Friday, August 21, 2015

London's Reform Club and Soyer's Famous Grouse Salad

The Reform Club, F. Hopkinson Smith 1913

The story I am about to tell came about because of a remarkable intersection of political and artistic passions.

London’s Reform Club was founded in 1836 by the liberal warriors who had successfully championed England’s Reform Act a few years before. Reform Act? –– just boring ancient history, right?  NO –– the reason for the reform is very timely in this post-Citizen’s United world. Remember the sage advice of Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”?  Their struggle resonates today as our democracy becomes a plutocracy.

In 1832 they had the will to change that. How about a little history before dinner?

In the early 19th century, the British government was being controlled by the rich and powerful. A few lords held control over many of the boroughs (the Duke of Norfolk had 11 – 180 people controlled nearly 4/5ths of the 507 constituencies). Their representatives voted as their masters ordered or were replaced. Unconnected corrupt districts allowed themselves to be bought by the highest bidder. Sound familiar?

A Bow to the Throne, Gillray, 18th c.

Everyone complained about it but nothing got done until an unusual coalition was formed when Nabobs of enormous foreign-gotten wealth, swooped in and bribed their way into unconnected districts. This infuriated the landed gentry as well as the socially conscious reformers. It was also the case that some districts with hardly any people (called ‘rotten boroughs”) had as much representation as those with large populations thanks to out-of-date assignments. Sound familiar (Wyoming has just over half a million people and has 2 senators just like California with 38 million – crazy, right?)? You could vote in multiple districts if you had holdings in multiple areas. Only 200,000 people could vote in England in 1831 since only landowners could vote –– when you think about it, that left out the lion’s share of the populace since women were disenfranchised as well. That all changed when the reformers took control for nearly the next 100 years. After their triumph  they wanted a place to hob nob and dine well.  The Reform Club was born.

The Reform Club was a bastion of liberal, progressive thinkers for 50 years until the liberals felt the atmosphere was becoming too mixed for their tastes and started a club just for liberal partisans. The Reform is still going strong with members from all walks of life. They still enjoy good food.

The magnificent building which opened in 1841, was designed by Charles Robert Barry (1795-1860. He was best known for the 30 year project of rebuilding the Houses of Parliament after a fire took the old Medieval building in 1834 (in partnership with Augustus Pugin whose father wrote THE book on Gothic design – Examples of Gothic Architecture). Barry took the credit for the work even though Pugin did all of the interiors and designed Big Ben. Barry developed a reputation for impressive renovations and redid many great English houses including the exterior of Downton Abbey’s Highclere House (another architect finished the interior).

The Reform Club was built from scratch (you can see the new renovation at  IFACS).

Saloon (Photo from IFACS )
Saloon (Photo from IFACS )
Library ceiling (Photo from IFACS )


Barry’s youthful tours of the Middle East, Greece and Italy left a lasting impression. He won the competition to build the Reform Club using Michelangelo’s Farnese Palace as inspiration

Phineas Fogg at the Reform Club

The Reform has been the location for many films as it shoots magnificently with its 2 story central saloon (a James Bond film, Miss Potter even Paddington Bear shot scenes here). Jules Verne staged the dramatic conclusion of Around the World in 80 Days at the Reform Club.

Dining room

Had enough politics and architecture? –– don't worry, it was just an amuse-gueule before the main course. The reason I brought you to the club is to tell you about the kitchen. Like Carême’s Brighton Pavillion kitchen before it,  the Reform kitchen was remarkable for its time -- this was a progressive establishment after all.

Kitchen of the Reform Club

The kitchen at the Reform Club was built by Berry but the innovative design came from the brilliant mind of one of the earliest celebrity chefs. Alexis Soyer. Soyer cooked for the Reform Club from 1837 to 1850 (beginning at the Club’s original location). His salary was over £1,000 a year – a fabulous sum for the time (he also had cookbooks, bottled sauces and inventions bringing him even more income). Politics brought him to the Reform.

Soyer escaped the political unrest in France in 1830 in a rather dramatic fashion, “The cooks were driven from the palace, and in the flight two of Soyer's confrères were shot before his eyes, and he himself only escaped through his presence of mind, in beginning to sing 'la Marseillaise' et 'la Parisienne;' when he was in consequence carried off amid the cheers of the mob.”

