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Bibendum Oyster Bar + Restaurant South Kensington London

Le Confinement Est Fini

Go on, flick through the pages of 1990s House and Garden magazines and eventually you’ll come across a double page spread of the last and late Knight of Glin; his wife Madam FitzGerald, Min Hogg’s second best friend; and their eldest daughter Catherine, the garden designer, all tucking into fruits de mer at Bibendum Oyster Bar. Desmond has his starched linen napkin tucked right into his shirt collar. Standards, and all that. Did they gasp at the carpaccio of Scottish scallop and smoked pike roe? Or what about the black tiger prawns? Even more aptly, did they devour Irish oysters washed down with some dry and aromatic Viognier? “Our shells clacked on the plates,” wrote Seamus Heaney in his poem Oysters, “They lay on their bed of ice.”

All that was then and all this is now. Brill on the bone and crab quiche and other brilliant things are served up… and suddenly… with a showering of ado and a flowering of aplomb the Honourable Ola de la Fontaine rocks up totally on form sporting an emblazoned sports jacket. How terribly happening. Blazing blazers are a thing at Bibendum. For a moment, there’s some momentous momentary recall of a nebulous first floor restaurant lunch in May 2003 just when this place was ablaze with blazers. Ola’s now in top gear as always, revving it up, formulating plans and solving equations. She might resemble Charlotte Rampling’s younger much better looking sister, but Ola is more than a mere actress: she’s a qualified connoisseur of fabulousness with a diploma in decadence, a bachelor in brilliance and a masters in magnificence. And she just so happens to be South Ken’s top perfumier.

What Ola wants Ola gets: Gillardeau oysters. “Draycott Avenue and all around here has such a local vibe,” she shares. “Everybody knows everyone. Thank you for asking.” It helps of course that her local is double Michelin starred. Lunch is dreamy – “Laying down a perfect memory,” to quote Seamus Heaney again in his poem Oysters. Sometimes it just feels like Bibendum has been the fulcrum, the axis, the crucible of South Kensington life for at least the last two decades. Michelin building turned Michelin restaurant. Now that’s not so much a lost story arc as a full 360 degree circle. It’s all about Head Chef Claude Bosi’s 2020 French cuisine living up to building designer François Espinasse’s 1905 French architecture. “Did you know,” seeks Ola, “that the 18th century diarist Samuel Pepys fed his cat Hodge with oysters?” ­

Terence Conran who currently owns Bibendum took full control of the interiors,” completes Ola. “The Michelin man stained glass windows upstairs inspired the design of the snug chairs, the wall lights, the butter dishes, the salt and pepper pots, so much!” No fewer than 34 vibrant external tile panels depict car racing at its most glamourous early 20th century prime. This is Art Nouveau meets Art Deco meets art on a plate meets art on a date. But did Desmond FitzGerald all those years ago, tucking into his seafood, realise he was sitting in a former tyre fitting bay? Who knows. All that was then and all that will be is yet to come. Now for the new normalcy: an alfresco vernissage, the unveiling of the Koestler Awards 2020 for arts in criminal justice settings, is on standby at Southbank. Vroom vroom, time to get that car and burn some rubber!

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Littlehampton West Sussex + Two

The Roman Riviera

Photography is playing with light. Writing is playing with words. High 10! Here goes. Littlehampton as you’ve never seen or read about it before. England’s most haunted town. Riddled! Yes, it’s completely overrun with ghosts and ghouls and spooks and spirits and things that go bump in the night! And that’s not just reports from the manager about upstairs antics at the Arun View. The riverside pub has one first floor guest bedroom and another three on the second floor. Access is cosily squeezed behind the bar itself and up the narrow stairs. The ground floor bar and terrace are where it all happens during Thursday afterhours. Locals and blow-ins groove the night away to the Willie Austen Band.

Beside Arun View is The Steam Packet. Littlehampton Ghost Tour guide Heather Robins notes, “For more than 150 years The Steam Packet pub has stood on the River Road, Littlehampton, just by the historic footbridge across the Arun. The pub was named after the steamboat service that ran from Littlehampton to Honfleur in Normandy from 1863 to 1882.”

In the town centre, a sign on one of its windows competitively proclaims The Dolphin to be “The most haunted pub in Littlehampton”. Heather elaborates, “A pub of this name has been on this site since 1736. The Dolphin has the largest and deepest cellars of the three connected pubs and was used, not only by smugglers, but also as a mortuary for the victims of World War II bombings in Pier Road, when a row of houses was flattened, inflicting many casualties.” The Crown is just about the only pub that hasn’t had recent sightings according to the guide, “Although smugglers’ tunnels linked The Crown to The Dolphin and The White Hart, the current manager has no knowledge of less earthbound spirits inhabiting this establishment.”

As for The White Hart on Surrey Street, she comments, ““Back in the 1700s, this pub was the first Dolphin on Surrey Street. After an argument, the landlord’s brother opened a second pub called The Dolphin, which is now on the corner of Surrey Street and High Street. This original Dolphin has changed its name several times over the centuries. It may have been The White Swan, which led to The Cob and Pen, before becoming The White Hart. In the present bar, you can see a capped off glass opening to the well and tunnels.”

“Smuggling in the 18th and 19th centuries was common practice – a black economy that played a major role in everyday life, employing more than 40,000 people,” suggests Heather. “The smugglers of Kent and Sussex were the leaders in the field and it is no surprise that Littlehampton, with its gently sloping shoreline, was an active smuggling centre. Free from rocky headlands, it was easy to load and unload shallow boats and smuggle goods across the Downs or up the River Arun and on to London via the Wey and Arun Canal that linked to the Thames. Customs records from 1736 show that 229 smuggling boats were confiscated on the Sussex coast, with 200,000 gallons of brandy seized.”

Famously, Lord Byron holidayed in Littlehampton in his 18th summer. He stayed at The Dolphin in 1806 although whether or not he had ghostly experiences goes unrecorded. There’s still plenty of action in the town for the living though. Littlehampton Arts Trail is in its eighth year. The Trail features 16 venues matching artists with conducive environments. Beach Road Gallery has a joint show of Trevor Fryer and Pete Beal’s landscape photography. More photography art, this time by Shirley Bloomfield-Davies, is on show at Mewsbrook Park Café. Local Rad Radburn’s fine art is displayed at Arcade Lounge Pizza Bar and Grill.

Ah, Arcade Lounge. Such a find! A little piece of East Berlin in West Sussex. Owner Saty Dhsingh, who comes from nearby Worthing-on -Sea relates, “For Arcade Lounge, I wanted it to be something different. A small bit of Brighton! I have got lots of finds from car boot sales. My father made the benches from pieces I got from Oktoberfest. As for the Arts Trail, there are actually four art galleries in the town centre as well as all the other venues.” Littlehampton Fish and Chips – the best in town – is another Dhsingh family business.

“You can enjoy homemade pizzas, burgers and tapas here,” confirms Saty, soaking in the rays in the adjoining courtyard. “We’re in the trendiest suntrap in Littlehampton. Arcade Lounge is all about unwinding and relaxing. Littlehampton has a lot of character. The combination of beach and river and friendly people is what makes it really unique. Nearby historic ­Arundel is another great town to visit.” Blame the unseasonably sunny weather. Maybe it’s all those shady verandahs. Or the bohemian atmosphere. Or the locals’ fascinating tales. Alright, possibly it’s down to the non London measures of Pinot. But there’s something of Savannah, Georgia, in the air. Littlehampton. Beyond chilled.



East Beach + Huts Littlehampton West Sussex

End of the Line One of America’s leading intellectuals Marilynne Robinson states in her 2011 collection of essays Absence of Mind, “Anyone’s sensory experience of the world is circumstantial and cultural, qualified by context and perspective, a fact which again suggests that the mind’s awareness of itself is of a kind with its awareness of physical reality.” And so an experience of Littlehampton graduates from tinted monochrome to full technicolour.