To the Georgian Restaurant at Harrods. 8.01pm. Escalators crisscrossing silent marble halls in noble ascent and descent, unencumbered by shoppers. Animals sleeping in the pet store; ghostly dummies casting unmoving shadows in the clothes department; mirrors in the furniture showroom reflecting nobody. But something is aflutter on the top floor.
His Excellency, Monsieur Bernard Emié, French Ambassador to the UK, addresses everyone. “We are here to celebrate the best of French craftsmanship in this flagship of London, this world famous store. This pop up for a month in Harrods shows the very best of the French way of life. ‘Soft power’, that’s what we like to call it. Even if we are paying high taxes in France! Who could imagine a finer setting?”
In between nibbling on Ladureé’s macaroon tree, we talk to our favourite two exhibitors. Grey Tahiti mother of pearl, veined horn, ostrich or pheasant feathers, satin or silk plummets, Duvelleroy couture hand fans combine materiality of worth with craftsmanship of note. Embroiderers, engravers, pleaters, it’s a team effort. The house’s emblem, a daisy stamped on the rivet, provides provenance for prosperity. Fashion designers such as Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Lovisa Burfitt have worked with Duvelleroy. Katy Perry is a fan. So are we.
“Were thrilled to see our fans at Harrods, the kingdom of fashion and retail,” enthuse co owners Eloïse Gilles and Raphaëlle de Panafieu tell us. “It’s a beautiful recognition of the revival of Duvelleroy and one of the best places on earth to meet new clients for modern hand fans. It’s important for us to explain the savoir faire that’s behind each one of these creations and wonderful to be identified as a signature of French style. The Grand Atelier event and Living Heritage Company label offer such an opportunity.”
We’re also fans of La Maison Dissidi. It represents three generations of cabinetmakers from the Rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine furniture district of Paris. Staffed by a team of highly qualified craftsmen, chief exec Dominique Roitel tells us: “La Maison Dissidi is a depository of ancestral savoir faire creating pieces of unsurpassed quality.” The company specialises in the reproduction of traditional furniture and wainscoting but also has the wherewithal to create contemporary items.
“The little desk presented in the ground floor shop window of Harrods,” Dominique points out, “is a copy of a piece of French furniture circa 1740. It is entirely handmade in our Parisian workshop and finished in French varnish with contrasting bronze gilded gold and black leather.” Perfect for the Countess to write letters from her home in Mayfair.
Dining and drinking fads. Gourmet fast food. Slow food. Lobster and chips. Lobster sliders. Chips in tin buckets. Twice fried or triple cooked chips. Courgette fries. Truffle fries. Quails’ eggs. Caviar blinis. More caviar blinis. Make that English Shah Caviar blinis. Beetroot macaroons. Flavoured éclairs (fashion forward). Gravadlax (having a fashion moment). Cup cakes (out of fashion). The great champagne versus prosecco debate. Pop ups. No signage. No booking. Social media invites only. Some fads don’t go away. Chopsticks are like camera film. Why bother? Time to go digital, get some cutlery.
Tate Britain opened its doors recently to reveal the long awaited redisplay by museum director Penelope Curtis of its collection of British art. Walking through the full circuit of galleries, visitors can now enjoy a chronological presentation of paintings from 1540 to the present day. The overall effect is fresh and engaging, a rich overview of British art tracing the development of styles and fashions. Unrelated topics? Not really. Taste in food and art is prone to the whims of fashion. Tate Britain, in this case, has taken the classic approach to gallery hang.
Across the Thames, Bank Westminster has taken the classic approach to its menu. Or in the words of manager Marco Pavone, “International classic with a twist of modern,” to be precise. It’s on Buckingham Gate, almost as far north as one may reach from Victoria without sensing the imminence of the palace. There is plenty of note on Buckingham Gate itself, from The Blue Coat School to Westminster Chapel. Despite the central location, an air of tranquillity pervades the spring evening. Bank Westminster’s immediate neighbours are the four star Crowne Plaza Hotel and the five star Taj Suites and Residences. The latter are owned by Tata, the company behind Jaguar. The 170 square metre Jaguar Suite comes with a chauffeured car. No prizes for guessing what make.