Once in London he never looked back and from his triumph at the Reform Club he went on to cook for royalty at great houses all over the country, write a best-selling cookbook, invent a field stove to feed the troops (the design was used until the end of the 20th century) and create recipes for feeding the poor more nutritious food.

He also dressed very eccentrically “ à la zoug-zoug” (his expression for design on the bias), and had a style described as “studiously awry”. His hats were always set at a rakish angle –– even his calling card featured a parallelogram, not a rectangle.

Dining at Reform Club

Always an innovator, he strived to make his kitchen a showplace for new technology and streamlined organization of workstations. Louis Fagan describes the Reform kitchen tour with Soyer in great detail in his book The Reform Club: Its Founders and Architect.

Reform Club Kitchen

There was a larder for meat (18’ x 15’ with slate tops and ice drawers), cold meat and sauce larder (with a meat safe!), a pastry and confectionary area (with ice drawers beneath the marble slab counter), a roasting kitchen, vegetable kitchen, a principal kitchen (28’ l x 24’ w) with a 12 sided elm table that was 12’7” and 3 “ thick with a cast iron steam closet and sliding boards for straining sauces and “ a roasting fireplace principally used for game and poultry, on a plan entirely new”(in the middle of the room with the 4 great pillars). There was also a scouring scullery, steam boiler, butler’s pantry and kitchen offices. It was altogether a remarkable place.

Soyer concluded his kitchen tour by saying “I dare hope that my humble efforts will have the effect of producing hereafter a reform in the art of building and fitting up a kitchen which, without being of an immoderate size, contains all that can be wished for as regards saving of time, comfort, regularity, cleanliness and economy.” (you can read all about the technical specifications of the kitchen design and equipment in Charles Davy’s Architectural Precedents) It really was terribly innovative with steam-powered devices and open areas so that cooks would not suffer the smoke poison of their predecessors. The specially designed insulated stoves were used for 50 years.

Soyer was not just relegated to the servant’s quarters, author William Thackeray, “ had towards Soyer the friendliest of feelings, and genuine admiration to boot; since the mercurial Frenchman was something more than an excellent cook – that is to say, Alexis was a man of sound commonsense, a practical organizer, a racy humorist and a constant sayer of good things.” His talent elevated him to a higher social position. He was a rock star in the kitchen, even having unheard of perks at the Reform.

Helen Soutar Morris in her Portrait of a Chef: The Life of Alexis Soyer, Sometime Chef to the Reform Club revealed that Soyer had a his own private room at the club where he would entertain special guests, “Soyer would unlock his precious cupboard, filled with rare wines and liqueurs and brandies and spices and sauces; while his friends sat round with their mouths watering, he would create, with a spoonful of this, a pinch of that, and a soupçon of the other a dish fit for Apicius himself. His friends would taste it, gaze at him admiringly, taste again, and (as one of them deplorably expressed it) toast him as ‘never a traitor, but most assuredly a traiteur of the class A1.”

From Soyer's The Pantropheon

There were a few dishes that he was known for (like his lamb cutlets that are still served there today), and certainly there were grand dinners that brought him acclaim thanks to his formidable pièces montées of giant sugar pyramids and icy battleships, but one signature dish that he was terribly proud of was Salade de Grouse á la Soyer. I thought I would make it as part of my D’Artagnan Wild Scottish Birds series. I think the recipe has been in my to-do list for 5 years. When Soyer served the dish to Prince Albert at a banquet for the Mayor of York in 1850 it got royal raves. Since the recipe for the Grouse Salad is in his 1846 The Gastronomic Regenerator cookbook, we can assume the recipe was conceived in the glorious kitchen of The Reform Club.

I was reminded about the dish when I read the description of it in Meg Dod’s Cookbook.  It's faithful to Soyer’s 1846 original but with the added bonus of amusing commentary.

Soyer’s recipe from his 1857 cookbook, Soyer's Culinary Campaign : Being Historical Reminiscences of the Late War is smaller and simpler with quite different proportions of ingredients:

The recipe for cooking the grouse is a hybrid of dozens of recipes.  The brine leaves the bird positively fragrant and the meat tender, the under-the-skin trick adds more beautiful flavor.    Because of the delicious meat the salad is a delight –– serious umami partners beautifully with the brightness of the greens and the sinfully rich and delicious dressing.  I had it the next day with cherries and wax beans and even a few pickled onions and it was great.  The dressing holds up very well the next day.  It is just thicker after a night in the fridge.

