Liam’s patron at Murlog was Parish Priest Anthony McFeely, later Bishop of Raphoe. In 1959, prior to commencement of design, they set off on a mini Grand Tour visiting new churches in France, Germany and Switzerland. As a consequence, Ireland’s most northwesterly county was blessed with Continental influenced state of the heart ecclesiastical architecture. Liam described Father McFeely as, “A client who was not just precise about the brief but one who having reacted against the gimmickry in much contemporary Irish church architecture, made a point of going abroad to see the best European churches and assessing their spiritual quality.”
A green apron of gradient slopes down to the site along the road between Lifford and Raphoe. Like all his other Donegal churches (except Burt which is stone faced), Murlog is painted roughcast plaster (once white, now custard cream). A covered entrance walkway links the bell tower to the main body of the church. The architecture has a distinctly Continental appearance, defined by geometry rather than decoration. A stone tower in the car park is all that remains of the Victorian church.
The layout is a variation of the traditional cruciform plan with splayed walls and chevron headed extremities drawing the congregation towards the altar. An octagonal roof lantern lights the crisscross of the nave and transepts. Liam selected six artists to work on the interior. Patrick McElroy, who designed the tabernacle and baptismal font cover, recalls, “He was like the conductor of an orchestra, and you had to fit in with his idea… he certainly wanted original works of art… you got your area where you were to work, and all the artists knew each other… and Liam became a great friend to us all. He was a great man for having a night out!” Patrick Pollen created the largest expanse of stained glass in any Liam McCormick church. The windows are chevron headed, reflecting the floor plan. Stripped of sensuous frills and casual thrills, the architecture and art work together towards a sacred Gesamtkunstwerk.
So, 50 is the new brasserie. After a nine month rework, our favourite Chelsea haunt is up and running again. Sprinting even. It came at a price: a cool £3 million. Money well spent though: Lambart + Browne (Founding Directors Freddy van Zevenbergen and Tom Browning are from the school of Nicky Haslam) have created interiors that are at once luxurious and relaxing. Let’s start with the spacious upstairs drawing room. That’s where we’re ushered for pre drinks to meet Maître d’ David Gjytetza on the last evening of summer. It’s like being at a house party – if you’ve friends who own a Georgian property overlooking the Thames. All five tall windows are gracefully dressed. It’s clearly not curtains for curtains: significant drapes are joined by Roman blinds and generous pelmets. There are plenty of Nickyesque touches: curly edged bookshelves, squashy sofas, tweedy cushions, a host of antiqued mirrors (through a glass, darkly). The drawing room meshes highbrow bibliophilia with talented mixology: it’s somewhere to slake your thirst with a Garden of Eden Cocktail (Wolfschmidt Kummel, Champagne, apple and lavender shrub) while browsing The Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson. Such reserve, such reticence.
In contrast, the intimate first floor cocktail bar is Chinoiserie red with midnight blue satin highlights. Such boldness, such sexiness. Drummonds sanitaryware is the ultimate sophistication signifier in the bathroom. The centuries old tradition of distractingly saucy cartoons of racy girls hanging on the walls is upheld. Downstairs, leather banquettes and stripy snug chairs are made for decadent dinners and languid lunches in the restaurant. Chandeliers with 50 shades radiate a soft glow. Such elegance, such comfort. General Manager Benoit Auneau joins us for a chat. Gosh, this place is friendlier than ever. The building was once a pub and it still feels like a local. A very upmarket local. “Cheyne is my baby,” says Benoit. “I’ve been here a long time.”
Owner Sally Greene (who’s also proprietor of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho and The Old Vic Theatre in Waterloo) lives nearby on Cheyne Walk in a house with a Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll designed garden. Splendid. Sally opened Cheyne Walk Brasserie in 2004 to great aplomb; its relaunch has gone and upped the aplomb. She says, “My passion is creativity. My passion is looking for opportunities and just going for them.” During dinner, David tells us, “The split of guests is roughly 60 to 40 residents to visitors. We get people coming from Blakes Hotel and Chelsea Harbour Hotel too.” There are a few modelly types as well tonight. It’s a terrific British menu focused round the wood fire grill. We choose the scallops starter. Unusually, they’re served cold in a cucumber soup. Such flavour, such joy. Stuffed courgette flowers with aubergine caviar for main is a sumptuous artistic composition. Classic St Véran keeps things lively.
