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Architecture Fashion Hotels Luxury People Restaurants

Chelsea Harbour Hotel London + Mary Martin London

All Sweets

There are human whirlwinds. There are female tornados. But nothing can prepare us for the arrival of Mary Martin London at breakfast, morning coffee and car onwards to meet and greet Mayor Sadiq Khan, full throttling through the Chelsea Harbour Hotel and leaving a fiery trail of merriment behind her. The lady is on top (of the hotel; of the world), on vision, on game, on fire. She’s reached dizzying heights and we’re not just talking about our penthouse view overlooking the marina. “I was born a diva!” Mary exclaims embracing the panorama. This ain’t her first rodeo and it sure won’t be her last. All morning, Britain’s leading black fashion designer entertains and educates and generally is the star of the show.

Life hasn’t been slow behind the scenes for us this season either. Saturday mornings learning about the art and chemistry of Kent winemaking on the 2.8 hectare Barnsloe Vineyard. Later, sampling anse and mushroom broth with a lemon zest at Frog and Scot in Deal. “It opens up the palate really nicely!” declares Lady Dalziel Douglas. “Dover is where it’s at next!” she whispers, giving away an estate agent’s secret. Then there was tasting the sabih and shakshuka at The Palomar on Rupert Street, Soho, prepping for Tel Aviv. Not forgetting chilli zucchini fritters at Charlotte’s Cloud, the nearest stop off from St Luke’s Church Chelsea, after listening to Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag by organist Rupert Jeffcoat. Gosh, how much staccato’d syncopation can you fit into one Sunday morning service? Capriccio by John Ireland – Deal’s answer to Hamilton Harty (great composer; Georgian townhouse blue plaque) – will be played next week.Next there was Annabel P’s crushing Instagram moment at supper in The Ivy Tower Bridge when the waitress destroyed a photogenic moment by pouring red moosh all over the Centre Court Melting Ball bombe. A flight later, Belfast meant downing the Donaghadee Daiquiris at The Cloth Ear and shooting the Ballyhack Breeze at Horatio Todd’s. Back to the English Capital. James Sherwood’s 1975 Discriminating Guide to London Fine Dining and Shopping contains sections on Where To Eat… “in blue jeans”; “if you’ve come into an inheritance”; “if you want to dance”; “outside”; and “in the company of beautiful people”. Two restaurants listed for beautiful people that we love and are still going strong are Daphne’s and San Lorenzo. But if you really want to try on those blue jeans having just got freshly loaded and are ready to dance outside with beautiful people, there’s nowhere like the private roof terrace of Chelsea Harbour Hotel when Mary Martin’s in town.

Fellow breakfaster, model, animal and children’s rights campaigner, Janice Porter speaks out, “Once met, never forgotten! It was my privilege to meet the actual Mary Martin on Saturday 27 July. Her smile was overwhelming and her face simply radiated joy for life. As we enjoyed a hearty breakfast her laughter filled the hotel as she recalled outrageous incidents from her childhood and spoke of her recent university graduation. It wasn’t though until I visited her collection in St James’s and watched her at her sewing machine that she really came to life. Her dresses, I hesitate to call them that, rather than stunning artistic creations, took my breath away. Mary is simply a star. She’s an intelligent, witty, beautiful self made woman proud of her ancestors. I stand by her!”

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Architects Architecture Art Design Hotels Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

Ireland’s Blue Book + Bishop’s Gate Hotel Derry Londonderry

Merry Girls

“The sun always shines on the righteous!” claims hotelier Astrid Bray and sure enough the clouds fade to reveal an unblemished cobalt blue sky over the Capital City of Northwest Ulster. For once it’s not “foundering” as the locals would say. Depending on your persuasion, the name of this place is a four syllable binational portmanteau (Londonderry), a three syllable aristocratic surname (Londond’ry) or a rationalist nationalist two syllables (Derry). The city is one of two in Northern Ireland to share its name with its host county; Armagh does as well (Antrim doesn’t count as it is a mere town and county).

