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No.50 Cheyne Chelsea London + Iain Smith

Chelsea Arbour

Cheyne Walk Chelsea © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

So, 50 is the new brasserie. After a nine month rework, our favourite Chelsea haunt is up and running again. Sprinting even. It came at a price: a cool £3 million. Money well spent though: Lambart + Browne (Founding Directors Freddy van Zevenbergen and Tom Browning are from the school of Nicky Haslam) have created interiors that are at once luxurious and relaxing. Let’s start with the spacious upstairs drawing room. That’s where we’re ushered for pre drinks to meet Maître d’ David Gjytetza on the last evening of summer. It’s like being at a house party – if you’ve friends who own a Georgian property overlooking the Thames. All five tall windows are gracefully dressed. It’s clearly not curtains for curtains: significant drapes are joined by Roman blinds and generous pelmets. There are plenty of Nickyesque touches: curly edged bookshelves, squashy sofas, tweedy cushions, a host of antiqued mirrors (through a glass, darkly). The drawing room meshes highbrow bibliophilia with talented mixology: it’s somewhere to slake your thirst with a Garden of Eden Cocktail (Wolfschmidt Kummel, Champagne, apple and lavender shrub) while browsing The Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson. Such reserve, such reticence.

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

In contrast, the intimate first floor cocktail bar is Chinoiserie red with midnight blue satin highlights. Such boldness, such sexiness. Drummonds sanitaryware is the ultimate sophistication signifier in the bathroom. The centuries old tradition of distractingly saucy cartoons of racy girls hanging on the walls is upheld. Downstairs, leather banquettes and stripy snug chairs are made for decadent dinners and languid lunches in the restaurant. Chandeliers with 50 shades radiate a soft glow. Such elegance, such comfort. General Manager Benoit Auneau joins us for a chat. Gosh, this place is friendlier than ever. The building was once a pub and it still feels like a local. A very upmarket local. “Cheyne is my baby,” says Benoit. “I’ve been here a long time.”

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Owner Sally Greene (who’s also proprietor of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho and The Old Vic Theatre in Waterloo) lives nearby on Cheyne Walk in a house with a Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll designed garden. Splendid. Sally opened Cheyne Walk Brasserie in 2004 to great aplomb; its relaunch has gone and upped the aplomb.  She says, “My passion is creativity. My passion is looking for opportunities and just going for them.” During dinner, David tells us, “The split of guests is roughly 60 to 40 residents to visitors. We get people coming from Blakes Hotel and Chelsea Harbour Hotel too.” There are a few modelly types as well tonight. It’s a terrific British menu focused round the wood fire grill. We choose the scallops starter. Unusually, they’re served cold in a cucumber soup. Such flavour, such joy. Stuffed courgette flowers with aubergine caviar for main is a sumptuous artistic composition. Classic St Véran keeps things lively.

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Exterior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Sign © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Head Chef Iain Smith © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Flowers © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Plasterwork © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Cornice © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Upstairs © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Bathroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Drawing Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

We return to No.50 Cheyne on the first afternoon of autumn. Head Chef Iain Smith talks to us over lunch. We’re back in the coveted corner table (the best place to see and be seen). “There aren’t that many restaurants in Chelsea,” observes Iain. That wasn’t always the case. A scan through the 1975 edition of a Discriminating Guide to Fine Dining and Shopping in London by James Sherwood, Founder of Orient-Express Hotels, identifies 22 restaurants in the hallowed postcode enjoyed by No.50 Cheyne of SW3. Two prominent survivals are Daphne’s and San Lorenzo. There are six restaurants on King’s Road alone:

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Sofa © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

