Our menus through time


Berry Bros. & Rudd has hosted guests at No.3 St James’s Street for centuries. With a sample of menus from the 1930s, here we examine the food and the wines in our menus through time.

If you have ever visited the guest lavatories at No.3 St James’s Street, you might have spotted the unique wallpaper. Printed with some of our menus from the 1930s, it’s a wonderful read. With examples from our archives in Basingstoke, I compared these old menus with today’s offerings. What changes have we seen in the food and drink we serve? What can we learn from how we used to do things? And what, if anything, does this tell us about the time now immortalised on those walls?


We start, as any fine dining event should, with the apéritif. Derived from the Latin “aperire” (to open), the apéritif stimulates your appetite without dulling your palate. In the modern era, it also slows proceedings, removing the urgency to eat – a by-product of our instant and on-demand society.

Our 1930s menus offer Amontillado Sherry, Calmet Blanc (presumably referencing Domaine Calmet in Gaillac, South-West France) and still, as opposed to sparkling, white Champagne. Sparkling Champagne does make an appearance – its acidity and bubbles awaken the palate and olfactory system. It is still a regular on our dining menus but often gives way to English sparkling wine. It is the revitalising acidity and citrus notes of English sparkling wine which make it an equally popular, pre-prandial snifter.


Offered from the 1930s are such delights as boiled turbot, fried sole and pâté. Not much here looks unusual. Then comes the turtle soup – just what it says on the tin and, apparently, available in tinned form. This thick soup was made with turtle meat and is still a delicacy in some cultures. Here in the UK, its popularity peaked in the mid-1700s after being introduced by British sailors returning from the Caribbean. The chelonian hordes were kept alive on board and eaten as an alternative to fish. Any which made it back to Britain were in supremely low numbers so naturally, their popularity (and price) increased.

As the soup trade almost hunted turtles to extinction, “mock turtle” soup then became very popular in the Victorian period. The turtle was replaced with other gelatinous meats such as calf’s head and feet. In the spirit of sustainability and using the whole animal, perhaps the mock incarnation of this soup could make a comeback to the dining tables of No.3.

Today, our starters cover all tastes and desires – from warming, comfort-food classics like crunchy mac and cheese with porcini cream, to more complex offerings like seared pavé of brill with Devon crab tortellini. One thing our dishes have in common today is they are seasonal. Working with ingredients produced close to home reduces food miles and, in turn, offers a more authentic dining experience. I can’t remember there being a major turtle population in the Thames so to paraphrase Basil Fawlty, “Turtle’s off”.

The wallpaper of old menus at No.3 St James’s Street.

Main course

Delving into our main dishes of the past offers an array of meats from closer to our London home than turtle. Sirloin of beef with French beans and potatoes, for one. With lightly marbled, succulent flesh, sirloin is a traditional Sunday roast cut and delightfully rich in flavour. Our chef in the 1930s knew the sirloin was the star here, choosing to pair it with delicious but simple vegetables.

Our variety of side dishes today is much more complex. Gone are simple presentations of Brussels sprouts and boiled potatoes. In come Rossini potatoes and chervil root. The saddle of lamb with peas and new potatoes in the early 20th century becomes a roast saddle and osso buco of lamb with ewes’ curd, greens and radish in a menu from 2021.

Whether you believe in the science (or art) of food and wine pairing or not, it is something we’ve always paid attention to. Our historic menus are replete with incredible-sounding vintages from between the wars, now most likely considered special for their rarity rather than actual quality. A 1934 Pouilly-sur-Loire must have made a marvellous companion to a boiled fillet of sole with mushroom sauce. The 1917 “Château Brown Cantenac” [Château Cantenac Brown], a light and elegant Bordeaux red was, I’m sure, perfectly suited to the lighter game meat of roast partridge with peas and roast potatoes.

Cheese and pudding

Like the Champagne apéritif, the cheese and sweet courses have also stood the test of time. Our historic menus list cheeseboards served with pâté de foie-gras and, rather interestingly, Stilton cheese alone. This seemed very popular and suggests French cheeses were not yet so “en vogue”.

Blue cheeses are a particular delight when enjoyed with Cognac or sweet wine, both appearing on these old menus. Historical diners at No.3 would have been treated to such special bottlings as 1848 Grande Champagne des Héritiers. This Cognac’s layered complexity and sugared-nut notes would have been heavenly with the flavours and texture of a stout, savoury Stilton. Or, enjoyed as a digestif (from the Latin “digerere” meaning “to separate”) once dining had concluded.

A note here on matching Cognacs with cheese. The light, fruity and slightly floral notes of a young Cognac will pair with a fresh, creamy and slightly fruity cheese. Meanwhile the deeper, rancio flavours of an aged Cognac are best suited with the sweeter, nutty and savoury notes of an aged Gouda or slightly smoky Lincolnshire Poacher.

Muscat Précieux appeared as a regular partner to these later courses. “Précieux” is, presumably, a reference to the great sweet Muscats of southern France, though we can’t find reference to this term elsewhere. The sweet, floral, grapey notes of Muscat have made it a popular pudding wine, particularly those from the Australian town of Rutherglen in Victoria.

Those of us with a sweet tooth may be saddened to discover that our 1930s menus only refer to the sweet course as “Dessert”. No details are given as to flavour, format or filling. Our selection of puddings today covers simple classics like blackberry and apple crumble with cinnamon custard to more adventurous fare like raspberry and white chocolate delice with peaches and Melba sauce – named for Dame Nellie Melba, herself a regular visitor to No.3.

Coffee and…

As dinner guests begin to tire and digestive lethargy kicks in, coffee is served. Our patrons from days gone by wouldn’t look askance at this but we might be surprised to see cigars concluding the dining and cigarettes concluding the wine list. Today, we prefer our coffee with chocolates. We also offer tea.

While coffee with a cigarette and turtle soup have fallen from favour, not much has drastically changed in the dining spaces of Berry Bros. & Rudd. Bordeaux and Burgundy still grace our wine lists but now they jostle for position with Californian Pinot Noirs and Alsatian Rieslings. Which wines and food the next century will bring to the menus of our event spaces, I can’t say but I know it will be delightful and they will be eminently well-matched. 

To find out more about our range of events, including lunches and dinners, at Berry Bros. & Rudd, click here.