We’re here for Sunday morning sunny side up (eggs benedict with halloumi) breakfast at Bishop’s Gate Hotel next to one of the arched entrances to the Walled City. This much praised hotel is a member of Ireland’s Blue Book. We’re no strangers to the collection. Recent jaunts have included Belleek Castle, Ballina, County Mayo; Astrid’s favourite Bushmills Inn Hotel, County Antrim; Castle Grove, Ramelton, County Donegal; Coopershill House, Riverstown, County Sligo; Castle Leslie, Glaslough, County Monaghan; Dunbrody House, Arthurstown, County Wexford; The Merrion Hotel, Dublin; and the truly majestic Marlfield House, Gorey, County Wexford.

Sisters Margaret and Laura Bowe are joint châtelaines of Marlfield. Laura is Chairperson of Ireland’s Blue Book. “Now entering its 47th year,” she explains, “our collection of properties and restaurants continue to offer luxurious, memorable and unique experiences across the length and breadth of the island of Ireland… We are very proud of our chefs and patron chefs, with many of our restaurants boasting one and two Michelin stars.”

Guests at Bishop’s Gate Hotel are greeted by a framed picture of a quote by the sage Madame Lily Bollinger, clearly not the abstemious sort: “I drink when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty.” Equally educational are a series of framed architects’ drawings illustrating the genesis of the architecture of the hotel and other significant buildings in Derry.

Originally two townhouses dating from the 1800s, the site was purchased by the Northern Counties Club at the end of that century. International architect Alfred Forman transformed the private residences into the members’ club. The new owners have retained a clubby feel to the hotel with well stocked bookshelves displaying photos of Northern Counties Club visitors such as Winston Churchill, William Butler Yeats and Derek Hill. And they serve great grub.

Like all cultural tourists to the city, we ask our waitress for directions to the Derry Girls mural. “Not a bother!” she enthuses. “Just like a lollypop lady I’ll direct you!” Her shortcut is through the rear of the hotel. “This room used to be a garden and that’s a covered up well in the corner. The house where the hotel is now was used to hold prisoners during the Siege of Derry. They were able to travel underground from here to a well on Shipquay Street and from there across to boats on the River Foyle to escape.”

Before the very much larger than life mural, we’re off for alfresco mid morning coffee in the Hidden City Café. Outside seating is in the adjacent Garden of Reflection decorated with Tim Ward’s glass artwork. The west bank enclave surrounding Bishop’s Gate Hotel has a real Georgian Dublin meets bohemian Galway vibe. So much history. But the question on everyone’s lips is when is the third television series of Derry Girls coming?

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Architects Architecture People

St Eugene’s Cathedral Derry Londonderry +

The Mother Church of Derry Diocese

It was as if the three greats of Irish ecclesiastical architecture were drawn over two centuries to this elevated site high above the River Foyle by some spiritual force. And one English great in the background. Building by James Joseph McCarthy. Spire by Edward Toye. Sanctuary by Liam McCormick. Inspiration by Augustus Welby Pugin. It’s a precipitous mountain of a church built in part of Newry granodiorite and Mourne granite.

A noticeboard outside the main entrance reads: “St Eugene’s Cathedral was solemnly opened on 4 May 1873. The cathedral cost a little over £40,000 to build, of which £4,000 was raised in America and the rest was donated by the people of Derry. William Roddy, Editor of the Derry Journal, said in 1899, “Do not let us forget that this is a cathedral built out of the pennies of the poor, the sixpences of those not quite so poor and the shillings of those we were better-to-do.”

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Architects Architecture Design Hotels Luxury People Restaurants Town Houses

Jean-Georges + The Connaught Hotel Mayfair London

People in Glasshouses

A storm is forecast and The Dorchester roof terrace is closed so there is only one place to go for caviar lunch: The Connaught. What do Marlfield House County Wexford, George V Paris and The Connaught Mayfair London all have in common? A glorious conservatory. That liminal space between the great outdoors and the greater indoors. In The Connaught’s case, lit by interior architect John Heah’s new stained glass in the fanlights that matches the hue of the Negronis. There’s an abundance of stained glass too in designer Sir John Blundell Maple’s original Edwardian interior, even in the loos. New York based French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s eponymous restaurant is the perfect place to while away an afternoon. The only clouds of mist that erupt are from Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s water sculpture in front of the hotel entrance.

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Art Design Luxury People

Mary Martin London + Cat Couture

The Catwalk

Zelda Blakley is the latest top model to don Mary Martin London haute couture. So what does Zelda have to say about her new outfit? “This ballgown is simply purrfect! I’m feline very elegant. I’m like the cat that got the cream!”

“Seriously though,” Zelda purrs, “In the words of my favourite French philosopher Roland Barthes, ‘Fashion the myth… at the very moment it produces… attempts to substitute its artifice, that is, its culture, for the false nature of things; it does not suppress meaning; it points to it with its finger.’ Or rather, claw.”

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Art Luxury People

Aux Merveilleux de Fred Northcote Road Battersea London + Meringue Recipe

Gros Bisous

“C’est très chic!” exclaims Parisienne Maud Rabin mid flow in Hôtel Meurice Paris. We are of course discussing Aux Merveilleux de Fred. That bakery. It’s the ultimate Franco British style signifier: you know when Frédéric comes to your postcode you haven’t just made it, you’ve arrived, you’re at home. So if whippin’ up a frenzy is your thing, stay tuned. We’re about to give away a half a century or so old secret recipe. Cancel the lawyers Fréd, we’re off to speak to the 21st century Mrs Beeton of Ireland. She’s more than ready to spill the beans or at least count the ounces of castor sugar. It’s the alternative Irish recipe for meringues.

It’s all yours Mrs B: “When you put all your egg whites in a deep bowl you have to whisk those up until they are literally standing in stiff and dry peaks. It’s worth doubling the recipe – three egg whites – to make enough meringues, especially when the oven has to be so low. You fold the three ounces of granulated sugar into the stiff eggs that you’ve just whisked up. Keep whisking them until they are as firm as before. You’re then left with the three ounces of castor sugar. Fold in the castor sugar but just give it one whisk – don’t whisk away up like before. Use two spoons to ladle out into separate meringues on a paper lined baking tray.” Like a good photograph the rule of thirds applies to meringue making. As Frédéric would no doubt murmur, “C’est incroyable!” Or as Maud puts it, “In Paris we always say c’est la  vie! It means ‘this is destiny’. We always say it in a positive way.”

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Architects Architecture Country Houses

Wilmont House + Sir Thomas + Lady Dixon Park Belfast

Magic Mushroom Off Season

Originally Belfast’s grandest pair of semi detached houses, built in the 1850s for banker James Thompson Bristow and his son, Wilmont House was combined into one house by the Dixon family in the 1920s. Its name comes from a previous house on the estate built by William Stewart circa 1740. Wilmont House is generally attributed to Thomas Jackson, a Waterford City born Belfast based architect. His prolific output was typically eclectic for its day ranging from the wedding cake gothic of St Malachy’s Church to the robustly rusticated Italianate Scottish Amicable Building. Wilmont House is much more reticent: balanced red brick elevations discreetly softened by sandstone dressings. If it falls under the Italianate genre, it only does so as a Belfast variant.

A high two storey main block, a low two storey ancillary block and a three storey campanile type tower all fit more or less into one rectangular footprint (except for south and east facing bow windows and north and south facing porches), neatly threading together the polite and service rooms of the house. Tall chimneystacks, some a storey in height, rising over slate hipped roofs, form a stimulating roofscape. Wilmont House is the centrepiece of a 54 hectare estate on the outskirts of Belfast.

