Top table: Churchill (left) drinking al fresco with Montgomery (right) in 1994 (Imperial War Museum)
Cita Stelzer has had the agreeable idea of compiling a short book around Churchill's tastes in food, drink and cigars, and his use of mealtimes to further his diplomatic and political aims. The materials in the various Churchill archives are abundant, and she makes industrious use, both for text and illustrations, of menu-cards, bills from Claridges and the Paris Ritz, cartoons and photos, some of them rare. This is clearly a "must-read" for Churchill connoisseurs, but general readers will find it vastly entertaining too.
Churchill's approach to good living was marked by three characteristics: amplitude, discernment and moderation. The first emerged early. As a young man he became a favoured customer of the Pall Mall wine merchant Randolph Payne, whose cable address was "Luscious, Piccy, London". When Churchill went to South Africa in 1899, ostensibly to cover the war as a journalist, they shipped to him there, aboard the SS Dunnottar Castle, an initial order of 18 bottles of St Emilion claret, six of 1889 Vin d'Ay Sec, six of white port, six of Vermouth, 18 bottles of 10-year-old Scotch and six of 1866 Very Old Eau de Vie. That was the pattern. Churchill always had to earn his own living but later in life he boasted that there had never been a day when he had not been able to drink a bottle of champagne and offer one to a friend.
He was always particular about his food, but disliked richness for its own sake: he preferred, for instance, clear soups such as consommé to creamy ones. (He always said the real test of a cook was the ability to make good soup.) According to Mrs Georgina Landemare, who for many years was the cook at Downing Street, Chequers, Chartwell and his private London house, his favourite dish was Irish stew, which he liked with "plenty of small onions and not much broth". He taught General Eisenhower to like it too. He was not fond of puddings, and loved to complain bitterly if they "lacked a theme," as he put it: indeed he complained often, sometimes ingeniously. Thus, distrusting a cluster of ill-favoured quails, he denounced the crime of "stealing these mice from the tomb of Tutankhamun". What he liked to end a meal was Roquefort cheese, a peeled pear and a mixed ice-cream.
On wine, especially champagne, he was an expert. He sometimes drank, when he could get it, the famous Krug 1920 and 1926. But his choice was vintage Pol Roger. He admired the 1921 year but his favourite wine of all was the vintage Pol Roger of 1928 (the year I was born) which he was heard to declare the finest wine in history. Madame Odette Pol-Roger, whom he got to know in 1944, used to send him a case of the 1928 every year on his birthday, until supplies ran out. When he acquired a racing stable after World War II he named a horse Pol Roger, which won the Black Prince Stakes in 1953. Madame Pol-Roger created a special Cuvée Winston Churchill in return.