Under current owner restaurateur Richard Caring’s watchful eye, Daphne’s was given the full Martin Brudnizki treatment half a century after it first opened. The Swedish interior architect puts it succinctly: “Minimalism, maximalism, modernism, classicism – I’ve done them all. For me they are the four pillars of design. I take a bit of each and mix them in different strengths depending on the client.” Dublin born designer David Collins, who died prematurely in 2013, transformed a swathe of hospitality interiors in London. A fresh eclectic glamour upped the stakes and steaks at The Wolseley restaurant for starters and Artesian Bar at The Langham Hotel for nightcaps. Martin Brudnizki upholds that tradition, from giving minimalism a Scandi twist at Aquavit restaurant to maxing out maximalism at Annabel’s club.
Daphne’s interior floats somewhere between minimalism and maximalism, blending modernism with classicism. A vivid palette of pinks, yellows, greens and oranges recalls the hues of sun drenched Verona gardens and rooftops. The conservatory dining room is a light confection of bevelled mirrors, linen awnings, 1950s Murano chandeliers, modern European art and a baroque style green marble fireplace.
The blur of old and new architecture, public and private space, external and semi enclosed is so well handled in the rebuilding of Görtz Palais and what lies beyond. In a highly complex case of town planning par excellence, the central archway of the rebuilt Görtz Palais leads through to a sloping corridor lined with shop windows which in turn opens into an arcade with arches on one side open to Bleichenfleet Canal. Steps lead onto a series of interlinking courtyards: Stadthof, Treppenhof and Bleichenhof, all wrapped in an abundance of ceramic tiled walls. An archway reveals the best open space of all: the courtyard of Hotel Tortue. Piped classical music adds another thrill to the experience. They do it better here.
A few days later, suddenly, sharing a waiter with other guests seems rather déclassé, or would be if we weren’t dining in classy Aquavit. Lady Diana Cooper once described Vita Sackville-West as “all aqua, no vita”. Not so this restaurant: aptly named after the Scandinavian spirit, it’s full of life. We’re here, for starters. Not just desserts. A Nordic invader of the New York scene in the 1980s, sweeping up two Michelin stars, it opened an outpost in Tokyo and has now come to Mayfair.
In 1989, Country Life reported: “Until quite recently London lacked continental style brasseries. There has always been a wide choice of restaurants but the alternative to an expensive meal has been the ‘greasy spoon’ café, the pub or various questionable ‘takeaways’. Traditionally the City provided dining rooms, now almost extinct, together with a diet of boisterous restaurants such as Sweetings, the catering world’s equivalent of the floor of Lloyds or the Stock Exchange. But greater sophistication was demanded by a new generation keen on modern design, New York and cuisine, as opposed to cooking.”
That all changed with the arrival of Corbin + King and Richard Caring who have filled Mayfair and beyond with brasseries. Aquavit fits into the higher end of that mould. CEO Philip Hamilton says, “Our aim is to create a relaxed morning to midnight dining experience.” Handy, as we – the Supper Club (Lavender’s Blue plus) – all have Mayfair offices, from Park Lane to Piccadilly Circus. Scandi style has been ripped off so much by hipster hangouts but this is west, not east, London. Pared back lines allow the quality of the materials to shine (literally in some cases) through: marble floors climb up the dado to meet pale timber panelling, softly illuminated by dangling bangles of gold lights.
Sourdough bread and knäckebröd (Swedish rye crisp bread with a hint of aniseed) come with whey butter. “The whey butter is from Glastonbury,” explains our waiter. It’s all singing all dancing. Chillout music is playing in the background. We’re experiencing what the Scandinavians call ‘hygge’, that cosy relaxed feeling you get when being pampered, enjoying the good things in life with great company. All the more reason to sample Hallands Fläder (£4.50), an elderflower aquavit. A continuous flow of sparkling water is (aptly) plentiful and reasonably priced (£2.00). Ruinart (£76.00) keeps our well informed sommelier on her toes.