Today, the estate is named after its last private owners Sir Thomas and Lady Edith Dixon, shipowners and timber merchants, who bought it in 1919. This philanthropic couple handed over the house and its grounds to Belfast Corporation, the forerunner of Belfast City Council, just 40 years later. Conveyancing conditions included: “Not to permit the sale of intoxicating liquor upon the said land and premises or any part thereof” and “To use the house and lands for the greatest good of the Citizens of the City of Belfast and in particular to use the lands as a public park and public playing fields and not to erect buildings thereon except as may be necessary in connection with these purposes.”

The park was officially opened to the public in 1963 and the house was converted to a nursing home, so fulfilling Lady Dixon’s wishes. The following year a large rose garden was planted near the house and before long the estate became synonymous with the annual Rose Trials. The horticultural attractions were augmented by a Japanese Garden in 1990. While the park has flourished, the house has not, lying vacant for over three decades. Various attempts by Belfast City Council at reinventing the house have seemingly gone awry.

“Sadly what we look at now bears little resemblance to what the house was in its heyday,” Lady Dixon’s great great nephew Andrew Dixon told the Belfast Telegraph in 2019. “They [the Council] have said they would like to talk to the family. I have plenty of ideas on how it could be used and surely that’s more preferable than letting it go to ruin. I and my father Robin Dixon, Baron Glentoran, have already watched how another of the properties at Cairndhu in Larne has been handled and I would hate to see Wilmont House go the same way.” The Council responded, “We’re currently preparing an invitation for expressions of interest to go to the market to seek a suitably qualified developer for the restoration and regeneration of Wilmont House, to bring it into a new use.”

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Art Design Luxury People Restaurants

Cathedral Quarter + The Muddlers Club Belfast

Art Is An

Cathedral Quarter: a place of short skirts and long nights. Ever since Wallpaper* Style Guides were invented, cities have been reinvented as collections of legible quarters and not necessarily four of them either. According to Wallpaper* Belfast’s three quarters – alongside the districts of Shankill, Falls, Ormeau, East and Central – are Queen’s Quarter (for studying humanities), Titanic Quarter (for studying a human disaster) and Cathedral Quarter (for studying humanity). Queen’s is just called Queen’s by locals but the Quarter moniker has stuck to Titanic and Cathedral.

Definite articled hostelries – The Cloth Ear, The Dirty Onion, The Spaniard, The Thirsty Goat – line the cobbled laneways of this historic ‘hood. And so does one of the city’s or rather country’s best restaurants. Down a New York type alley lined with street art and scenes of the lives of national heroes like Henry Joy McCracken and Wolfe Tone hides The Muddlers Club. The 40 metre high slimline steel spire of St Anne’s Cathedral pierces the slit of sky visible above the entrance to this Michelin starred restaurant.

Saturday evenings are all about the tasting menu at Muddlers. Make that tasting with matching wines. It’s both local and international: eel from Lough Neagh up the road; wine from Syria across the world. All eight exquisite courses are beautifully choreographed by the waiting staff. An open kitchen along one wall and a bar along another adds to the conviviality. The interior is as industrial as the approach to the restaurant and suitably dark: Chef Gareth McCaughey named his restaurant after a secret society that met on this site two centuries ago. The architects were Oscar + Oscar who designed another of Belfast’s Michelin star holders, Ox. It’s more than a meal, it’s an event: The Muddlers Club doesn’t do things by two quarters (halves).

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Hotels Luxury People Restaurants

Great British Restaurant + Dukes Hotel St James’s London

Living Like Dowager Duchesses

Who knew a mocktail fuelled dinner could be so boozy? Well it can be if you opt for Monkfish Scampi in Curious Beer batter followed by Annabel’s Strawberries compressed with Henners Brut. Last time we were in Duke’s Hotel restaurant was for breakfast 12 years ago. Back then it was Restaurant 36: pale walls covered in prints, peach chairs and white linen table cloths. Now called Great British Restaurant, the interior is five shades of grey with wraparound banquettes and tinted mirrors. Same chef; different concept. Longstanding Executive Chef Nigel Mendham continues to thrill with his intoxicating culinary expertise.

