One of the oddest things that James Bond eats in Ian Fleming’s novels is the half avocado with French dressing in Casino Royale (1953). It’s not so much what he eats, but when he eats it – not at the start of the meal, perhaps in a salad, but at the end of it, after the very small tournedos with Béarnaise sauce and artichoke heart. Bond does the same thing in Diamonds are Forever (1956), finishing his lunch of smoked salmon and brizzola at Sardi’s in New York with half an avocado with French dressing.
The placement of the avocado at the end of the meal, though somewhat unusual now, is a nod to the tradition, particularly in Britain, of serving savoury food at the end of the meal, which, it’s claimed, is intended to cleanse the palette before drinking sweet or fortified wines. That would certainly explain the marrow bone with which M finishes his meal before ordering a brandy at Blades in Moonraker (1955). James Bond’s savoury choices aren’t limited to avocados. In Dr No (1958), he opts for angels on horseback (oysters wrapped in bacon) to finish a meal of caviar, and grilled lamb cutlets and salad, and in Goldfinger (1959), he is served a cheese soufflé at the end of a meal of shrimp curry and roast duckling.
I was reminded of the role of the savoury as I was reading John Buchan’s 1916 novel, The Power-House. In the novel, the narrator, Edward Leithen, is dining with Andrew Lumley, who, unbeknownst to Leithen, is the leader of an anarchist organisation. The meal comprises soles, an exceedingly well-cooked chicken, fresh strawberries and a savoury of unspecified type, all washed down with Champagne and a fortified wine (Madeira). Not only does the meal include a savoury, but it isn’t too far removed from the sort of thing that James Bond generally eats. Indeed, introducing us as it does to an urbane and erudite, yet completely mad villain, the whole episode could be a model for Bond’s dinners with Goldfinger, Drax or Dr No.)
These days, the tradition of the after dinner savoury has declined, but it’s still hanging on, surviving largely with the still regular appearance of the cheese board on restaurants’ dessert menus.