Guess who came to dinner? The famous faces in Jammet’s restaurant

Douglas Hyde, Countess Markievicz and WB Yeats signed the book, which goes on auction

 

Between 1901 and 1967, Jammet’s was the most famous restaurant in Ireland and a rare outpost of French cuisine. The restaurant was established by two French brothers, Michel and François Jammet – and subsequently run by Michel’s son Louis – first at premises on Andrew Street, until 1926, and then on Nassau Street.

What drew this French family to Ireland? According to a history of Jammet’s by author and culinary historian Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire of DIT, Michel Jammet was head chef at the Viceregal Lodge (now Áras an Uachtaráin) when Lord Cadogan was the Viceroy (Lord Lieutenant) of Ireland. Guests included Queen Victoria, who stayed in 1900 during her final visit to Ireland.

Like many chefs, Jammet decided to set up his own establishment and his restaurant was a huge success from the beginning. It was Dublin’s only French restaurant at the time and acquired an international reputation. By 1928, Vogue had declared it one of Europe’s best restaurants. It was, reputedly, the most sophisticated and glamorous venue in a country woefully short of both attributes, particularly during the first decades after Independence. Diners included a “who’s who” of Irish society during every decade until the 1960s and pretty much every famous visitor to Dublin, from JFK to the Aga Khan.

An autograph book owned by a Carlow woman, Polly Moore, who worked at Jammet’s, has turned up for sale in Sheppard’s Irish Auction House in Durrow, Co Laois, and will go under the hammer on Tuesday. She worked in Jammet’s in the early Edwardian days at Andrew Street – and managed to get a fascinating mix of guests to sign the book. Moore died of pneumonia in 1924 and her autograph book is being sold by a descendant who inherited it.

Many of the people who signed it did so in the years before 1916, including Douglas Hyde (who later became the first president of Ireland); Countess Markievicz; Augustine Birrell (the English liberal politician who was chief secretary for Ireland – head of the British administration – from 1910 to 1916); Willie Redmond, brother of John Redmond who secured Home Rule, who famously died in the first World War; and Mary Hayden, the first woman to be appointed a university professor in Ireland, in 1910.

Others include George Arthur Boyd-Rochfort, a soldier from Co Westmeath who won a VC while serving with the British Army in the first World War in 1915; the poet WB Yeats; and Sue Ryder.

Peach melba

Among distinguished visitors to Dublin who visited the restaurant and signed the autograph book were Nellie Melba, the renowned Australian operatic soprano who later became a Dame of the British Empire and who had had a dessert, peach melba, named in her honour by French chef Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel in London in the 1890s; Francis Hopwood, 1st Baron Southborough, permanent under-secretary of state for the colonies 1907-1911; William Montagu, the 9th Duke of Manchester who signed himself simply “Manchester”; and Campbell Stuart, a Canadian newspaper magnate.

But even more interesting than the signatures are some of the miniature artworks in the autograph book. On one page there’s a pencil sketch self-portrait by the artist Sir William Orpen depicting himself drinking wine through two straws. Auctioneer Philip Sheppard says it may be a reference to the novelty value, at that time, of straws. A newly discovered sketch by Orpen is, of itself, an event in the Irish art world.

On another page is a delightful and well-preserved watercolour (captioned Over the Teacup) of a woman wearing a glorious Edwardian hat taking tea. The page is signed by Louis Jammet and dated 1910 but it’s not known if he was the artist.

Another page features a watercolour painting of flowers and a hand-written poem signed by Kitty (Catherine) Jammet – Louis’s sister – dated October 1910.

The autograph book is a delightful time-capsule of a lost world and likely to appeal to collectors interested in social history, autograph hunters, admirers of Orpen and anyone interested in the history of restaurants in Ireland. The estimate is €1,500-€2,500. Six years ago, Sheppard’s auctioned the leather-bound official guest book from Jammet’s, with up to 60 signatures on many of its 165 pages. It sold for €10,100, more than five times the median estimate (€1,500–€2,500), evidence that, more than half a century after its closure, Jammet’s restaurant still has cachet. The book is among hundreds of lots in Sheppard’s Great Irish Interiors auction on April 25th & 26th. Viewing begins at 10am this morning.The catalogue is at sheppards.ie

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