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Architects Architecture Country Houses

Drum Manor Cookstown Tyrone + Irish Georgian Society London + Ulster Architectural Heritage Society

Lambeg

“Ruins in Ireland have always been political in light of the country’s history,” lectured University College Dublin Professor Fiona O’Kane to the Irish Georgian Society London some years ago. “In contrast, they possess an insouciance in English paintings. Ruins can be framing devices to real landscape. But the perception of how Ireland is drawn carries a long shadow. There’s a constant iterative of land.” Nothing frames a real landscape better than the remains of Drum Manor outside Cookstown in Ulster’s “West of the Bann” territory. The description of a torn history.

The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society’s latest addition to the country house book genre is Kimmitt Dean’s The Plight of the Big House in Northern Ireland. The writer reports that then owner Augusta Le Vicomte and her second husband Henry James Stewart went to town and country on her inherited house, William Hastings of Belfast in 1869 “hugely extending the existing villa”. It was executed in that Hilary Mantel stoked Tudor soaked Elizabethan oaked castellated vein that architects so excelled at across 19th century Ireland. But then, he summarises, “It was acquired by the Forestry Service in 1964 with consequences for the house, being partly demolished in 1975 to leave the present shell.” The destruction in part of a big house.

At least the damson’d gardens and rolling parkland remain and are open to the public. A silent drum beats again. Balustrades and battlements and buttresses protecting nothing and going nowhere. Transoms and mullions holding air. Crocketed pinnacles pointing heavenward. Metre high green carpet pile. Pearl necklaced capitals. A damsel’d Ayesha Castle tower with no Enya to come to its rescue. And yet Drum Manor has fared slightly better than its neighbour Pomeroy House. All that remains of the latter is a derelict portion of the stable block outbuilding. An adjacent marking on the ground provides a ghostly outline of the house’s footprint encircled by forestry. The demise of a demesne.

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Art Design Fashion Luxury People

Black Heroes Foundation + Mary Martin London

Matters of Fact

“Just don’t give up what you’re trying to do,” believed the American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. “Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” Every month should be Black History Month. But not every day can be National Windrush Day. To mark the 73rd anniversary of the Empire Windrush ship docking into Tilbury, bringing workers from Caribbean countries to help fill postwar British labour shortages, Black Heroes Foundation opened an exhibition in central London on 22 June. Chair of Trustees Joyce Fraser explains, “I set up Black Heroes Foundation in memory of my late husband. Recently, we entered a competition organised by Westminster City Council for a pop up in Piccadilly. We were one of 11 successful applicants out of a total of 120.”

The Foundation is a community based charity for the development and promotion of talent, together with cultural and artistic initiatives in the community. And as Joyce succinctly puts it, “A world where Black Heroes are acknowledged, respected and celebrated.” The Chair’s late husband, Peter Randolph Fraser, known to all as “Flip Fraser”, was the first Editor of The Voice newspaper and joint creator of the show Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame. The ground floor of the exhibition is devoted to the Windrush Collection and the Black Heroes Wall of Fame.

The Windrush Collection includes a living room, bedroom and kitchen furnished with typical West Indian items from family portraits to a porcelain book of the 23rd Psalm. A commemoration of Flip Fraser is joined on the Wall of Fame by inspirational people from the past and present: the Classic Collection, London’s Great Women of Colour and Wandsworth People. Take Harriet Tubman. She was a slave born in Maryland who fled to the free state of Pennsylvania in 1820 aged 29. She returned to Maryland over the next decade to rescue both family members and friends at great peril to her life. Harriet was buried with military honours in Fort Hill Cemetery New York in 1913. As African American civil rights activist Asa Philip Randolph observed, “Freedom is never given; it is won.”

