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The Royal Foundation of St Katharine Limehouse London + Langley House Trust Carol Service

Surprised by Joy

The Royal Foundation of St Katharine is a Christian organisation that was established in 1147,” introduces Chaplain Carol Rider. “The original community was next to the Tower of London in St Katharine’s Docks before setting up in Regent’s Park. We’ve been in the East End since the late 18th century. St Katharine’s doesn’t come under the Anglican Diocese: it became a Royal Peculiar when Queen Eleanor recognised it in the 13th century. Since World War II The Queen has been our patron. In fact, all our Patrons have been female royals. The Duchess of Cornwall recently visited us too.” Photos of Camilla add sparkle to the bookshelves of the Lounge.

At the heart of the current St Katharine’s on Butcher Row, Limehouse, rooted in the deep urban fabric is the Master’s House, a handsome tallish squarish brownish brick piece of Georgian London attributed to Thomas Leverton. Note ‘attribution’ only for much of Georgian London was formed not by great architects but by developers. The most extraordinary aspect of the Master’s House is the collection of murals adorning the two principal reception rooms overlooking the garden. Aha! The Queen Matilda Room and the Chapter Room. Such surprise, such joy! A rare explosion of period trompe l’oeil.

­­­­Charles Saumarez Smith believes that St Katharine’s has a “very atmospheric post war chapel”. The former Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts London observes, “The chapel was designed by Roderick Enthoven in 1953. He obviously had a sensitivity to historic buildings because he was able to incorporate some of the surviving medieval fittings which came from the Foundation’s original home, including an Italian reredos.” Charles also notes that the carved lettering in the chapel – check out the Welsh slate altar – is by Ralph Beyer, a German sculptor who was an apprentice of Eric Gill.

The Foundation of St Katharine is a joyous blend of ages, from Festival of Britain architecture to medieval statuary. The eclectic yet harmonious group of buildings housing the Foundation encloses a peaceful garden and stylish croquet lawn. The ultimate urban oasis. Cliché perhaps, reality, yes. Above and beyond the entrance gates to St Katharine’s the Docklands Light Rail whizzes by – an ever urgent flash of red and blue. Below, in full view of the travelling tourists and commuters and locals are the Yurt Café and neighbouring converted shipping container studios. Deconstructivism meets urban renewal meets spare space meets hipsterism meets great coffee in a meaningful meanwhile use.

“The Foundation is committed to worship, service and hospitality,” explains Carol. “Some people just book a room and create their own retreat. Guests might join us for our twice daily worship or use the stillness of the chapel at other times of the day. They might sit in the garden in the sun or under the shade of our huge plane tree. They can use our small library with its comfy chairs. Or they might spend time here at St Katharine’s but also venture out to explore London, to visit some of its wonderful architecture, art galleries and theatres.”

At the turn of the 21st century, the Foundation was revitalised. The Victor Churchill Building by Matthew Lloyd Architects added seven bedrooms next to the chapel. Founding Partner Matthew Lloyd states, “This new building sensitively relates to the chapel itself and also to the adjoining 1950s extension on its west side, both in height and materiality.” Jonathan Dinnewell of Smallwood Architects reordered the chapel, increasing natural light into its interior. Following renovations and extensions by PRP Architects, there are now nine meeting rooms from the intimate Queen Philippa Room (maximum two guests) to the Queen Elizabeth Conference Room (maximum 70 guests).

Concerts, residential retreats, supper clubs and reflection days led by the likes of Muthuraj Swamy (author of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2019 Lent Book Reconciliation) and Pádraig Ó Tuama (poet, theologian and former leader of the Corrymeela Community, Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organisation) fill the calendar of St Katharine’s. Today, Langley House Trust is recording a Christmas carol service in the chapel.

Dee Spurdle, Head of Fundraising and Communication, relates, “Langley House Trust is a Christian charity which provides accommodation based support to people at risk of offending or who have committed offences.” Chief Executive Tracy Wild, who is speaking at the carol service, adds, “Our vision is of a crime free society where no one is unfairly disadvantaged or excluded because of their past. We’ve been going for 62 years now.” As for the carol service, required to be online this year due to a pandemic: “We’ve gone from 15 carol services to one online. But when there is a blocked road ahead, you need to turn left or right. We are hoping that more people will be able to watch the carol service online. We want to increase awareness of our charity and also encourage churches to watch it.”

