As its name suggests, Duck + Waffle isn’t the most glaringly obvious choice for a chronic coeliac, devout vegan and puritanical pescatarian. But then this restaurant puts the extra in front of ordinary. A high speed glass lift swoops customers like a ravenous transparent vulture from street level up 40 storeys in sixteen seconds of ear popping heart stopping stomach churning vertigo inducing awe inspiring spirit lifting butt clenching knicker bocker glory.
The view from our table reminds us of Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida. “The Photograph belongs to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying both: the windowpane and the landscape.” The great indoors and great outdoors as one. Filling the foreground is the sharp grey homogeneous city, all metallic silver angles and bottle green glass shapes. A morning mist lingers over the blurred strange hinterland beyond, merging with the hazy blue sky toward an uncertain horizon. The tip of the glacial Gherkin is our neighbour. West Coast Cooling.
“He walked, as was his custom, through the shaded streets and pleasant squares of Mayfair,” writes Michael Arlen in A Young Man Comes to London, 1932. “This corner of town was our hero’s delight. He loved its quiet, its elegance, its evocation of the past. Of Mayfair he wrote those stories which no editor would publish. In those stories he dwelt on the spacious lives of the rich and on the careless gaieties of the privileged.”
Between the classical Protestant Grosvenor Chapel on South Audley Street and the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, known to all and sundry as “Farm Street” after its address, lie Mount Street Gardens. First laid out in 1890 on the site of a former burial ground, the gardens are now a sanctuary for locals, travellers and wildlife. Native London Plane trees grow between a more exotic Canary Island Palm and Australian Mimosa in this sheltered oasis.
Close to where Mount Street meets South Audley Street is the Mayfair Gallery. A treasure trove of furniture, lighting, paintings, sculpture and objets d’art, it was founded by Iranian born Mati Sinai who has dealt in antiques since the 70s. “Mayfair was and still is the premier location in London from which to exhibit and sell some of the pieces we have acquired over the years,” he says. “There is a peaceful serenity to the area.” His two sons Jamie and Daniel have joined the family business. “Once upon a time,” Mati says, “90 percent of our sales went to Japan and the US. Whilst we do still get customers from those regions, the growth of Russia, the Middle East and now China has radically changed our business.” A pair of vast vases commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I stand proudly in the shop front. The streets may not literally be paved with gold, but even on the outside of the red brick buildings are blue and white ceramic vases set in terracotta niches.
Thanks to a certain Sunday evening wind down from the wild weekend historisoap, Highclere Castle is as recognisable as the Houses of Parliament. Golden Bath stone Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite pilasters framing corner turrets ascend to a parapet – a tumultuous riot of strapwork, tracery, heraldry, pinnacles, plaques, coronets, colonettes, rosettes and finials. Jacobethanaissance architecture with Perpendicoco interiors. Handiwork of Sir Charles Barry, circa 1840.
A drawer in an upper floor of the V+A contains a perspective drawing commissioned by the architect to show his client Lord GranthamCarnarvon how the redesigned castle would look. It was originally displayed at the Royal Academy. Who says artists’ impressions and exhibitions are recent tools of self promotion for savvy architects? Architectural models are another tool. British design company Linley has developed expertise in creating scaled down versions of buildings – with a twist. They are functional, whether a humidor, bureau or writing desk. Robert Smythson meets Frank Smythson.
Highclere Castle is the latest building to receive the Linley treatment. Honey I shrunk the treasure house. It’s a jewellery box. Constructed of maple, 11,000 individual pieces of marquetry have been meticulously selected and pieced together by highly skilled craftsmen. This architectural box, lined in faux suede, has three main drawers plus a trademark secret drawer. Costs £65,000, price of a car or parking space.
At Lavender’s Blue we’re good with colour. So is Linley. Upmarket London shops must have their signature colour. Liberty: regal purple; Selfridges: canary yellow; Harrods: Pantone 574c green; Linley: aquamarine blue. David says, “We needed a striking colour to stand out cause, in a senses, the logo needs to be something you can see from far away… so that when you see a bag being carried down a street you know it’s that colour. Therefore it must be Linley. It’s rather nice when you see one – oh, that bag’s come out of the shop.”
