“Rarely does a wicked soul inhabit a beautiful body and thus external beauty is a true sign of internal goodness.” Baldassare Castiglione 1528. Wilhelmina Blakley is demonstrably one such soul. Blessed with exceptional beauty, she was the life and soul of 20th century Belfast. A true legend.
“You need to go to Coya. It’s the best Peruvian restaurant. The food, the feel, the waiters – all are amazing!” recommends leading businessperson Astrid Bray. “It’s a fav of mine!” And so we make haste while the sun shines. The restaurant has possibly the most discreet frontage ever. A solemn stone columned portico on Piccadilly conveys nothing of the colourful madness that lies beyond, or rather below. Like our favourite Chinese restaurant Hakkasan, the best dining room and bar are in the basement which we just love. Never has subterranean living looked so glam. We’re enthralled!
Amazonica and Lucky Cat may be the new Mayfair restaurants you will shortly be hearing about, and never stop hearing about, and Nobu may or may not be about to close, but here at 118 Piccadilly life gathers pace in the fast lane under the street. The international jet set just can’t get enough of this high end eclectic Latin American cuisine sporting an oriental twist. On a very random Thursday night the place is packed to its rustic rafters. It’s like sitting in Emirates First Class. The vibe is very cool, very relaxed, very us.
Coya’s menu was “born from the spirit of adventure” explains Indo British Culinary Director Sanjay Dwivedi. He spent all of 2012 touring South America and found what he was looking for amidst Incan heritage. “When I went to Peru I was like a kid in a sweet shop, I was so impressed! They have so many different foods – fruits, vegetables, ceviches – I was hooked.” He teamed up with businessman Arjun Waney, the Asian tour de force behind several top London restaurants as well as The Arts Club, and the adventure took wings. Coya now showcases the best of Latin American food, art, music (note the freestanding fireplace in the bar doubling as DJ decks) and culture.
That was two years ago. And now from our own foreign correspondent. Our dedicated man in the trenches, or at least he who luncheth in Coya Dubai right now. Hard work, but someone’s gotta do it. So what’s his learned verdict? “It’s part of the Four Seasons Dubai complex. The interior of Coya in Dubai is very similar to London with lemon and lime velvet chairs. The menu is more extensive that its London counterpart with a lot of fish and ceviche choices. There are great views over the city. The staff are mainly European. Excellent restaurant.” Our overseas diplomat cuts it short: happy hour has begun back in his hotel.
Sometimes you really gotta go with it and order a pre dinner alfresco cocktail that matches the cushioned upholstery. Sea Breeze please or at least something ephemerally turquoise. Beetroot, carrot, ginger and orange detox elixirs soon cancel the boldness. For a hot minute. Annabel’s wearing Biba vintage, working it babes. Her fellow guest is as always rocking Mary Martin London head to toe. Annabel gets busy stirring up Insta Stories in between yellowtail tartar, smoked tofu and caviar followed by pink shrimp tempura. Maya Jama sends her love. Sexy Fish is after all the television presenter’s fav restaurant. Good friend Grime DJ Teddy Music of Silencer fame chimes in next. Everyone’s soon discussing menu tips. Mango and passionfruit, coconut and lemongrass or pineapple and mandarin sorbet? Decisions, decisions. “All three. Or is that six?” How does Gertrude Stein view dinner in her 1914 classic Tender Buttons? “Not a little fit, not a less fit sun sat in shed more mentally.”
Basement bound, a downward descent reverberating under a Frank Gehry crocodile past Damien Hirst mermaids before walking by those marbled bathrooms – salut Versailles – till the night relaxes into an embrace of unbelievably attractive seafood. Late call but Mary Martin London’s on the blower. “Fantastic! I cannot wait for our next interview. Let’s talk. I’m here and ready and want to talk about my amazing new dresses and fashion.” The limo pulls up on Berkeley Square and Annabel P dramatically departs dripping in diamonds and fantasy.
