POP DOWN BEFORE LUNCH to see the exhibition of 20+ Australian menus in the Cabinet of Wonders in the Royal Historical Society of Victoria’s library. Its at 239 A’Beckett Street, Melbourne until Friday 6 April. Admission is free and the RHSV is open Monday to Thursday 10-5 and Friday 10-3.
Maurice Rickard’s ever helpful Encylcopedia of ephemera: a guide to the fragmentary documents of everyday life for the collector, curator, and historian advises that the social history of the table is little documented. The menu and its non-identical twin sibling, the bill-of-fare, can be regarded as arriving in the 1860s and ’70s.
The menu was associated with the introduction of the style of service known as a la Russe. This is where individual diners had their own plate of food served from a side table. Each course might offer one or more choices and the menu set out the options. The bill-of-fare was associated with a common eating house, meaning that food was taken from communal dishes set out on the dining table.
Here is an early Melbourne example which uses both terms of art on its cover:
The cover has a detailed perforated edging like at lace tablecloth. This cover page is folded over another folded sheet which sets out the menu in tiny gold print. The courses and names of the dishes are written in French.
The non identical twin sibling is represented in the RHSV collection by this bill of fare for a meal served on 31 January 1866 at the Infantry Volunteer Guards’ Mess.