Mary Berry + The Violin Factory Waterloo London

Baking Hot

2 Mary Berry copyright

Through a garage, darkly. There is definitely light at the end of this tunnel. And some canapés. Forget over egged and under served East London. Waterloo is where it’s happening. All the groovers and quakers. No longer a rookery prone to humbuggery and skulduggery. Within earshot of the screeching brakes of commuter trains full of weary suburbanites is a low key brick terraced house which leads Tardis-style into a hidden former warehouse. Welcome to The Violin Factory. Lavender’s Blue are at this hipper than thou venue to chat exclusively to the original domestic goddess Mary Berry.

Back in the day when inbox was two words and Made in Chelsea meant quirky artwork, there was Mary. Her rise from person to persona to Personality of the Year 2013 can be charted from the new look to the lean in generation. “Lovely to see you,” she charms. “The first thing people ask me is ‘Are you on Facebook?’ The other thing people want to ask me is ‘What age are you?’ I’m 78.” Quite.

Home is the postcard pretty village of Penn in the Chilterns. “My husband takes the dog for a walk very early in the morning so that he doesn’t meet people! Our dog’s called Wellington and we’ve a cat, Primrose. It gives me time to cook on the Aga. I’ve had an Aga for the last 44 years. It never wears out.” The same could be said for her charisma and career. So far Mary’s published 70 bestselling cookery books. There’s nothing half baked about this one woman industry. She does, though, acknowledge the longstanding assistance of her PA Lucy Young. Pippa Middleton really did get the bum deal with her book.

“The recipes that I do are very much family recipes. We’re not chefs. They have a brigade behind them. There’s such pleasure in making something traditional like lemon drizzle cake. It’s great to get all the family round the dining table to find out what everyone’s been up to.” Then, with a twinkle in her eye Mary paraphrases Shirley Conran: “Life is too short to stuff a courgette.” She discloses the pleasure she receives from people using her recipes but it’s teaching that’s her real passion.

“But all you want to hear about is Bake Off!” As an experienced interviewee, second guessing is clearly second nature to Mary. “The Great British Bake Off. What a shock it was to get asked to be a judge on the programme. Now we’ve got seven million viewers. Gardeners’ World has 2.5 million. I love it too. We’ve been voted the best reality judges on TV. Simon Cowell watch out! The programme has got Britain baking.”

Mary Berry ©

Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc are so much fun to work with,” she says. “At the Baftas, Sue said to me ‘We’re in Row H. We’re far too far away from the stage to be winners!’” They won two Baftas. “How am I ever going to find my way down there was my main concern.” She did, just as she continues to help people find their way round the kitchen. Amidst the flotsam and jetsam of life, there are few constants. Except Mary Berry who’s an exceptional exception. And William Curley London Chocolates.

William Curley London Chocolates copyright

Design Luxury People

Pininfarina Tribute Rally Launch + Hurtwood Park Polo Club

Polo Minted

1 Pininfarina Tribute Rally copyright Stuart Blakley

What a wonderful world. Lavender’s Blue were delighted to be invited to cover the exclusive launch of the Pininfarina Tribute Rally 2013 at the glorious Hurtwood Park Polo Club in Surrey. It got off to a flying start on a gorgeous sunny June weekend. The forthcoming September rally is in honour of the late great creative genius Sergio Pininfarina. It was an outing of the bold and beautiful, and that was just starting with the cars. Sergio’s dashing son Paolo, who has taken over as chairman of the company that carries his family’s name, unveiled for the first time in the UK the concept car made in honour of his father. A helicopter ride over the woodland, a quick spin across the grassland, and Paolo pulled up beside us. The view from the VIP marquee never looked so good.

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“I’m sure my father is happy today,” he proudly announced. “This car expresses his spirit. It also represents the past, the present and the future of Pininfarina. History continues forth in the present tradition of excellence in designing, manufacturing and engineering. For the future, it shows the potential for securing new business for Pininfarina. So it is fitting that my father who created so many motoring masterpieces is honoured by this concept car named in his memory. I know he would like it.”

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In polo, as we all know, players are rated on a handicap scale of -2 to 10, the higher the better. Talent shines through horsemanship, range of strokes and speed of play. A goal is a goal, whether by pony or rider. The Sergio is an equine athlete in crimson metal and grey leather. Ferrari’s pioneering wind tunnels were exploited to the max during the design process. The low front spoiler, the leading edge of the roll bar behind the cockpit and the passenger compartment are all shaped to enhance air flow. Instead of a windshield, driver and passenger wear helmets. The headrests appear to float as they are attached to the roll bar, not the seats. Holes atop the rear engine recall Pininfarina’s Ferrari 512S Modulo.

