Halfway down Yeoman’s Row, an exclusive mews that begins with The Bunch of Grapes pub located diagonally opposite the V+A Museum and Brompton Oratory lies one of London’s hidden gems for eating out. Giovanni is a little bit of Naples come to Knightsbridge, Londa in London, Brittoli in Britain. It’s named after owner Adriano Basha’s son Giovanni. In the interests of equality and spreading the love, Adriano has just opened another Mediterranean restaurant in London. Amelia’s in Chelsea Green is named after… his daughter.
It’s our third visit to Giovanni. We’ve eaten towards the rear of the elegant restaurant and on the terrace. White linen throughout. It’s between seasons so we’re at a window table today, the open French doors and generous planting giving an impression of outdoor lunching. The dining room quickly fills up and in true Italian spirit is full of life. Waiting staff, like Adriano, are gregarious.
When in Rome… it would be rude not to eat olives. Olives are the future! Grilled sardines, orecchiette and sea bass are followed by lemon sorbet. A smart stylish dining room complemented by a kitchen producing classic Italian dishes cooked and baked to perfection. Giovanni is quite simply the best Italian restaurant in London. We’re already looking forward to our fourth visit. But first, there’s Amelia’s.
“It’s sort of feeble really,” says Min Hogg. “Open the property section of any newspaper and you’ll see page after page of boring beige interiors. I blame technology. People just want to switch on this and that but can’t be bothered to look at things like furniture and paintings.” Her own flat is neither boring nor beige. Quite the opposite. It’s brimming with antiques and art and personality. And magazines. “The red bound copies on my shelves are from when I was Editor. The loose copies in boxes are all the subsequent issues.” Min was, of course, founding Editor of the highly influential magazine The World of Interiors.
“My mum would have made a brilliant Editor but she was awfully lazy,” confides Min. “She always made our houses really nice without any training, none of that, she just did it. She was a great decorator. You bet! So was my grandmother.” Min’s first plum role was as Fashion Editor of Harpers and Queen. Anna Wintour, who would later famously edit American Vogue, was her assistant. “We hated each other!” Min recalls, her sapphire blue eyes twinkling mischievously. “I was taken on by Harpers and Queen over her. She really knew I wasn’t as utterly dedicated to fashion as she was. By no means!” Nevertheless, Anna was the first to leave.
Thank goodness then for an ad in The Times for “Editor of an international arts magazine” which Min retrieved from her bin. She applied and the rest is publishing history. The World of Interiors was a roaring success from day one, year 1981. “I submitted a three line CV,” she laughs. “I didn’t want to bore Kevin Kelly the publisher with A Levels and so on!” It didn’t stop her being selected out of 70 candidates. “I sort of knew I’d got the job. I ended up having dinner with his wife and him that night. I think probably of all the people who applied, I was already such friends with millions of decorators. Just friends, not that I was doing them any good or anything, I just knew them because we were likeminded.”
“Come and have a look at the view from the kitchen, it’s really good,” says Min stopping momentarily. “It’s like living opposite the Vatican,” pointing to the plump dome of Brompton Oratory. Back in her sitting room, the view is of treetops over a garden square, a plumped up cushion’s throw from Harrods. As for choosing an interior to publish, “If I liked it, I’d do it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t! I came to the job with this huge backlog of interior ideas. We never finished using them all. I’m blessed with a jolly broad spectrum of vision, and as you can see, although I’m not a modernist I can appreciate modernism when it’s good. I don’t like Art Nouveau either but I can get the point of a really good example of anything.”
Appropriately Min’s top floor which she bought in 1975 looks like a spread from The World of Interiors. “I don’t decorate, I just put things together. I’m a collector,” she confesses. Eclectically elegant, somehow everything fits together just so. “John Fowler was an innovator. He was frightfully clever.” So is Min. She laments the disappearance of antique shops. And junk shops. “London used to be stuffed with junk shops. Now it’s seaside towns like Bridport and Margate that have all the antique shops. There’s nothing left in London. Just the few grand ones.” Interiors may be her “addiction” but Min is interested in all art forms. She’s been an active member of the Irish Georgian Society ever since it was founded by her friends Desmond and Mariga Guinness. “I love the plasterwork of Irish country houses,” she relates, “Castletown’s a favourite.”