An enigmatic doorway opens off the street into the adjoining Zander Bar. “The bar is 50 metres long,” confirms Marco, “the same length as an Olympic swimming pool.” No doubt it makes for some great Olympian nights on the town. A lean corridor leads past three intimate panelled private dining rooms and then – tah dah! – the restaurant, a contemporary conservatory in a historic courtyard. A plethora of aquamarine ceramic tiles, terracotta friezes, brick ogee arches and Juliet balconies combine with a fountain and lush planting to Continental effect outdoors. Indoors, things start sunny side up with the Warm Potted Shrimp Salad (£8.70), eggs to perfection. Herb Roast Scallops along with crisp pork belly and apple (£10.50) are astutely conceived and colourfully presented.
Head chef David Ferguson spent time at Bank’s sister restaurant in Birmingham learning, executing and honing his craft. This accumulated skill is most obvious in one of the main course dishes, Monkfish with Garlic, Parsley and Thyme Butter (£21.95). On the bone, its flavours are gentle and cohesive; its texture fleshy; it looks as pretty as a picture; and it seems to sing of the sea. An onion ring stack on the side proves to be a towering guilty pleasure. Fillet of Steak (£23.95) from the charcoal burning grill served with peppercorn sauce is perfectly cooked and hugely succulent.
“We change our menu four times a year,” highlights Marco. “Summer’s coming soon! Whatever season it is, we only serve the very best British beef from Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cattle naturally reared on farms selected by us. We pride ourselves on the philosophy of ingredient provenance.” Meanwhile, the food and wine service continues apace, attractive and attractively polite and politely unobtrusive.
The only thing more devilishly delightful than Banoffee or Eton Mess (not a euphemism for Cameron’s Cabinet) is Banoffee Eton Mess (£7.50), the sum of two evils. Constituent parts – banana, toffee, crunchy meringue – are deconstructed and chocolate brownies thrown in for good measure. Cubes (the chocolate brownies), pipes (more chocolate) and three dimensional ogees (the meringues) emerge from a creamy base. Pineapple Tarte Tatin (£7.50) with coconut ice cream is an equally sagaciously sell-your-soul choice.
A well considered wine list complements these classic culinary principles. La Clochette Sancerre, 2011 (£39.95) is excellent to go along with the first half of the meal. The second half is accompanied (it is a bank holiday) by a vibrant South African favourite, False Bay Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 (£25.95). “We do what we do properly,” is Marco’s catchphrase. Forgotten food. Now that’s another fad. But memorable food is what Bank Westminster is about. Classic memorable food done properly.
There was even more than usual to celebrate at this year’s Inchbald School of Design Spring Lunch. Over 80 percent employment success rate for last year’s crop of graduates (the post boom national average hovers below 30 percent) would be enough for most schools to uncork the champers. But there’s more. The trailblazing founder and Principal, Jacqueline Duncan, has ensured the school has now remained top of its game for more than half a century. There’s more still. The icing on the baked vanilla cheesecake with berry compote is Jacqueline has been awarded the Order of the British Empire. Her husband, Colonel Duncan, raised the toast to her accomplishments at the Cavalry and Guards Club on Piccadilly.
Looking immaculate as ever, in between courses of home cured gravadlax, asparagus, charred artichoke and quails egg salad followed by poached salmon and fennel carpaccio, Jacqueline revealed the origins of Inchbald. “My first husband (who died recently) Michael Inchbald and I had a big house in Chelsea. We’d a 40 foot long drawing room. Upstairs was a big apartment on the first floor. We had dances there but otherwise it was an empty space.” Jacqueline soon had plans for putting it to good use.
