The Command House, right at the water’s edge and nestled below the tower of St Mary’s Church high on the hill behind, commands long distance views across the River Medway on the approach from Rochester to Chatham. Following a half a million pounds restoration by Stonegate Group, the largest pub company in the UK, it has flung open its eight raised panel triglyph frieze and modillion corniced fluted Doric pilastered door to customers. A bar and restaurant fill the piano nobile and spill out onto the garden stretching across to the river.
Built in the opening decades of the 18th century as The Ordnance Storekeeper’s House for Chatham Gun Wharf and later used as officers’ housing, The Command House is a fine example of the Queen Anne style. The symmetrical river facing façade is a parapeted two storeys over raised basement in height and five bays with single bay flanking lower wings in length. The red brick elevations have stone dressings.
But it is the side elevation overlooking the carpark which has the most interesting feature. An open lunette. It is set in the colossal chimneystack rising over the valley between the double piles of the roof. Sir John Vanbrugh was master of the lunette, void and chimneystack. He brings his sense of drama to all three in Kings Weston House, Bristol. The architect of The Command House is not recorded but clearly had a strong command of the classical architectural language.
Over to Oli, “We looked in Somerset, we looked in Norfolk, but it just felt like we had roots here in Deal and we knew the area. It’s so close to London too. Also Deal is just such a cool place. It’s thriving and this property is just unbelievably beautiful so that made our minds up for us. The garden is enclosed by incredible woodland so it feels very remote and peaceful. Updown Farmhouse is unusual but it’s going to be a lovely place to be in, eat and to stay.”
“Welcome to the Hôtel du Petit Moulin! We would like to thank you for your confidence and for choosing our hotel during your visit in Paris. Le Marais is full of history, wonderful shops, galleries, museums and restaurants. In fact, the building in which the hotel is set was originally the first Parisian bakery. This is where Victor Hugo would come to buy his baguette! Today, the original shop frontage remains, reminding guests of its former past as a ‘boulangerie’, protected under French Heritage. Make yourself at home, relax and enjoy a quiet drink at the honesty bar open from noon to midnight or head to the spa of our sister hotel, the Pavillon de la Reine, situated in Place des Vosges, just a 10 minute walk away from her and available to all our guests. Have a lovely stay with us.” Luc Guillo Lohan, The Manager.
Heaven’s in the detail and the Hôtel du Petit Moulin delivers from bookmarks and business cards to brass door keys and petite boxes â picorer. Highlights of the room service from Restaurant Chez Nenesse on nearby Rue de Saintonge include entrées: salade des queues de langoustines (Dublin Bay prawn salad); plats: fillets de bar aux fines herbes (sea bass fillet, sauce with fine herbs); and desserts: mousse et sorbet chocolat sauce pistache (chocolate mousse and sorbets with pistachio sauce).
Filling a pair of 17th century buildings which couldn’t be more pre Haussmann Parisian if they tried, the ground floor was once a bar and a street corner bakery. Victor Hugo’s house on Place des Vosges is just around the corner. As Monsieur Lohan notes, the former bakery still retains a hand painted glass shopfront. There are just 17 guest rooms. One bedroom on the rez-de-chaussée. Four on the premier étage. Four on the deuxième étage stacked in the same layout as below. Four stacked on the troisième étage. One on the étage intermédiaire. Three on the quatrième étage. The architecture is full of original quirks from fragments of timber structural beams to windows floating between floors. The interior is absolutely fabulous Christian Lacroix sweetie darling.The haut couture designer clearly had a lot of fun dreaming up this Louis XV on an acid trip décor. The colourful chaos of the montaged découpaged toile de jouy in the main rooms contrasts with the calm of the white marble bathrooms. Top floor Room 402 is the largest guest suite and angles into the street corner with the best views, taking in a sweep of chimneys rising above the buildings lining Rue de Poitou and Rue de Saintonge. The mirrored ceiling provides an altogether different view, not least of the shagpile carpet. “Early to bed, and you’ll wish you were dead. Bed before 11, nuts before seven,” shrieked Dorothy Parker in her short story for The Little Hours for The New Yorker, 1933.
We’re forever falling into the whirlpool of the high life. “Where do you come from?” asks our waiter. He’s from Marseille. “You can crack the egg!” Another waiter, “Your island of caviar has arrived.” And later, the maître d’, “You must come back in January for the finest winter truffle. À très bientôt!” Everyone’s speaking in hushed reverential tones. This is very fine dining. Not for the self conscious. Waiters stand like sentinels guarding the tapestried walls. A glance at one of them is enough to be shown to the Guerlain equipped powder room. Such is the segue! Halfway through this culinary ceremony, a waiter parades a white box of pungent truffle but we weren’t brought up the Seine in a bubble. It would be nice not to break the four figure bill ceiling today. Okay maybe just a little truffle shavings… C’est L’Ambroisie, ce ne sera pas bon marché. But there are no pockets in shrouds. So don’t rue the day. Especially when it’s the day after the Feast of St Ambrose.
