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Art Design Hotels Luxury People Restaurants

Eric Lanlard + Cake Boy Battersea London

Sweet Things Are Made of These  

“I can’t wait to reopen the seating area outside,” says Eric Lanlard, his voice still rich with the timbre of Brittany. We’re in Cake Boy, his café lounge school next to the River Thames in Battersea. The Master Pâtissier and Chef is standing under a halo of lights beside a mouth watering cascade of tartes aux fruit, entremets framboise, pralines and tartes paysannes. “My favourite dessert in the world is tarte tatin – piping hot from the oven with crème fraiche on the side!” he shares. Eric moved from Plomelin in northwestern France to London 32 years ago to work for restaurateurs Albert and Michel Roux, becoming their Head Pastry Chef within a couple of years. He opened Cake Boy in 1995. Ever since, the Garçon de Gâteau has been busy as a global baking ambassador for the likes of Marriott International and Virgin Atlantic in between keeping it sweet by publishing books.

It’s time to take a trip down memory lane, an eight year trip back to a promotion in Knightsbridge… Here goes… Now that London Fashion Week is over, we can all breathe out. Nothing tastes as good as chocolate, so we’re off to experience the Montezuma Afternoon Tea at Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel. The hotel building is looking well for 50. Once the gangly new kid on the block, all Sixties bravura, it has matured (with the help of a subtle facelift) into something altogether more refined. The address is not so much golden postcode as golden place: Cadogan. Jumeirah Carlton Tower is off Sloane Street, home of the Rangers, between Candy + Candy’s One Hyde Park and the only road in London to have an architectural style named after it (Pont Street, keep up). Nearby is of course King’s Road, foodie paradise (Duke of York Square market) and shopping heaven (from Partridges to Peter Jones).

Afternoon tea, really an excuse to indulge between official meals, is high up the list of sybaritic Must Dos. Chinoiserie at JCT lives up to its name. Bedecked with hand painted Chinese wallpaper and gold leaf galore, the lounge is thronged with an army of cheongsam clad waitresses at our beck and call. We half expect Fan Bingbing to sweep through the revolving doors. Instead, the flame haired resident harpist provides a sense of serenity for the American, Saudi and English Isabel Marant clad guests. A glass of Champagne accompanies fresh strawberries before the menu goes choc-a-bloc in a celebration of its cocoa theme (Montezuma was the last Aztec king and a bit of a chocolate fiend). We order a Darjeeling and (Lady Grantham wouldn’t approve) a coffee.

One of the many joys of afternoon tea is having your cake and eating it in whatever order you desire. For the purposes of this review, we will stick to the order of the menu. Cocoa dusted (a taste of what’s to come) croissants with chorizo and Elemental provide a comforting intro. The sweet meets savoury theme makes its surprising, sensual, debut with a rich curried crab tart topped by white chocolate. A heart shaped white chocolate and parmesan palmier is hard not to love. Another unlikely yet successful marriage is chocolate macaroon with venison. For pescatarians, there’s the opportunity to order off menu, so cucumber and mayo sandwich is a traditional alternative. Back on menu, the cassis imperial chocolate cupcake is a fine dark mousse with balsamic blackcurrants filling an edible chocolate case. A sprinkling of pearls completes this sultry indulgence.

To cleanse the palate, a conquistador shot is an inspired layered composition of passion fruit, white chocolate with basil seeds and coconut jelly. Mission complete. Caraque spicy chocolate tart with popping candy features a pistachio wafer as delicate and colourful as the Chinese wallpaper. Dark mini chocolate caramel loaf filled with liquid salted butter, sweet food in savoury form, provides a jubilant succulent extravagant finale, for now, to cocoa. After this exotically original South American tour de taste, familiar British comfort returns in the form of (Lady Grantham would approve) scones with clotted cream and fruit preserve. Throughout this autumn, the general public can get tarted up and enjoy Eric Lanlard’s Montezuma Afternoon Tea. It costs £40 per person; £50 includes the Champers; for £55, the strawberries are added. The service is great, friendly staff who are more than adept at catching eye contact; a Coutts (of course) bank machine outside the hotel comes in handy for withdrawing tenners for tips.