Al Ben Accotto, 58 Fulham Road… “plain walls, Venetian lanterns overhead”… “the crème brûlée is a triumph”
Alvaro, 124 King’s Road… “genuine, small Italian restaurant”… “octopus with spinach in chilli sauce is delicious”
Au Bon Accueil, 27 Elystan Road… “small, pretty, cheerful Chelsea restaurant”… “vegetables are prepared with originality”
Brompton Grill, 243 Brompton Road… “patterned wallpaper surrounds, pink tinged mirrors engraved with clouds”… “unforgettable tartare sauce on fried scallops”
Le Carrousse, 19 to 21 Elystan Street…“The original decorator was David Hicks; the original owner, Geoffrey Sharp”… “miraculously unrubbery escargots”
The Casserole, 338 King’s Road… “trendy Chelsea King’s Road atmosphere”… “avocado filled with cottage cheese, walnuts and celery”
La Chaumière, 104 Draycott Avenue… “the most expensive bistro in London”… “the entrée is served with baked potatoes and salads”
Chelsea Rendezvous, 4c Sydney Street… “white painted brick walls, a profusion of fresh plants and paintings by Brian McMinn”… “fried seaweed is a delicious addition”
Daphne’s, 122 Draycott Avenue… “plush banquettes, gilt framed pictures and subdued lighting”… “Elizabeth Shaw chocolate crisps are served with good coffee”
Don Luigi, 330 King’s Road… “modern prints hang on clean white walls”… “Scampi Don Luigi is a speciality”
Meridiana, 169 Fulham Road… “the dining room itself is bright, airy, spacious, clean and bustling”… “pasta is excellent”
Minotaur, Chelsea Cloisters, Sloane Avenue… “quiet, cool and spacious atmosphere of a hotel dining room”… “fresh vegetables are imaginatively prepared”
Parkes, 5 Beauchamp Place… “bright coloured banquettes line the dining room walls”… “artichoke hearts in mustard soup is a delicious starter”
La Parra, 163 Draycott Avenue… “darkly atmospheric in spite of white rough plaster walls and almost cloister-like Spanish arches”… “vegetables are seasonal and well prepared”
Poissonnerie de l’Avenue, 82 Sloane Avenue… “long red carpet, long polished mahogany bar, wood panelled walls, cut velvet banquettes”… “scampi flavoured with Pernod on pilaff rice is perfect if you like the idea of that combination”
San Frediano, 62 Fulham Road… “one of the most popular of Chelsea’s trattorias”… “salads are fresh”
San Lorenzo, 22 Beauchamp Place… “so popular is Lorenzo at lunchtime that it’s very hard to get in”… “in summer the favourite way to begin a meal is with either Mozzarella or Creolla salads”
San Martino, 103 Walton Street… “an attractive restaurant with a happy, bustling atmosphere”… “salads are drowned in dressing”
Sans Souci, 68 Royal Hospital Road… “the single long room has banquette seats down each side”… “salad dressings are, as the sauces, very very good”
Trojan Horse, 3 Milner Street… “freshly decorated in bright nurseryh red and blue with a few amphoras on door lintels”… “the rice is excellent and sauces are well blended”
235 Kings, 235 King’s Road… “one of Chelsea’s most popular and trendy restaurants”… “vegetables are nicely undercooked”
Waltons, 121 Walton Street… “Louis XV chairs, stainless steel chairs, and even a beautiful canopied sofa at a table for six”… “soups are wonderful, especially one of fennel and courgettes”
Iain is a protégé of celebrity chef Jason Atherton. He previously worked at Social Eating House Soho and The London Edition Hotel Fitzrovia. “I’ve found my home here!” he enthuses. His interview was cooking a 14 course meal sampled by Sally. “One of my greatest challenges was to win over regulars as this was already an established restaurant.” That challenge has been met and surpassed: “Our 100 covers are full almost every night!” The salmon tartare with avocado starter is a new cold delight. Another aubergine main, this time stuffed with piperade quinoa, proves Iain knows his onions – and fruit. We’re crème brûlée connoisseurs so on both recent visits pudding is an easy choice, especially when served with Russet apple compote and lemon sorbet. “It’s comfort food taken to a new level,” is how Iain describes his cooking. Can this Chelsea destination get any better? “We’re adding a private dining room for 30 to 40 people,” reveals David. Even better.
Princess Ronke Ademiluyi is the esteemed founder and owner of Africa Fashion Week London and Nigeria. Known informally as “Rukkies”, she is a London trained lawyer. So how did she gracefully make the transition from Suits (law) to suits (fashion)? Her Royal Highness: “When I was in the university whatever I wore to school used to get a lot of compliments. At some point I thought why not make a business out of it? I often bought stuff for some of my fellow students, dressed them up and styled them. That is how the whole fashion thing came about.”