“My heart will always be in Brixton,” Olive Morris, a heroine on the Wall of Fame, once said. Born in Jamaica in 1915, she came to the UK aged nine. Her first home was off Wandsworth Road and she went to Lavender Hill Girls’ School. As an adult living in Brixton, her activism took off. Olive was involved in many campaigns including the scrapping of Suspected Person Laws which permitted police to stop and search anyone suspected of loitering but was used indiscriminately against black people. She died in 1979.

A showcase of some of the dresses of the UK’s leading black fashion designer Mary Martin London is on display on the mezzanine level of this exhibition at 12 Waterloo Place. “I’m thrilled to have been asked to be part of this important event,” Mary confirmed. The designer is providing demonstrations each day on how her clothes are actually made: the sewing machine is clearly on overtime. Pointing to one of her pieces she exclaims, “It’s called the Death of a Queen as it nearly killed me making that dress!” Attendance has been lively. Westminster Councillors were at the opening and the flow has been constant ever since – the exhibition lasts five weeks. Heather Small, the Voice of M People, and soprano Nadine Benjamin are two of many well known supporters to enjoy it so far.

Councillor Matthew Green, Cabinet Member for Business, Licensing and Planning, pointing to Mary’s Marilyn Monroe Dress exclaimed, “A faux foxtail. Oh golly! Has somebody worn that? This is all so fantastic. I’m really pleased to see the whole exhibition too.” Councillor Louise Hyams, Deputy Cabinet Member for Communities and Regeneration, added, “I’m also really pleased to see the exhibition. It’s beautifully choreographed for the venue and so interesting. Mary’s show is great: she could easily harness her creativity into the world of film costumery.” No doubt Councillor Hyams would agree with Dr Mae Jemison, the first African American female astronaut, who believes, “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”

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Architecture Art Design Fashion Hotels Luxury People Restaurants

Luton Hoo Bedfordshire + Hertfordshire + Katie Ice

Hoo’s Who

Seriously. It was that good. The revivification of Countess Markievicz. Luton is the new Paris. Katie swapped a runway for the runway. The revolution has begun. Game on. As for the legendary niche leap….

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Architects Architecture Hotels Restaurants Town Houses

Scarborough North Yorkshire +

Big Red Riding Hoods

Everything’s different up north from the prices (lower) to the portions (bigger), from the hills (steeper) to the weather (colder). And of course not forgetting that fare (plenty of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and tea). Then there’s the ruggedness: a brooding dark stone cliff looms ahead and that’s just Richard and Samuel Sharp architects’ 1830s Crescent. England’s original seaside resort Scarborough embraces the coastline twice: North Bay and South Bay. Sandy rows. Separating the two bays is the precipitous Castle Hill which thanks to its multiplicity of castellated houses creeping up to the castle itself should be pluralised in name really. On the climb up to Castle Hill is St Mary’s Church where Anne Brontë is buried.

Agnes Grey House. La Baia. Colli Gham. El Eid. Greno. Helaina. Howdale. The Kimberley. The Paragon. The Ramleh. Rockside. The Thoresby. Wharncliffe. The Whiteley. Homes and bed and breakfasts. Deals Takeaway probably the best Deals in town. God is always greater than all our troubles. Peaches. Three course lunch 6.50. Tony Skingle is Elvis. Wanted Wanted Wanted Wanted. Signs and plaques and placards. And everywhere, the screeching cacophony of chips stealing herring gulls. Liverpool-on-Sea. Margate-on-more-Sea.

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Architecture

York North Yorkshire +

Ministry of Culture

From jetties in the Shambles to jet skiing on the River Ouse, there’s not much to jettison from York as the jetsetters’ jetlag free choice of destination this summer.