Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Disappearing items of the classic English dining table

Personally I was a little confused when asked to write a little article about disappearing tablewares, as all of the items listed below of course feature as standard on my domestic dining table. But alas, apparently it is true, in some parts of the modern world, progressive people have begun to forget the delicacies and details of elegant tablewares. Alarmingly even the toast rack, that essential part of breakfast equipage is now under threat. 

So here is a little round-up of my favourite essential tablewares, apparently in decline, that make dining a more effortless and elegant experience. 

My advice: If when restoring yourself at any of London's more fashionable establishments, any of these items do not by default appear at your table, politely ask to speak to the manager and with a perturbed expression, demand an immediate explanation as to what on earth is going on.

Sifter spoon
For sifting rough sugar lumps, which wasn’t as refined as we know it today, so in quite large crystals. 

Grape scissors - A small pair of scissors to elegantly detach a branch from a large bunch without any vulgar pulling and tearing and risk of dropping grapes. Also occasionally comes with matching grape dish.

Berry spoon - a tiny ornately decorated spoon for the enjoyment of specific berries.

Marrow spoon - long like an apple corer for scraping out hot marrow from roasted bones.

Chocolate cup - an elegant, delicate cup often with a lid (my own theory is to prevent skin forming). Chocolate was a serious luxury and taken on very special occasions, hand prepared from precious cocoa powder or even raw beans, and served as a dessert.

Grapefruit knife
A small knife with a serrated edge, specifically for tackling grapefruit. For years I thought this was a miniature bread knife and used it for rolls.

Toast rack
Designed to present warm toast elegantly. But by all means, chuck it on a plate, loose and messy. Be my guest.

Cutlet holder  
Like a knife handle with an open clasp and thumbscrew clamp for holding chops and cutlets, saving fingers from unsightly stains. I cannot be alone in thinking 'Tayyabs'.

Usually shaped as a cow, with removable back plate, tail handle and spout in its mouth. One of my favourites, and still on the the tables in Le Gavroche if I’m not wrong.

Napkin ring
This is an interesting one - napkin rings were originally used to identify the napkins of a household between weekly wash days, very typical for a house member to re-use their napkin each day, and store them in their specific rings marked with their initial.

(from the French for ‘bell’) a large silver dome used to cover dishes to keep them warm on the way from kitchens often large distances away from dining rooms. Now one of the most recognised and theatrically remembered items of functional tableware. Can happily say silver cloches are in use every service at Gauthier Soho.

Sauce spoon - similar to a dessert spoon, but flatter, with indent for draining oil & fat. Often placed alongside a fish knife.

Presentation plates - An ornately decorated plate of the highest quality, typically porcelain but often in silver, gilt metal or even gold plated, remaining on the table beneath functional plates throughout the meal as a kind of placemat. Still in use today at some very grand restaurants. 

Pastry Fork
A small fork/knife combination, designed to make the navigation of delicate pastries such as millefeuille that much simpler.
(Forks - this is where it can get a little ridiculous. There were specific forks for Asparagus, Lettuce, Lemon, pickle, cheese, cold meat, beef, and sardine to name a few.)

Silent Butler
A miniature dustpan & brush used by a butler to sweep a table between courses. 

Wine coaster
Silver, with mahogany or walnut bases and felt underneath. Used to prevent unsightly stains from red wine drips.

Presse de la Canard

I’ve saved the best til last. A large device for extracting the juices from an entire cooked duck. The dish ‘canard a la presse’  is prepared tableside with various parts of the bird used for different courses. In service to this day with panache at the lovely Otto’s.


  1. The last giving the name to le Pressoir d'Argent in Bordeaux!

  2. Hi Jon, thanks for your comment. I'll have to check that place out!


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