19th May 1884
(7th May in the Julian Calendar)
Dinner in the Nicholas Hall of the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, hosted by Their Imperial Majesties Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna of Russia for the sixteenth birthday and Majority Ceremony of their eldest son, His Imperial Highness the Tsesarevich (the future Tsar Nicholas II), and to celebrate the future Emperor taking the Oath of Allegiance and Succession.
As guests sipped the lobster bisque, nibbled on fine pastries stuffed with morsels of larks’s breast with truffles, and munched into whole boned spit-roasted woodcock stuffed with foie-gras, they didn’t realise that this would be the last ever Majority Ceremony for a future Russian Emperor.
This banquet set amongst all the splendour of the Winter Palace, marked an incredibly important juncture in the history of the Romanov family. Just one day earlier the future and last Tsar of Russia turned 16 years-old and, in so doing, reached his majority enabling him to inherit the throne from his father Tsar Alexander III. Ten years later the young man would do just that and reign as Tsar Nicholas II.
This menu is from the following evening when, as The Times reported, “although it is not a public holiday the streets to-day remain decorated and the festivities continue in the Imperial palaces. The reception of the Diplomatic Body by the Czarewvitch this morning in the Annitchkin Palace, and the family banquet given this evening in the Nicholas Hall of the Winter Palace, are to be followed later by a ball of the nobility, for which 2,500 tickets have been distributed”.
This menu, from that evening's family banquet at the Winter Palace, is emblazoned in the top left with the dual monogram of the reigning Tsar and Tsarina (AIII and M beneath the Romanov crown), with the Tsesarevich’s monogram (Н (the Cyrillic for N)) on the right.
The mastermind of this fifteen course banquet was the imperial chef to Alexander III, Monsieur Eugène Krantz, from Mulhouse in Alsace.
In the early 1870s Krantz’s culinary skills were spotted by the Russian Prince Bariatinsky who offered to put the young chef in charge of his own personal kitchens. Having moved into the circles of Russian nobility, Krantz then impressed Prince Obolonsky, Marshal of the Court to Tsar Alexander III, who offered him a generously enticing contract to head up the imperial kitchens in Saint Petersburg.
On the night of this banquet it can almost be certain that the bisque was made from lobsters from Ostend in Belgium. The Tsar had a passion for these along with Ostend oysters; and the two seafoods were regularly transported as a special imperial consignment by train to the Tsar’s kitchens, no matter which palace he was residing in.
Guests also dined on whole salmon-trout (lake trout), that had been stuffed with creamed fish, before being baked in red wine and served with a garnish of sautéed roe, truffles and poached crayfish.
In his adult life Tsar Nicholas II became accustomed to grand banquets in his honour. However, this dinner in 1884 is likely the first ever imperial banquet specifically held in his honour.
All members of the Imperial Family attended this dinner including the Tsesarevich’s aunt, Queen Olga of Greece.
The future German Emperor, Wilhelm II, also attended. Of him, The Times suspiciously noted of the previous day’s procession that “conspicuous immediately after the Emperor's younger children walked Prince William of Prussia, in the same Russian grenadier uniform in which he arrived here last night, for the first time”.
As guests focused on the 16 year-old centre-of-attention for the night, they would have remembered the previous day’s events when the Tsesarevich, dressed in the blue uniform of the Cossack Guard placed his hand upon a bejewelled bible and golden cross to take the Oath of Allegiance and Succession and declare:
“in the name of the Almighty and upon His Holy Word, I swear and promise to serve well and truly His Imperial Majesty, my all-gracious parent”.
From the private Royal Menu Collection of © Jake Smith
Potage Bisque de Homards
Consommé aux laitues farcies
Whole stuffed baby lettuce surrounded by a chicken consommé
Petits pâtés divers
Variety of small pies, to accompany the soup, filled
with a mixture of savoury fillings
Poisson: Truites saumonées à la Chambord
Whole salmon trout, stuffed with creamed fish forcemeat, that has been baked in red wine and served with a garnish of sautéed roe, fish quenelles, truffles shaped into olives, mushrooms
and poached crayfish.
Relevé de boucherie: Pièces de boeuf à la Flamande
Braised filets of beef coated in a veal demi-glaze and garnished with braised stuffed cabbages, diced pork belly, sausage slices, glazed slices of carrot and turnip, and buttered boiled new potatoes.
Entrées: Petites caisses de mauviettes á la Perigueux
Pastry shells filled with a slice of larks’ breast coated in a Madeira sauce flavoured with braised diced truffles
Filets de Dindes à la gelée
Cold dish of jellied turkey breasts
Iced punch flavoured with lemon, Cognac and Port
Roti: Cannetons de Rouen, Doubles et Bécasses
Roasts: Ducklings from Rouen; Great Snipe [Bécassine Double] and Woodcock
Légumes: Asperges en branches, Sauce Hollandaise
Asparagus spears dressed in Hollandaise sauce
Crême bavaroise aux fraises
Bavaroise with strawberries
The Tsesarevich: Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich (future Tsar Nicholas II) circa, 1884.
Father of the Tsesarevich: Tsar Alexander III
Banquet venue: The Winter Palace, Saint Petersburg