Our dedication to reportage ever unabated, is it a dream sequence or the following day do we return for a smörgåsbord of diced and smoked mackerel tartare, sorrel and lumpfish roe (£7.00) in a salad bowl, sitting at a timber table on the polished pavement? Not forgetting the unforgettable Shrimp Skagen (£9.00)? Skagenröra isn’t just prawns on toast, y’know. Named after a Danish fishing port, other essential ingredients are mayonnaise, gräddfil(a bit like soured cream) and some seasoning. Grated horseradish, in this case, adds a bit of spice. Best crowned with orange caviar. It’s Royal Box treatment all over again as we have a dedicated waiter to our table. Or maybe that’s because we are the only alfresco brunchers braving the elements outside the box. By Nordic winter standards, it’s a positively balmy morning. We’ve a love | hate relationship with Aquavit. Love here | hate leaving.
The reports of the death of fine dining are greatly exaggerated. Eating out hasn’t quite cataclysmically descended from fish knives to fishwives. More like a move from blue blood to blue jeans. Out formality; informality. Chris Corbin and Jeremy King are the pioneers of creating dress down town restaurants with an uptown social scene. Meritocracy over aristocracy. Michel Roux’s La Gavroche and Gordon Ramsay’s Pétrus may still be serving haute cuisine at triple the price and triple the waiter-to-customer ratio, but the brasserie scene dominates now in London. Fine dining is niche, not norm. Even the famously conservative Marcus Wareing has binned the white linen tablecloths at his fine dining restaurant in the Berkeley Hotel. He’s replaced the late David Collins’ interior with “free and easy dining accompanied by American style service”. Peter Sheppard who along with Keith Day designs for Smallbone observes, “Restaurant style creeps into homes.”
Ever since its seminal 1970s Pine Farmhouse Range, Smallbone has been setting kitchen trends. In the 80s came Hand Painted and then in the 90s, when everyone else was busy doing fitted, came Unfitted. This trailblazing salute to Charles Jencks’ postmodernism introduced freestanding furniture, stoves, larder cupboards and the singular kitchen island. “Fitted kitchens first became popular in the 1950s,” relates Peter. “The Brasserie Range continues the move away from fitted kitchens. It’s influenced by the 30s, based around the needs of the family. A place to cook and chat. The starting point was an oversized dresser in a French bistro we frequent. It adds to the relaxed Provençal ambiance. We’ve adapted the dresser, adding sliding glass doors, an integrated worktop and back painted open shelving.”
Characterful strips of knotty oak contrast with nickel plated saucepan style drawer handles. Plain cornices and skirting boards are finished with a slip of brushed stainless steel. It’s versatility, though, that defines this range. The traditional plate rack has been updated to hold glasses under it. The ceiling rack now has a wraparound shelf. Below the sink unit is a slatted ledge for Keith and Peter’s pug, Chanel. St Francis is not just here in spirit. A bronze statue of the patron saint of animals is on the wall outside. As for the kitchen island, that’s so last century. Smallbone’s Brasserie Range has three islands of varying size. The kitchen archipelago.
As the penthouse corridor becomes a runway, mannequins attired in Jonathan Blake’s Fall/Winter 2013 and Spring/Summer 2014 Collections weave their way past pulchritudinous Sloane Ravers, brilliant black suited barristers, hot hoteliers and the odd columnist. “My designs are inspired by Chanel, Valentino and Versace,” notes Jonathan. “They’re wearable, classic and elegant. Several of the pieces I am featuring tonight are made from a powder blue silk fabric. Others are made of gold lace.”
To die for definition, clever cuts, sophisticated silhouettes, majestic materials… Jonathan Blake’s woman is international, knows she can look great while being taken seriously. Prices range from a £170 blouse to £9,000 for an evening dress. Meanwhile, we live in hope of a Jonathan Blake men’s collection. Shipping, becalmed.