Monday, August 23, 2010

They'll sell anything (Cadogan Hotel's Green Carnation Package); Victoria Sandwich Sponge Cake

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Oscar Wilde's London life: Cadogan Hotel's Green Carnation package

By Sebastian Lander
Last updated at 6:57 PM on 22nd August 2010

It seems you can excuse quite a lot when you spend a weekend with Oscar Wilde. Not only am I writing this with a glass of champagne beside me in mid-afternoon, I am doing so in bed. And I don't feel a bit guilty. In fact, I think Oscar would have wholeheartedly approved of such behaviour. Call it going Wilde.

It was here at The Cadogan Hotel in London's Knightsbridge that the infamous author was arrested in 1895, charged with 'committing acts of gross indecency'. One floor down from me, in Room 118, a reputedly half-drunken Wilde sat waiting for the police to arrive after refusing to flee, and ended up with two years' hard labour at Reading jail.
Going Wilde: The hotel room at The Cadogan Hotel where Oscar Wilde was arrested in 1895

To mark this turning point in Wilde's fortunes, the hotel has created the 'Green Carnation' package, named after the dyed buttonhole Wilde was fond of wearing. Guests can stay in Room 118, which contains items such as a replica of his smoking jacket, and enjoy a bottle of his favourite pink Perrier-Jouet. There is also a menu dedicated to some of his gastronomic preferences - hock and seltzer (wine and soda), absinthe and, rather incongruously, Victoria sandwich sponge cake.

The Cadogan's package includes a three-course evening meal which features more Perrier-Jouet and unlimited wine in Langtry's Restaurant, part of the hotel that was once home to Wilde's friend, the actress Lillie. And this set me up nicely for a weekend spent hot on Wilde's polished heels around the city that bore him up and then tore him down.

Many of the places associated with Wilde have disappeared, but you can still reach many of them on foot - though Wilde would have disapproved of this as he preferred to take a hansom cab everywhere.

A short walk away from The Cadogan is 16 Tite Street, where the playwright lived with wife Constance and their two sons. The house is not open but Wilde is said to have used one of the rooms that looks out on to the street in which to write. There is also the church, St James's in Paddington, where the couple married in May 1884.

To experience the most animated window on to Wilde's London life, I joined guide Alan Titchard on a two-hour stroll to some of the writer's haunts, many of them backdrops to the vicious spats between Wilde and the Marquess of Queensberry, father of his lover, Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas. In Mayfair, we visited the site of the Albemarle Club - now an office block - where the Marquess left his infamously misspelled calling card 'For Oscar Wilde posing somdomite'. It was Wilde's decision to sue the Marquess for libel over the slant which precipitated his own downfall.

We also stopped off at the elegant Royal Arcade in Mayfair, where Wilde used to buy his green carnations, and on St James's Street found the wonderfully eccentric 18th Century James J. Fox Cigar merchant which supplied cigarettes to Wilde, a 100-a-day smoker.

The downstairs Freddie Fox Cigar Museum features a display of memorabilia dedicated to Wilde and famous smokers such as Churchill.

Oscar Wilde is pictured smoking a cigarette

Decadent: Oscar Wilde was a 100-a-day smoker

The walk also takes in the site of the now demolished St James' Theatre, where Lady Windermere's Fan and The Importance Of Being Earnest made their debuts.

It ends back in Piccadilly, opposite bookshop Hatchards, where Wilde had an account. From here, there are a number of places that he would have sanctioned to enjoy a dinner.

These include the imposing Langham hotel in Portland Place - the setting for a meeting in 1889 between Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilde where the seeds were sown for his novel The Picture Of Dorian Gray - and Kettner's restaurant in Soho, where Wilde used a room upstairs.

Perhaps the most quirky choice for dinner is the Courthouse Hotel near Oxford Circus, which used to be the Great Marlborough Street Magistrates Court, where Wilde brought his libel case against Queensberry.

Over the years, celebrities from Mick Jagger to John Lennon have been up before the beak in the oak-panelled courtroom but the only judgments being handed down now are those concerning the food.

Travel facts

The Cadogan Hotel's Green Carnation package costs £399 per person. Call 020 7235 7141 or visit The London Of Oscar Wilde walk takes place every Saturday and costs £8 or £6 for over-65s and students. For details, call 020 7624 3978 or visit For more on the Courthouse Hotel, call 020 7297 5555 or visit

ADDENDUM:  I understand that the (from what I've been told by a good friend is the utterly charming) Cadogan Hotel needs to sell rooms, even if it means trafficking in past sad events in a tawdry, tasteless way, but it seems only right to at least include a recipe, taken from BBC Good Food Magazine, for Victoria sandwich sponge cake, since: a) Wilde apparently enjoyed it; and b) it looks delicious and simple to prepare.  I think it would go well with the Perrier-Jouet champagne:

Classic Victoria sandwich sponge cake
You can't go wrong with this perfect party cake - full of spongey goodness. Makes a super-simple wedding cake, too
Difficulty and servings: Easy; Cuts into 10 slices
Preparation and cooking times: Ready in 30 minutes, plus cooling 
Cake base freezes well for 3 months
  1. Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Butter two 20cm sandwich tins and line with non-stick baking paper. In a large bowl, beat all the cake ingredients together until you have a smooth, soft batter.
  2. Divide the mixture between the tins, smooth the surface with a spatula or the back of a spoon, then bake for about 20 mins until golden and the cake springs back when pressed. Turn onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.
  3. To make the filling, beat the butter until smooth and creamy, then gradually beat in icing sugar. Beat in vanilla extract if you're using it. Spread the butter cream over the bottom of one of the sponges, top it with jam and sandwich the second sponge on top. Dust with a little icing sugar before serving. Keep in an airtight container and eat within 2 days.

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