The reports of the death of fine dining are greatly exaggerated. Eating out hasn’t quite cataclysmically descended from fish knives to fishwives. More like a move from blue blood to blue jeans. Out formality; informality. Chris Corbin and Jeremy King are the pioneers of creating dress down town restaurants with an uptown social scene. Meritocracy over aristocracy. Michel Roux’s La Gavroche and Gordon Ramsay’s Pétrus may still be serving haute cuisine at triple the price and triple the waiter-to-customer ratio, but the brasserie scene dominates now in London. Fine dining is niche, not norm. Even the famously conservative Marcus Wareing has binned the white linen tablecloths at his fine dining restaurant in the Berkeley Hotel. He’s replaced the late David Collins’ interior with “free and easy dining accompanied by American style service”. Peter Sheppard who along with Keith Day designs for Smallbone observes, “Restaurant style creeps into homes.”
Ever since its seminal 1970s Pine Farmhouse Range, Smallbone has been setting kitchen trends. In the 80s came Hand Painted and then in the 90s, when everyone else was busy doing fitted, came Unfitted. This trailblazing salute to Charles Jencks’ postmodernism introduced freestanding furniture, stoves, larder cupboards and the singular kitchen island. “Fitted kitchens first became popular in the 1950s,” relates Peter. “The Brasserie Range continues the move away from fitted kitchens. It’s influenced by the 30s, based around the needs of the family. A place to cook and chat. The starting point was an oversized dresser in a French bistro we frequent. It adds to the relaxed Provençal ambiance. We’ve adapted the dresser, adding sliding glass doors, an integrated worktop and back painted open shelving.”
Characterful strips of knotty oak contrast with nickel plated saucepan style drawer handles. Plain cornices and skirting boards are finished with a slip of brushed stainless steel. It’s versatility, though, that defines this range. The traditional plate rack has been updated to hold glasses under it. The ceiling rack now has a wraparound shelf. Below the sink unit is a slatted ledge for Keith and Peter’s pug, Chanel. St Francis is not just here in spirit. A bronze statue of the patron saint of animals is on the wall outside. As for the kitchen island, that’s so last century. Smallbone’s Brasserie Range has three islands of varying size. The kitchen archipelago.
They first entered the public’s consciousness in the 1980s as the backdrop to Lady Diana Spencer being hounded like a kimono’d gazelle by the paps. Mansion blocks were the natural setting for the ultimate Sloane Changer and her kind. Rewind a century or two and it would’ve been mansions for the original girls about crown, the Sloane Endangered. Look them up in Debrett’s. Take Liz Chudleigh, maid of honour to a previous Princess of Wales. Her crash pad was Kingston House, Knightsbridge. An awe inspired guest gushed in 1762,
“Her house can justly be called a gem; it contains a quantity of handsome and costly furniture and other curiosities and objects of value, chosen and arranged with the greatest taste, so that you cannot fail to admire it greatly. Everything is in perfect harmony. The view, over Hyde Park, and at the back over Chelsea, is considered with truth one of the finest that could be pictured.”
Kingston House was pulled down in 1937.
A Twitch Upon the Thread
Like the fictional Marchmain House in St James’s, flats with 24 hour porters took its place. “They’re keeping the name,” says Lord Brideshead. And so, Kingston House was reborn, the exquisite manmade landscape of two acres retained. Enclosed and embraced behind spacious and quiet streets, all this had been planted a century ago so that, at about this date, it might be seen in its maturity. Leaf and flower and bird and sun-lit brick and shadow seem all to proclaim the glory of God. It’s a sequestered place of cloistral hush, beech faintly dusted with green and grey bare oak. Marchmain House was recorded on canvas by Charles Ryder. Country Life photographed Kingston House the forerunner for prosperity.
The light streaming in from the west is fresh green from the trees outside. All 150 square metres of Flat 12 have been refurbished. White crêpe de chine, dove grey tweed, biscuit coloured linen. Very English, very correct, bespoke but quite delicious. A place to play chemin de fer or watch one of the smart TVs, while warmed by the open fire. Bathrooms glitter with chromium plate and heated demist looking glass. A toothbrush is all that is needed to make this flat home. The Sloane Price Range is fixed at £3,250 a week for a minimum one year lease. Not bad, considering it would take over £5 million to buy the flat. It’s looking unusually cheerful today.
Back on luxury. MD of private developer LandmassAlan Waxman argues, “High end finishes and spec? Home automation, silk carpet? Forget it. Not enough on their own. Luxury is something money can’t buy. Look over there,” pointing to a circular internal window. A contemporary take on the traditional oeil de boeuf, perhaps an oeil de hibou, an architectural amuse bouche*. “Great design, that’s what luxury’s about!” This opening from the reception room looking through to the hallway elegantly frames, offset, an off white sculpture against a white background. Behind us, a reflective circular fireplace is placed opposite the internal window. Clever.
We’re in 48 Belgrave Mews North, a Grade II listed house in the heartlands of Belgravia Conservation Area. This is Landmass’s latest, a reimagining of an 1820s mews house. Alan sees his role as being “like the conductor of an orchestra”. To extend the metaphor, the architect and interior designer are first and second violinists respectively. London living (there are really only two Zones) is all about maximising space and light. “When you have a more compact property like a mews house,” he notes, “you provide added value by applying your imagination and by creating extra space.” Landmass has boosted the floorspace by more than 50% to now total 230 square metres.
A new stepped rear extension helps. In the lower ground floor Alan declares, “We raised the ceiling height to 3.2 metres and inserted glass panels in it.” A retractable glass ceiling over part of the reception room above provides views of the sky. This arrangement not only contains the action at the lower level in a fluid orchestration of space and movement, but draws the eye upwards, capturing and filtering the natural light. On a sunny day the upper surfaces become an animated embroidery of light and shadow. But on a dull day like today the way that light is held in the tall enclosure is critical to the project’s spatial narrative.
In a happy convergence of atavism and luxury, another circular internal window is placed at the bottom of the glass balustraded staircase. It frames views of the kitchen family room. Above a copper fireplace almost stretching the full depth of this space is a set of 10 photographs from the collection of the late film director Michael Winner. Joy! Non Londoners won’t appreciate this, but oh the – dare we say luxury – there’s a window in the master en suite and dressing room and one of the other two en suites. Yes! A centrally positioned bed in the master bedroom allows for a wardrobe walkway behind. The flow of spaces continues heavenwards up to the splendid rooftop terrace: a pinnacle of space and light is reached.
*Amuse bouche. Something else money can’t buy. But if you’ve £7 million to spare you can buy 48 Belgrave Mews North and still have loose change left over.
Like a scene from the movie Night at the Museum, the V+A is transformed as darkness falls. A rainbow of lights sends the angels in the architecture spinning in infinity to the melody of a violin quartet. Mere mortals fill the echoing marble halls below, indulging in stilton cheese on lotus oat crisps; scallops on a bed of seashells; vermicelli coated prawn sticks dipped in wasabi mayo; and Earl Grey macaroons. Psychedelic cocktails reflect the lights.
It’s the launch of the 2014 Chinese Lunar Year of the Horse coin by Royal Mint. A trained vet turned artist, Wuon-Gean Ho explains, “I have this dual heritage. I feel incredibly lucky! I grew up in Chinese culture but trawled antique shops and art galleries around Oxford where I lived.” Experienced in a range of media, Wuon-Gean won the commission to design the UK’s first legal lunar coin. “I made my first print when I was 12 years old. It was a linocut of a cat!”
