Holywood and Cultra, County Down. Brighton and Hove, East Sussex. Margate and Westgate, Kent. Deal and Walmer, Kent. Some coastal towns don’t need a committee to be twinned. Each resort itself is dual aspect with a centre and a front. “You can do things at the seaside that you can’t do in town,” went the old music hall saying. Architecture by the sea can also exhibit a frivolity not found so much inland. The 1927 terrace facing leafy Archery Square, a block back from Walmer seafront, is a case in point. These six two storey with attic houses overlook the rather smart Walmer Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Their white painted brick walls and louvred window shutters appear suitably nautical but it is the roof that turns to pure whimsy. The dormer of each house and the side elevation of the terrace are framed by extravagant Dutch gables. Provençale style red pantiles add a splash of colour to the roof. The architects, Messrs Kieffer and Fleming, are relatively unknown. One other project they did work on is Barrington Hall in Cambridge. They remodelled that house which also has white painted brick walls and Georgian sash windows, but is American Colonial in essence with a columned verandah overlooking the lawn.
Another week, another all suites hotel. Hosts Giles Jauffret and Amaury de Villoutreys’ residence in a walled garden hidden down a laneway behind tall wooden gates in the honeycomb coloured city of Avignon always proves the perfect getaway. “Being a relatively small residence, we can focus on our guests,” says Giles. “The real luxury is being able to receive them as friends, and to have time for each one on an individual basis. We present our house more as a family home than a hotel. We wanted to share our French history, passion for art and l’art de vivre with others.” There are 42 watercolours of the city of canals in the Venetian Suite. The Naples Suite is hung with Neapolitan gouaches. And then there are the animals. Whether statues or the real thing, from a stuffed horse to a hatted stone dog, Persian cats to Weimaraner dogs, they all match the décor.
We’re always gunning for brilliant door staff whether concierge or bellboys or, in the case of The Bank, bouncers. This used to be, after all, a place of locked up assets so it’s good to be guarded. Security clearances passed, we’re headed onwards and upwards to enjoy an evening in the capital of South Down. We’re having a ball, quite the masquerade. Once a flashing neon Georgian drive-by (check out that Palladian window!) on the old Belfast to Dublin highway, it would take more than a motorway bypass to clench the soul from this institution of hospitality.
The house became locally known as The Haunted House when it fell vacant in the early 20th century before it was bought by the Misses Outlaw in the 1920s. Clearly unperturbed by any ghostly rumblings, the two sisters ran turned it into the Riverholme Restaurant and Guesthouse. Changing hands over later decades, the hotel expanded to back onto the River Thames. Sarova Hotels purchased the hotel in 2011 and carefully restored it. The riverside brasserie in Sir Christopher Wren Hotel is the best place in Windsor for afternoon tea. Save, perhaps, for an invite from Her Majesty to sup at nearby Windsor Castle.
“The sun always shines on the righteous!” claims hotelier Astrid Bray and sure enough the clouds fade to reveal an unblemished cobalt blue sky over the Capital City of Northwest Ulster. For once it’s not “foundering” as the locals would say. Depending on your persuasion, the name of this place is a four syllable binational portmanteau (Londonderry), a three syllable aristocratic surname (Londond’ry) or a rationalist nationalist two syllables (Derry). The city is one of two in Northern Ireland to share its name with its host county; Armagh does as well (Antrim doesn’t count as it is a mere town and county).
Sisters Margaret and Laura Bowe are joint châtelaines of Marlfield. Laura is Chairperson of Ireland’s Blue Book. “Now entering its 47th year,” she explains, “our collection of properties and restaurants continue to offer luxurious, memorable and unique experiences across the length and breadth of the island of Ireland… We are very proud of our chefs and patron chefs, with many of our restaurants boasting one and two Michelin stars.”
Guests at Bishop’s Gate Hotel are greeted by a framed picture of a quote by the sage Madame Lily Bollinger, clearly not the abstemious sort: “I drink when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty.” Equally educational are a series of framed architects’ drawings illustrating the genesis of the architecture of the hotel and other significant buildings in Derry.
