Hungerford Bridge (part 3 and last)
(of course "George" was never scruffy and NEVER spilt the
The glass paradise of the Royal Festival Hall resounded with this music, but so
did many other places, and slowly but surely the 'new' novelty (it came around
every year) was wearing thin. George didn't seem to be aware of seasons, festivals or other such mundane things, maybe the passing of time in the Gordon's cellars
made such things unimportant, and so much the more startled were we
(my mentor Bill and myself) when suddenly, one evening, as we were on the
point of leaving, to hear George's rare voice, behind us "Happy Christmas, sirs"!
This was more than rare, and constituted almost a breach of the regulations, but it
was Christmas - so an extra Half-a-crown changed hands, and with Dickensian
heads bent, we hurried out into the dark, Christmassy London night sky.
Since it was the pre-Christmas period, our goal this evening was upwards,
away from the Bridge, underneath the Arches of Charing Cross overgroundstation,
turn right and follow up what I think I recall as "Duke's Street".
two little things which always took our time (then and later) and sometimes our patience.
It was quite a dark and relatively narrow street, and had a tendence to shelter
those who could get no place or peace in the Arches area of the station.
Police did occasionally come around and move on those whom they considered 'undesirable'. Seemed often to be a rather un-democratic process, and
rather useless too, but at this time of the year, there were things happening.Christmas carols were being sung,
accompanied as usual by the Salvation Army, a soup kitchen was dishing out
stuff in chipped, battered metal mugs, thrown away by the British Army,
their chocolate brown colour now rather dilapidated, and covered on the inside
by the stains of countless thousands of mugs of tea.
This soup wasn't for us anyway, but we could (and did) profit from the music,
the smell of the soup, and just a little way up the road one could see, and smell
a hot chestnut stall, the redness of the brazier making things seem a little unreal.
I can hear the nowaday reader saying - yes, yes, very Dickens!
I swear, so was it around the Christmas time, even at the start of the
Our goal was the one and only pub in this street, I cannot recall the name,
the Duke of something I think, (I wouldn't go so far as to say the Duke of Dukes
Street) or the Duchess of whatever. Pubs weren't our normal goal, they tended
not to have wine at the epoch, and we were not beer drinkers at the time, but this
one was different, it had a rare thing of the time - a buffet table - Lunch and
For one price (and very reasonable too) one could stuff ones self full for hours,
the only problem being what to drink, for the drinks were not free of course.
It was also not far from Gordon's - Free Vintners!
This pub also pulled a great number of interesting and varied people, from the
world of the theatre, press, TV and radio, all looking for something good, simple,
cheap, and not too far away from their work places, but just far enough away as to
be able to eat and drink in peace.
The list of 'notables' or 'prominents' encountered in this pub over the years was impressive, and although I could recount it, I won't, since I beleive they need their
rest and peace.
Suffice it to say that they ranged from Royalty to scruffy, intellectual writers of
pieces for rags like "Private Eye" (very popular at the time), amongst others.
Since it was Christmas, the buffet was arranged with all those things we would be
sick of within the next 10 days, so we contented ourselves with a little gin and
tonic, a quick look around, a word of hello here and there, and then off we went
into the dark night again.
It didn't stay dark for very long, for Trafalgar Square very quickly hit us in the
and although we had the practiced art of sliding around the corner discretely,
it was always a pain for the eyes.
Now the time of great choice had arrived.
Here we were, in the entrance to "Lyons Corner House".
One of 4 or 5 in London's centre, and we now had to make the decision of which restaurant we preferred this evening.
There were 4 or 5 different ones, the "Wimpey"on the ground floor, with it's
'everlasting' cup of coffee NOT being included.
That was for the tourists, or those up from the 'sticks' to take in a show, but most certainly not for us.
I do beleive my mentor, Bill, would have had a heart attack had I even suggested
For us - the choice of either the "Carving Room" (same principle as in the pub -
except that hot and cold were offered, and a total of 6 different roast meats/
poultry available which you carved yourself) together with all the accompagning vegetables, puddings, gravies, sauces and a wonderful cold buffet for those who
simply couldn't squeeze any more beef and yorkshire in.
All as much as you wanted, as often as you went up, and carved or served yourself.
This was a true Aladdin's cave, simply from the quantities, and rationing wasn't
so long ago either!
You chose a starter, from a choice of exotics like prawn cocktails, smoke salmon,
tomato soups with parmesan cheese and fresh cream on it (all these things WERE
exotic at the time), and this was served to you, after which you never saw you
waiter or waitress, until the sweet course (a couple of days later) but you knew
they must be there, for your dirty plate was taken away each time you went up to
carve another helping!
I honestly don't know how the place made a profit, although I recall once seeing
an extremely large, grosse, man making his way into the restaurant, and thinking
that, here was the end of the way for the Carving Room.
I recall that this man, of at least 2 tons, selected and ate delicately, one piece of
cold chicken breast, together with a couple of lettuce leafs etc!