“As a vet you have to observe animals closely,” she says. “I also drew horses at stables in Hackney. My dad is a vet. It is possible to get considerable detail on a coin design. Just think of the Queen’s head on the obverse side of the coin which even shows her earrings! I wanted the strong image of the horse in the foreground with the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire subtly placed behind.” Wuon-Gean holds a BA in History of Art from Cambridge. Her reverse coin design is the first of 12 zodiac animals to be featured in the Royal Mint’s Shēngxiào Collection. Prices range from £82.50 for the silver one ounce coin up to £1,950 for the gold one ounce.
Wuon-Gean doesn’t think the Chinese community has that high a profile in London. “It’s best known for food,” she observes. It should, in her case, also be known for art. Capturing equine movement in millimetres is no mean feat. As for coins in envelopes, all are welcome at Lavender’s Blue. Usual address.
As the penthouse corridor becomes a runway, mannequins attired in Jonathan Blake’s Fall/Winter 2013 and Spring/Summer 2014 Collections weave their way past pulchritudinous Sloane Ravers, brilliant black suited barristers, hot hoteliers and the odd columnist. “My designs are inspired by Chanel, Valentino and Versace,” notes Jonathan. “They’re wearable, classic and elegant. Several of the pieces I am featuring tonight are made from a powder blue silk fabric. Others are made of gold lace.”
To die for definition, clever cuts, sophisticated silhouettes, majestic materials… Jonathan Blake’s woman is international, knows she can look great while being taken seriously. Prices range from a £170 blouse to £9,000 for an evening dress. Meanwhile, we live in hope of a Jonathan Blake men’s collection. Shipping, becalmed.
We caught up with our fellow honorary compatriot John Rocha at The London Edition. Yes, the hotel everyone is raving about with good reason. He was celebrating 15 years of creative glassware collaborations with Waterford Crystal. “I’m busy designing three hotels at the moment,” he told us. John and his studio are still based in Dublin – he lives in Leeson Park – and he flits between the Irish capital and London. “Most of my family now live in London,” says John. He’s also currently designing a chapel in the south of France, a monastic Zen-meets-Shaker alchemy of light and shadow. What’s his key to success? “I design houses I want to live in; I design hotels I want to stay in.” And presumably chapels he wants to pray in.
My Favourite London Hotel… Well, where we are sitting, my own of course! However if I am in traditional mood there is something rather special about walking into Claridge’s. But have you seen the secret garden at Number 16? I love sitting outside having a glass of rosé there in the summertime.
My Favourite London Restaurant… The service and quality of beef at the Rib Room is sublime; the atmosphere at Scott’s is perfect; but Balthazar gets it right every time!
My Favourite Local Restaurant… It has to be The Fulham Wine Rooms. They have a great charcuterie with awesome wines as well as a proper restaurant. They get it right! I’ve regularly dined there since it opened a couple of years ago. You can choose wines to taste from a wall of wine bottles. The team are so well informed too.
My Favourite Weekend Destination… Bovey Castle on Dartmoor, Devon. I love hiking and Bovey Castle is pretty remote. It’s great to escape for a few days from city life.
My Favourite Holiday Destination…South Africa, but a recent trip to the Maldives was a dream holiday. I also travel a lot with my career.
My Favourite Country House…The Pig, in the New Forest. You can dress up or down, put on your wellies, sink into the most comfy sofas, just relax. It really feels like your home from home. The food is great – they even have their own forager.
My Favourite Artist…Monet. In 2007 I was invited by the director of MOMA to visit the Monet show in New York at 7.30 in the morning. One huge room full of Monet – and me! It was the ultimate private view.
My Favourite London Shop…Peter Jones – what would I do without it? It has everything! Where else is there?
My Favourite Fashion Designer… Louise Kennedy. She has an atelier on Merrion Square in Dublin but I discovered her shop in Belgravia near where I used to work. Her clothes possess timeless elegance. They have the flexibility of being off the peg but then they are tailored to fit.
My Favourite Charity…Age UK Hammersmith and Fulham. It is inspirational. Charity is more than just giving money. We’re cooking Christmas lunch for the aged at my hotel. We’ve guaranteed to raise funds to pay for tax and insurance for their minibus for the next three years. It’s so important to support a local charity.
My Favourite Pastime… Time spent with my fabulous little family.
Largely a philosophically driven art movement that arose in tandem with the industrialisation of its host country, Italy, Futurism embraced the now and the not yet of the new century, last century. It wasn’t greeted with universal enthusiasm. Even avant garde artists and critics expressed a certain repugnance at the lack of structure and the new kind of description in Futurist painting and sculpture. Despite their adulation of technology and the apparent adaptation of new scientific principles to their work, the Futurists succeeded in alienating many contemporaries, even those who similarly recognised the relevance of scientific discoveries to art.
The Cubists’ primacy of form was invoked in protest against the dissolution of objects inherent in the less tangible Futurist schemata. Guillaume Apollinaire, who blew both hot and cold in his support of the Futurists, reckoned they had no concept of the meaning of plastic volumes and simply produced illustrations. Jacques- Émile Blanche complained that Futurism was a mechanical process, merely rendering the sensations of dynamism and obliterating the very objects which caused these sensations. Blanche’s aphorism, “One cannot make any omelette with eggshells,” appraises its pictorial limitations through his eyes. Futurist forms conveyed information and ideas without provoking the necessary aesthetic emotions was the underlying message.
Other critics were more direct. Futurist artists were derogatively referred to as photographers and moviemakers. Gino Severini’s Pan Pan at the Monico was slammed for revealing the cinematographic character of his work. Robert Delaunay, who was contemptuous of the engineered mechanical appearance of their forms, confided to his notebook, “Your art has velocity as expression and the cinema as means.” Cubism supporters warned that it was folly to depict movement, analyse gestures and create the illusion of rhythm by reducing solid matter to formulae of broken lines and volumes.
Unsurprisingly this view was vehemently denied by Umberto Boccioni, the group’s most vociferous spokesman. His denial is understandable due to the difficult relationship between art and photography in the early 20th century. Yet the critics were reaching toward the crux of the matter. Why and how had these Italians mutilated their subjects? What were the sources of these new forms?
The Futurists’ strident pronouncements praised a universal dynamism and oneness in the arts. They had discovered a new beauty in their modern world. Victories of science: aeroplanes, trains, cars, factories. Buildings under scaffolding became beautiful symbols of a frenetic mood. They coined the word ‘noctambulism’ to express the exhilarating activities of a city by night, lit by electric moons and garlanded by incandescent necklaces. Futurist poets like Luciano Folgore and Paolo Buzzi sang praises to the daemonic character of the machine, to the sensations of flight, the launching of torpedoes, to war itself.
Henri Bergson’s philosophy of change was central to the Futurists’ ideas. Intuition is the essence of life. Knowledge is for life. Life’s not for knowledge. Action constitutes being. I do therefore I am. Reality is cinematographical. Between 1910 and 1914 no fewer than seven books about the French philosopher were printed in Italian. Bergman’s favourite substantive, too, was “dynamism”. In the dense metaphysics of Matter and Memory he describes a psychical physical in which the immediate past, present and future effervesce in some sort of spatial continuum. He ruminates, “My body is acted upon by matter, and itself acts upon matter and must transform itself into movement. The material of our existence is nothing but a system of sensations and movements, occupying continually different parts of space.”
In the Futurist conception of a new literature expounded by Filippo Marinetti, ‘liberated’ words can be formed into images which make direct contact with the imagination. Conventional syntax is equated with the optical logic of ordinary photographic perspective. The manumission of literature, like that of painting, is seen in the utilisation of a multiple, simultaneous, emotional perspective. And through the typographical prisms of ‘word free’ paintings, the transient sounds and appearances of the industrial environment are refracted. Marinetti saw analogies between the narcissistic metaphors traditionally used by writers and the adulation of ordinary photographic images. Nevertheless he betrays his excitement about the ‘miracles’ of experimental cinema.
The Futurists’ analysis of objects in motion, their reduction of solid forms to equations and the multiplication of their sensations in order to create an illusion of rhythm had significant prototypes in photography, especially the work of Étienne-Jules Marey. This physiologist’s chronophotographs were pictorial verifications of Bergson’s ‘transformed man’, in keeping with the Futurist machine aesthetic. The Futurists’ references to rhythms in space; interpenetration of forms, fusions and simultaneity; and vibrating intervals can all be explained in terms of Marey’s multiple exposed photographs. So too can the statement that a galloping horse has 20 legs, not four. Boccioni’s enigmatic comment that a horse’s movements are triangular is corroborated by Marey’s linear diagrams. In creating a sense of continuity by means of lines of force emanating from the central object, the dynamism of that object is given substance, its movements are delineated.
Those artists who believed that the important thing is not to present the speeding car but the speed of the car were working in a similar vein to Marey. He had scientifically explored not just the particularised somatic appearances of his subjects in instantaneous phases of movement but also the peculiar patterns caused by the multiplication of their images in space. Through these kinetic recordings Marey was able to obtain graphic representation not only of a man or bird in motion but of the motion of a man or bird – a consequential prefiguration of the Futurists’ concern with the vestigial signs of movement.
Enter Michel-Eugène Chevreul, the discoverer of the laws of simultaneous contrasts of colours and himself a protean figure in the development of progressive aesthetic concepts. He observed how a figure clothed in black moving against a black background could transcribe its own trajectory of the linear graph of its movement by means of a light spangle placed on parts of the subject or by a luminous stripe placed along the length of the limbs. Either by exposing the single plate intermittently or by holding open the shutter for the duration of the action, Chevreul recorded linear oscillation patterns and trajectories.
A comparison of Marey’s 1880s chronophotographs showing an athlete during a long jump and Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space is highly revealing. Aside from the obvious similarities, Boccioni’s sculpture demonstrates the inability of the sculptor to express the transparencies and rupturing of form caused by the inevitable superimpositions and interpenetrations intrinsic to the photograph. The blurred interstices between more clearly registered phases of movement lend themselves more readily to the greater stratagems possible with canvas and paint. Boccioni fuses the figure with its environment.
There was substance in those criticisms which attacked the decomposition of Futurist works, the forms reduced to analytical statements about motion, time and space. In his statement of 1913 defining the difference between Futurist dynamism and contemporary French painting, Boccioni said that the Futurists were the first to assert that modern life was fragmentary and rapid. He claimed that Futurism encapsulated dynamism and not merely the trajectory and mechanical episodic gesture. He insisted that the Futurists had always contemptuously rejected photography, deliberately ignoring the distinctions between Marey’s genre of photography and those which simply reproduced natural scenes. Certainly the direct accusations that the Futurists were mere photographers and moviemakers owes much of its venom to the fact that the dilemma of art and photography had not been resolved.
Yet ironically the Futurists were instrumental in resolving it, if not for themselves, then for the more or less anti art movements which followed in their wake. The incipient machine aesthetic of Futurism and the fierce proselytising that accompanied it was a powerful stimulus on all subsequent artists who in one way or another were orientated to technology. The importance of photograph, photogram and photomontage to the Bauhaus, Constructivism, Dada and Surrealism, with the fundamental emphasis placed on impersonality and anonymity, the individual in cahoots with the machine, was clearly an extension of the Futurist ideology, the disdain for self expression in the arts and its insistence on contemporaneity.
Above the Mersey, the hillside Hope Street links both cathedrals on axis. True to form, it has period buildings aplenty including the very High Victorian Philharmonic Dining Rooms which have the city’s fanciest loos. Encaustic tiles run riot. Equally majestic is the former London Carriage Works warehouse built in 1869. This Venetian palazzo has found a new use this century as Hope Street Hotel. A contrasting contemporary extension by Falconer Chester Hall introduced the first new façade to Hope Street in four decades.
We caught up with Creative Director Mary Colston, one of four co founders of the hotel. “There’s a strong Danish influence to the interior style,” she explains. “We let the natural textures do their job,” looking round at the exposed brick walls, iron columns and timber beams criss-crossing the ceiling of the lobby. The simplicity of form is Mondrian inspired. “Sometimes people say why don’t you put up a picture on the walls? But the walls are lovely in themselves. Less really is more!”
This thinking extends to the 89 bedrooms – 51 in the old building; 38 in the new – with their leather door plates, solid timber floors and white walls. “It takes confidence to have a pure white bed,” Mary believes. “I’m not a fan of cushions and throws. Instead we have oversized beds covered in white Egyptian cotton.” White plus wood equals warm minimalism. Ren toiletries and embossed soft white towels complement the streamlined elegance of wet room style showers. Several of the suites have deep oval wooden baths.
“The London Carriage Works is already an established destination restaurant for Liverpudlians,” remarks Mary. “We make sure everyone’s welcome. People come dressed up for a night out or in T shirts and sneakers. It has a relaxed ambience. We pride ourselves on being dog friendly. To distinguish the brasserie from the bar area we commissioned a glass sculpture designed by Basia Chlebik and made by Daedalian Glass. The sculpture’s based on a glass chandelier crashing to the ground in one of the Batman movies. It catches the natural light and changes hue throughout the day.” The shards of storey high glass are like a miniature abstract version of César Pelli’s One Park West, the 17 storey glacial edifice opposite Canning Dock, part of Grosvenor’s Liverpool One development.
“Hope Street won the Academy of Urbanism’s Great Street Award 2013,” says Mary proudly. “It’s a great example of a neighbourhood coming together for the common good. We all talk to each other – museums, galleries, restaurants…” She recounts how locals refer to the suntrap corner of Hope Street and Falkner Street as “Toxteth Beach”. This urban strand is lined with canopied shopfronts, a high cappuccino count among the Georgian buildings. “We’re planning another extension,” confirms Mary, “this time, apart-rooms with a swimming pool on the roof. Why not? Barcelona comes to Toxteth!”
The confident use of materials and textures in the interior is matched by Chef Paul Askew’s confident use of regional ingredients and specialities in the food. Well trained staff serve us dinner. A delicate amuse bouche of scallops precedes a starter of grilled fillet of Menai mackerel with fennel purée and orange salad with citrus dressing. Main course is natural smoked Scottish haddock risotto. Cabbage, leeks, mascarpone, parsley and Mrs Kirkham’s extra mature Lancashire cheese infuse this course with flavour. After this coastal tour of Britain comes more home comfort – peanut butter cheesecake with milk sorbet and chocolate cookie. Hope Street Hotel lives up to its rep as Liverpool’s finest boutique place to stay.
Leaf through the editorial pages of Country Life circa 1970 and the text to image ratio is roughly 80:20. Pick up a recent copy of the magazine and it’s more like 20:80. Philosopher of Medicine and BBC New Generation Thinker Dr Charlotte Blease muses, “We are bombarded by media now. There are a million other distractions besides sitting reading a magazine article. And we’ve become used to a smorgasbord of appetisers served up to us that satisfies our attention and kills the appetite for something larger and meatier. Consequently there’s a competitiveness in grabbing our attention immediately before someone or something else does that.”
Dr Blease argues, “Tweets are the ultimate informational candy. Tweets as sweets? Cognitively they’re like a carb overload. They rot the brain. They’re informational infantilism. McMedia.” On that note, for the attention span challenged, welcome to the first McReview by Lavender’s Blue. It features Callow Hall in Derbyshire. A relaxing hotel, handy for visiting country houses such as Calke Abbey and Alton Towers. There. Dunnit. Lived up to our reputation as self styled Snappy Wordsmiths. Even managed a callow pun in that 15 word review.