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Event sponsors Brokersclub – “high speed online trading” according to founder Markus Böckmann – held the four matches of the Brokersclub Tribute Gold Cup Polo Tournament over the course of the launch weekend. A VIP marquee in front of the clubhouse allowed the glamorous crowd, handbags and glad rags and hot legs, to take in all things horse power, two and four legged, while Rod Stewart laid on the foreground music. Hurtwood is owned by Kenney Jones, legendary drummer with The Who. Kenney also serenaded the crowd with his own band The Jones Gang.

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Ooh la la! The triumphant triumvirate of trophies, trips and tribunes kept going with a world record breaking gathering of over 200 Pininfarina designed cars. A lucky 100 owners were there to gear up for taking part in the rally. Among the cars on display were dozens of Ferraris from the past such as the 275 GTB Spider, the 250 GT SWB and the 365 Daytona. More recent Ferrari models included the 360 Modena and the 458 Spider.

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Other newer brands represented at Hurtwood included the Alfa Romeo Duetto, the Lancia Aurelia B20 and the Lancia Monte Carlo. Also on display were rare models such as the Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider, first seen at the Brussels Motor Show of 1955. Eric Clapton popped over from his neighbouring estate in his one-of-a-kind SP12 EC Ferrari, designed by Pininfarina in collaboration with the Ferrari Design Centre. Some guys have all the luck.

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  • Day 1: the Pininfarina cavalcade departs from the Hilton on Park Lane crossing the English Channel at Dover and onwards to Dunkirk. Spend first night in Germany.
  • Day 2: the Swiss mountains await; stop over close to the Italian border.
  • Day 3: navigate God’s Highway aka the Stelvio Pass which has more hairpins than a Sixties beehive bouffant. After a rendezvous at the Pininfarina Design Building, onwards to Maranello, the home of Ferrari.
  • Day 4: drive across Monaco where a party on aboard mega yacht provides a travel respite.
  • Day 5: the party continues at Jimmy’z. This is Monte Carlo after all. Raise your champagne flutes to Sergio Pininfarina!

9 Pininfarina Tribute Rally copyright Stuart Blakley

Design Luxury

Le Grand Atelier + Harrods London

French Dawn

Tremplin Play It Indie a la Dame de Canton ©Guillaume Roujas

To the Georgian Restaurant at Harrods. 8.01pm. Escalators crisscrossing silent marble halls in noble ascent and descent, unencumbered by shoppers. Animals sleeping in the pet store; ghostly dummies casting unmoving shadows in the clothes department; mirrors in the furniture showroom reflecting nobody. But something is aflutter on the top floor.

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It’s the arrival of Le Grand Atelier, a pop up shop devoted to the French artisanal tradition showcasing the finest food, decoration and design products from across the Chanel Channel. The companies selected by Harrods all boast the prestigious Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (EPV or Living Heritage Company) label. The initiative is backed by the French Trade Commission, UBIFrance, and the Institut Supérieur des Métiers.

Holding court in the centre of the room is Raine, Countess Spencer, aristocratic ambassador to Harrods, looking resplendent. Black neckerchief, diamond earrings as big as the Ritz, that bouffant, all set off by deb poise. Not forgetting her pink satin blouse. She is lest we forget the daughter of Barbara Cartland.

His Excellency, Monsieur Bernard Emié, French Ambassador to the UK, addresses everyone. “We are here to celebrate the best of French craftsmanship in this flagship of London, this world famous store. This pop up for a month in Harrods shows the very best of the French way of life. ‘Soft power’, that’s what we like to call it. Even if we are paying high taxes in France! Who could imagine a finer setting?”

In between nibbling on Ladureé’s macaroon tree, we talk to our favourite two exhibitors. Grey Tahiti mother of pearl, veined horn, ostrich or pheasant feathers, satin or silk plummets, Duvelleroy couture hand fans combine materiality of worth with craftsmanship of note. Embroiderers, engravers, pleaters, it’s a team effort. The house’s emblem, a daisy stamped on the rivet, provides provenance for prosperity. Fashion designers such as Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Lovisa Burfitt have worked with Duvelleroy. Katy Perry is a fan. So are we.

“Were thrilled to see our fans at Harrods, the kingdom of fashion and retail,” enthuse co owners Eloïse Gilles and Raphaëlle de Panafieu tell us. “It’s a beautiful recognition of the revival of Duvelleroy and one of the best places on earth to meet new clients for modern hand fans. It’s important for us to explain the savoir faire that’s behind each one of these creations and wonderful to be identified as a signature of French style. The Grand Atelier event and Living Heritage Company label offer such an opportunity.”

We’re also fans of La Maison Dissidi. It represents three generations of cabinetmakers from the Rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine furniture district of Paris. Staffed by a team of highly qualified craftsmen, chief exec Dominique Roitel tells us: “La Maison Dissidi is a depository of ancestral savoir faire creating pieces of unsurpassed quality.” The company specialises in the reproduction of traditional furniture and wainscoting but also has the wherewithal to create contemporary items.

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“The little desk presented in the ground floor shop window of Harrods,” Dominique points out, “is a copy of a piece of French furniture circa 1740. It is entirely handmade in our Parisian workshop and finished in French varnish with contrasting bronze gilded gold and black leather.” Perfect for the Countess to write letters from her home in Mayfair.

Luxury Restaurants

Bank Westminster + Zander Bar St James London

Banking Success Story

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Dining and drinking fads. Gourmet fast food. Slow food. Lobster and chips. Lobster sliders. Chips in tin buckets. Twice fried or triple cooked chips. Courgette fries. Truffle fries. Quails’ eggs. Caviar blinis. More caviar blinis. Make that English Shah Caviar blinis. Beetroot macaroons. Flavoured éclairs (fashion forward). Gravadlax (having a fashion moment). Cup cakes (out of fashion). The great champagne versus prosecco debate. Pop ups. No signage. No booking. Social media invites only. Some fads don’t go away. Chopsticks are like camera film. Why bother? Time to go digital, get some cutlery.

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Tate Britain opened its doors recently to reveal the long awaited redisplay by museum director Penelope Curtis of its collection of British art. Walking through the full circuit of galleries, visitors can now enjoy a chronological presentation of paintings from 1540 to the present day. The overall effect is fresh and engaging, a rich overview of British art tracing the development of styles and fashions. Unrelated topics? Not really. Taste in food and art is prone to the whims of fashion. Tate Britain, in this case, has taken the classic approach to gallery hang.

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Across the Thames, Bank Westminster has taken the classic approach to its menu. Or in the words of manager Marco Pavone, “International classic with a twist of modern,” to be precise. It’s on Buckingham Gate, almost as far north as one may reach from Victoria without sensing the imminence of the palace. There is plenty of note on Buckingham Gate itself, from The Blue Coat School to Westminster Chapel. Despite the central location, an air of tranquillity pervades the spring evening. Bank Westminster’s immediate neighbours are the four star Crowne Plaza Hotel and the five star Taj Suites and Residences. The latter are owned by Tata, the company behind Jaguar. The 170 square metre Jaguar Suite comes with a chauffeured car. No prizes for guessing what make.

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An enigmatic doorway opens off the street into the adjoining Zander Bar. “The bar is 50 metres long,” confirms Marco, “the same length as an Olympic swimming pool.” No doubt it makes for some great Olympian nights on the town. A lean corridor leads past three intimate panelled private dining rooms and then – tah dah! – the restaurant, a contemporary conservatory in a historic courtyard. A plethora of aquamarine ceramic tiles, terracotta friezes, brick ogee arches and Juliet balconies combine with a fountain and lush planting to Continental effect outdoors. Indoors, things start sunny side up with the Warm Potted Shrimp Salad (£8.70), eggs to perfection. Herb Roast Scallops along with crisp pork belly and apple (£10.50) are astutely conceived and colourfully presented.

Head chef David Ferguson spent time at Bank’s sister restaurant in Birmingham learning, executing and honing his craft. This accumulated skill is most obvious in one of the main course dishes, Monkfish with Garlic, Parsley and Thyme Butter (£21.95). On the bone, its flavours are gentle and cohesive; its texture fleshy; it looks as pretty as a picture; and it seems to sing of the sea. An onion ring stack on the side proves to be a towering guilty pleasure. Fillet of Steak (£23.95) from the charcoal burning grill served with peppercorn sauce is perfectly cooked and hugely succulent.

“We change our menu four times a year,” highlights Marco. “Summer’s coming soon! Whatever season it is, we only serve the very best British beef from Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cattle naturally reared on farms selected by us. We pride ourselves on the philosophy of ingredient provenance.” Meanwhile, the food and wine service continues apace, attractive and attractively polite and politely unobtrusive.

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The only thing more devilishly delightful than Banoffee or Eton Mess (not a euphemism for Cameron’s Cabinet) is Banoffee Eton Mess (£7.50), the sum of two evils. Constituent parts – banana, toffee, crunchy meringue – are deconstructed and chocolate brownies thrown in for good measure. Cubes (the chocolate brownies), pipes (more chocolate) and three dimensional ogees (the meringues) emerge from a creamy base. Pineapple Tarte Tatin (£7.50) with coconut ice cream is an equally sagaciously sell-your-soul choice.

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A well considered wine list complements these classic culinary principles. La Clochette Sancerre, 2011 (£39.95) is excellent to go along with the first half of the meal. The second half is accompanied (it is a bank holiday) by a vibrant South African favourite, False Bay Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 (£25.95). “We do what we do properly,” is Marco’s catchphrase. Forgotten food. Now that’s another fad. But memorable food is what Bank Westminster is about. Classic memorable food done properly.

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