“I’d no managerial experience. Before getting married I worked as a secretary and then I became an antiques dealer.” This didn’t hinder her deciding to launch the first interior design school in Europe. The year was 1960. “It was terrifying! I needed seven students to cover costs for the first term. The Monday before it opened I had my first applicant. That was all. But by the following Monday I had eight. It did become less terrifying as time went on. The following September I had 40 students.” Inchbald was the first of its kind to offer interior designers qualifications leading to professional status.
So what is the secret of her success – and longevity? Turns out to be a mixture of things. “I employed very good lecturers from the outset. Most of them were practising designers themselves. We ran a very successful PR campaign. It was fantastic! I didn’t lose a night’s sleep. It was a lot of hard work though.” The hard work has paid off. Inchbald’s syllabus now ranges from postgraduate and masters courses to introductory online courses. The internationally renowned school embraces interior design, interior decoration and garden design. It’s long outgrown Jacqueline’s former first floor apartment. “We now have six directors at our school at Eaton Gate and Eccleston Square,” she confirms.
An OBE for services to design is the latest and greatest accolade to be bestowed upon the debonair doyenne of design. “I stick with quality! It’s terribly important to me. Other people don’t. I’m so particular about quality,” Jacqueline emphasises. This is the lady who told Mrs Thatcher to go get her hair sorted and gave the then prime minister the name of her own hairdressers. Mrs T was spotted in the salon the following week. “Extending the perception of quality is Inchbald’s underlying philosophy. It’s been a lifetime’s work.”
Jacqueline Duncan still carries out her Monday and Friday morning walkabouts of Inchbald. She’s a lot to be proud of as the school continues to go from strength to strength. Alumni set up their own practices like Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill and Nina Campbell or go to work for high end companies such as Candy & Candy. But instead she is incredibly modest. And great fun. “Is your grandmother still working?” she asks with a twinkle in her eye.
While the horses for (main) courses saga runs amok across Britain, Lavender’s Blue decided it was time to cross the channel to brunch in Brussels. This may sound like the best idea since Patty Hearst thought she’d call by a San Fran bank armed with a semiautomatic, but bear with. Crazy has a new? Not yet. Destination known: Scheltema, a seafood restaurant. In the lexicon of dining spaces, this is the Belgian capital’s answer to J Sheekey. Every cloud, and all that.
Understated frontage along Rue des Dominicains, a five minute stroll from Grand Place, belies its pedigree, the silver lining. More art nouveau than nouveau riche, Scheltema has been a favoured dining spot of the Almanach de Gotha and the like for the last 30 years. La belle époque never ended – it’s forever la fin de la siècle in this discreet part of Ilôt Sacré district.
Beyond the awnings and morning yawnings, the interior is an indulgence of rich wooden panelling, polished brass railings, leather seating and rows of green shaded hanging lamps reflected in oval mirrors. Towards the rear of the restaurant, Thierry and Christian, the ebullient chefs, create a buzz in the open kitchen overlooked by diners. The service is equally energetic and fun.
The menu combines classic dishes with dancingly delicate dashes of individuality. Highlights include shrimp croquettes with fried parsley (€14); pan sautéed scampi with garlic (€20); and crisp Nobashi shrimps, sesame oil and butter (€19). Washed down with pinot gris Mader d’Alsace, 2011 (€32). De rigeur. Rrrrr. The day has truly begun. Coffee is served with a box of Biscuits Belges Artisanaux.
There are the golden postcodes of Belgravia, Chelsea, Kensington, Knightsbridge and Mayfair. Then there is the platinum Knightsbridge address of Basil Street, sandwiched between Harrods and Harvey Nics. Bronze torches light the winter’s night. Silver railings cordon off a red carpet. Welcome to The Lansbury. Beware, the bling ends at the front door (except perhaps for beetroot macaroons at the launch party).
