Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I recently found myself getting mired in stress.  I was stressing about those big questions that inevitably haunt me from time to time, such as "What's the next step for me in my career?" to the more mundane, "What am I to blog about next?"  These are the sometimes difficult-to-answer questions that keep me up at night.

In an effort to get unstuck and in hopes of maintaining my generally positive outlook on life, I decided to focus my energies on something fun.  Because it's fun, I think, that helps one to rise above the stress and shake off "the will to be dreary", as Dorothy Draper would say.  And what I consider to be great fun is to explore old cookbooks and drinks manuals for a taste of the past, specifically the 1930s.

I perused my copy of The Complete Hostess, written by Giovanni Quaglino, who founded his namesake Mayfair restaurant, Quaglino's, in 1929.  The 1920s had been a gay decade for London society, one in which, according to Barbara Cartland,  "we danced from breakfast until dawn the following day."  (It was Cartland who famously claimed to have found a pearl in her oyster at Quaglino's.)  But by 1929, the Bright Young People were starting to mature, and a taste for dancing gave way to a taste for good food.  In his sophisticated restaurant, Quaglino served up equally sophisticated fare, which included such dishes as Truite aux Raisins de Moissac, Homard à la facon du Maitre Louis, and Emincé de Volaille à la King. Quaglino is also remembered as being one of the first to serve hot hors d'oeuvres, such as Croquettes de Homard and Flan Chez Quaglino.  And entertainment rounded out a meal at Quaglino's, with acts like the Gregory Novelty Tango Quintette and Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson performing for the well-heeled clientele.  (If you're not familiar with Hutch, Google him right away.  Trust me.  You'll spend a good half hour reading about his scandalous exploits.)

Quaglino's is still around today, albeit in an updated form.  In the early 1990s, Terence Conran revamped the restaurant, thus bringing some of the sparkle and polish back to the Quaglino name.  And today, the restaurant is about to reopen after being closed for a major renovation.  As glamorous as the new and improved Quaglino's might be, it's the 1930s-version that most appeals to me.  I'll take bias-cut satin dresses, Hutch Hutchinson tinkling the ivories, and Flan Chez Quaglino  over DJ booths and artisanal cocktails any day.

Quaglino's as it appeared in the 1930s.

Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson performing at Quaglino's.

White Lady Cocktail (recipe from The Complete Hostess)
2/3 Gin
1/3 Cointreau
the juice of a 1/4 of a lemon

Stuffed Celery Chez Quaglino (recipe from The Complete Hostess)
Take some very selected sticks of celery. Equal proportions of Rocquefort cheese and butter. Mix together well with a little cream and sherry and some paprika until it becomes a smooth paste. Fill up the celery and serve.

Back in the mid-'90s, no trip to London was complete without a visit to Quaglino's.  And no visit to Quaglino's was complete without purchasing one of their ashtrays.


  1. Oh to be able to go to Quaglino's in its heyday! I'm interested to look for images of the current Quaglino's interior. And the stuffed celery recipe is a new must try.

  2. Gawd, I hadn't thought about stuffed celery in ages! My late mother used to make it (she was born in 1908 so she was of this era as a young woman). It really is delicious, but somehow I don't think it qualifies as a "diet snack" when stuffed!

  3. Quaglinos( abbreviated to 'Quag's" in more than a few inter-war novels) might have been the setting for some of those British Pathé
    film clips of Leslie A Hutchinson at the piano, as shown on You Tube. All I know is that the well-dressed clientele in those film clips gives testimony to the fact that back in 1930s London, people really did dress UP for an evening, by which was meant, in some instances, men in white tie. Which I found somewhat more distracting than Hutch trying to be heard above the noisy throng.

    As for Hutch's personal life, well---it has convinced me that the less one knows about the sordid carry-ons of talented people, the happier one will be.

  4. Postscript to my earlier comment:
    It was in fact the Café Malmaison where Hutch was filmed singing Irving Berlin's How Deep is the Ocean.
    There is but one man in the audience wearing a dark business suit + neck tie... and he looks sadly out of place.

  5. Thomas1:07 PM

    I remembered reading the Duke of Windsor hosted Wallis Simpson's 37th birthday party there- had to google it to make sure which birthday!

  6. Anonymous3:16 PM

    If you want to visit the era and site through fiction read the murder mystery Swing, Brother, Swing aka A Wreath for Rivera by Ngaio Marsh.

  7. Anonymous4:13 PM

    Jack Ross, the character played by dishy Gary Carr in Downton Abbey, is loosely inspired by Hutch. Methinks Jack Ross a bit more appealing, personally, but, oh, it is delicious fun to read about Mr. Hutchinson. Great post about the book and shimmering evenings in Quaglino's, Thank you.

  8. I just love that book. You have inspired me to pull it off the shelf!

  9. What an amazing flashback! My parents took my brother and I to dinner at Quaglino's during our first family trip abroad in 1997. It was such a wonderful dinner. (my parents are foodies and raised us on filet mignon and crab cakes, ha!). My 6th grade self did not know what to do in such a spiffy place, with celebrities milling about. I remember the massive floral arrangements down the center of the room to be overwhelmingly beautiful, and the ceiling to be perfect for a young teen who loves people watching.