The Reverend Andy Rider, National Chaplain of Langley House Trust, reveals, “Langley’s Resident Worship Leader Luke Hamlyn and singer Hannah Ravenor, who also works for Langley as well as being Marketing and Engagement Manager at the charity Clean Sheet, will lead the band in ‘Joy To The World’. They are joined by the band including the violinist from Christ Church Spitalfields, Amy Mulholland. This carol will be a feature of the service amongst lots of others.” As for his message, “I am speaking on Colossians 1 – a very early hymn. Maybe we should call it the first ever Christmas carol!” Another recognised New Testament hymn which would have been sung in Greek is 1 Timothy 3:16, “He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”

“Contemplation occurs naturally when we behold something of beauty. In the presence of beauty, understanding becomes suspended and analysis futile. Contemplative prayer is the act of beholding Jesus and becoming ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’.” So scribes Andy in his 2009 book Three Holy Habits. The Royal Foundation of St Katharine is the ultimate sanctuary of contemplation in London. There are no equals. And so a golden leaf strewn autumnal afternoon of how it was and how it is and how it will be can sometimes­ last forever. “You are never more than a moment away from God,” muses Reverend Rider. That moment is now. Enjoy the carol service.

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Sinabro Restaurant Battersea + The Beaumont Hotel Mayfair London

How Many Tears to Babylon?

Battersea Rise © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

First things first. Clapham Junction is not in Clapham. Never was, never will be. When the railway station was first built in Battersea, the Victorians had the bright idea of calling it after Clapham which is 1.5 miles away. The former was a no go zone; the latter as respectable as could be expected south of the river. How things change! Local campaigns regularly erupt proudly claiming back Battersea to where it belongs. Take note Clapham Cluttons on Northcote Road. Never mind all that. At least agents agree the best real estate in SW11 is “Between the Commons”. It’s a heated up toast rack of roads lined with handsome houses cushioned betwixt Clapham Common and Wandsworth Common. For Wandsworth read Battersea. So no matter what side you’re on you’re a winner. As for the Clapham Omnibus it’s long been replaced by the South Chelsea Tractor. This is after all Yummy Mummy Nappy Valley Uppity Middle Class central. Upmarket has gone downstream.

Historically, before London completely engulfed this part of semi rural Surrey, it was the home of architects Sir Charles Barry and Thomas Cubitt, authors Samuel Pepys and Graham Greene, saints Zachary Macaulay and William Wilberforce, and typographer and sinner Eric Gill. Not all at once. Battersea Rise forms one of the outer edges of the grill or grid. To the north, Lavender Hill may not have its mob anymore but gentrification, yes Sixties sociologist Ruth Glass is to blame for that term, hasn’t quite taken over. Yet. The same cannot be said, to put it mildly, for south of Battersea Rise, the tract of land once owned by the 1st Earl Spencer. Here, a Parisian meringue pâtisserie qualifies as a corner shop. Byron is the chip shop. Dip & Flip is the burger joint. The Bolingbroke Pub and Dining Room, the local. Quids in, it’s not for the price sensitive. Everyone’s moneyed in The Bank. There are as many red cords, pink sweaters and yellow jackets on the street as Roderick Charles’ shop display. Welcome to Paradisian Battersea. It even gets a couple of mentions in The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. Half the time Made in Chelsea is made in Battersea.