  • Al Ben Accotto, 58 Fulham Road… “plain walls, Venetian lanterns overhead”… “the crème brûlée is a triumph”
  • Alvaro, 124 King’s Road… “genuine, small Italian restaurant”… “octopus with spinach in chilli sauce is delicious”
  • Au Bon Accueil, 27 Elystan Road… “small, pretty, cheerful Chelsea restaurant”… “vegetables are prepared with originality”
  • Brompton Grill, 243 Brompton Road… “patterned wallpaper surrounds, pink tinged mirrors engraved with clouds”… “unforgettable tartare sauce on fried scallops”
  • Le Carrousse, 19 to 21 Elystan Street…“The original decorator was David Hicks; the original owner, Geoffrey Sharp”… “miraculously unrubbery escargots”
  • The Casserole, 338 King’s Road… “trendy Chelsea King’s Road atmosphere”… “avocado filled with cottage cheese, walnuts and celery”
  • La Chaumière, 104 Draycott Avenue… “the most expensive bistro in London”… “the entrée is served with baked potatoes and salads”
  • Chelsea Rendezvous, 4c Sydney Street… “white painted brick walls, a profusion of fresh plants and paintings by Brian McMinn”… “fried seaweed is a delicious addition”
  • Daphne’s, 122 Draycott Avenue… “plush banquettes, gilt framed pictures and subdued lighting”… “Elizabeth Shaw chocolate crisps are served with good coffee”
  • Don Luigi, 330 King’s Road… “modern prints hang on clean white walls”… “Scampi Don Luigi is a speciality”
  • Meridiana, 169 Fulham Road… “the dining room itself is bright, airy, spacious, clean and bustling”… “pasta is excellent”
  • Minotaur, Chelsea Cloisters, Sloane Avenue… “quiet, cool and spacious atmosphere of a hotel dining room”… “fresh vegetables are imaginatively prepared”
  • Parkes, 5 Beauchamp Place… “bright coloured banquettes line the dining room walls”… “artichoke hearts in mustard soup is a delicious starter”
  • La Parra, 163 Draycott Avenue… “darkly atmospheric in spite of white rough plaster walls and almost cloister-like Spanish arches”… “vegetables are seasonal and well prepared”
  • Poissonnerie de l’Avenue, 82 Sloane Avenue… “long red carpet, long polished mahogany bar, wood panelled walls, cut velvet banquettes”… “scampi flavoured with Pernod on pilaff rice is perfect if you like the idea of that combination”
  • San Frediano, 62 Fulham Road… “one of the most popular of Chelsea’s trattorias”… “salads are fresh”
  • San Lorenzo, 22 Beauchamp Place… “so popular is Lorenzo at lunchtime that it’s very hard to get in”… “in summer the favourite way to begin a meal is with either Mozzarella or Creolla salads”
  • San Martino, 103 Walton Street… “an attractive restaurant with a happy, bustling atmosphere”… “salads are drowned in dressing”
  • Sans Souci, 68 Royal Hospital Road… “the single long room has banquette seats down each side”… “salad dressings are, as the sauces, very very good”
  • Trojan Horse, 3 Milner Street… “freshly decorated in bright nurseryh red and blue with a few amphoras on door lintels”… “the rice is excellent and sauces are well blended”
  • 235 Kings, 235 King’s Road… “one of Chelsea’s most popular and trendy restaurants”… “vegetables are nicely undercooked”
  • Waltons, 121 Walton Street… “Louis XV chairs, stainless steel chairs, and even a beautiful canopied sofa at a table for six”… “soups are wonderful, especially one of fennel and courgettes”

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Starter © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Iain is a protégé of celebrity chef Jason Atherton. He previously worked at Social Eating House Soho and The London Edition Hotel Fitzrovia. “I’ve found my home here!” he enthuses. His interview was cooking a 14 course meal sampled by Sally. “One of my greatest challenges was to win over regulars as this was already an established restaurant.” That challenge has been met and surpassed: “Our 100 covers are full almost every night!” The salmon tartare with avocado starter is a new cold delight. Another aubergine main, this time stuffed with piperade quinoa, proves Iain knows his onions – and fruit. We’re crème brûlée connoisseurs so on both recent visits pudding is an easy choice, especially when served with Russet apple compote and lemon sorbet. “It’s comfort food taken to a new level,” is how Iain describes his cooking. Can this Chelsea destination get any better? “We’re adding a private dining room for 30 to 40 people,” reveals David. Even better.

No.50 Cheyne Restaurant Chelsea Main © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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The London Edition Hotel + Berners Tavern

London Spy

The London Edition Hotel Lobby © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ian Shrager is back in town. The man behind Studio 54 has returned to London 15 years after he introduced Sanderson and St Martin’s Lane hotels. On the same street in Fitzrovia as Sanderson comes The London Edition, the latest hotel from a brand he conceived in partnership with Marriott International. So what’s on offer this time? Redefining luxury is the quest of the moment. Charu Gandhi, former Head of Design at Morpheus Developments, speaks about delivering “liveable lux” for multimillion pound interiors. Mary Colston, talking at her Hope Street Hotel in Liverpool, says, “I avoid the word as everyone’s idea of luxury is different.” Ian reckons, “The definition has changed. We’d rather be known for service than anything else. To me, luxury is having no formula, being subversive to the status quo and unafraid to break the rules.” With a little help from New York hotel specialists Yabu Pushelberg.

