Potage Crême Dubarry
Cream of cauliflower soup (named after the Comtesse du Barry, maîtresse-en-titre to Louis XV)
Pirogki/Pirozhki (small Russian pies)
to accompany soup
Esturgeon paravoïe à la Russe
Stuffed sturgeon cooked in court-bouillon, served cold, with olives, parsley, mushrooms, crayfish tails, lemon slices and gherkins
Pièce de boeuf froid en daube flamande
Cold sliced filet of beef that has been stewed in Trappist beer with leeks; before being coated with a demi-glaze made from veal stock
Rôti – Petits poulets à la polonaise
Roast small chickens coated with lemon juice and toasted breadcrumbs and butter; and served on a bed of red-cabbage with braised chestnuts
Timbale de fruits parisienne
Timbale of brioche cake that has been soaked in rum (Rum baba), topped with berries and drizzled with apricot syrup
Arrival of the guest: [above and below] French President Raymond Poincaré arrives at the Peterhof on 20 July 1914 and is welcomed by Tsar Nicholas II
Menu dated 22nd July 1914
(9th July in the Julian calendar)
Dinner (formal luncheon) at the Palais de Peterhof hosted by His Imperial Majesty
Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in honour of the President of the French Republic, His Excellency Raymond Poincaré.
Within just days of this banquet, World War I would be underway. Russia was on the cusp of revolution, and the world on the cusp of war.
Two days earlier, the President of France, Raymond Poincaré had arrived in Russia at the invitation of Tsar Nicholas II.
This was a high stakes visit at the height of what became known as the July Crisis: a series of frantic diplomatic meetings and manoeuvres by European nations to unsuccessfully, as it turned out, prevent the outbreak of war.
Just a month earlier the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, had been assassinated in Serbia. The Archducal murder had prompted the Austrian Emperor to draft a series of demands to the Serbian government that would ultimately be sent on the day after this banquet.
All European leaders were in a tither. If Austria-Hungary was not appeased, then war seemed inevitable. President Poincaré spent the next three days at the Tsar’s Peterhof Palace nestled in the sprawling parks that straddled the banks of the Gulf of Finland, on the Baltic Sea.
In the company of the Tsar, Poincaré would dart from meetings in Saint Petersburg; review troop manoeuvres at nearby Krasnoye Selo, dine in style at the Tsar’s palace banquets; and would himself host the imperial family to a farewell dinner aboard his battleship patriotically named “France”.
“The three days that the President of the French Republic spent in Peterhof”, recalled Russia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Sazonov, “were therefore passed under the shadow of impending calamity".
These were already dark times for the Tsar. The shoots of revolution were beyond sprouting. There was no streamers, bunting and bands welcoming the French President through the streets of the imperial capital. Labour leaders – let’s call them Communists – had co-ordinated a strike of 130,000 workers and brought trams and trains to a standstill – including tearing-up the tracks to the Peterhof. Power polls were lopped, and riots had broken out in many suburbs and mills with The Times reporting “after an interval of many years Cossacks have reappeared in the streets of the capital to maintain order… both the police and the Cossacks have been compelled on several occasions to make use of their firearms”.
But despite this domestic mayhem there were “many festivities” arranged for President Poincaré who was “regally entertained” remembered the Tsarina’s lady-in-waiting, Anna Vyrubova.
One of those regal entertainments hosted by the Tsar was this luncheon at the Peterhof where “no ladies were present, not even the Tsaritsa” remembered the French Ambassador, Maurice Paléologue:
“We sat down at small tables for ten to twelve covers. It was very hot outside but cool, sweet breezes wafted through the open windows from the leafy shade and fountains and cascades of the park”.
After a cream-of-cauliflower soup named after the maîtresse-en-titre to Louis XV, the Tsar’s guests were treated to a culinary spectacle as the next course arrived: Esturgeon paravoïe à la Russe. Often served to the Tsar’s guests in summer, this was a cold dish of whole stuffed sturgeon served with crayfish tails, olives, gherkins and lemon slices.
A former Ambassador to the Tsar’s father didn’t seem all that fussed by the dish, and recalled it being served as a part of previous imperial hospitality:
“We draw up at the grand entrance, and when all is over we adjourn to dejeuner, at which, among other dishes, a splendid sturgeon is brought in by half a dozen servants on a gold dish. It was stuffed with a sort of gruel which the peasants eat, and which the courtiers do not disdain”.
After rum babas were served for dessert, the Tsar and French President left by Imperial Train for nearby Krasnoye Selo where over 60,000 troops were at the ready for an almighty display of military manoeuvres.
Waiting for them atop a small hill with a view of the military theatre, seated in a luxurious armchair outside a military tent surrounded by hastily planted and manicured rose gardens, was the Empress. Photos of her greeting the French President on this day made for international news.
Late the following day, after entertaining the Imperial Family aboard “France”, the French President gave his adieus and sailed for Sweden. At the same time, 1800 kilometers away in Vienna, the Austro-Hungarian government ‘hit send’ on a telegram to the Serbian government giving them two days to agree to all terms.
After this banquet the Tsar and President of France arrive at Krasnoye Selo where they join the Empress at the imperial tent to watch military manoeuvres.
"We finally arrive before the Emperor’s tent, outside which are two arm-chairs, one for the Empress, the other for the Grand Duchess Vladimir", remembered President Poincaré . "There is no other seat for anyone else, and the Czar, like Viviani and myself and everybody else, stands upright through the whole military ceremony".
President Poincaré's Memoirs
Earlier in the day, before lunch, President Raymond Poincaré had made an personal visit to the Empress and imperial children who had spent the morning at the cosy and more homely Villa Alexandria (Cottage Palace), near the Peterhof estate. In his memoirs the former President recounted:
“I offer the presents that I have brought for the Imperial family: Gobelin tapestries representing the four seasons; automobile fittings in gold; library furniture for the Czarewitch; diamond watch bracelets for the Grand Duchesses, who are open-mouthed with delight and keep on turning and re-turning them round their wrists. Yet they have very much finer jewels and wonderful pearl necklaces, but the bracelets come from Paris, and Mamma is invoked to admire them as much as they do.
I hand the Czarewitch, in the name of the Government, the Cordon of the Grand Cross, duly measured for his childish figure. Paléologue [French Ambassador to the Russian Court] a few weeks ago, urgently asked that this decoration should be conferred on the heir to the throne, and when the Emperor heard of it, he thanked me very warmly, and said that hitherto he had not allowed his son to receive any foreign decoration, and that it gave him great pleasure to think that the first was awarded by France."