Jane Austen visited Derbyshire prior to the publication of Pride and Prejudice, and likely stayed at The Rutland Arms in Bakewell. She is said to have revised the final chapters of her novel with fresh material from her holiday including a visit to nearby Chatsworth. A tall commanding presence dominating the landscaped roundabout at the heart of Bakewell, The Rutland Arms was built at the turn of four centuries ago. The author, if correctly reported, would have been staying in a new hotel. It’s a serious looking building of warehouse-like proportions: three tall storeys tower up to high pitched parapet-free hipped roofs. The maximalist interior decoration – school of Martin Brudnizki – is very jolly with a picture hang in the dining room to rival any art gallery. More is more; less is a chore.
Another sandstone hostelry in the pretty town is Castle Inn. On a more modest two storey scale, it is close to the picturesque bridge arching over the River Wye. The adjoining wing of outbuildings has been converted to additional guest accommodation. Overlooking the town on a hill – this is after all the Peak District – is All Saints Parish Church. Dating from the 12th century, the Norman style building was restored between 1879 and 1882 by George Gilbert Scott Junior. Cute cottages line the laneways between these landmarks. Bank House, Bank Mews, Coulsden Cottage, The Cottage, Haven Cottage, The Old Forge, Spire Cottage, Splash Cottage, 1820 Cottage.
On the same hill as All Saints Parish Church is The Gospel Hall. The local history is recorded as, “The Gospel Hall was originally The Oddfellows Hall. It was built in 1872 by the friendly society The Loyal Devonshire Lodge of Oddfellows as a meeting room for its members. The Primitive Methodists rented the building for worship from 1879 until about 1892 when they built a new church in Water Street. Around 1800 some Christians in Bakewell also began meeting on New Testament lines in the home of a Mr Sellars in The Avenue, Bakewell. By 1895 they were holding their Sunday Services in The Oddfellows Hall. In 1949 the Christians bought the building and renamed it The Gospel Hall. Between 1982 and 1987 the Hall was progressively altered and extended by converting the two basement garages, formerly stables, into an additional meeting room.”
The moist morning mist lifts to reveal an unclouded blue sky.
Déu n’hi do! Lavender’s Blue is a release of pure joy. Visiting a metropolis to explore just one neighbourhood concentrates our minds. A new tourism. We’re on it like a Jane Austen bonnet. Especially when the met is Barcelona; the hood is Eixample; and the local is Lasarte. “Work, strive, feel, listen, talk, taste, observe, thrill, improve, excite, think, imagine, inspire, decorate, reflect, research, work, pamper.” So declares Chef de Cuisine Paolo Casagrande.
Martin’s signature looms large over the restaurant. Literally. It’s scrawled across clerestory height mirrors above the panelling. Paolo combines Martin’s fiery signature dishes with his own fearsome foray into Catalan cuisine, from ginger to jalapeño. He’s got range. Don’t you just love folded linen napkin trays? Synchronised pouring? Cork presenting? A wooden wheelbarrow piled high with special artisanal reminiscential original regional bread? Lasarte is the embodiment of brilliance. The Lasarte Menu is €215 a head. Time to raid the Lazard family vault again. Fotem un café?
Catalan fished stew? Suquet. Petit fours balanced on a candelabra? Candy-labra. Mim cava. Mmm cava. Ah cava. Colm Tóibín records in Homage to Barcelona, “In Barcelona the poets and the professors, the designers and the rest of the generation of 1992 have taken Champagne to their hearts. In Barcelona they call it ‘cava’, and they take it as seriously as they take most things. Codorniu and Freixenet are local brews, for everyday use like wine from a barrel… Drinking cava is an integral part of being a Catalan.”
We’re not leaving this block. Period. Homage to Eixample. Micro travel is all about discovering what’s next door. Imagine our surprise, and dedication to the cause, to discover – in a city that brims with power shopping strips – that Passeig de Gràcia, the strip that easily outstrips all others, is at the foot of the hotel’s marble steps. Colm says it has “a glamour to be found nowhere else in Barcelona, in the faces, the clothes, the hairstyles.” This is no cursory peep behind the faded Iron Curtain. These days we’re all about intense western festoons. After such sweet, salt and umami sensory satisfaction, now’s the time to join the style savvy and go spend the next two generations’ inheritance. Eixample: it’s an extension to our very existence. Salut i força al Canuti!
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.