The London Edition Hotel Fireplace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“It’s a different reality,” is how Ian sums up The London Edition. A cubic glass vestibule – past immaculate staff – opens into a “new kind of gathering place”. “Lobby socialising” accompanies his “hotel as theatre” descant. Partying with a purpose. This is hotel lobby-meets-bar-meets-office-meets-meeting room. Times they are a-changing. Free state of the art wireless internet access is available throughout the hotel and in a corner of this cavernous space is a black walnut table fitted with Apple desktops and laptop outlets. Conference rooms, it transpires, are terribly passé. The grandeur of the Grade II interior former Berner Street Hotel is seriously sensational. A Belle Époque ceiling dripping in stucco, the icing on the architectural cake, competes with enough marble to make Enya burst into song.

The London Edition Hotel Bar © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ian winks, “I do like an element of surprise!” In place of a chandelier dangles an outsized silver egg, a sculpture hatched by Ingo Maurer. Equally unexpected is the oak weatherboarding of the reception at the back of the lobby. A reproduction Louis XV Gobelins tapestry behind the rustic reception desk is one of many unexpected juxtapositions of scale, style, texture and period. But, thanks to the hotelier’s eye, they work. Portal, a three dimensional digital artwork by artist Chul Hyun Ahn heightens the high octane eclecticism. Beyond reception is The Punch Room, a clubby fumed oak panelled den dedicated to private partying and the odd game of billiards.

The London Edition Hotel Reception © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Off the lobby is Berners Tavern. Ian’s respect for genius loci continues. A salon hang of a whopping 185 pictures against a rich taupe backdrop rushes up past (plasterwork) scallops to a voluminous stuccoed cloud crescendo. Burnished and furnished with chestnut mohair banquettes and bleached oak tables, this interior ranks as the chef d’oeuvre of The London Edition. Ian’s penchant for theatricality elevates the kitchen to stage: sliding glass doors offer diners tantalising glimpses of what Executive Chef Jason Atherton’s team are bringing to the party.

More scallops (the edible kind) for starter come with cucumber, black radish and jalapeño on a bed of lime ice. Main is roasted stone bass, caramelised cauliflower, fennel and cockle velouté. Triple cooked chips and honey roast parsnips on the side. Dark chocolate with mint ice cream for pudding. Posh nosh. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Blenheim Palace Sparkling Natural Water. It’s amazing how easy it is to spend £260 on a lunch for two on a wintry afternoon. It’s 3pm and the restaurant is jammers. The lights dim, the music gets louder. The tables will be turned two or three times later, reveals the waitress. Food is served till midnight.

The London Edition Hotel Punch Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A marble staircase sweeps guests from the lobby, Sunset Boulevard style, to the 173 bedrooms. Upstairs the tempo not so much changes as grinds to a halt. Listen… sshh… silence. London’s busiest street may be a plumped up faux fur cushion’s throw away but the cacophony of shoppers goes unheard. Ian also separates the frenetic public areas from sleeping quarters, both physically and acoustically. A sound insulated internal envelope inserted into the basement lets clubbers dance the night away unfettered. Hotels tend to bring out the kleptomaniac in even the most morally incorruptible (if it’s not alarmed, it’s for taking) but clients are actively encouraged to pilfer the branded glasses in the club. Good for marketing, apparently. Getting distracted, back to the bedrooms.

The London Edition Hotel Berners Tavern © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Yacht cabins are the inspiration – Ian likes holidaying on boats. From the smallest 22 square metre room to the sprawling 195 square metre penthouse with its terrace tucked between Mary Poppins chimneypots, all are cocooned in either dark walnut or light oak panelling. A “no colour colour palette” is part of Ian’s understated “anti design” agenda for the bedrooms. “It’s an effort to make people feel good rather than the place look good. It’s a compilation of unlikely pieces, designs, finishes and details put together in a way where alchemy happens.” Traditional tufted slipper chairs by George Smith sit below gilt framed Old Masters. Hang on, they’re anything but. This is, after all, Ian Shrager at work. The ‘Masters’ are new – painterly poses remastered by photographer Hendrik Kerstens. Upon close inspection, his daughter Paula transmogrifies from a Vermeer sitter to a contemporary girl wearing tinfoil on her head. Off each bedroom, subway tiled bathrooms feature enclosed rainforest showers.

The London Edition Hotel Suite © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The last word – double entendre intended – belongs to Ian Shrager. “Since we invented the boutique hotel everything has become monotonously similar. There is always room for something really unique and original. Always! The London Edition is the next generation of lifestyle hotel, one that has incredibly exciting visuals; great, friendly, attractive and personalised service; exciting food and beverage concepts; and a unique vibe. There is simply nothing else like it currently in the marketplace. We tried to capture the details of life in the details of the architecture.”

The London Edition Hotel Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley