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!”
“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).
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.
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.”
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….
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.
“There are little nods and big gestures to Cruella throughout the afternoon tea,” explains Annabel. “Cruella is very Vivienne Westwood – 1970s punk rock and anarchy. She’s a super chic sassy gal with anarchic attitude. It’s all rock and roll and a little bit mad.” The egg and cress mayonnaise sandwiches and mint yoghurt and cucumber filled may be classics but they are placed alternatively on the plate with white and dark bread. The striped effect is of course inspired by Cruella’s two tone hair. All very Daphne Guinness.
Every plate is full of devilishly delightful signature pieces. “The Lanesborough is very dog friendly,” praises Annabel P. “When I arrived a bed with a couple of treats was set out for Winne my mini wire haired dachshund. “I’m sure Cruella would approve!” This season is all about reinvention of the A line and afternoon tea. And killer heels of course. It’s all brilliant, bad and more than a little bit mad.
In the land of champ and Portavogie scampi and pasties (Ulster not Cornish) and soda farls and wheaten bread and dulse and Tayto crisps and fifteens and rocky roads and yellowman there’s something new and exciting to go and explore for a wee dander. The original house at the heart of the Culloden Estate – the Bishop’s Palace – may be 145 years old but Art and Soul, the Holywood International Art and Sculpture Fair filling its grounds and interiors, is very much a meantime use.
Dr Howard Hastings, Managing Director of Hastings Hotels, explains “At Hastings Hotels, I believe that we can distinguish from our competitors by highlighting the local culture and heritage surrounding our hotels. One way we do this is by focussing on our own locally grown produce in our menus. At Culloden Estate and Spa, another way we achieve this is through the artwork on display throughout the hotel. Some of these paintings were acquired by my father, Sir William Hastings. He selected paintings he liked and which he thought were in keeping with the Bishop’s Palace setting. More recently we’ve concentrated on supporting our local artists, many of whom have international reputations, yet still live and work in Northern Ireland.”
Over the last while, swimming against the tide, we have been consumed by a tsunami of beach huts from Bexhill-on-Sea, Cooden Beach and Eastbourne to Hastings, Littlehampton and Westbrook Bay. And Deal of course. But we never quite expected to be breezily coasting along to face seaside exposure in… Knightsbridge. Shedding any retro rusticity never mind dodging budgie smuggling by the bucketful, primary colours afloat, The Berkeley offers sophistication in spades while flying the flag for its coastal theme. When the chips are down, it’s time to head for the beach huts at your local five star. Talk about drowning in a new strand of luxury. Life’s beachy. Over to Gertrude Stein in her 1914 classic Tender Buttons: “A winning of all the blessings, a sample not a sample because there is no worry.”
Our hut is full of the haves and the have knots. HMS Bon Voyage is plain sailing thanks to the crew on board this afternoon. We’re feeling somewhat nautical and rather nice, ready to learn the ropes. Fortunately all hands are on deck to deliver service with platefuls of smile. Ship ahoy! We’re all awash with admiration for this full throttle experience. Our table might be a cacophony of firm but feisty first world orders but we’re not feeling fishy so dive straight into the off menu on zeitgeist in vogue vegetarian range (we don’t want crabs or the £128 tomahawk steak). Nothing tastes as good as skinny fries. Or baked artichoke, grilled tenderstem, courgette and tomato. Or even charred asparagus, carrots, radish and truffle goat’s curd. Not forgetting lemon drizzle bites washed down with British sparkling Gusbourne Blanc des Blancs. Somebody give that vintner a knighthood! Gertie again, “Nearer in fairer sea, nearer and farther, show white has lime in sight, show a stitch of 10.”
There are five huts: Whitstable (lobster red and white stripes); Southwold (ocean blue); Walberswick (sandy orange); Deal (seagrass green); Padstow (surf blue). As for the experience – it’s a micro break good enough to write home about or at least to send a postcard. Everything is shipshape although it’s not like we’re here to rock the boat, more like rock the casbah! Late afternoon is all about topping up our monokini ready spring tan on The Berkeley’s terrace. Bronze is the new gold. Who’d have thought? We’ve never had such pun. Seamen’s paradise. We just don’t wanna leave but hang on, mixing our drinks with our metaphors, someone’s commanding doors to manual. Best not catching cabin fever. Waving goodbye, we’re all washed up but in a good way, heading across Wilton Place to the local Nag’s Head just in time to catch sunset. Life’s peachy. And finally Ms Stein: “A cool red rose and a pink cut pink, a collapse and a sold hole, a little less hot.”
