“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.”
The restaurant’s airy interior is eclectic industrial with white painted exposed ceilings and polished concrete columns. It’s several times larger than the petite Dairy. A variety of tables, banquettes and bar seating is complemented by mismatched crockery. There’s a central tiled bar and metal framed kitchen hatch. The industrial chic reaches a zenith in the unisex bathroom with trough basins and factory taps.
Robin and Sarah’s aim is “to create memories” or sometimes “to create memory loss”, the latter presumably depending on the volume of Pebble Dew sauv blanc consumed. Their goal for The Dairy was “to create an experience as close as possible to dining by a farm or coastline a in central London with direct relationships to our beloved purveyors from the land and sea”. The same goal applies to their new establishment. The word “larder” has a comforting old fashioned feel to it, but while the duo’s is clearly well stocked, this is cutting edge cuisine.
The vacated White Stuff drapers next to The Old Bank pub has been given a smashing sash windowed timber fronted paler shade of Fortnum and Mason’s green façade complete with encaustic tiled inset porch. It’s VE Kitchen, a vegan outlet. A few doors down, Anglo Asian restaurant East Street by Tampopo fills the unit that Byron Burgers once occupied and before that Anglo Italian restaurant Marzano. Across the road, Oddbins wine shop is now Orée French boulangerie. It’s not all change: The Old Bank’s other neighbour, family run Italian restaurant Osteria Antica Bologna, has been flying the tricolour since 1990. All spilling onto the pavement onto the road into the Saturday and Sunday ambience.
Unlike Belfast with an Ormeau Bakery shop on every street corner, London was sorely lacking on the bread front. That was, until baker Gail Mejia set up her first eponymous shop on Hampstead High Street in 2005. Now the bakery comes to you. Monday morning there’s a knock at the door of The House of Lavender’s Blue. Afternoon tea for four from Gail’s on Northcote Road. Nice start to the working week. Monday is the new Friday. Or at least that’s how it will seem later at Tropix on Clapham High Street, the Caribbean foodie hangout in the former Royal Oak pub. To misquote the Anglo Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen, every moment of your day and night has to be lived.
Afternoon tea is packed into a salmon pinkish red box, Gail’s trademark colour. “The best thing since…” is printed on the box but there’s more to afternoon tea than sliced bread. Jing Assam breakfast tea accompanies scones with Rodda’s clotted cream, organic strawberry jam and lemon curd. Savouries are smoked salmon and avocado yoghurt rolls plus avocado and egg sandwiches. Sweets are chocolate brownie fingers and honey cakes. The 7th Duchess of Bedford would approve.
Skylon isn’t just a hotel along the northern route into Dublin. It’s also a pop up restaurant along Southbank London which for now has popped out of its usual home on the third floor of Royal Festival Hall right onto the terrace along the embankment. The sharp lines and abstract planes of this mid 20th century Grade I Listed Corbu-on-Söderström building are strengthened by a cobalt blue sky. Part of the D+D restaurant group, alfresco Skylon is all about informal European plates, people watching and soaking up those Vitamin D rays.
It all started at a private party in Chelsea. What doesn’t? Many moons ago, back in the sway, we shimmied up to developer Orpheus’ latest townhouse feeling just a little bit on form. By midnight we’d hit the top terrace dancefloor and before we knew it, we were tearing it up with the gorgeous Clea Irving. She was of course Art Curator of sketch. We’ve always been drawn to fabulosity.
A fuchsia painted rollercoaster of engagement parties, afternoon teas with models and planners and model planners, breaking the midday rule (“More Champagne darlings… time… places… people…”) over Christmas fairies and fairy cakes, summer madness and some insanity, pre Masterpiece cocktails, post Masterpiece nightcaps and post post Masterpiece parties ensued down the years.
We mightn’t have three Michelin stars or boast egg shaped loos or own a dining room big enough to thrash out a game of badminton in but – hey! – at The House of Lavender Blue we reckon we’re sorta up there with the artistic antics of sketch. A dismembered mannequin posing as Surreal garden sculpture. Goddit. More dioramas than a Victorian playground. Goddem. Architectural sketches and artistic endeavours of varying substance. All watched over by the attendant eye of Art Curator Zelda Blakley. Godda get more. Godda get out more. What’s more, more’s more.Knock knock. “What’s there?” A reverse Pandora’s Box. A pink cuboid of delights decorated with drawings of the ceiling plasterwork of sketch dining room. A bureau style ensemble with an extending board for playing monopoly or chess or miniature croquet or Russian roulette. And a menu signed by Executive Head Chef Fred Don and Executive Pastry Chef Christophe Gasper in a watermarked envelope. Sealed with an S. Which stands for superlative.
It all ended with a private party in Battersea. What doesn’t? Well, when we say ended… a new day has just begun (“More Champagne darlings? Time! Places! People!”). sketch afternoon tea is like a decadent lifetime away. The carousel must continue. We’re drawn to the new dawn. The fabulous new dawn.
Ever since Heather Small unleashed to the world her unbelievable vocal range with the ultimate Eighties remix Ride on Time (accurately described back then as “a payload of pure euphoria”), she’s been forever moving on up, projecting a pure renaissance. Oprah Winfrey chose her British Olympics Games solo single Proud as the theme tune for her chat show. As well as being the frontispiece of the internationally successful band M People for decades, Heather’s own career has remained stunningly stellar. “I step out of the ordinary | I can feel my soul descending,” she sings in her extraordinary anthem Proud. In her next hit Close to a Miracle the opening lines embrace hope, “It could all be so beautiful | Like a ray of sunshine | From the inside looking forward | With a whole different view.” Today Heather is dressed head to ankle in Mary Martin London. She’s working those Jimmy Choo heels.
Londoner Heather Small is the petite toned embodiment of empowerment blessed with an orchestra of a voice and a down to earth yet megawatt presence. Yep, she’s stunning. “The love we have for each other should be regardless of colour or creed. I’ve grown up in a society that doesn’t reflect me. I’m a dark skinned black girl. I’m a proud sista! Everyone should be proud. I’m in control. I’m aware of who I am – I am very happy with that. Fashion means quite a lot to someone like me in the music industry. Fabric, cuts, the way fashion makes you feel.”
“I met Mary at a fundraising event,” reveals the legendary singer. “Mary spoke quite a lot – so do I! She’s got a wonderful brain. Mary is very very observant – any situation gives her inspiration. She reimagines her surroundings as a piece of clothing. A feeling, a vibration. That’s what I noticed about her. Mary’s clothes are ultra creative, a really good cut. It’s always about the bigger picture with her, more than fashion. There’s a bigger statement at the heart of them, what it’s like to be different, marginalised; she’s an inspiration, it’s more than apparel. It’s about sisterhood! Let’s laugh. Let’s have continuous applause by putting a crown on each other’s head! Above all have fun. Mary’s as mad as a box of frogs!”
Rising up, Heather confirms, “I do believe in God. We are put on earth to fulfil a purpose. We need to learn how to be the best to ourselves and each other. Take yourself to a higher place and touch others. I believe in the goodness of people. Always tell the truth because anyone who hears the truth whether they want it or not they take notice… Singing has been a passion all my life. Mary’s clothes represent me.” Angel Street is an address and an address and a dress.
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.
Broadcaster and journalist Brenda Emmanus OBE was the BBC’s Arts, Culture and Entertainment Correspondent for 18 years. Right now, she’s busy working on a range of projects including an ITV documentary to mark the late Princess Diana’s birthday. Brenda is a friend and client of Mary Martin. “I can’t remember exactly when I met Mary. I knew her on the scene, the celebrity community of people in my life network. Mary just appears in your life! Once she’s in she makes an impression. She’s a generous friend, an open person.”
They share a major interest in common: a passion for fashion. “As a child I cut out dolls from magazines and dressed them up. I’ve very eclectic taste. My work in the newsroom is quite formal but my role allows me to be much freer to wear more what I like. I’m mainly a lover of dresses although I do love trousers – the androgynous look – too. I love dramatic dresses that really embrace fashion. I’m up for drama on stage but go casual at the weekend. I’m stimulated by the visual, beauty and art.”
“I love the childlike quality to Mary’s apparel,” reveals Brenda. “She doesn’t use design patterns; she just creates from the heart. Mary’s impulsive – she likes to try things like a child with paints. She’s passionate and curious about everything: Pop Art, the Renaissance, music. She works as an experimental artist. Like most geniuses she’s not afraid to try and fail. She takes you out of your comfort zone. Mary allows me to pull out my inner diva, to go wholly out: she’s all bells and whistles! She’s fearless with high drama and that’s what makes her fun, mad fun!”
Brenda explains, “I host a lot of awards and red carpets. Two days before one of my events I needed something… and a ballgown appeared from nowhere! That’s what’s amazing about Mary, creating an outfit from scratch within a day or two. Thanks to her I looked great on stage presenting the Screen Nation Awards. Mary makes you try stuff you probably wouldn’t think of trying. She’s like a motor. But she values my opinion – we have an exchange of ideas.”
“Mary is not a wallflower,” smiles the broadcaster and journalist. “She’s a whirlwind; you know when she’s present. I learned that Mary studied really late overcoming a challenging childhood through dreams and ambition. She’s found herself. She has a clear vision of what she is as a designer. Mary has a rightful place in the world of fashion. What she’s achieved in such a short time, going international! She sees joy in everything. A crazy but extraordinary woman! She’s very resilient. Self triumph over adversity.”
Like Mary, Brenda acknowledges her own spirituality. “Experience higher being,” she recommends. “I have learnt to trust my inner voice, my intuition. Media is so impressed by the outer world but the inner one is so important. Life is a journey. Be true to your own spirituality. Surrender to the path the universe has mapped out for you. I meditate a lot for calm and peace. Be still – there’s so much to learn. Reset who you are. Value art, love, people, creativity. We’re not on this planet for a very long time.”
Lance Forman explained, “Forman + Field is a family business. We scour the British Isles for small scale producers and farmers who share our passion for doing things properly, with integrity and respect for natural ingredients. We’ve been around for almost 120 years so we know how to cure and smoke. We’re the original salmon smokers and the only smokehouse left from the generation that invented smoked salmon as a culinary luxury. Yes, here in London, not in Scotland or Scandinavia.”