Between the Commons © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Aside from Battersea Rise the other boundaries of this low rise swathe of bedknobs and broomsticks land are Clapham Common West Side to the east, Bolingbroke Grove to the west and Nightingale Lane to the south. Social distractions aren’t new. William Wilberforce lamented in 1791, “I find that I must as little as is really right ask people to Battersea Rise to stay all night as it robs and impoverishes the next morning… in this way I love my time, and find indeed that less is done at Battersea Rise than elsewhere.” The competition’s stiff, but really, for boys who brunch there’s nowhere quite like Sinabro at 28 Battersea Rise. It’s a reality. It’s a dream. It’s a paradox. Welcome to Parisian Battersea. Francophile Marianne Faithfull’s As Tears Go By aptly plays softly in the background. Do turbot and merlot rhyme? Halibut and Malibu? In Paree do you drop the t? What about Moët? Hard or soft t? But soon life’s perpetual worries and other first world concerns subside and fade away.

Sinabro Battersea Rise © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sinabro © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Yoann Chevert © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sinabro Amuse Bouche © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Siabro Egg Celeriac Mushrooms © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sinabro Sea Bream © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sinabro Baby Gem Salad © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We moved to Battersea three years ago,” relate Yoann Chevert and Sujin Lee, the owners of Sinabro. “We fell in love at first sight with this area because of its urban and suburban mix. We didn’t so much choose Battersea Rise for our restaurant as it chose us. We’ve been looking for premises for four years in London and had several abortive cases.” Sinabro is Korean for “slowly but surely without noticing”. Manager Sujin, originally from Seoul, explains, “This pure Korean word resembles us. We work hard as ants or bees collecting their foods by instinct!” There are just 29 covers in the sparely decorated restaurant: 16 at the bar overlooking the open kitchen, eight in a private space to the rear and the remaining at small tables overlooking Battersea Rise. “We have two, three and six course menus,” says Chef Yoann, originally from Loir-et-Cher. “Eventually it would be good to keep only the six course tasting menu. Our customers say each of our ingredients in a dish have strong intense flavours yet are delicate.” The Michelin Guide says, “Confidently prepared dishes that rely largely on classic French flavours but are modern in style.”

Sinabro Bavarois © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The two course lunch (£25.50) of liquid potato amuse bouche then egg, celeriac and mushrooms followed by sea bream, cabbage and mustard sauce with baby gem salad (£3.50) proves to be just that. Why stop there when there is fennel bavarois, strawberry and lemon sorbet for pudding (£6.90). The wine list is helpfully categorised. “Crisp and Mineral” includes Château Carbitey 2010 Graves Bordeaux (£44); “Rich and Medium Bodied”, Weingut Von Winning 2012 Pfalz (£37); “Leafy and Savoury”, Domaine Raymond Morin Saumur-Champigny 2010 Loire (£30); “Fruity and Supple”, Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Beaumes de Venise 2012 Rhone (£42); and finally “Big and Bold” includes Château Puy Mouton 2008 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru (£58). “Frédéric Simonin in the 17th District is our favourite restaurant in Paris,” says Yoann. “We worked together for eight years! He is such a talented man.” Yoann’s Parisian experience included a stint at Michelin starred establishments Taillevent, Le Meurice and La Table de Joel Robuchon. He met his wife and future business partner Sujin at Le Cordon Blue. Yoann was formerly Sous Chef with Hélène Darroze at The Connaught Hotel.

The Beaufort Brown Hart Gardens © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Connaught. One of London’s oldest hotels, it’s the perfect pit stop for a sybaritic Bolly or four before full steam ahead to the soft opening of London’s newest hotel. The Beaumont. Fedoras at the ready. Restaurant royalty Jeremy King’s and Chris Corbin’s first hotel, the Art Deco styled Colony Grill Room is painted with Twenties American sporting activities. The adjacent Cub Room continues the theme but with a fine line in American whiskeys stops hospitably short of Prohibition. A Hemingway Daiquiri (£11.75) of Maraschino, rum, grapefruit and lime juice hits the spot. Across the bar sit modern writers Dylan Jones and Caitlin Moran. Overlooking the discreet oasis of Brown Hart Gardens in Mayfair, but just a Celebrations Cracker’s throw from Selfridges, The Beaumont possesses that frequently sought yet rarely achieved blend of intimacy and grandeur. The 73 bedrooms and suites range from £395 to upwards of £2,250. Breakfast is included.

The Beaufort Hotel Mayfair © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley