Researching the life of the remarkable Joseph Vecchi, (restauranteur and bon vivant), I came across an intriguing post featured on the Romanov history website, The Alexander Palace Time Machine.
Joseph Vecchi managed several distinguished restaurants including Claridges; the Kaiserhof, Berlin; the Astoria, St Petersburg and the legendary Hungaria in Lower Regent Street. His autobiography, My Tavern is My Drum (published 1948) includes a fascinating eye-witness account of an all-girl (“the beauty and power of feminine Russia”) dinner party held in honour of Rasputin:
"The Princess X's party in honour of Rasputin was scheduled to begin at ten in the evening, and a party of about twelve ladies accompanied by their young and beautiful daughters were assembled to do him honour. No other male guests were to be present, and I had been asked to ensure that Rasputin's arrival and departure had as little publicity as possible.
Selianka d’esturgeon was Rasputin’s favourite dish. Selianka or Solyanka is a thick, sour Russian soup, which can be made from meat, fish or mushrooms. Before the dinnner party Vecchi managed to get the recipe off the court chef, which was made in the following way:
First all the ingredients are assembled together. One needs two lb of sturgeon, four tablespoonfuls of olive oil, two lb of fresh cabbage shredded finely "en julienne", three peeled and sliced cooking apples, one finely chopped onion, four tablespoonfuls of flour, pickled mushrooms, salted cucumbers, chopped parsley, black pepper and breadcrumbs. Next the dish is prepared in the following way.
The chopped onions are fried in one spoonful of olive oil and added to the cabbage, the whole being put in a pan to stew with a tablespoonful of water only, as the cabbage, if slowly and properly cooked, makes its own moisture. The sturgeon in next cut into square pieces and floured all over, then fried in oil. When the cabbage is almost cooked, the sliced apple is added and the stewing continued, the dish being stirred all the time with a rapid, light movement. Next, a spoonful each of oil and flour, and a little water are mixed together until the resultant paste is free from lumps. This is added to the cabbage when the vegetable and onions and apples are quite ready, and stirred until the four has thickened the whole.
The cabbage is next placed in a layer on a china dish and the squares of cooked fish placed on top of it. Black pepper and parsley is sprinkled over, and the whole covered with another layer of cabbage. Garnish with salted cucumber and pickled mushrooms, then pour over the gravy from the fish and finally spread breadcrumbs over the top. The whole dish is then placed in the oven to be slightly browned.
Vecchi doesn’t say if Rasputin enjoyed the dish; I assume that he did, as the guests at this little gathering also sampled the delights of caviar, Bortsch Petite Russienne Pirogki, Sterlet Parovaia, L’ Agneau Caucasienne à la Broche and Soufflé Grand Marnier. Rasputin’s table manners left something to be desired:
Throughout the evening the behaviour of Rasputin was intolerable...I can find no words to mitigate of excuse his disgusting behaviour. When he ate it was like a beast using his long talon-like fingers in lieu of knife and fork, grabbling amongst the food on his plate and stuffing himself in a very vulgar way with no regard of the feelings of the cultured ladies who sat at table with him.
Extracts taken from My Tavern is My Drum, the autobiography of Joseph Vecchi, published by Odhams Press, London, 1948.