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 Isle of Thanet is the most easterly point of Kent. Once separated from the mainland by the Wantsum Channel, this area to the north of Deal and east of Whitstable is famed for its golden strands. All 15 of them. Margate Main Sands may be one of the best known beaches, crammed on sunny weekends, but just round the coast to the west is the quieter Westbrook Bay. Really an early 20th century suburb of Margate, Westbrook has its own distinct identity.
Beach huts line the esplanade of Westbrook Bay. Born out of an 18th century sense of modesty, they have become a cherished part of coastal heritage. Still great for changing into swimming gear, beach huts have their limitations as a couple discovered when they set fire to their hut in Bournemouth recently. They are not designed for cooking. Cucumber sandwiches are more appropriate. Beach huts’ latest reincarnation is as valuable real estate. Current prices in neighbouring East Sussex range from £15,000 in Eastbourne to £55,000 in Rye. Whitstable in Kent, £30,000. In 2016, Kent Online featured the extraordinary headline “Margate posh beach huts go on sale for £500,000”. On closer inspection, the article actually refers to beach hut style two bedroom terraced houses overlooking the beach.
Opened in 1904, Northumberland Hall continues the gospel tradition into the 21st century. The Lord’s Day meetings keep going as does the Thursday evening Address. The gable fronted Edwardian brick and plaster façade remains true to the town and street and faith and scripture. Sometimes seeing is more than believing. Marilynne Robinson in The Death of Adam beseeches, “By the standards of my generation, all of my life I have gone to church with a kind of perseverance as I do to this day. Once recently I found myself travelling all night to be home in time for church, and it occurred to me to consider in what spirit or out of need I would need to do such a thing. My tradition does not encourage the idea that God would find any merit in it. I go to church for my own gratification, which is intense, although it had never occurred to me before to describe it to myself.” And that is the story of Calvinist salvation, a longing fulfilled, a desire satisfied, a promise met, not a dramatic Damascene revelation but rather a gradual and rather beautiful opening and awakening of truths.
“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” croons Lisa-Marie Presley. You ain’t. And you won’t. Not yet. For Mary Martin London is busy sewing up a storm for her forthcoming fashion feat: The Return Collection. This comes hot and heavy on the haute heels of her last extravaganza Blood Sweat and Tears. This time it really is all about power dressing. And the corridors of power are about to be torn up by the thrust and throttle no room for boondoggle of a Mary Martin London show. “If our myths and truths are only another exotic blossoming, the free play of possibility,” writes Marilynne Robinson in The Death of Adam, “then they are fully as real and as worthy of respect as anything else.”
Show. Not merely catwalk, for Mary will as ever be mixing decks in between directing the lighting, sound, photography, choreography, and always, laughter. There is really only one space that can hold its own for her solo show. Enter Durbar Court. “I like that the heads of the East India Company leaders will be looking down on my catwalk!” Mary howls laughing. “History and all that!” The Court was first used in 1867 for a reception of the Sultan of Turkey. King Edward VII threw his Coronation party here in 1902. Ms Robinson again, “At best, our understanding of any historical moment is significantly wrong, and this should come as no surprise, since we have little grasp of any present moment.” More recently, President Trump gave a speech here; Victoria Beckham showed last summer; Vivienne Westwood before that; but this is a first: a black female designer holding court in Durbar Court.
There’s so much art and sculpture and history layered with meaning and misapprehension in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. En processional route to Durbar Court is the Muses’ Stair. An octagonal glass lantern lighting the Portland stone staircase is decorated by Canephorae, Roman goddesses of plenty, floating over cherubs representing Roman virtues. Portraits of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie hang between red Devonshire marble and grey Derbyshire marble Corinthian columns.