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Architecture Art Country Houses

Ambrose Congreve + Mount Congreve Waterford

What a Fad

Mount Congreve Entrance © Stuart Blakley

First it was Farmleigh, then Lissadell, next it was Mount Congreve. Historic Irish houses lived in by the original families with intact interiors and gardens that could have been saved in their entirety for the nation. The Guinnesses’ former home Farmleigh was eventually purchased by the Government after its contents had been sold. Lissadell, once the home of Countess Markievicz who helped establish the Republic of Ireland, was sold on the open market and its contents auctioned despite the Gore-Booth family offering it to the State. At Mount Congreve, it is the gardens that have been saved. Its last owner, Ambrose Christian Congreve, struck a deal with the former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey that in return for tax exemption during his lifetime, the gardens would be left to the people of Ireland. The house is still there, stripped naked of its phenomenal collection of furniture and art, still surrounded by one of the finest gardens in the country, if not the world.Mount Congreve Facade © Stuart BlakleyIt took just two days in July 2012 for Mealy’s and Christie’s to auction off the entire contents. At the time, George Mealy explained, “There are lacquered screens and vases from Imperial China, rare books, Georgian silver, vintage wines, chandeliers and gilt mirrors and enough antique furniture to fill a palace. Everything is on offer. It’s a complete clearance of the entire estate. He did his art shopping in London. He got most of it through London because he had spotters for items that he might be interested in. Mr Congreve loved collecting. He loved nice things and he had unbelievable taste.” The result was a hard core property porn auction catalogue. Page after page of exotic beauty: the crimson library, the lemon bedroom, the Wedgwood blue sitting room, the large drawing spanning the full depth of the house: Chinoserie takes on Versailles.

 

 

Mount Congreve Garden Front © Stuart Blakley

Jim Hayes, former IDA director, records a visit to Mount Congreve in his autobiography The Road from Harbour Hill, “We were received on arrival by Geraldine Critchley, the social secretary and long-term assistant of Ambrose Congreve. The ornate hall was decked with a number of gloves, walking canes and a variety of riding accessories. We were escorted into a large drawing room, the walls of which were covered in 18th century, hand-painted, Chinese wallpaper. Three large Alsatian dogs lay asleep in the corner of the room. A liveried servant then appeared with a silver tray and teapot and antique bone china cups and saucers. This young man, of Indian origin, was one of the last few remaining liveried servants of Ireland’s great houses.” Sheila Bagliani, doyenne of Gaultier Lodge in County Waterford, recalls, “Gus, Ambrose’s Alsatian, had full run of the house.”

Mount Congreve Driveway © Stuart Blakley

Ambrose was in London rather aptly for the Chelsea Flower Show when he died in 2011, aged 104. He had no children so eight generations of his family’s enhancement of Waterford came to a close. Geraldine Critchley, his partner, survives him. The son of Major John Congreve and Lady Irène Congreve, daughter of the 8th Earl of Bessborough, Ambrose inherited Mount Congreve in 1968 and restored and redecorated and replanted it to within an inch of its being. The good life took off, on a whole new level. Ambrose divided his time between Mount Congreve and his London townhouse near Belgrave Square. He employed a succession of fine chefs de cuisine including Albert Roux who went on to co-found Le Gavroche restaurant.

Mount Congreve Garden © Stuart Blakley

Now for some horticultural stats. 46 hectare estate. 28 hectares of woodland. 1.6 hectares of walled gardens. 16 miles of paths. 3,000 different trees and shrubs. 3,000 rhododendrons. 1,500 plants. 600 camellias. 600 conifers. 300 acer cultivars. 300 magnolias. 250 climbers. The stuff of rural legend, all piled high on the south bank of the River Suir. The manicured gardens end abruptly next to open fields, like a beautiful face half made-up. Awards include classification as a Great Garden of the World by the Horticultural Society of Massachusetts and a Veitch Memorial Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society. Sheila Bagliani remembers, “Piped music in the grounds kept the 25 gardeners entertained while working. Ambrose also employed the Queen Mother’s former chauffeur.” Lot Number 492 at the auction was his 1969 shell grey Rolls Royce Phantom V1, price guide €12,000 to €18,000. It sold for €55,000. At his centenary lunch celebration, Ambrose declared, “To be happy for an hour, have a glass of wine. To be happy for a day, read a book. To be happy for a week, take a wife. To be happy forever, make a garden.” His garden lives on in perpetuity, making the public happy.

Mount Congreve Garden Dutch Steps © Stuart Blakley