The Scottish aristo actress Tilda Swinton swans into the first dining room. “I’m performing at three o’clock so we have an hour and a half for lunch. Cheers to taking these moments – there haven’t been enough of these lately. We’re going to stuff ourselves today for life is too short. We just have to get on with it! Apparently, did you hear we’re going to get an arctic winter? Maybe I should hibernate and live like Little Edie in Grey Gardens!” Everything is up a level. It’s like living life in fast forward.
The restaurant is terribly discreet: no windows onto the world, just a lantern lit doorway off the cloistered Place des Vosges. A petite lobby leads into an enfilade of three smart dining rooms served by a basement kitchen. There are only 35 to 38 covers. Founding Chef Bernard Pacaud secured three Michelin Stars by 1988. His son Mathieu continues to carry the recognition. Ever since Henri IV ordered the creation of the chichi quartier of Le Marais in the 4th Arrondisement, the palace-fronted Place des Vosges has been at the centre of civilised society. Very up our rue.
So what’s the difference between one, two and three Michelin Stars? And don’t say an arm and a leg. A Michelin Guide Inspector explains, “One Michelin Star is awarded to restaurants using top quality ingredients where dishes with distinct flavours are prepared to a consistently high standard. Two Michelin Stars are awarded when the personality and talent of the chef are evidence in his or her expertly crafted dishes of refined and inspired food. Three Michelin Stars are given for superlative cooking of the chef at the peak of his of her profession – cooking elevated to an art form.” There are 10 three Michelin Star restaurants in Paris according to the 2022 Guide. That’s twice the number of triple Starred in London. Onwards and upwards. Bon voyage voyage.
Leaving behind the whiteness of a continental winter’s day we step into La Mâle d’Effeenne which is like entering a man cave but only if the man is Aladdin. Black is the new black. All that glitters really is gold. We’re greeted like long lost brothers by owners François Mahé (French) and Nico Francioni (Italian). They chime, “It’s been a year, has it not? We remember you well! You’re famous! Excuse the clutter – we’ve just had a large seasonal delivery.”
Their shop defies definition. Literally: there’s something in the name. “La” of course is feminine. “Mâle” clearly isn’t. This shop is for everyone so when it comes to clothes or scents, you decide. “Mâle” is a nod to Jean-Paul Gaultier’s famous scent. It also references “malle”, the French word for luggage. Gosh multiple entendres or what? And what hidden depths does “Effeenne” possess? It’s the guys’ initials spelt phonetically: “F” and “N”. So there you go. Putting the concept into conceptual.
La Mâle d’Effeenne is on Rue St Paul in the middle of Village St Paul in the middle of Le Marais in the middle of Paris. The dominating architectural presence is the Church of St Paul. There has been an ecclesiastical presence in this location for 16 centuries. In 1360 the village gained royal status when Charles V installed his Hôtel St Paul. Today, the chiaroscuro of the church nave is strongly pencilled by wintry shadow. A ciborium or baldachin of ghostly semi transparent scarlet veil is suspended over an Advent arrangement.
Who said we didn’t end up at midnight in Princess Diana’s fav Knightsbridge haunt San Lorenzo three years ago to the day? Or a month earlier join influencers for a day at the races? Or fast forward a few seasons to find ourselves singing black tied carols with London’s finest on Pall Mall till dawn? As for the maquillage, English Heritage have a lot to answer for… Tell us, what are you doing?
Have you ever ended up with a bevy of beauties in a hot tub outside Newry at 3am? Across muck and gullion (or at least over the butte of Slieve Muck and below the peak of Slieve Gullion) we stopped by to enjoy the rustic glamour of Primrose Cottage in south County Armagh. Owner Derek Johnston called over, “The two cottages, Primrose and Lavender, were converted from an aul’ barn.” Timber sash windows were inserted into the thick stone walls; slate and metal roofs reinstated. Architectural critic Martin Pawley’s 1981 essay What Does Vernacular Really Mean? concludes, “The vernacular image is much less important than the vernacular reality.” He argues that the vernacular appearance is down to economics – for example salvaged local materials – rather than arranged aesthetics.
In front of the cottages is a paddock filled with swans and pygmy goats. “Farmers are not as diverse about what animals they have as they were when I was growing up so I decided to do something about it,” he smiled. Derek Johnston is also coveniently landlord of Johnny Murphy’s pub a few metres away at the crossroads of Meigh, the local hamlet. So of course, we had to traipse along and support local business. It was a jolly and late and jolly late affair, the merits of vernacular over designed and image versus reality long forgotten. Back at Primrose Cottage, closer to sunrise than sunset, the party continued under the stars. So that’s how we ended up with a bevy of beauties in a hot tub outside Newry at 3am.
When the Eurostar used to stop at Calais it made breakfast in France much more straightforward. So the next best thing is lunch in Dover. Like its French counterpart, the English port’s charm is not always apparent to the unseeing. But the Kentish rumour mill grinding on overtime has it that Dover is the next southeast town to be discovered. So we’re here, if not ahead of the curve certainty at its tip, making a splash, ready to dive in, explore and lots more besides.
Dover’s coastal position and proximity to France made it a natural first point of settlement for Huguenot refugees. Some stayed; others moved on to Canterbury and Spitalfields in London. An early 17th century census of foreign residents in Dover recorded 78 Huguenot residents: one gardener; one shepherd’s wife; two advocates; two esquires; two maidens; two preachers of God’s Word; two schoolmasters; three merchants; three physicians and surgeons; eight weavers and wool combers; 12 mariners; 13 drapers; 25 widows and makers of bone; and a handful of other tradespeople.
Typical of Huguenot destinations, the Dover textile industry increased in prominence. Dover and Sandwich became particularly well known for wool combing, the process of arranging fibres so that they are parallel ready for spinning. A French church was already established in Dover by the arrival of a Flemish population in the 1640s. The Huguenot population of Dover was large enough towards the end of the 17th century to receive monies from the Civil List of William and Mary.
Dover is still a welcoming place to foreigners. The Town Council’s 2015 Statement of Welcome for Refugees declares: “People in Dover are compassionate and caring. Almost everyone has experience either firsthand or through families and friends of the challenges of living in a border town. Many who work in Dover have responsibility at the sharp end for the protection and freedom of citizens against those who wish harm to our national community but also for upholding British values of community and compassion to those in need.”
The Statement adds, “The names on Dover’s war memorial and the graves of the War Dead in Dover’s cemeteries testify to the determination of our community to protect our national freedoms and way of life even at terrible personal cost. Dover is a front line community with a proud history of welcoming those seeking safety when in fear of their lives. In 1685 French Huguenot refugees landed at Dover fleeing persecution for their religious beliefs.”
And finally, “Dover was the first town to welcome Jewish children saved from Germany before the Holocaust of the Second World War. A child coming to Dover remembers, ‘When I saw the famous cliffs of Dover, I got terribly excited. Inside me I had a feeling that a new era was about to start. I made up my mind there and then to start afresh.’ We understand that threats to our freedoms and values can be physical and support our Border Force in their duties. Dover people fought and died in the past to make sure that our community was a safe and caring and compassionate place to live and flourish. Dover people today are committed to working to make sure we remain a safe and caring and compassionate community where a warm welcome is given to refugees and all are able to live full and happy lives.”
Banker Michael Ramus used to work in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral London. “Its architecture inspired me to drive around and visit every cathedral in England!” he relates. Michael is of Huguenot descent. “Back in the days when there was a telephone directory there were only six Ramus families listed. Huguenots, especially in the south of France, were often successful lawyers and textile merchants.” He is the patron of several artists and fashion designers. There’s clearly an affinity with France. “I feel totally at home in France whether in the south of France, Paris or Granville in Normandy.” I spend so many holidays there but even when I’m yachting in the Caribbean I can spot the Parisian yachts!” Michael is carrying a cutting from the Encyclopaedia Britannica of his ancestor:
“Ramus, Petrus, or Pierre de la Ramée (1515 to 1572), French humanist, was born at the village of Cuth in Picardy in 1515, a member of a noble but impoverished family; his father was a charcoal burner. Having gained admission, in a menial capacity, to the college of Navarre, he worked with his hands by day and carried on his studies by night. The reaction against scholasticism was still in full tide, and Ramus outdid his predecessors in the impetuosity of his revolt. On the occasion of taking his degree (1536) he actually took as his thesis ‘Everything that Aristotle taught is false’. This tour de force was followed up by the publication in 1543 of Aristotelicae Animadversiones and Dialecticae Partitiones, the former a criticism on the old logic and the latter a new textbook of the science.”
The extract also confirms, “Henry II made him Professor of Philosophy and Rhetoric at the Collège de France. But in 1561 he embraced Protestantism, and was compelled to flee from Paris, and in 1568 from France. But he returned before the Massacre of St Bartholomew (1572) in which he was one of the victims… The logic of Ramus enjoyed a great celebrity for a time, and there existed a school of Ramists boasting numerous adherents in France, Germany and Holland.”