“Dare to be you!” Reverend Andy Rider preached in his last sermon as Rector of Christ Church Spitalfields. Over 100 years ago Lady Sybil Grant wrote in her self hagiography, “Provided that we are a star we should not trouble about the relative importance of our position in the heavens.” Fastforward a century or so and Mary is confident of her place in the firmament. And daring to be Mary Martin London. The creation of Eve. “We should be thankful that our cinematographic life in London still affords the quality of mystery and unexpectedness,” proclaimed Lady Sybil. Big statement.
Big statement architecture requires big statement fashion. Another interjection from Marilynne Robinson, “It all comes down to the mystery of the relationship between the mind and the cosmos.” First there was The Black Dress: “I see through a dark cloud of black mist.” Then The Red Dress: “The tainted bride is no longer a virgin.” Next came The White Dress: “I dream of memories when I was a Queen.” There’s only one dress left. The Rainbow Dress: “It’s finally coming – the biggest and the best! The Rainbow Dress will open The Return Collection!” the fashion artist declares. “A world champion ballerina will combine Tai quan dao and African dance on the catwalk. I’m bringing it in a bit different! People haven’t been out so I’m going to give them an amazing show. The Return to Africa. I’m out of the box!” Out of the box and into the Court. “Just A Dream” mourns Lisa-Marie Presley. Not for Mary Martin London. She is all about turning dreams into fantasies into realities into myths and truths. An uncommon wealth of talent.
Handily placed between Sexy Fish (the restaurant) and Annabel’s (the club), Jack Barclay on Berkeley Square, Mayfair, is the world’s oldest and largest Bentley dealership. For more than a century, it has been keeping the one percent on wheels. When you’re in full throttle sports gear (our tyres and our attire) breezing along the coast, escaping the heat of the city, who cares that your automobile is averaging 19 litres per 100 kilometres (15 miles to the gallon)? Everywhere looks better from behind the wheel of a hand built Bentley Continental GT Convertible. And that includes the English Riviera when the mercury’s rising.
Sunday afternoon cricket on Wandsworth Common makes for a bucolic tableau. It’s like a Lowry painting negative: starched white figures against a deep green, the working class city swapped for middle class suburbia. Or perhaps a Surrey village scene. Two centuries ago it would’ve been a Surrey village scene. Wandsworth only became a London Borough in more recent times. In the midst of the Common is a building locals refer to as “Dracula’s Castle” with good reason – its history is as dark as its slate roof.
“My Dear Sir, If the Patriotic Fund Commission should select my ground to found their Institution on Wandsworth Common I should be willing, in consideration of the national object, to take on half the price Mr Lee has fixed on the value viz: £50 an acre… I do not wish to encounter any difficulty with the Copyholders, and the Commissioners, if they entertain any position of land, must take all risks of those difficulties. Yours faithfully, Spencer.” The Committee accepted the Earl’s offer and bought 65 acres (26 hectares) for £3,700. Nearby Spencer Park, where Chef Gordon Ramsay has his London pad, is a reminder of the Northamptonshire aristocratic connection.
The building may also look like a Victorian madhouse but that’s about the only use it hasn’t been even though it was originally called the Asylum. Now for a countdown through the decades: 1858 orphanage; 1914 hospital; 1919 orphanage once more; 1939 reception centre; 1946 training college; 1952 school; 1970 vacant; and of late, 27 apartments, 20 studios, 15 workshops, two offices, a drama school and Le Gothique bar and restaurant. Tom Bailey from the Thompson Twins lives in one of the apartments. Past residents have included Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor and Charlotte Jane Bennett. The latter was an unfortunate schoolgirl who burned to death in 1901 on an upper floor – her ghost is said to prowl the interior as night falls.
