Photos taken at The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, by Rebecca Cunningham
Thanks to the Royal Pavilion & Museums Brighton & Hove
What really makes this kitchen stand out is its relative size to the Pavilion. The Pavilion is reasonably small for a royal residence; it’s not a large palace, and to have a kitchen that’s so grand and modern and large is quite something, which really tells you what this building is about: entertainment. Balls, concerts, banquets. And it’s on the ground floor - it’s not in a basement and it’s not far away from the state rooms; it’s part of the main building. If you think of places like Windsor, like Hampton Court, or even Petworth House, the kitchens are far away from the dining rooms. And yet here we are on the ground floor with only one little room between, and that’s the Table Deckers’ Room.
Table deckers’ rooms, these link-rooms between the kitchen and banqueting room, are quite rare. They were used to put the last finishing touches on all those little dishes, and to set everything. We need to learn a lot more about what actually happened in the Table Deckers’ Room, but it is significant that we have it. It’s also the only barrier between the kitchen and the grand room, in terms of smoke and noise – and fire, in case it broke out – so the architecture is partly informed by that. But because it was so close, food could be brought in quickly and at the right temperature, without falling apart.
George’s dinner parties were relatively small, by court standards; if you look at the table as it’s laid out in the Nash views, I believe it’s set for 36. He liked dining ‘à la française’, this sort of buffet-style menu [displayed in the kitchen] with dozens and dozens of options. I think ‘options’ is an important word here, because we can’t think of these dishes as the courses we have today – that would have been ‘à la russe’.
It’s a great conversation piece, this menu, because it looks extraordinary; it’s what you’d expect from the Regency. You would have been served every one of these dishes, but fear not, where it says ‘eight soups’ it doesn’t mean you had to eat eight soups - you had the choice of eight soups. Eight types of fish, 40 entrées – you have to imagine it a bit like a buffet. But whether people ate ten or twelve of these didn’t really matter; the kitchen still had to produce it all, at the right temperature, at the right time.
The menu is a translation; the original was written and printed in French. It’s a Carême menu. Marie Antonin Carême was a celebrity chef, who was brought in by George after the Napoleonic wars. He wanted the best French chef, and Carême was known to have cooked for the Tsar of Russia, for Napoleon himself, and after Napoleon was defeated George got his best chef over. He wasn’t too keen on England, really. Carême did comment on the blandness of English food and the way things were done here, so he wasn’t happy here, clearly: he stayed for just under a year. But he stayed at that crucial time when the kitchen was just about to be finished, so he must have been the first one who used that fabulous space. It’s a shame we don’t have any comments from him on what it was like to work in it.
As told by Alexandra Loske, Royal Pavilion curator
(Read more about Marie Antonin Carême)