rooms in Brydges Street, Covent Garden, and I think you have posted a picture of their place.

    • If 2 replies come through it is because the system ‘ate’ my first attempt! How fascinating if the oyster house in my print was your ancestors’ one! It is certainly ‘near the theatres’ which would tie in with Brydges Street.

  12. KQL Australia

    Louise, Have looked at a print dated 1823 and the same mirror is in both. Your one would be about 1814. Do you know how I can get a good quality print of the one you have? You might be interested in the incredible story behind the place.

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