Like all cultural tourists to the city, we ask our waitress for directions to the Derry Girls mural. “Not a bother!” she enthuses. “Just like a lollypop lady I’ll direct you!” Her shortcut is through the rear of the hotel. “This room used to be a garden and that’s a covered up well in the corner. The house where the hotel is now was used to hold prisoners during the Siege of Derry. They were able to travel underground from here to a well on Shipquay Street and from there across to boats on the River Foyle to escape.”
Everything’s different up north from the prices (lower) to the portions (bigger), from the hills (steeper) to the weather (colder). And of course not forgetting that fare (plenty of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and tea). Then there’s the ruggedness: a brooding dark stone cliff looms ahead and that’s just Richard and Samuel Sharp architects’ 1830s Crescent. England’s original seaside resort Scarborough embraces the coastline twice: North Bay and South Bay. Sandy rows. Separating the two bays is the precipitous Castle Hill which thanks to its multiplicity of castellated houses creeping up to the castle itself should be pluralised in name really. On the climb up to Castle Hill is St Mary’s Church where Anne Brontë is buried.
Agnes Grey House. La Baia. Colli Gham. El Eid. Greno. Helaina. Howdale. The Kimberley. The Paragon. The Ramleh. Rockside. The Thoresby. Wharncliffe. The Whiteley. Homes and bed and breakfasts. Deals Takeaway probably the best Deals in town. God is always greater than all our troubles. Peaches. Three course lunch 6.50. Tony Skingle is Elvis. Wanted Wanted Wanted Wanted. Signs and plaques and placards. And everywhere, the screeching cacophony of chips stealing herring gulls. Liverpool-on-Sea. Margate-on-more-Sea.
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.
Bucolia should be a noun. Feet resting on the window shutter while reading a novel next to an open balcony. Champagne on the rocks on the beach. Strolling along meandering streets of quaint gaily painted cottages. Goat’s cheese soufflé from The Dining Club later. All on that most special of days. Deal is more than a verb and a noun. A proper noun for a proper place.
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.
Dinner, tea or supper? Such nuanced lexicology surrounds the evening meal, steeped in geographical locale and riddled with class distinction. There’s something Biblical sounding about the latter term for eating. Of course, the “last supper” merits three mentions in the New Testament. And what a meal, loaded with symbolism, sacrifice, tradition, love, betrayal.
On a Dickensian window in Deal Conservation Area (a maze of smugglers’ alleys) a sign reads: “The Dining Club is an unusual style of dining venue. It is unique in that you book a table and will be seated in individual dining rooms that feel more like a private dinner party than a restaurant. We have five different rooms each decorated in their own contemporary Georgian style, each having its own ambience.” Tonight though, it’s supper at home.
Hello darlings. Hello Darling. Like a 21st century Dennis Severs’ House (the madcap period drama that lurks in Spitalfields), Hello Darling the brasserie and botanical bar and Darling House the mad party pad upstairs does eccentricity on tap. It’s out on a whim. The creative minds behind this immersive concept are Harriet Darling and Elise Edge. Presumably “Hello Edge” didn’t have quite the same ring to it. The interiors are a riot of paint effects and visual puns. A piece of art on the wall slides to the side. Is it a painting or window? It’s both. Below a handwritten “Lost Property” sign lies a discarded copy of Sarah Knight’s bestseller Get Your Sh!t Together sticking out from a Christmas bag. A note inside reads: “To Lulu, to help you stop losing your things wherever you go!” Is it an installation or the trail of a somewhat clueless guest? Not sure.
Gertrude Stein, champion of Cubist literature, on “Glazed glitter” in her 1914 Tender Buttons, “Nickel, what is nickel, it is originally rid of a cover. The change in that is that red weakens an hour. The change has come. There is no search. But there is, there is that hope and that interpretation and sometimes, surely any is unwelcome, sometime there is breath and there will be a sinecure and charming very charming is that clean and cleansing. Certainly glittering is handsome and convincing. There is no gratitude in mercy and in medicine. There can be breakages in Japanese. That is no programme. That is no colour chosen. It was chosen yesterday, that showed spitting and perhaps washing and polishing. It certainly showed no obligation and perhaps if borrowing is not natural there is some use in giving.” Goodbye Hello Darling. Goodbye darlings.