Developer Finchatton’s latest offering is a slender sliver of a corner apartment block rising six (visible) storeys. Walls hewn from sandstone form a deeply incised but relatively unadorned skin. What a welcome relief (no pun) from the brick Accordia-lite which has come to dominate domestic architecture in the capital. Shallow rectangular projecting bays provide a nod to nearby mansion blocks. The Lansbury’s architecture has a restrained permanence, the antithesis of pop up culture. It doesn’t compete for attention with its chunkier period neighbours. Period. Instead it commands material consideration (stop the puns!) through quality and subtlety.
“Our style is very considered,” says Andrew Dunn, one half of Finchatton’s founders. “It’s not blingy and bright and flashy. The Lansbury embodies our core values: utmost quality and attention to detail, contemporary design with reference to heritage and longevity, and exceptional servicing.” Co founder Alex Michelin adds, “Everything’s custom made and bespoke. We designed every single piece.” As it turns out, even the napkins.
The look is art deco influenced. The ethic is arts and crafts inspired. The art is intrinsic to the whole. “It’s a slightly different organic sensibility,” says Jiin Kim-Inoue, Finchatton’s Head of Design. “Harmonious, inviting, an almost lived in look… The rooms shouldn’t be loud, not with such an incredible view.” Across the road, golden illuminated letters shout “Harrods!” “We’ve used fibres such as wool, cashmere and horsehair, combining them with metals and other natural materials to create cleverly textured surroundings. Walnut and polished sycamore work with bronze, brass and steel. Nero Argento marble and crystal sit alongside buffalo horn and shagreen.”
Monochromatic Mondrianic mirror mouldings, television surrounds and bookcases complemented by infusions of jewel tones: amethyst, garnet, sapphire. Book matched black marble bathrooms and vein matched white marble bathrooms. Herringbone, hessian, pinstripe, check. Check. Soft calf leather banister rails sewn on site. Stingray leather covered desks. The haves and the have lots are demanding.
The upper level of the 280 square metre duplex penthouse opens onto a roof terrace, an airy eyrie. Seating is arranged round a glass floor which doubles as the kitchen ceiling below. Spying on the chef has never been so easy. Later in the evening, a purchaser will pay a cool £1 million over the asking price for the penthouse. The communal elevator descends past three 170 square metre lateral apartments and a 130 square metre duplex apartment before reaching the ground floor triplex. This apartment dramatically drops two storeys below ground. Only in London would subterranean living be a high. One lower ground floor bedroom overlooks a three storey void; the other, a living wall in a light well. A cinema, gym and temperature controlled wine cellar – must haves – occupy the lowest level.
The Lansbury is timeless yet capable of registering the passage of time. The concise correlation between outer order and inner sanctum is a deeply felt subliminal recognition. Finchatton establishes a layered yet cohesive language through an association of material and space, a sense of balance, an understanding of the uplifting effects that space and light have on the human spirit.
As John Bennett wrote, “Wherever men have lived and moved and their being, hoped, feared, succeeded, failed, loved, laughed, been happy, lost, mourned, died, were beloved or detested, there remains forever a something, intangible and tenuous as thought, a sentience very like a soul, which abides forever in the speechless walls.”
‘Exhausted by sunshine, the backs of the crimson chairs were a thin light orange; a smell of camphor and animals drawn from skins on the floor by the glare of morning still hung like dust on the evening chill.’Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September
Annaghmore, Lissadell and Temple House. Three great neoclassical country houses resting at the foothills of the rugged mountains which trace the west coast of Ireland in an area forever associated with the poetry of W B Yeats. Built of stone which darkens from gunpowder to charcoal grey in the persistent rain, each house has a deep Doric porch or porte-cochère for shelter from the prevailing wind. Austere elevations cloak rich interiors of unbridled indulgence. One house is private; one is open for guided tours; but only one accepts overnight guests. Enter Temple House (more of the other two later).
A longstanding member of the Hidden Ireland group of private country houses which offer bed and breakfast accommodation, Temple House is owned by the Perceval family. They’ve lived on the 1,000 acre estate for the last 340 years or so. The twelfth generation, the blonde dynamic duo of Roderick and his wife Helena, act as hosts and together with their suave French chef, cater for the every whim of guests.