What on earth is a ‘reception centre’ or to use its full name the London Reception Centre? It is a somewhat euphemistic term for a refugee detention headquarters. Following the collapse of France and the Low Countries in 1940 in World War II, a flood of refugees entered Britain. Those from Germany and the Axis countries were usually interned while non enemy aliens were interviewed by immigration. MI5 decided to create a reception centre and where better than the highly adaptable Royal Patriotic School as it was known in its latest guise. Refugees from Occupied Europe had to pass through the reception centre – a sheep from the goats process. An average of 700 refugees were processed each month. Several spies were unmasked and hanged at Wandsworth Prison across the Common. It is rumoured that the Nazi Rudolf Hess was interrogated in the reception centre.
Major Rohde Hawkins was the original architect; Giles Quarme, the restoration architect. The 17th century George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh designed by William Wallace was the inspiration for the design. Major Hawkins sought to omit some of the ornamental details “to carry out which it was found would absorb too large an amount of the surplus at the disposal of the Commissioners”. Opening the orphanage, Queen Victoria declared it to be “beautiful, roomy and airy”. Recounting the day’s events in her diary that night, Her Majesty ended the entry with an entreaty: “May this good work, which is to bear my name, prosper!”
The Building News praised the new orphanage as being “bold, picturesque and effective”. Later royal visitors would include King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, Princess Victoria, and Queen Amelia of Belgium. Country Life contributor Dr Roderick O’Donnell recognises the influence of municipal Flemish works in the architecture. “This is a secular gothic rather than ecclesiastical gothic influenced by buildings such as town halls in Florence and Bruges. There are also tones of Scottish baronial. The rhythm of a central tower with balancing towers either end of the façade was very popular during this period.” A corresponding orphanage (now Emanuel School) designed by Henry Saxon Snell was built for boys slightly to the north of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum.
“Built as a school for orphaned daughters of servicemen, 1857 to 1859, by Rhode [sic] Hawkins,” summarise Nikolaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry in The Buildings of England London 2: South (1983). “A typically pompous Victorian symmetrical composition of yellow brick, with coarsely robust gothic detail. Three storeys with entrance below a central tower; lower towers at the ends, corbelled out turrets and bow windows. Statue of St George and the Dragon in a central niche. Separate chapel. Low concrete additions of the 1960s to the north.”
Amongst the flourish of turrets, spikes and spires is a crocketed pinnacle with what appear to be mad cows nosediving off it. “It is strange that the gargoyles are in the form of hounds or lambs in lead!” observes heritage architect John O’Connell. “The Major designed this architectural element in timber and lead when it should all be in stone.” The orphanage Commissioners noted in their 1869 report that “from the size of the building and its peculiar construction and arrangements, it is a most expensive one to manage and keep in repair”. So much for Major Rohde Hawkins’ value engineering efforts! That’s no surprise. It is a complex complex with the main block built around a north courtyard and a south courtyard separated by a dining hall which is now used by the drama school. Both courtyards are surrounded on three sides by ground floor cloister type corridors. A rear courtyard cloistered on one side extends to the east and to the northeast is a standalone chapel.
Master of the Gothic Revival architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin’s preferred builder George Myers constructed the orphanage. His tender of £31,337 also happened to be the lowest. “George Myers had an enormous works along the South Bank in Lambeth,” explains Dr O’Donnell. “Middlesex County Pauper Lunatic Asylum in Colney Hatch, Barnet, was his largest project.” The contractor made one change to Major Hawkins’ design, replacing a clock with a statue of St George and the Dragon – which as a skilled stonemason he may have carved himself – on the top floor of the entrance tower. Innovative construction methods included off site prefabrication of iron window frames, decorative leadwork and stone dressings. This allowed construction to be completed in under two years. Mark Justin, founder of Le Gothique relates, “This was the first building in the UK to have pre stressed concrete and mesh floors.” The restoration of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building would take three times as long.
“This building has a colourful history!” says Mark with more than a hint of understatement. He manages the bar and restaurant with his son Andrew. “Le Gothique is masculine not feminine because it’s named after the era not the building. I’ve been here for 35 years – I’m the longest serving landlord of a venue in London. Jean-Marie Martin was our French Head Chef for the first 25 years. Our Head Chef is now Italian Bruno Barbosa. If I’m asked for a description of our food I’d say ‘modern European’.”