Of course if it wasn’t a McReview, we would talk about Callow Hall’s quirks such as how the bedrooms are named after previous owners, like Dorothy and David. Castle Leslie is another example of this trend. A different country house trend and not any less eccentrically egocentric is to name bedrooms after places visited by the owning family. Two Northern Irish houses come up trumps. Mount Stewart and Clandeboye. Who wouldn’t want to sleep in Amsterdam, Hague, Rome or Paris at Mount Stewart? And the bedroom corridors of Clandeboye read like BA departure lounges: Burma, Canada, France, Italy, Killyleagh, Muttra, Ottawa, Paris, Rome, Russia, Shimla, St Petersburg and Walmer. Ok, maybe not Killyleagh.
Gold frankincense and myrrh. Historically, royalty and rich aromas go together. The launch of the Clive Christian Perfume House in 1999 heralded the return of luxury perfume to the world stage. As custodian of a British perfumery first established in 1872 and uniquely granted the image of Queen Victoria’s crown, Clive Christian has revived the original values of the perfumery, creating only pure perfumes with complex formulae that use the rarest ingredients in their most concentrated forms.
Applying his philosophy of design without reference to cost, he became the creator of No.1 The World’s Most Expensive Perfume. It costs a six figure sum and that’s not including decimal points. The eponymous brand is synonymous with British luxury, from cabinetmaking bespoke oak libraries for anonymous clients to producing hand cut crystal perfume bottles with imperial crown stoppers for celebutantes.
This vision of luxury perfume culminated in the release of the Original Collection headlined by No.1. Understated yet distinctive, No.1 for Men is a refined perfume rich with ancient Indian sandalwood. In contrast, No.1 for women is serene and sophisticated with ylang ylang at its heart. The fragrance releases a gentle Tahitian vanilla, an ingredient which takes six months to crystallise and gain the desired delicate spice. Katie Holmes chose No.1 as the wedding perfume for her marriage to Tom Cruise. At least that decision made good scents.
Its memorable garden front has graced the glossies for almost five decades now. The signature doorcase – topped by a semicircular shell encased in a triangular pediment balanced on scroll brackets – has become a motif for luxury. Owned by the Livingstone brothers who recently snapped up Cliveden, it retains a welcoming family feel on arrival. And on departure, expect to be laden with shortbread and Hildon sparkling. Days earlier, Dave and Sam Cameron had enjoyed the five red star hospitality of this hotel which glimmers on the edge of the New Forest, where staff outnumber guests three to one. Welcome to Chewton Glen.
Henri Cartier-Bresson called the camera a “sketchbook”. Summer sun, nature’s ultimate photographic colour enhancer, wasn’t around but nonetheless Chewton Glen appeared in a mellow glow. After glamorous host manager Juliet Pull whisked us on a tour of bedrooms and suites, some chintzy, some contemporary, all with secluded balconies or terraces, then up to the treehouse lodges, a little closer to heaven, it was off to the spa. For lunch. The Molton Brown designed treatment rooms – padded cocoons in trademark brown tones – were tempting as was the neoclassical 17 metre pool. But the only thing better than swimming is eating lunch watching other people swimming. Preferably synchronised.
The menu promotes less alcohol, more alkaline, intake. A spa buffet as organic as the hotel architecture. Vegetarian foods plus salmon and prawns; wholegrain instead of processed food. Basically less acidic food such as meat and dairy. Your pH balance will be maintained, boosting health and upping energy levels. Lentil, tahini and seaweed; jicama, endive and ewes curd; carrot and sweet pepper slaw. Nothing tastes as good as healthy, Chewton style. Washed down with Night Vision, a blend of carrot, orange and lime. No wonder people choose to get married in the hotel’s kitchen garden. Old habits die hard – a coffee to finish – but this being The Glen, it’s served with buffalo’s rather than cow’s milk.
Don’t let the health buzz end there. Follow Chewton Bunny, a stream gambolling through the 60 hectare estate, briskly past the croquet lawn haha, aha, leisurely through a pond strewn meadow, dashingly across a hairpin bend road, longingly past a house called Squirrel’s Leap, gingerly down a tree lined ravine, and finally stretched out before you will be Christchurch Bay, Highcliffe to the right, Barton on Sea to the left. Beyond lies the Isle of White. The world’s your oyster.