Notre Dame Church Calais + Gérard Lardeur

Epiphanic Moments

“Take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea”

On a glorious summer’s day, we’re smitten by the charm of Calais and its most passionately historic monument. Eight centuries of art and beauty, form and faith, in glorious harmony. What’s not to admire?

Hotels Town Houses

Hôtel Meurice Calais + Charles-Augustin Meurice

The Last Word

Say again? More than a mere port, it’s a tale of two towns: Calais-Nord is a manmade island surrounded by canals and basins. St Pierre hugs the island to the south and southeast. Between Notre Dame Church and Richelieu Park in Calais-Nord lies Hôtel Meurice. Established as Le Chariot Royal in 1771 by the postmaster Charles-Augustin Meurice, it changed name and address in 1815. The relaunch was aimed at the demands of British travellers touring the Continent. All sorts of modern conveniences were introduced: residents’ lounges, English speaking staff, a currency exchange and even its own branded soap. The hotel was rebuilt in the mid 1950s in a stripped back neoclassical style. A sweeping staircase leads from the open plan ground floor to bedrooms on two upper floors overlooking a garden to the rear.

Architecture Art

Calais Grand Theatre + Gustave Malgras Delmas

Gilead’s Calling | The Innate Ordinariness of a Saturday Morning

“This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.” What Are We Doing Here?, Marilynne Robinson

The Grand Theatre, like the Town Hall, was built to belatedly celebrate the 1885 merger of the towns of Calais and Saint-Pierre. The site was once a cemetery. President Emile Loubet laid the foundation stone in 1903. Its architect was Gustave Malgras Delmas. He was no stranger to municipal projects, having designed the Palace of Fervaques in nearby Saint-Quentin where most of his work is concentrated. The building is pure architectural theatre, a palatial performance in stone. First floor statues between the coupled Corinthian columns propping up the façade represent comedy, poetry, dance and music. Second floor busts commemorate the composer Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny (1729 to 1817), the dramatists Alain-René Lesage (1668 to 1747) and Guillaume Pigault-Leburn (1753 to 1835), and author of The Siege of Calais Pierre de Belloy (1727 to 1775). In front of the Grand Theatre is a 1910 statue to Lillois Joseph Jacquard, inventor of an advanced weaving loom which greatly contributed to the success of the Calais lace industry. Gustave’s brother-in-law was the composer Marc Delmas.

“It’s not a man’s working hours that is important, it is how he spends his leisure time.” What Are We Doing Here? Marilynne Robinson

Luxury People Restaurants

Crespo Family + Le Channel Restaurant Calais

Burgher Joint

Calais Canal © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Son cadre, ses produits de la mer, ses vins…”

Calais Yachts © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Along Boulevard de la Résistance occupying a ground floor unit of a typical modernist Calais beachy block (think Corbu in Corfu) and looking diagonally across to Bassin du Paradis is Le Channel Restaurant. Names, names, names, from war to heaven. It’s actually in a row of restaurants: La Sole Meunière to the left and Le Détroit to the right. They all look rather smart and share the same glorious coastal views, set to the sound of a dawn-to-dusk chorus of seagulls. Le Channel self identifies as a ‘gastronomique’ restaurant which translates as ‘gourmet’. Sounds promising.

Calais Bassin du Paradis © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The relaxingly comfortable interior is filled with linen covered tables, burnt orange textured chairs and purple chaise longues. One wall is lined with rows of wine bottles. That’s a hint. There’s a circular glass panel in the floor looking down into dozens more wine bottles. That’s a clearer hint. Le Channel’s celebrated cellar contains more than 1,200 wines. The gleaming stainless steel kitchen was upgraded a couple of years ago. A charcoal oven takes pride of place.

Calais Old Town © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Le Channel Restaurant Calais © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Le Channel Restaurant Calais Plant © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Le Channel Restaurant Calais Kitchen © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chef Le Channel Restaurant Calais Pudding © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Le Channel Restaurant Calais Amuse Bouche © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Le Channel Restaurant Calais Starter © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A plaque in the restaurant is inscribed ‘Depuis 1978’. Le Channel was established by the two Crespo brothers four decades ago and their respective families are also now in the business. Two of the younger generation are on duty today: Arnaud is front of house and his brother Jérôme is chef. Given the name and the seaside setting – the long golden strand is a polished pebble’s throw away – it would be rude not to go the whole hog, do the full Montgomery, dive in deep and order fruits du mer. Their mother Madame Crespo arrives with what looks like half the ocean floor piled high on a plate. “Il est beaucoup de travaillé!” she smiles.

Le Channel Restaurant Calais Fruits de Mer © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lunch set menu is €44 for four courses tucked between an appetite whetting amuse bouche and five corset exploding petit fours. Turbot with hollandaise sauce main course tastes seductively fresh from the channel. Both the cheese and pudding choices arrive on trolleys, or “chariots” as they’re more enticingly called in French. So much more interactive than a mere menu.

Le Channel Restaurant Calais Pudding © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

‘Promising’ means elevated expectations for gourmands: they’re met and surpassed. “As well as local regulars we have a lot of Russians living in London come to visit us,” confirms Madame Crespo. It’s well worth the hour on the Eurostar from St Pancras. The cornerstones of a successful lunch – excellence of food + wine, service, interior and atmosphere – are robustly upheld. Around the corner on Rue André Gerschell is Le Channel shop. It’s piled high with wines of course and plenty of cheeses. That’ll be why it’s called La Maison du Fromage et Des Vins Crespo. Heaven. Incidentally, André Gerschell was Mayor during the 1940 Siege of Calais. War, again.

Le Channel Restaurant Calais Petit Fours © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley


Calais + The Doors

Ferry Tales

Calais, full of surprises and more openings than a Bond Street gallery. Brassy, sassy and just a little bit classy.

Fashion People

Calais + Parees

Twin Pearls Twin Peaks

For a hot minute we’re racing with the fastest set in town.


Calais Lighthouse + Lavender’s Blue

This Matrix of Being

In the words of American essayist Marilynne Robinson, “There is something irreducibly thrilling about the universe.”

Architecture Town Houses

Calais + Lavender’s Blue

There’s More to Life

Calais. It’s having a fashion moment. Official. Nice, no, niche, yes. Mid 20th century architecture is so early 21st century happening. Wherever there’s glamour there’s Lavender’s Blue.


Calais + Rue Paul Bert

Callooh Callay 

We’re on our way!

Town Houses

Richelieu Park Calais + Lavender’s Blue

Get Into the Grove

Marilynne Robinson once more: “We have looked into Melvillean nurseries, and glimpsed the births of stars that came into being many millions of years ago, an odd privilege of our relation to space and time.” The American essayist adds, “Properly speaking, we are the stuff of myth.” Our late afternoon stroll through Richelieu Park proves providential, echoing a strange efficacy, a special instance of cosmic time.


The Opal Coast + Calais Beach

Chartered Waters | French Kits | You’re Not From Here

The past is a foreign country; sometimes so is the present. Golden crowns glisten upon the jasper sea off the Opal Coast. Waves beat in from an infinitude of azure horizons. Crossing the Channel, crossing the Rubicon. What Alexis de Tocqueville called “gifts which heaven shares out by chance”. Igniting unforeseen possibilities, purveying happenstance; renewals of experience apart, we are unacquainted with neo and pseudo. Marilynne Robinson writes in What Are We Doing Here? “And yet the beautiful persists, and so do eloquence and depth of thought, and they belong to all of us because they are the most pregnant evidence we have of what is possible in us.” The Bishop of Stepney nods, “We are all pregnant with our own death. We always carry the knowledge of our ending with us.” Keeping it surreal, precepts acknowledged, spangled heavens approaching, Calais stretches forth in eloquent beauty under an eternal sky, solecisms silenced, postprandial ponderings never ceasing.


Dublin + The Doors

Fanlights Sidelights Streetlights Highlights

Best in world.

Architecture Hotels Luxury

Harrington Hall + Harcourt Street Dublin


Named after Lord Simon Harcourt, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1772 to 1776, Harcourt Street is precisely what one expects of Georgian Dublin. A sheer cliff face of dark red brick penetrated by a grid of rectangular apertures. Doorcases to send the snappy happy into a battery zapping frenzy. Stuccowork in abundance indoors. No.70, Harrington Hall, fills a two bay townhouse and its three bay neighbour. It’s now a hotel, one of several in the immediate vicinity such as The Dean (opposite) and Iveagh Garden (a few doors down). Harcourt Street has always been the epicentre of society. It was the location of Noelle Campbell Sharp’s Origin Gallery (before she upped sticks to Fitzwilliam Street Upper) and the first Hugh Lane Gallery (which is now plonked on Parnell Square). William Butler Yeats went to school on the street.

Architecture People

Clifton House King’s Lynn Norfolk + Henry Bell

Saved by the Bell

Clifton House King's Lynn View from Tower © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Who needs the walls to speak when there are learned historians in spades. It’s like The Interregnum happened yesterday. King’s Lynn is a microcosm of academia. Such rigour. Barley twist columns (inspired by Solomon’s Temple) supporting a most generous half moon pediment form an enigmatic doorcase on Queen Street. Instead of opening into a panelled hall, the doors lead into a porch, open on one side to a walled garden, home to two black cats. Apparently this is a common arrangement in historic Lynn. It means the windows and doors of the house beyond can be left freely ajar on a sunny day.

Clifton House King's Lynn Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Clifton House, named after a previous owner who sadly sold some of its architectural features, is now the home of Dr Simon Thurley and Dr Anna Keay. It’s hard to believe that when they bought the house 13 years ago “it had no electricity and part of it was an archaeological dig”. The building had a rocky time during the 20th century. Lady Fermoy, Princess Diana’s maternal grandmother, campaigned with King’s Lynn Preservation Trust to stop Clifton House being demolished for a car park in 1962. The Trust along with English Heritage was determined that it should be returned to a single family house. Almost 800 years after its commencement, the house is finally in two pairs of safe hands. Simon is former Chief Executive of English Heritage; Anna is Director of The Landmark Trust. Both have published books on history and architecture.

Clifton House King's Lynn Tower © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Wine was a very important part of Lynn’s economy,” he records. “Lynn traded with France, Madeira, Spain and the Canary Islands. Queen Street used to be called ‘Winegate’. The introduction of trains wiped out the local economy. The ground was cut from beneath its feet. As a result nothing really happens in the house architecturally after 1850.”

Clifton House King's Lynn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The entrance arrangement is the first of many surprises. An early Georgian façade cloaks a medieval merchant’s house. A five storey tower with mullioned windows is an unexpected feature in a corner of the walled garden. “It’s relatively recent, 1570,” smiles Simon. Flues in the four corners of the tower with alternating fireplace positions on each floor make the top room especially snug. Interior surprises of the main house include vast vaults from the 1220s (the earliest brick building in Norfolk) and 1260s tiles under the kitchen floorboards.

Clifton House King's Lynn Garden Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Clifton House King's Lynn Border © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Clifton House is arguably one of the most complete medieval houses anywhere,” Simon continues. “It’s a complex: the adjacent counting house, yard and warehouses would all have been part of this house.” Following mid 16th century alterations of the medieval house, from 1690 to 1700 a “big remodelling” occurred. Then owner, wine merchant and MP Samuel Taylor, turned to the distinguished local architect Henry Bell. The façade owes much to this period. “Bell was mad keen on big pediments.” The architect inserted a sweeping staircase leading to the piano nobile: the landing doorcases all have most generous pediments.

Clifton House King's Lynn Sashes © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Halfway up the staircase is the dining room with panelling mostly pre dating Henry Bell. But it does have a highly unusual late 17th century decorative niche hidden behind sliding sash panels. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it!” he beams. Two panels are counterweighted by lead weights. The original paint scheme of sunrays bursting out of a gold shell against a pea green background has been reinstated. “This room is always five degrees cooler than outside! But with a massive fire lit and the curtains pulled, it’s great for entertaining.”

Clifton House King's Lynn Undercroft © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Simon and Anna are currently restoring the upstairs drawing room. An old photograph shows it once resembled a “1950s Indian restaurant”. Removal of the unforgettable forget-me-not blue flock wallpaper has revealed long forgotten stone coloured panelling. “What we are doing is completely recessive. It has a shattered appearance which we quite like!”

Clifton House King's Lynn Wine Cellar © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Like the unpeeling of an onion, the gradual restoration of the house continues to reveal itself. Really, it’s a conversation about conservation.

Dr Simon Thurley Clifton House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

People Restaurants

The Ginger Bistro Belfast + Simon McCance

Spicing it Up

The Ginger Bistrol Belfast Bar © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Red hair, sir, in my opinion, is dangerous.” Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse

The Ginger Bistrol Belfast Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Nick’s Warehouse was The Place for business lunch in 1990s Belfast. £10 for two courses. As its name suggests, the restaurant, something of a trailblazer, was in a converted warehouse. It was down a cobbled street in Cathedral Quarter on the northern edge of the city centre. When Nick’s closed, Simon McCance, its Head Chef, set up Ginger which he runs with his wife Abby. Businessman Ricky Garrett is co owner. Ginger is more centrally located to the immediate south of the City Hall. The Place was reborn. And 18 years later, it’s all grown up.

Simon says, “When I first opened Ginger Bistro way back in 2000 on Belfast’s Ormeau Road, I wanted to serve quality food in a relaxed and friendly environment. Now located close to Belfast’s Opera House, Europa Hotel and one of Belfast’s oldest pubs, The Crown Bar, my resolve for quality food in a relaxed atmosphere has never been stronger or more relevant. With Ginger Bistro’s longevity, we have built a loyal local customer base and are one of the favourites of our ‘wee city’ and locals alike.”

At lunchtime there are no fewer than four menus: À la Carte | Lunch + Pre Theatre| Vegetarian | Set £25.50 for two courses; £32.50 for three courses. Morsels of wisdom make for fun reading. On the wine list, a Pinot Grigio is “Clean as a whistle, far too easy to drink.” An Orballo Albariño is “An aromatic wine, perfect with fish and Ginger has fish.” A Picpoul de Pinet is “Lip smackingly fresh, lovely long finish.” Cocktails (£7.00 to £7.95) are listed under “Fancy Drinks”. Promiscuous ordering is recommended:

Everything is spot on. Brilliant actually, a real asset to the city’s restaurant scene. Adjoining informal dining rooms – one plum, one mustard – are already a hive of activity. The afternoon has barely begun. A slit of an opening reveals the kitchen to the rear. Ginger continues to mature. The bistro has extended into what was in Nick’s era a clothes shop called Parks. This fully glazed frontage facing Great Victoria Street has allowed covers to grow from 70 to 102. Unlike the main restaurant, the new white dining area with bar is not bookable.

The Ginger Bistrol Belfast Mocktail © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Belfast is booming!” observes Simon. “It’s a good time to be doing business. When we decided upon the extension, it was the first time I knew for certain a business plan would work. It felt grown up: I knew it would be instantly busy. New hotels are opening in the city. Grand Central has just opened round the corner. It gives an Art Deco nod to the original Grand Central which was on Royal Avenue. It’s all Belfast money too. Hastings have spent almost £60 million on their new hotel.” Guid forder! Sláinte mhaith!

The Ginger Bistrol Belfast Pudding © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Architecture People

Farrier + Draper Powerscourt Centre Dublin

Centre of Activity

Powerscourt House was built for entertaining. Robert Mack – the John O’Connell of his day – was the architect. Plasterwork by its 18th century whizz of a stuccodore Michael Stapleton jazzes up the interior. While most of it has long been converted into shops with galleried access off the original stables courtyard, a corner of the building has been carved out to form a restaurant and bar. Farrier + Draper is like a townhouse-in-a-townhouse. Fun is to be had on every floor from merrily dining in the basement to making an entrance on the lower ground floor to mingling in the mezzanine to making music on the piano nobile. Powerscourt House – at least this lively corner – is carrying on the entertaining tradition. Lady Powerscourt would have a ball.

Architects Architecture Town Houses

Lath House King’s Lynn Norfolk + Henry Bell

For Whom the Bell Tolls

“There are 13 Grade I listed buildings in King’s Lynn,” explains local historian and former Mayor of West Norfolk, Dr Paul Richards. “There are 300 altogether including 52 Grade II*.” A member of the latter group is Lath House, 15 Nelson Street. It’s a three storey six bay house so unusually the doorcase is off-centre on an otherwise balanced Palladian façade. After being used as offices in the 20th century it is now nine apartments accessed off the intact staircase hall. He credits many of Lynn’s buildings to Henry Bell, 1647 to 1711, a linen merchant and part time architect. “Henry Bell was an ingenious architect, nationally important. He visited London and The Netherlands.”

Dr Richards observes, “There’s tremendous social history packed into King’s Lynn. The BBC are about to start filming David Copperfield here. In the 18th century gentry from London, Bristol and Southampton got their wine from the town. Every two or three years a floor falls through a house mid restoration and another wine cellar is uncovered!” Lath House was owned by the Browne merchant family during this period. When owner Samuel Browne died in 1784, the inventory of his wine stock included Brown Port | Caleavela [sic] | Lisbon | Medeira [more sic] | Mountain | Old Hock | Red Port | Sherry. Total value was £1,682.