When we acquired the Trocadero Banquet Book, we really didn't know what it was. It was described at auction as a 'Menu Book'. Despite the years of work which had gone into its writing, there was little interest and bidding - perhaps because from the outside it looked simply like a tatty old book, and little else. The covers of the book were all torn and peeling off, the spine had disappeared long ago, and there was evidence of water damage.
However it was clear from looking at the inside of the book that it was something special. On four hundred pages there were nearly one thousand hand-written descriptions of banquets and other meals, written in exquisite writing, and clearly with a great deal of care and attention. The book itself is also impressive - it measures 14" by 13" and weights in at over 10lbs. (35cmx32cmx3.5kg)
A significant number of the entries are for individuals ranging from those we may never be able to identify to noted celebrities such as the actress Marie Lloyd and Cecil Rhodes, after whom Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, was named. Others are for companies, and groups which still exist - and that started the detective trail. We wrote hundreds of letters specifically asking these groups where, from their records, they dined on a particular date. We had dozens of replies.
Many groups were unable to help but some, such as Aberdeen University, The Grand Order of Water Rats and Lloyds Register of Shipping, all told us the same thing. Their banquets, on a particular date, and hence our book, came from The Trocadero restaurant in London's Piccadilly Circus. The book began on the opening night of the restaurant (You can find out more about what the restaurant was actually like here).
We believe there were three chefs during this period of the first five years of the Trocadero - because there are three hands writing the book, all in the finest script. (Click the picture to see an example.) At the front also there is an index by name and organisation, and a mystery.
We assume a kitchen servant, or waiter fell out with the chef and was sacked. Presumably at the dead of night, he or she crept back into the kitchen, took the book and turned to the index. Attempting to impersonate the chef's hand (not very well though) they wrote in ink under B, the word:'Bollocks', and under F: 'I Fart', and in the red ink used for wines (as opposed to black) under S: 'U S_ _ _ house'! There is worse still!
There are empty pages, a dozen or so at the back of the book, and we assume it was withdrawn after this incident. These entries are the last in the index, and when compared with the menus, we can assume this incident happened on 23 November 1899. Hardly a fitting end to the century! Nevertheless, this is probably why the book also found its way out of The Trocadero.
We know only one thing about how it spent the next ninety years - the auctioneer told us that the seller's husband, recently deceased, had been British Ambassador to India in the 1930's, and had the book at the British Embassy to teach his kitchen staff about the etiquette of high banquets. Unfortunately she (the seller) wouldn't agree to talk to us to tell us more.
The story ends of a high note because in 1997, we spent some £500.00 having the book restored, recovered and re-stitched. As close to the original materials have been used in this process (the original makers plate is on the left), and it is now safe and robust again, and in little danger of further deterioration.
Over the years since we recovered the book (in both senses!) there has been a lot of interest in our interest and hobby, not least from the media. Our ambition is to publish a work with selected menus and recipes and historiesof the day the banquet was enjoyed, but so far publishers have missed this golden opportunity.
If you have anything to add to our knowledge, want to share an experience of The Trocadero, or share our interest we'd welcome a message. Click here to sign the guestbook and leave comments, additional information or advice.