Afternoon tea, really an excuse to indulge between official meals, is high up the list of sybaritic Must Dos. Chinoiserie at JCT lives up to its name. Bedecked with hand painted Chinese wallpaper and gold leaf galore, the lounge is thronged with an army of cheongsam clad waitresses at our beck and call. We half expect Fan Bingbing to sweep through the revolving doors. Instead, the flame haired resident harpist provides a sense of serenity for the American, Saudi and English Isabel Marant clad guests. A glass of Champagne accompanies fresh strawberries before the menu goes choc-a-bloc in a celebration of its cocoa theme (Montezuma was the last Aztec king and a bit of a chocolate fiend). We order a Darjeeling and (Lady Grantham wouldn’t approve) a coffee.
One of the many joys of afternoon tea is having your cake and eating it in whatever order you desire. For the purposes of this review, we will stick to the order of the menu. Cocoa dusted (a taste of what’s to come) croissants with chorizo and Elemental provide a comforting intro. The sweet meets savoury theme makes its surprising, sensual, debut with a rich curried crab tart topped by white chocolate. A heart shaped white chocolate and parmesan palmier is hard not to love. Another unlikely yet successful marriage is chocolate macaroon with venison. For pescatarians, there’s the opportunity to order off menu, so cucumber and mayo sandwich is a traditional alternative. Back on menu, the cassis imperial chocolate cupcake is a fine dark mousse with balsamic blackcurrants filling an edible chocolate case. A sprinkling of pearls completes this sultry indulgence.
To cleanse the palate, a conquistador shot is an inspired layered composition of passion fruit, white chocolate with basil seeds and coconut jelly. Mission complete. Caraque spicy chocolate tart with popping candy features a pistachio wafer as delicate and colourful as the Chinese wallpaper. Dark mini chocolate caramel loaf filled with liquid salted butter, sweet food in savoury form, provides a jubilant succulent extravagant finale, for now, to cocoa. After this exotically original South American tour de taste, familiar British comfort returns in the form of (Lady Grantham would approve) scones with clotted cream and fruit preserve. Throughout this autumn, the general public can get tarted up and enjoy Eric Lanlard’s Montezuma Afternoon Tea. It costs £40 per person; £50 includes the Champers; for £55, the strawberries are added. The service is great, friendly staff who are more than adept at catching eye contact; a Coutts (of course) bank machine outside the hotel comes in handy for withdrawing tenners for tips.
Lavender’s Blue. Some colours are legendary. And others become synonymous with places. The Blue Bar is always The Berkeley Hotel. The hangout of the bold and brilliant and beautiful down from Apsley House. Every era has one. A London fine dining defining interior designer. Currently, it’s Martin Brudnizki. At the end of last century, no restaurant or wine bar was complete unless David Collins had transformed it. The late Dublin born artist used a striking Lutyens Blue hue, a dusky cornflower, to create the most memorable interior in Knightsbridge just as the new millennium dawned. In a touching posthumous tribute, The Berkeley called up David Collins’ protégé to dream up a dining room named after his master. Robert Angell employed some of David Collins’ favourite motifs, from a white onyx bar to a Soaneian use of mirrors. Some designers are legendary. And others become synonymous with places. Lavender’s Blue. Breakfast in bed, even The Berkeley variety, means casually leafing through magazines, preferable the vintage variety. Although inclusion of today’s Times is a nice touch. Here’s the September 1999 edition of Wallpaper* magazine:
“There’s no denying that the acrimonious and much publicised art appreciation tiff between Damien Hirst and new Quo Vadis owner, Marco Pierre White, was bound to draw in curious diners and art lovers alike. But David Collins’ pleasing refit and the culinary skills of ex Ivy maître d’ Fernando Peire are two good reasons to return. Leather banquettes break up the room, a marked improvement on its previous cold refectory incarnation. Though not hugely original, the food is exquisite, just as we have come to expect from a MPW establishment; lobster, poulet noir and a variety of risottos are all on offer to a discerning clientele. The controversial conceptual art by Marco Pierre White is more than a little reminiscent of that of Damien Hirst, though much cheekier, especially our favourite, the aptly named ‘Divorce’ – a copy of Hirst’s dot painting, but with four perpendicular slashes – ouch. The Private room at the back boasts Thirties New York green leather walls created by the ubiquitous Bill Amberg. The skeletons have been ripped out of the upstairs bar, and the refit’s final stage will include a bar for the restaurant as well as a members’ bar called ‘Marx’ in homage to the great Karl who lived on this site. Admittance will depend on whether or not Fernando likes you – so start sending flowers and chocolates now.”