He must have been on a diat, and just liked SEEING all the food.
He must also have been someone of iron will force.
This was the place for me, but my mentor, Bill , occasionally had in mind my
education ( which was all right by me, since I loved fish, but never saw it at home,
apart from a sort of apology of a soppy soup, called 'cod in milk') or an occasional
herring from Scotland, as a reminder of one's origins, (one can't even afford them nowadays, if one could find them- they have become a rich man's food nowadays),
and "The Trident Restaurant" also on the first floor was chosen, (where
everything that is either no longer available, and certainly not in the quality,
or everything which is now completely out of price range for almost everyone,
The sea on a plate, one could say, cooked to perfection, served with sauces which
now only adorn the covers of excessively expensive cookery books, smoked
salmon of a quality now unknown, salmon itself of a quality unknown.
Lobsters, oysters, mussels, everything that had gills and breathed water rather
than air and all of a quality which took the breath away.
All, Bill assured me, at a modest price!
Now and then, when we were a little more pressed for time,
the "Grillroom" or the "Charcoal" were chosen, on the second floor, both of these restaurants had a nice view out over the Square of Trafalgar and the battling
multitudes, together with a tantalizing aroma of grilled, barbecued, fried,
at table prepared (flambiered) meats or 'crepe suzette' pancakes (crepes),
There were even things like table fondues available, but we drew the line at
dangerous stuff, and Bill, my mentor, was still (despite his travel-filled life ) an Englishman at heart!
Even so, these two restaurants were also havens of good hostellry, with
Angus beef, Welsh lamb, veal (an almost unheard of thing at the time),
all sizzling on the "open-to-everyone's-eyes" barbecues, or the wonderful joints
of meat being roasted at large, open fireplaces, (intended for the carving room)
and turning slowly on spits.
These places were paradise for me.
Paradise, on a Sunday, was something my father spoke, and taught his sheep
about, (all the time!), but you had to look a long time for anything as close to
Paradise at our home as these two places, and then in vain!
Above all, there was the ultimate in gastronomical pleasure, and cultural or
This heaven of good things was based in the cellar, and yet had nothing to do
with hell or enfer! If this is how you live in hell, take me there!
I'll make reservations for you all.
The Brasserie was the showboat piece of the whole
set up, and indeed became known to the general public later on as "The Showboat"
(a sort of meal with show - we never went again after this change).
The Brasserie was set up as a French style upper-class restaurant, with a small
'combo' band, which changed costumes occasionally to become a 'gypsy' band,
or a real french group with onions and things.
T'was always the same group, of course, and we got to know various individuals
quite well, from our regular visits.
One of the things which brought home to me how much London was
(as I have already said) at the time, really a village, was the discovery that the
leader (and chief violinist- or chief wandering gypsy, playing at tables -
all depending) of this agreable little group, was none other than the brother
of another friend, George - of Gordon's fame!
That George could possibly have a brother, and on top of that a violin playing gypsy/frenchman/coffee-room combo member - well!
The Brasserie system was the time-proven one, of all larger Hotels.
Individual tables, always separated by at least 4-6 feet of space, sprinkled around
in a roughly central circle, at the top of which the musicians had their place,
and where people would dance, in good taste, to the decent and not-overloud
The murmur of general conversation made up the atmosphere of this place.
A sort of 'between-war' and disappearing fast, place.
I think it only lasted about 4 years after my first visit, and then became 'Showboat'
and other such things.
The food was impeccable, served in copper platters, often flamed, each group of
four tables had it's own waiter, bow-tied, black suit - in other words wonderful!
How would it not be possible to feel immediately at home, good food, good
company, tradition - a wee Scots laddy had to feel at home, and did!
The evening and the meal would never have been the same if a tradition was not
Two "kummels" would be ordered, and although I absolutely hated (and still do)
the taste (kind of liquoricy) of this stuff, tradition had it that NO meal was
complete until our waiter murmured in a voice for our-ears-only "The kummels
are coming, sirs!"
This was worth another half-a-crown to him, but was worth the whole evening to
A final visit to the Gentlemen's room (serviced by a lady who had sat there for
centuries, with a saucer in front of her) and another wonderful evening had
The normalities of Clapham South awaited, and magic only happens occasionally!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ NOTE:- I had wanted to make this the last episode, but
I realise that there can never be last episodes in magical tours and souvenirs.
I will not change the title of this piece, but the next episode will be named
"London Ways" and will be about the Festival Club, the Coliseum and Globe
Theatres, the shadowy figures dressed up in fantasy costumes that floated in
and out of the Festival Club, from the stage door of the Theatres, for a quick
'gin and tonic' between acts. It will be the first article in an occasional series,
"London Ways" in which the London I knew, of the early sixties and then a
little later, both in the Centre and in it's outer suburbs will feature....
And remember - this isn't so long ago!
iwmpop(mrlemarquis) - Vauvert, France - Juin