Mark confirms the Rudolf Hess story is more than a rumour. “He came here in 1945. Why did he come to the UK though? On a whim he crash landed in the Duke of Hamilton’s estate in Scotland. He seemingly thought he could arrange peace talks with the Duke who was involved with the British Government’s war policy but he misunderstood pacifism here. Churchill went ballistic and he was arrested. But why did he come? He was invited by the Royals, specifically King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. Hess spent three days in the reception centre. The Government papers were due to be released but have been classified again until 2035. It’s all to do with Rudolf Hess and the potential downfall of the monarchy.”
“The restoration and conversion were featured in a 24 page spread in Architects’ Journal. Architect Eva Jiricna did the apartment interiors. She replaced the wooden beams with high tension steel wire and added glass staircases to mezzanine bedrooms.” Mark finishes, “Businessman Paul Tutton bought the 3,700 square metre derelict listed building from the Greater London Corporation for a pound. It was pigeon central! He restored and converted the building incrementally. Geoff Adams bought flat number one in 1985 for £24,000. Geoff died last year.” Gnocchi with butternut squash velouté followed by tart aux poires with vanilla ice cream, modern and European and delicious, are served alfresco in the north courtyard. Upstairs, a figure darts across one of the windows. Could it be Charlotte Jane?
The black and white half timbering of the medieval house jettying over the graveyard is matched by the monochromatic wooden porch gable attached to the Early and Very Early English St Mary’s Church. Coordinating domestic and ecclesiastical architecture separated by the dead. Lenham Village betwixt Ashford and Maidstone in a stretch of Kent that never feels entirely rural lives up to its Medieval Village brown sign. A discreet distance away on the far side of the M20 lies Chilston Park Hotel, full of the living and the alive.
The Alice in Wonderland scale chess board and pieces on the lawn are enough to make Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson burst into song. And the weather would force Belinda Carlisle to belt out her hit Summer Rain. Safely and elegantly ensconced in the great indoors, what’s not to love though? Lunch in The Marble Lounge is a sheer delight. Presumably named after its gargantuan pedimented fire surround, a piece of architecture in its own right, the entrance hall as it really is could also be called The Flagstone Hall or The Hall of Mirrors.
The architectural history of the house is almost as complicated as the Really Early English St Mary’s Church Lenham. The first building was a turn of the 16th century courtyard house. In the opening decades of the 18th century, an earlier central tower was replaced with a three bay pedimented projection and the house was generally revamped. The resultant balanced elevations – two storey red brick sash windowed hipped roof – present a convincingly coherent Georgian pile. Subtle asymmetries and eccentric quirks of the floor plan reveal otherwise. A neo Jacobean staircase hall, ancillary stairs and corridors all lit by roof lanterns gobble up the courtyard. There are 53 bedrooms in total spaced across the main house, mews houses and converted stables. On the first floor of the main house, the northeast facing Queen Anne Room, Hogarth Room, Guilt Room and Oriental Room overlook the lake. The east and southwest facing Regency, Victoria, Byron and Evelyn Rooms have views of nine hectares of parkland. Tulip and Rowlandson Rooms overlook the mews houses to the west. As Lewis Carroll wrote, “There were doors all round the hall.”
The bustling Northcote Road just got a whole lot more bustling with summertime weekend pedestrianisation. Hurrah! So we’ve really got no excuse to not sashimi over to the newly opened Kibou opposite The Bolingbroke gastropub and Uncommon deli. It’s a Japanese hot kitchen, ramen and sushi bar inspired by Tokyo’s canteen style drinking dens. This is their second branch: Kibou launched in 2013 in Cheltenham, home of fine breeds (and that’s just the Ladies’ College).