“Mike Tighe, the former Art Director of The World of Interiors, joined me,” she explains. “For me it was a physical thing, cutting out paper patterns by hand. Mike did all the computer work. I learnt to do a repeat and everything else. It’s funny how you can learn something if you’re interested. By pure luck the finished result looks like hand blocked wallpaper. If someone gives us a colour we can match it. I like changing the scale too from teeny to enormous.” It’s a versatile collection, printed on the finest papers, cottons, linens and velvets. Prominent American interior designers like Stephen Sills love it. The collection may be found in a world of interiors from a Hawaiian villa to a St Petersburg palace. But not in any boring beige homes.
To be frank, it wasn’t the hardest decision in the world to while away a wintry Saturday afternoon, yes, the perfected world of a Saturday afternoon, wistfully tucked up in a swanky five star Knightsbridge hotel. Add Anouska Hempel (Lady Weinberg to you) to the mix, and it’s a given. The Franklin Hotel, retrieving the definite article, belongs to the family of London terraced houses turned boutique hotels by the New Zealand born designer, from the (very open) maximalist Blakes to the (now closed) minimalist Hempel. From the outside, it’s terribly similar to No.11 Cadogan Gardens. A Pont Street precursor perhaps? All candid brick elevations with canted bay windows. A cute crow stepped gable above a petite portico marks the entrance.
Anouska Hempel waxes lyrical on her latest creation, “The English love the Italians. The romance of Rome and Venice. All combined, opposite the Brompton Oratory, have become The Combination. Dark brooding greys and bright sparkling whites: floors of Carrara marble and slate. Garden windows abound onto a row of umbrella shaped pear trees. The glorious couture tables make the ground garden floor a sensation. I have had these made specifically to follow the floorplate. Venetian wells, piazzas, squares, dark greys with white punctuations. Mysterious.” Such moods, such moods and modulations.
Digging deeper, Loretto alumna Lady Weinberg, fresh from a stay at Abbey Leix, dwells on creation at large, “I hope that I have something more important to give the world than just what you see on the level of where I’m living at the moment. I think my mission is to bring peace and harmony and a sense of enjoyment, and also to bring something special into ordinary everyday life. I really have been very fortunate to have a little talent, and also incredibly fortunate to have had so many great opportunities. But I strongly feel that I am not the source of my own creativity, which must come from somewhere else.” Painterly, scholarly, otherworldly.
Bowing to mannerism, call it architectural etiquette, the palazzo look certainly isn’t by chance. This is the latest addition to Starhotels, an Italian family owned group. The bedlinen in each of the 35 bedrooms may be 400 thread count Italian Frette linen but the wrought iron balustrades of the enfilade were inspired by English conservatories. A mutual attraction | a binational lock-in love-in | a European commission. Anglophile Elisabetta Fabri, President and CEO of Starhotels, tipped off the designer about her passion. Anouska took it to fruition – with rigour. Hers is a symmetrical staging of sculpture: discovered, framed, mounted, foreground, background, grounded, released. Walls fading to trompe l’oeil, a mirage of Venetian eglomisée mirrors in the restaurant reflect the wonders of Alfredo Russo’s culinary capability. The Piedmont born chef snapped up his first Michelin star aged 24. Expect tiptop modern Italian cuisine. Disappointment is not, no never, on the menu. Exhilaration is. There are more highlights than a National Theatre performance of Amadeus.
Bed is a reinvented fourposter rising to a spidery crown, apropos to a rococo reverie or a baroque dream or a contemporary vision. It’s impossible not to be hyperbolic about this parabolic scrawl in the perfumed air. The entry to an arcane deserted world. And so late Saturday afternoon, yes, luscious late Saturday afternoon, descends into an undeclared denouement: a happy convergence of atavism with hymn charms. Shadow puppets at play. Unfurling the hours spent, later, so much later, upon reflection, through a glass, darkly; frankly it’s all about Franklin scents and mirrors.