Both London and Nigeria have been absolute runaway successes. Princess Ronke reveals, “Africa Fashion Week Nigeria has by the grace of God become the biggest driver in Nigeria for emerging brands. The London event is very mainstream in the sense we have a lot of mainstream media, fashion buyers and organisations who attend to see the latest coming out of Africa because it involves the 54 African countries. It is still promoting our culture as well because our fashion is our culture – it translates our cultural identity.”
Joseph Farodoye, CEO of EPG Media announces, “This is a moment in history. We are an amazing bunch of people – beautiful, resilient! My mother says, ‘If you know better do better!’ Africa Fashion Week London has celebrated over 900 designers. When Ronke set it up it was for aspiring designers who are now established designers. “It’s now the largest and longest running culturally diverse fashion and trade exhibition in Europe. Let’s begin to change the narrative of the landscape – we are a vibrant people!” There’s liquid refreshment too seeping through all this glamour: Amarula. This drink is made from the Marula fruit of Sub Equatorial Africa. The Marula spirit is distilled and aged in French oak for two years then blended with a velvety cream to create the smooth taste of Amarula. Yesterday’s dream.
South African fashion designer Vanessa Gounden believes in merging creativity and business to be sustainable. “My husband and I are activists involved in the liberation. I’ve always had a passion for fashion!” she exclaims. “What is my actual USP? It’s an activist expression of wearable art – the very essence of how we can be more feminine and responsible. I’ve created an integrated atelier proud of ‘Made in South Africa’ goods that can compete in the international luxury market.” Vanessa Gounden is now open in Soho London’s Ham Yard Village. Today’s fashion; tomorrow’s vintage.
Elisabeth Murray, Curator of Modern Fashion at the V+A, says the museum is “an amazing resource for designers and makers”, adding, “there are around 80,000 fashion and textiles objects”. Janet Browne, Senior Producer of Audience Development at the V+ALearning Academy, predominantly works with black audiences at the museum. Her aim is to “celebrate difference and tell the difference through narratives in the collections”. There are around 4,500 objects from Africa and its diaspora. Janet confides, “My favourite is the bust of a black youth made in the 18th century which stands proudly in the Europe Gallery. He has no collar so he wasn’t enslaved. We believe he was probably a gondolier who worked for himself in Italy. The bust is made of marble with glass buttons. I love him!”
A private paradise. A secret world. A hidden kingdom. Cloistered glory. The very essence of exclusivity. If luxury could be bottled… heavenly scent. A multiple epiphanic realisation of complete beauty and tranquillity. Not even a Gallic Frances Hodgson Burnett could dream up the discreet walled splendour of La Divine Comédie. Although Colette comes pretty close in Gigi: “Such a beautiful garden… such a beautiful garden.” Its only outward expression, an enigmatic public face, is an ivied arched wooden gate at the end of a laneway off Rue Sainte Catherine or is it Rue des Bains or Rue Saluces? Such is the labyrinth that is old town Avignon. Corrugations of sunshine ripple across the lawn and climb over a card table. Gigi again, “What about a game of piquet?”
Five guest suites breathe and stretch and spread and sprawl across three uncrowded bedroom floors, louvred shutters flung open to the birds tweeting leaves rustling church bells peeling. The Cat by Colette, “Above the withered stump draped with climbing plants, a flight of bees over the ivy flowers gave out a solemn cymbal note, the identical note of so many summers.” Last used as a school, the stone house – dating from the 18th and 19th centuries – is so tall yet not as tall as its smothering of ancient plane trees. Remnants of the 14th century palace of Cardinal Amédée de Saluces, ghostly tracery of the past, are imprinted on the garden wall. A 15 metre swimming pool lies hidden behind dense bamboo woodland. The perfumed aroma of musk and civet intensifies with the heat of a lost summer afternoon. Piquet time.
La Divine Comédie is the outcome of a revelatory seven year conversion and restoration programme. The interiors radiate confident good taste: the other co owner Gilles Jauffret is a leading decorator. Antique pieces, vintage finds and contemporary artworks are mixed with bravura under rococo’d ceilings. There’s an elephant in the (sitting) room. Pictures in the staircase hall are hung as close as stamps in the style beloved by Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors. Light selectively permeates the spaces through internal French doors and rooflights. The Cat once more: “The zone of shadow… the zone of shadow…” Persian siblings Gaston and Simone curl playfully on matching grey chairs. Thédule the Weinheimer blends in with the suede cover of a garden seat while alfresco quail’s eggs breakfast is served. Such pedigree.
Like the writer Susan Sontag, we choose to view the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. And nowhere more so than in the City of the Popes amidst the swags and swagger of such forceful architecture. A busker with a cat plays an organ in Place de l’Horloge. “Look,” the busker says pointing to the cat’s bed under the organ, “he lies on an iced blanket to keep him cool in the heat. I have 29 cats altogether.”