It’s a gastronomic education for sure getting to know our hosomaki (thin sushi) from our futomaki (fat sushi), our tataki (seared fish) from our temaki (cone shaped roll) not to mention donburi (rice bowl). And we’re stretching our vocabulary, adding korokke which means croquette, ebi for prawn and hamachi for yellowtail. It feels like half the Battersea postcode is jammed in here tonight. We’re not complaining. Course after course arrives, each plate resembling an arrangement of origami sculptures. The nigiri is young and we are kibou (Japanese for filled with hope) in Kibou.
Joseph Kay (1775 to 1847) may not be an educated household name these days, but he hung out with some better known architects. He was a pupil of Samuel Pepys Cockerell (1753 to 1827), travelled the Continent with architect Robert Smirke (1780 to 1867) and married Sarah Henrietta, daughter of architect William Porden (1755 to 1822). His pièce de résistance is undoubtedly one of the architectural highlights of East Sussex.
Pelham Crescent is extraordinary in lots of ways, from its setting (carved out of a cliff) to its complexity (it includes a rabbit warren of cellars and areas as well as a lower street level shopping arcade) to its arrangement (St Mary in the Castle Church is plonked in the middle of the arc of townhouses). Joseph Kay owned one of the townhouses as well as a villa in the Belmont area of Hastings. An architect’s salary of £150 a year clearly stretched far in those days. A blue plaque on one of the townhouses records ‘George Devey (1820 to 1886) Architect and Pioneer of the Arts + Crafts Movement lived in this house 1870 to 1886’. He clearly didn’t practice what he preached for Pelham Crescent is as far removed as is possible from Arts + Crafts. High above Pelham Crescent are the remains of the Norman Hastings Castle just to add further drama to the setting. Heritage architect John O’Connell calls the castle “The Ostia Antica of the South Coast”.
The terrace and church were completed in the 1820s for landowner Thomas Pelham 1st Earl of Chichester (1728 to 1805). Each of the stuccoed houses is only one bay wide – but what a bay! The ground floor boasts a tripartite Wyatt window; the first floor, a balconied and hooded bow window; the second floor, a balconied and hooded French door; and the top floor brags a half moon Diocletian window. It’s as if Mr Pelham swallowed the architectural dictionary or at least the fenestration chapter. The four end houses have charming scrolled pediments topped by acroteria. Inland to the northwest of Hastings Castle is Wellington Square, started just before and finished just after Pelham Crescent. Developed by speculative bankers, it is less coherent yet of a similar ilk to Joseph Kay’s work with at least as many idiosyncratic details. “The Nash Class of ‘99” says John O’Connell. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
“Welcome to Foyle’s Country!” declare the friendly locals. Their locale is Hastings’ answer to Bristol’s Clifton or Dublin’s Killiney. It’s a ravishingly unrepentant patchwork quilt of cottages and gardens and love knitted across the lower – and occasionally upper – gradients of the hills that bow down to England’s southeast coast. Interspersed with some rather grand Nash-sur-Mer terraces. “You have to photograph St Just!” they cry. “That’s Detective Chief Inspector Foyle’s house although the interiors were filmed elsewhere.” A faded sign on the flank wall next to the rather smart three storey plus multi bowed Regency St Just (who knew an interwar policeman’s salary was so generous?) reads: ‘T Noalles. Plumber, Painter and Glazier. Writing, Graining and Gilding. Estimates Given.’ Mr Foyle’s accent is certainly more plummy than plumber.
Visitors are given the friendliest of welcomes. “We’re brothers! Do you know St Peter’s Church Brighton? It is an HTB plant. We’re a church plant of St Peter’s. We’re a plant of a plant! We have a congregation of about 200 people.” HTB is of course Holy Trinity Brompton, the Anglican church in Kensington where the Alpha Course began in 1977. Alpha, a series of interactive sessions exploring the basics of the Christian faith, soon exploded into the worldwide phenomenon it is now.