Restaurant Maxim, London
In a London street, not known for its smartness, shone a beacon of culinary delight, providing dinners, suppers and dancing all for half a crown in 1914.
When the Imperial Austrian Exhibition was staged in Earls Court in 1906 the organisers established an Austrian restaurant providing admirable Austrian food as part of the experience. They brought over the son-in-law of the proprietor of the famous Rubezahl Café in the Austrian Highlands called Maximilan Lurion to become the manager and when Earls Court closed for the winter Lurion stay on.
Lurion decided to open a restaurant in central London and with a British syndicate bought a site on the corner of Wardour and Gerrard Streets. A small public house carrying a license was included in the sale and the entire plot was re-developed incorporating the saloon. The name of the restaurant was deemed to be a shortened version of Lorion’s Christian name and so Restaurant Maxim was born at 30 Wardour Street. The fact that it had the same name as the famous restaurant in Paris must have been a coincidence!
Although the area was not exactly fashionable the new restaurant was described as ‘a bright and cheerful place, in a neighbourhood where brightness is not the rule.’ The white exterior had touches of gilding on the wreaths that embellish the outer walls and there was a domed turret on the roof. Compact, yet elegant, the interior was handsomely appointed on three floors with a stunning balcony.
On entry there was a smart Commissionaire in a well fitting coat who welcomed you to the ground floor restaurant which was panelled in white with red-shaded lamps on the tables and some potted palms adding colour. The chairs were of white wood upholstered in green leather and the carpets a deep rose colour. The upper floor comprised a balcony looking down into the lower restaurant and there were rows of white curtained narrow windows and a brass ornamental rail surrounding the balcony. The walls were papered in deep red with white woodwork and classic white ornamentation and had large mirrors and panels showing the arms of the house displayed in proper heraldic colours (three stag’s heads on a shield with a boar’s head as a crest and two stags as supporters). There were two circular lines of tables one close to the railings and one against the walls and a string band played on this level which could also be heard below. Cut glass electroliers, some hanging some fixed to the ceiling, gave light both to the upper and lower restaurants. In the basement was a grill-room.
Maxim’s was of course in the land of bohemia and so the ambiance was relaxed and unrestricted with no pre-requisite about wearing clothes of ceremony.
The restaurant under Lorion, for whatever reason, did not succeed and it soon changed hands. By 1914, M. Ducker was the manager and there had been a struggle to bring it to its present state of prosperity. Oddly, some believed that the reputation of Maxim’s was far from spotless, that English society allegedly gave it a wide berth and it was regarded as ‘the meeting place of clandestine lovers.’ Most likely, after Lorion’s departure it had been regarded as a dubious place but the new
The menu in 1914 included Hors d’oeuvre a la Russe, Consomme Chiffonnette, Crème Gentilhomme (thick green soup flavoured most likely with spinach), Supreme de Barbue Nicoise (fish with pink accompaniment of tomatoes and shrimp), Carre de Pre-Sale Bourguignonne, Pommes Fondantes, Poulet en Casserole, Salade and Glace Chantilly or Fraises Melba. What a feast.
During the early 20s the growth and popularity of dinner and dancing prompted a change and a new, much improved parquet floor was added and dances were orchestrated in the central part of the main room. Eventually, the restaurant must have been bought by a new owners who turned into a dancing hall and café called Revelle’s Club that opened Thursday 1st March 1923. Dinners and suppers were still a feature but dancing to Hugh Mayo’s Reverie Revels was the main attraction. Opening hours were 7.-12.30am, with special gala nights twice a week until 2.30am and on Sundays the club opened 7pm to midnight. As an added treat a cabaret show was provided by the dancing of Flora Le Breton and Vincent Davies. Le Breton would have been a big draw. She had started off in the chorus of Murray’s cabaret and was then snapped up by film producers scoring a big success with the boxer Georges Carpentier in The Gypsy Chavalier in 1922 and was a hugely popular and well-known figure.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Europe After 8.15 by H.L. Mencken
The Gourmet’s Guide to London by Nathaniel Newnham-Davis