My close friend at that time was Norman Kinchin and, over the next many years, we would lunch in Soho, but, this day, it was for the first time.
I cannot remember what the others ordered, but for me it was Beouf a la Bourguignon. I wanted something that was quite different from anything I had had before. It was certainly different. It was served to me in a bowl with a large piece of beef in the centre with mushrooms and baby onions floating around the outside. The thick sauce was heavy with chopped bacon.
It seemed to conjure up all that had been missing for so long.
Here’s a recipe Boeuf Bourguignon:
A kilo of topside of beef, 115 grams of streaky bacon. Thyme, bayleaf, parsley and 15 centilitres of red wine. Two Tablespoons of olive oil, 300 millilitres of beef stock. A clove of garlic, a table spoon of flour and some dripping.
Finally, 250 grams of small button mushrooms and a handful of small white onions.
Cut the bacon into small strips . Cook the bacon in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan with the olive oil at moderate heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pan.
Cut the beef in 2-inch cubes. Cook the beef in the bacon fat until browned. Remove the beef. Add the onion, carrots, celery and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Drain off the fat from the saucepan.
Mix the butter and the flour to make a paste.
Return the beef and bacon with the vegetables to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the beef with the butter and flour mixture. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes and turn the beef cubes.
Add the wine and enough bouillon so that it covers the ingredients. Add small, white onions, garlic and the herbs. Bring to a boil.
Cover the pan and simmer for 3 hours on a low heat.
Saute the mushrooms in butter and add to the Boeuf Bourgignon twenty minutes before the dish is cooked.
Serve with boiled potatoes.
We asked what wine we would like. None of us knew anything about wines having all been drinkers of ales and beers. We asked him to bring us what was most suitable.
He brought a bottle of Corbieres, a fine red wine and, as a result, I have been drinking wine ever since. That was my first. Since then, the quality has improved beyond recognition. The winegrowers removed poor vines and replaced them with better ones.
Corbières is an Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) for wine in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, responsible for 46 per cent of the region’s AOC wine production in 2005. Red wine dominates the production in Corbières with almost 95 per cent of the output. Carignan is the most common grape variety used. The AOC, which was created in 1985, covers 13,500 hectares (33,000 acres) of vineyards and produces an average of 74 million bottles a year. It must be popular.
At that time, I could not visit the many restaurants that existed in Soho or the many that were mushrooming at the time.
I had some well-off colleagues at Movietonews and they used the restaurants.
At lunch times, the editorial staff used to have sherry in Long’s Bar which was on the east side of Soho Street. They drank William and Humbert’s Dry Sack.
Another used to meet his fiancé in Kettner’s for lunch.
Our boss, Sir Gordon Craig, visited his club, The Gargoyle Club which was on the corner of Meard Street and Dean Street. It offered private rooms for parties, lunch, tea and supper to its members. this eventually became a “Clip Joint” and when that ended the new owners displayed a sign on the door saying “This is not a knocking shop”.
There were only two Chinese restaurants in Soho at that time, I believe, one was Ley On’s Chinese Restaurant, the other was Choy’s in Frith Street. The Chinese had not yet invaded Gerrard Street and environs. Ley On owned a racehorse which he entered in the Derby. Many people in Soho backed him to win. He didn’t. Ley Ons is long gone, it was eventually replaced by The Satsuma, a Japanese restaurant.
I imagine that many of these restaurants no longer exist, but, in their day they were famous.
Next chapter: Chapter 30: The Night Bus home