As always, what does Gertrude Stein have to say about breakfast in her 1914 Tender Buttons? Rather a lot as it turns out. Here are a few of her rich pickings, “A sudden slice changes the whole plate, it does so suddenly.” And, “An imitation, more imitation, imitation succeed imitations.” And, and, and, “Anything that is decent, anything that is present, a calm and a cook and more singularly a shelter, all these show the need of clamour. What is the custom, the custom is in the centre.” A candy striped strawed bottle of ‘Berkeley Boost’ – freshly squeezed carrot, orange, turmeric, apple and ginger – followed by a homemade croissant and almond pastry; fruit salad; Scottish smoked salmon, cream cheese, rocket with Annabel’s style linen tied lemon bagel; Greek yoghurt, granola, Acacia honey and strawberries; and a celebratory chocolate cake topped with raspberries. The portions are so indulgent this ain’t breakfast in bed – this is breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea and supper between the duvets. All to be taken laying down. All on Aunt Margery’s best linen and tea set. Some breakfasts are legendary. Lavender’s Blue.
The first time we visited Mourne Park House, November 1992, the recently widowed Julie Ann Anley whisked us off on a whistlestop tour. “It’s great!” she laughed. “No one ever bothers us here because the house isn’t architecturally important.” This was no tourist attraction. The country house as time capsule may have emerged as a phenonomen in the Eighties when Derbyshire’s Calke Abbey came to the public’s attention, but it certainly was applicable to an extreme at MPH in the wilds of County Down. While the Treasury saved Calke, sadly no knight in shining armour would come to MPH’s rescue.
The last time we visited the house, April 2003, it was teeming with members of the public rummaging over the soon to be dispersed contents. Everything was beginning to unravel. Beige auction labels dangled like insipid baubles from Christmas past, hanging on everything including the kitchen sink. A striped marquee consumed the courtyard while the building itself was crumbling at the edges. The auction was the outcome of a long and bitter family feud which erupted following the death of Nicholas Needham Fergus Philip Gore Anley in 1992, dragging through the courts until the opening days of 2003. On 14th February, without much filial or inter sibling love, it was finally settled.
But by the end of the decade, the close of last century, this harmony of outlook had floundered following much brouhaha over how the estate should be run. Events reached a dramatic climax when Marion removed what she considered to be her fair share of the contents from the house in a midnight flit. Her refusal to reveal the whereabouts of these “chattels” as the courts would archaically call them resulted in Marion spending a week at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Five years of arduous legal wrangling costing hundreds of thousands of pounds only concluded when it was finally agreed that she could keep her share and her brother and sister would auction off their two thirds of the contents.
Julie Ann may have modestly described the house as being architecturally unimportant and it doesn’t boast the baronial battlements of Ballyedmond Castle or share the symmetrical severity of Seaforde House, to take two other South Down seats. But it is a rare example of a substantially Edwardian country house in a county where Georgian and Victorian are the norm. MPH oozes charm with its long low elevations hewn of local granite and its lavish use of green paint (Farrow + Ball’s Folly Green?) on bargeboards and garden furniture, window frames and porches, and the endless array of French doors. Much of the interior decoration dates from the early 20th century lending the house a magical nostalgic air. And the setting is second to none. Looming behind the house and stables are the craggy slopes of Knockcree Mountain rising 130 metres above oak and beech woodlands. A Victorian visitor, William Russell, waxed lyrical on Mourne Park. “The scene… from the front entrance is indeed very fine. Before you, in the precincts of the mansion, is a lake. Beyond this lake, the demesne stretches away with a gently rising slope, which hides the intervening land, till one can fancy that the sea waves lap the lawns of the park.”
The genesis of the current building dates back to at least 1818 when the 12th Viscount Kilmorey employed Thaddeus Gallier of County Louth to build the central block. It replaced an earlier house on the site. An architect or ‘journeyman builder’, he had already completed Anaverna at Ravensdale a decade earlier. Baron McClelland commissioned that five bay two storey house near Dundalk in 1807. It’s now the des res of the Lenox-Conynghams. Too grand for a glebe, too modest for a mansion, the middling size house, tall, light and handsome, stands proud in its sylvan setting overlooking a meadow. A glazed porch under the semicircular fanlight partially obscures the double entrance doors in the middle of the three bay breakfront. Otherwise, Thaddeus Gallagher’s façade remains untouched. Relieving arches over upstairs windows introduce a motif he was to later employ at MPH. At Anaverna he proved himself to be a designer of considerable sophistication. His was no vainglorious provincial hand. Thaddeus Gallagher’s son James, who recorded in his autobiography that his father worked at MPH for nine months in 1818, emigrated to New Orleans where he carried on the dynastic tradition of designing fine architecture. His grandson, James Gallier Junior, was a third generation architect and his 1857 New Orleans townhouse is now the Gallier House Museum.