Salade de Grouse a la Soyer for 2

*1 under-roasted D'Artagnan Scottish grouse, remove the breast and slice each into 4 pieces (reserve rest for stock)
3-4 hard boiled eggs, sliced into 4 slices
salad greens (butter lettuce, escarole)



or untraditionally:
berries (blackberries cherries)
green or wax beans
pickled onions

Use whatever appeals to you.


1 T shallot, grated
2 t sugar ( I think 1 t would be better)
1 egg yolk
1 T chopped tarragon
1 T chopped chervil
¼ t white pepper
½ t of salt
6 T salad oil
1 T of chili vinegar ( I used 1 T elderflower vinegar and 1 t hot sauce with a bit of the seed in it)
½ c cream, whipped stiffly

Stir all the ingredients to the oil together.  Whisk or blend the oil in slowly so an emulsion is formed (I used 1 t each of the herbs in the dressing). Fold the cream into the mayonnaise until well blended and chill.

Put the butter around the edge of a dish, stand the eggs up and decorate with beets, anchovies, radishes and/or gherkins as you prefer. Place some of the salad in the center of the plate.

Add some of the grouse on the plate, spoon a bit of dressing on the grouse. Do another layer of salad  and grouse and the dressing or make 2 plates. Sprinkle with remaining herbs.

I made a smaller version of the dish and cut the eggs again for scale. If you make the recipe in a larger dish, you can leave the eggs in quarters

*Roasting a Grouse

1 D'Artagnan Scottish grouse
1 T hazelnut oil
1 anchovy, mashed
1 t grated shallot
½ t fresh thyme
¼ t pepper
3 t. heather honey
1 T vegetable oil

Take 1 T hazelnut oil and grated shallot, anchovy, thyme, pepper and 1 T foie gras and 1 t heather honey and blend. Put in the freezer for 30 minutes or until firm.

Remove the grouse from the brine and pat dry. Let stand 15 minutes while heating the oven to 400º as you insert the semi-solid oil under the breast and leg of the grouse (the leg is tough to do—they are little birds) . Put the remainder in the cavity with 2 t of heather honey. Add pepper over all (the brine has already salted the meat.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the grouse and fry for 2-3 minutes, turning regularly, until the birds are browned on all sides (if you are going to just roast using this recipe, make it 3-4 minutes).  This will give you a rare to medium rare breast which I think is best.  +Should you like your meat cooked more, go for 3-4 minutes on top of the stove and in the oven.

Arrange each grouse so that it is resting on one breast.

Transfer to the oven for 3 minutes, then turn the birds onto 1 breast side and roast for a further 2 minutes, turn and do the same for the other breast. Turn the grouse onto their backs and roast for 2 more minutes (if you are going to just roast using this recipe and want a medium done breast, make it 3-4 minutes for the breasts).

Remove the pan from the oven. Remove the grouse from the pan, tent.  Set aside to rest for 10 minutes.

Remove the breast for the salad and reserve the carcass for a bit of a nibble and stock.

**Brine for 1 Grouse

2T salt
1 Bay leaf
1 t crushed juniper berries
small sprig rosemary
2 c water

Boil the ingredients and cool.  Put the grouse in t a container with the cool brine and refrigerate for 12 hours (8 hours will work just fine).

Soyer's Grouse Salad

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La Table De Nana said...

I had to look up the French transaltion of I have seen the word..but always skimmed over it..turns out the French term is not more familiar to me..
beautiful dish..

Rhodesia said...

As always you find so much of interest and things I did not know about. Not sure that I will get Scottish grouse here but definitely similar, sounds delicious. Have a good weekend Diane

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I know I always say this but this was an excellent read. He sounds like a true character in the kitchen and the storylines although from the 1800's echo true to today!

Barbara said...

Great read about the Reform Club and Soyer. (His unusual calling cards may have drawn attention, but can you imagine the storage problems they'd create today?)
Don't think I've ever eaten grouse. But I have made salads with duck....delicious. Would be marvelous with fresh cherries and I love the dressing!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Another wonderful and interesting read, Deana. I love the term "a la zoug-zoug" :) I've had Wisconsin grouse and they are tiny! What a beautiful salad!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

well this is why I love your blog -not just amazing food -but history as well! and architectural! a feast for the brain