When first-class passengers aboard RMS Titanic sat down to dinner on the night of April 14, 1912, they came with expectations of an extraordinary dining experience. Four days out to sea, the wealthy and powerful aboard the White Star Lines newest ocean-going superstar were accustomed to nothing less.
On the menu was a 10-course meal that included all the luxuries the elite demanded. From oysters to salmon and from filet mignon to roast squab, the delicacies of the day were lavishly presented.
Built in the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, the ill-fated ship and its home city still maintain a special link. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Titanics launch on May 31, 1911, the Belfast luxury boutique hotel Rayanne House and its chef de cuisine, Conor McClelland, have recreated Titanics last supper with a modern flair.
Rayanne House was built in 1883 during a period when Titanics millionaire passengers, men like Isidor Straus and Benjamin Guggenheim, were building the fortunes that allowed them to sail in luxury from Southampton to New York on Titanics maiden voyage. Chef McClelland, whose 25-year career includes experience in restaurants in both Europe and the United States, relies on the same abundant local produce that was a recurring theme on Titanics menu as well.
We began our meal with a classic French hors doeuvre, garlic and herb-crusted scallops served on the half-shell. Simply presented and succulently cooked, the empty shell was a somber reminder of the fate of the great ship and its current resting place two miles beneath the icy waters of the North Atlantic.
The scallops were followed by Titanics signature soup, cream of barley, finished with Bushmills whiskey and cream, an homage to the barley-rich lands of the Scots and the Irish by Titanics French chef, Pierre Rousseau.
While the soup with its undercurrents of Irish whiskey was homey and hearty, the next course had all the sophistication that Madeleine Astor or Lady Christiana Duff-Gordon would have expected. Thin slices of roast breast of squab were paired with a delicious asparagus and watercress salad tossed with champagne and saffron vinaigrette.
For the no-expenses-spared maiden voyage, the White Star Line ordered 800 bundles of asparagus, containers of rare spices like saffron, and 25,000 pounds of poultry and game.
Our fourth course was an exact copy of Titanics third, poached salmon with mousseline sauce, cucumber, and fresh dill. The salmon was perfectly cooked, complemented by the richness of the sauce and the piquancy of the dill. Eleven thousand pounds of fresh fish were sent aboard Titanic. Ours melted in the mouth.
The conversation turned to how in 1912, tightly corseted women managed to consume 10-course meals and how long it would have taken Titanics first-class passengers to eat dinner. At 20 minutes to midnight, when the ship struck an iceberg, were passengers still finishing their coffee?
After a palette refresher of rose water and mint sorbet, our next course was a decadent dish called Filet Mignon Lili, the meat pan-seared and topped with foie gras and truffle and drizzled with Cognac.
Seventy-five thousand pounds of meat hung in Titanics larder, and our dish was served with the classic French dish Potatoes Anna, creamed carrots, and zucchini farci. According to the menu description, This dish deliciously epitomizes the excesses of the Edwardian era. Just right for Titanics last meal.
Titanics special dessert that night was spiced peaches served with Chartreuse jelly and French ice cream. According to our extensively printed menu guide, a jellied dessert before the invention of instant gelatin was a virtuoso culinary creation.
Virtuoso it might have been, but the French vanilla ice cream (1,750 quarts of which were stored on Titanic) was the star on the plate. An assortment of artisanal cheeses accompanied by delicate slices of fresh fruit followed.
The coup de grace was a plate of temptingly tiny petit fours and coffee, 2,200 pounds of which sailed with Titanic. It was a night and a meal to remember. And as we polished off the petit fours, we saluted the memories of those for whom this meal would be their last.