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FORMAL dinners: “servants in livery or ‘waiters’ black and white, and guests in clean clothes and jewels, there are rituals, a setting is lit and decorated, lavish attention is given to the details of serving and eating; the sense of theatre, of the acting out of a dramatic performance in which all play their part... but with memories of good company, ambience and good cheer” – or as in the best dramas these are occasions laced with sexual tension, high political intrigue and corporate cover-ups.

This book explores the culture of eating using illustrations of Elizabethan spice dishes, Italian baroque ice sculptures, Georgian novelty tablewares and modern Scandinavian ceramics. These are shown alongside paintings, archive photographs and originals. Chapters cover Celebrations and Ceremonies, the Dessert and After Dinner while the chapter Dressing the Table explains how food was kept hot, the role of trenchers and porringers, napery, cutlery and salt cellars, and which glass to use for which drink.

Within this section there is a delightful feature by Charles Newton on The English at Table: From Hogarth to Grossmith, which includes a satirical print by an anonymous artist and shows the last stages of a meal which has become a drinking session around the punch bowl; note the detail of the chamber pot being taken from a cupboard in the sideboard and being vigorously used and missed. Just like Saturday night in the Shires.

Formerly head of metalwork at the V&A, the author is also the writer of a number of excellent books on silver, including Silver in Tudor and Early Stuart England. This book will appeal to stylistas and decorators.