Most people have difficulty finding enough space in their homes to store all their belongings. Not so the Percevals. With dozens of rooms and miles of corridors lit by hundreds of windows, they never have the excuse that there’s no room for visitors. So they’ve turned this potential problem into an asset. Now guests can recline in splendid isolation in one of six first floor bedrooms. “We enjoy sharing this gem,” confides Roderick.
Not all guests pay for their accommodation. “The most persistent ghost is Nora,” relates Helena. Nora, otherwise known as Eleanora Margaret Perceval, was the châtelaine of Temple House in the Roaring Twenties (although this being windswept rural Sligo the era was more about fires than flappers). A favourite haunt of hers is the Blue Bedroom. Her best friend was Lady Gaga, wife of Sir Henry Gore-Booth, who lived at nearby Lissadell. Another ghost, this time a male, has been glimpsed at twilight sitting at the writing desk in the guest bedroom corridor, scribbling long forgotten letters to long forgotten lovers under the purple patchwork of reflected light from the etched windows.
Helena continues, “The part of the house we use as family accommodation was derelict when we moved in. It used to have a very distinct atmosphere… a little unnerving… but this has mellowed in recent times.” A visiting American psychic found the house to be riddled with ghosts. “She even spotted a few knights loitering in the castle ruins,” smiles Helena.
Temple House wasn’t always as massive. In 1825 Colonel Perceval commissioned John Lynn to design and build a relatively modest two storey five bay wide house. Its porch is clearly discernible in the current side elevation. The family moved into this house while the servants continued to live in the castle. But just 33 years later financial difficulties forced the Percevals to sell up.
Not for long. A knight in shining armour soon came riding back to save the day. The third son of the Colonel, Alexander Perceval, bought back the estate in 1863. “Not large enough!” Alexander declared when he first set eyes on the new aggrandisement plans for the house. He’d made a fortune trading tea in Hong Kong and proceeded to splash out three quarters of a million pounds on rebuilding his ancestral seat.
In 1865 he added a three storey L shaped block directly behind the façade of the Colonel’s late Georgian house, to the design of the English firm Johnstone & Jeanes. The longer arm of the mirror image L stretches across the seven bays of a repositioned entrance front. The tip of the short arm adds a top storey to the middle of the garden front.
On the entrance front the attic floor ducks behind a heavy balustrade which luxuriantly wraps around the side of the house like a colossal stone tiara. One year later Alexander was dead. His presence lives on in dashes of Chinoserie scattered throughout the interior. Alexander’s son went on to marry Charlotte O’Hara who lived at nearby TaraAnnaghmore.
The inside of the L forms two walls of a courtyard. A long low service wing completes the other two sides. This inner sanctum, devoid of distracting decoration, displays a strange and abstract beauty, its sheer silver grey walls pierced with diamond paned windows. Form doesn’t always follow function on the outer envelope, though. In the dining room behind the majestic Victorian portrait of Jane Perceval (Alexander’s mother who died in the Great Famine) is a false window with the sole purpose of maintaining the harmony of the exterior.
“We believe each generation should leave its mark on the house,” relates Helena. “We’ve painted the dining room a rich ruby red using an authentic Farrow & Ball paint.” It used to be insipid pea green. “Next is the staircase hall. We’ve identified a specific blue in the cornice which we hope to use for the walls. After that will be the sitting room. Perhaps ivory or off-white.”
Upstairs a rather more relaxed approach has been taken to the fragile interiors. “The Twin Bedroom hasn’t been decorated for 100 years,” laughs Helena, “but that’s a good thing at Temple House!” Signs next to the pair of tall sash windows request guests not to pull the curtains. They’ll fall down. When the shutters are closed at night no light penetrates the bedrooms anyway. “Temple House boasts rooms of enormous proportions,” comments Roderick. One is called the Half Acre Bedroom. “Yet there’s a real sense of intimacy here too.”
“The first guests we catered for were one challenge which we met and are now adept at,” he says. “We love having groups of friends to stay. Then hosting our first wedding was the next challenge. Organising an arts and music festival was another exciting venture.”
Irish country houses are increasingly flinging open their doors to the public as a shaky economy triggers innovative ways of making owners ensure estates pay for their upkeep. Ireland’s Blue Book is another association of country houses which also includes historic hotels, castles and restaurants.
Once the bastions of the privileged few, for centuries Irish country houses were hidden away behind high stone walls and locked cast iron gates, their existence barely acknowledged beyond a mile or two’s radius. Now, anyone can experience their otherworldly faded grandeur without the responsibility of their unwieldy financial upkeep.
New year, new article, new collaboration. In a world exclusive, you heard it here first. Chivas Regal 18 Year Old and Pininfarina have come together for the first time to create a limited edition. Under wraps until now, we are delighted to reveal – breaking with Scotch whisky tradition – the three expressions of the Chivas 18 by Pininfarina limited edition.
Paolo Pininfarina himself provides the headline: “Italian style means a sense of proportion, simplicity and harmony of line and we applied this sensibility to the designs we developed for Chivas 18.” Both companies share a rich heritage in crafting stimulating experiences in luxury. Pininfarina has been trailblazing Italian design and engineering since 1930. Established in 1909, master brand Chivas Regal is the original luxury whisky blend. Pininfarina’s Creative Director, Paolo Trevisan, also recognises the spirit (no pun) of the partnership. “We both have passion and strong knowledge. Pininfarina design is about aerodynamics, how air affects shape. Chivas 18, naturally, is symbolised by liquid. I was fascinated to learn that each drop of Chivas 18 captures 85 flavours. Multisensory complexity yet delivered with such precision. The partnership was a perfect marriage of values and mutual respect. It’s been inspiring.” That inspiration takes the form of a streamlined drop. It unites both houses in their ongoing quest for beauty, harmony and, ultimately, pleasure.
And now for Limited Edition 1. A blue metallic finished outer case is reminiscent of prestigious car metalwork. The rich wood veneer interior represents the oak barrels intrinsic to the ageing process of Chivas 18. Paolo Pininfarina calls this “the cold and warm effect”. All three expressions include a specially designed bottle of Chivas 18 with Pininfarina’s design notes visible on the metalised crest. The Italian company’s logo is proudly emblazoned on the capsule and neck wrap. A mere snip at £90 (that’s the Duty Free price so pick it up on your return from Rosa Alpina).
Limited Edition 2 features the same design cues while taking the expression of the partnership further. It features a solid wood inlay and is even more aerodynamic. Proudly presenting the limited edition bottle, it also includes two glasses designed by Pininfarina which reflect the drop design. Each unit is individually numbered to highlight its limited edition status. Perfect for opening in the limo back home from the airport. Yours for £360.
Colin Scott is Master Blender of Chivas Regal. He developed an early passion for Scotch whisky growing up near an Orkney distillery. Colin is the third generation of his family to dedicate their lives to the whisky industry. As guardian of the renowned Chivas Regal signature style, he says, “Chivas 18 is smooth, flowing, excellent, warming. Scottish culture glorifies craftsmanship. Pininfarina’s glass references the drop. It sits beautifully in your hand – a translation of exceptional harmony in every drink. Limited Edition 2 takes Chivas 18 to another stratosphere.” Chivas 18 Mascherone by Pininfarina is the ultimate status symbol for your home. Inspired by the mascherone, the original wooden frame that was used to refine automobile shapes, it marks the pinnacle of the partnership. Hand assembled in Cambiano by Pininfarina, Limited Edition 3 has an oak internal structure clad in aluminium. Illumination from the base brings this collector’s piece to life. Only five Mascherones will be on display globally. Otherwise, it’s made to order. If you have to ask, chances are you can’t afford it.