“[Y]ou have it in your power, before you place your order, to ascertain the expense”: The wine lists of La Grande Taverne de Londres from 1795 and 1803
Antoine Beauvilliers was a former chef of the Court of Provence who opened up La Grande Taverne de Londres in 1782 or 1786, the first prominent fine restaurant in Paris, and subsequently published the cooker book L’Art du Cuisinier in 1814. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote in Physiologie du goût (1825) that for more than 15 years Beauvilliers was the most famous restaurateur in Paris. He was the first to combine an elegant dining room, smart waiters, superior cooking, and a choice wine cellar. As it was a fine restaurant, there were hundreds of dishes to select from. Beauvilliers’ wine cellar, to which he kept the key in his pocket, kept pace by offering several dozen selections.
The bill of fare or menu was printed on a single sheet the size of a double folio. Francis William Blagdon, an English journalist, remarked it was “the size of an English newspaper”. The modern concept of a restaurant dates to the late 18th century in Paris so the novelty of both the restaurant and the menus are apparent amongst travelers during this period. The menus, with wine list, were reproduced at least two times in English in 1795 and 1803. That makes these restaurant wine lists the earliest that I know of. As a comparison, the New York Public Library’s menu holdings begin in the 1850s.
In researching the 18th century history of Cote-Rotie and Hermitage I thought it interesting that the 1795 menu includes the former wine but not the later. The 1803 menu includes both. In this version both red Cote-Rotie and red Hermitage are priced the same. The white Hermitage, regarded as superior to the red, is more expensive.
Other additions include the specific wines of Chateau Lafite and Chateau Latour. Whereas Clos Vougeot was of an average price in 1795, it becomes the second most expensive wine in 1803 and the only wine with a specific vintage being 1788. The selection of these wines is interesting because this is a time when most wine was typically sold in cask to be bottled later. Chateau Lafite begin bottling some of their wine with the 1797 vintage and James Madison was ordering Clos Vougeot by the bottle in 1811. I wonder if Beauvilliers bought these wines in bottle. I should add that if you desired to drink from several bottles of wine, you would only be charged for a half bottle of each if the level did not drop below the moeity.