The first of multiple incarnations of MPH, Thomas Gallagher’s design was a typical late Georgian two storey country house with Wyatt windows on either side of a doorway similar to Anaverna’s. Next a third storey was added and then some time after 1859 a new two storey front of the same height was plonked in front of the existing house, so that the rooms in the newer block have much higher ceilings that those behind. The replacement façade is three bays wide like the original front but in place of the Wyatt arrangement are twin windows set in shallow recesses rising through both storeys with relieving arches over them. It is the combination of these paired windows and gentle arches, like brows over the eyes of the building, which lends the garden front such a memorable look. In the central breakfront the bottom of the shallow recess floats over the entrance door which is treated as another window, flanked on either side by a window of similar shape and size. A low parapet over a slender cornice partially conceals the hipped roof which wraps round the roof lantern over the staircase. Five attic bedrooms are tucked under the eaves with windows overlooking the roof lantern, unseen from the outside world.
Contemporaneous improvements were made to the estate itself. In the 1840s the 2nd Earl – the Kilmoreys had climbed a rung or two up the aristocratic ladder when his father the 12th Viscount was made an earl for his services to the development of Newry – commissioned a ‘famine wall’. This was a method used at the height of the Irish Famine by many Big House families to create work and keep locals from starving. The cheaply constructed three metre high granite walls also benefitted the estate. The 2nd Earl built Tullyframe Gate Lodge, the third of four gatelodges, at this time. Whitewater Gate Lodge was built in the 1830s and Ballymaglogh Gate Lodge in the 1850s.
But it was the alterations of the 3rd and 4th Earls which gave MPH its Edwardian air. “It’s not fit for a gentleman to live in!” raged the 3rd Earl upon his inheritance. His gentrifications began in 1892 when he added rectangular ground floor bay windows to the garden front and continued up until 1904 when he built a single storey peninsular wing perpendicular to the back of the house. Long Room Passage leads to Lady Kilmorey’s Sitting Room and onwards to the dual aspect Long Room (four pairs of French doors face four sash windows) with its hammerbeam roof, the latter finished in time for his son’s 21st birthday celebrations. The 3rd Earl completed the estate buildings in the 1890s with Green Gate Lodge, a two storey house finished in the same granite as MPH.
A century or more of each generation making their mark on MPH has produced a fascinating interior full of surprising variations in floor levels and ceiling heights and room sizes. The main block is arranged like three parallel slices of a square cake, each different in essence. The oldest three storey slice at the back of the house has low ceilings and small windows, some retaining their Georgian glazing bars. A row of rooms overlooking the stables is accessed off the Long Corridor on the ground floor, the Rosie Passage on the first floor, and the Servants’ Passage on the second floor. The middle slice contains the Hall, Inner Hall, Staircase Hall and Blue Room, opening off each other like first class railway carriages. The first floor bedrooms in the front and middle slice are clustered together off two lobbies except for the Best Bedroom which appropriately takes pride of place in the middle of the garden front and is the only one to be accessed directly off the landing of the Staircase Hall. The ground floor of the newest slice contains the enfilade of reception rooms: the Dining Room (Farrow + Ball’s Calke Green?), the Ante Room and the Drawing Room where Sir Malcolm Sargent had once played the piano. A low two storey kitchen and nursery wing parallel to the Long Room wing links with the stables to create a courtyard to the rear of the house. Room naming at MPH clearly follows the Ronseal approach (“It does what it says on the tin”).
All the ground and first floor rooms were open during the auction preview weekend. We began the tour that we’d gone on a decade earlier, only with a printed rather than personal guide and without the troop of 13 Persian cats that had followed us around the first time round. “Come on, get out now!” Julie Ann had bellowed as she shut the door of each room. “Otherwise you could be locked in for a year or two! It’s not as if the cats even catch mice; they just watch them race by.” Now people were talking in mellow hushed murmurs as if at a wake, respectfully leafing through issues of The Connoisseur in the Estate Office, thoughtfully gazing at caricature prints in the Rosie Passage.