One of the stalwarts of the London restaurant scene, Le Caprice, has sadly closed. It was the all stars favourite, or at least was for the earlier decades of its 40 year lifespan, hosting late and living legends from Diana Dors to Princess Diana to Diana Ross. A little bit of 20th century glamour vanished with its closure. Even more sadness saying farewell, adieu, goodbye to nearby Indian Accent. There was nowhere better to savour soy keema, quail egg and lime leaf butter pao than in this intimately luxurious luxuriously intimate hideaway. Relative newcomer Hide, a scallop’s throw from Le Caprice, has been steadily growing its presence since opening on Piccadilly in 2018. Hide at Home – the same Michelin starred food delivered to your doorstep – is Chef Ollie Dabbous’ latest innovation. It comes with Hide at Home Culinary Instructions which boil down to “eat and enjoy”. Our Saturday evening meal arrives:
Each course is an individual explosion of taste, texture and colour with a common aesthetic theme of Hide’s signature edible flowers. Hide Restaurant has three spaces denoting floor level: Below, Ground and Above, the latter with sweeping views across Piccadilly to Green Park and its latest addition, The Queen’s Meadow. Eating on our terrace, we add a new fourth space: Outside, which has sweeping views across laurel and bay trees to our obelisk topped trellis. Ollie Dabbous’ aim is, “To make food taste as good as it possibly can by respecting the integrity of the ingredient through a style of cooking that is organic but refined.” This rings true, whether enjoying his food in Below, Ground or Above or best of all, Outside.
Everyone is here, every age is represented, from now to antiquity. The Oxford Dictionary needs to update its current definition of masterpiece: “a work of outstanding artistry, skill or workmanship”. Add an upper case M and it becomes, “150 galleries exhibiting works of outstanding artistry, skill and workmanship”. Or more succinctly, “a microcosm of London, New York and Maastricht society”. Tonight the red carpet’s rolled out for an augmented vernissage.
Burberry is this year’s official preview partner with an exhibition The Cape Reimagined. Collector’s pieces on show are inspired by the work of Henry Moore. It’s a wrap. Cross category | low delineation | wearable sculptures | augmented visibility. Expect to see a feathery flurry of Chelsea ladies donning couture capes this autumn.
With the rhetorical daring of Mrs Merton’s interrogation of the millionaire Paul Daniel’s wife Debbie Magee, what first attracted us to the lovely Belcanto? Answer: wherever there’s a Michelin star there’s Lavender’s Blue. Make that two and we’re there with bells on ding-a-ling. Belcanto is the first restaurant in Lisbon to receive two Michelin stars. José Avillez is the first Portuguese chef to achieve this accolade. The hot to trot 36 year old has created a paradise for pescatarians with sophisticated palates. He does, after all, have over 1,000 miles of coastline to explore. Piscean provenance ain’t ever a problem. In his own words:
“My life is cooking. Because of that, many of my memories are tied to tastes. I was born and raised in Cascais, near the sea. The memory of being that close to the sea is very strong and is really a part of me – it defines me. I truly love cooking fish and seafood. Let me say I believe that in Portugal we have the best the sea has to offer in the world. I love creating dishes with the taste of the sea. At Belcanto, we use algae codium which has a very strong taste of the sea. I loved eating it on the beach at Guincho.” Such joy, joy, joy.
Belcanto is in Chiado, Lisbon’s most exhilarating neighbourhood. Chiado is a cultural mix of the old and new, the traditional and the adventurous, a distillation of the best. Easily a metaphor for José’s cooking. Outside may be sweating 30 degrees but inside a coolly slick gastronomic and sensory performance is underway. There are just 10 tables for the chef to impress with his pedigree. Table to tableau. Thank goodness for the high waiter to customer ratio as we eat more courses on the tasting menu than Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel Quo Vadis has had film versions. The bill comes to €759.50. Say bon. Not exactly cheap as frites, but it’s a special occasion, a Lisbon treaty.
Behind an unassuming white exterior lies the understated white interior. A blank canvas. It’s the food that delivers the colour | shock | humour | art. Palette to palate. An exploding olive, “a tribute to the great chef Ferran Adrià” explains our waiter, sets the scene. José trained at elBulli, Ferran’s legendary triple Michelin starred Catalonian restaurant. Said olive is served in a 2cm diameter frying pan. Similarly, caviar topped edible stones crack open in a flow of volcanic lava. Textures and tastes and experiences and expectations are reinvented. Foraging in flowers for tuna tartar cones for starters. “You tell me!” smiles our waiter when asked what the indefinable taste is in the pudding. “How is your mushroom?” he later laughs. Rosemary ash butter tastes like fag butt ends. This is haute haute haute cuisine. And we’re loving it. All 3.5 hours.
Birthplace of fashion designer Cruz Bueno, it’s good to see the cool cool cool citizenry of Lisbon that have hung around in the sizzling heat live up to our soignée sartorial expectations. And there’s not a pickled dead sheep in sight. There’s more art in simply eating. Portugal is having a fashion moment according to Knightsbridge’s top kitchenware store Divertimenti. This Christmas’s essential stocking filler is a cabbage bowl designed by Portuguese artist Bordallo Pinheiro. Caldo Verde, cabbage soup, is a national dish. Our Divertimenti bowl is purely ornamental, unused of course. Bathos to pathos.
Another year, another masterpiece. Another year, another Masterpiece. Only in its seventh year, whatever did we do before this gaping lacuna in the social calendar was filled? Mind you, the Victorians managed just one Great Exhibition. It’s time to mingle with the well addressed sort of people who live in a house with no number (we’ll allow Number One London or at a push One Kensington Gardens as exceptions). Hey big spenders: there are no pockets in shrouds. Superprimers at play. From the Occident to the Orient, Venice to Little Venice, Dalston Cumbria to Dalston Dalston, the Gael to the Pale, Sally Gap to Sally Park or Sallynoggin, Masterpiece is like living between inverted commas. Among this year’s prestigious sponsors are Sir John Soane’s Museum and The Wallace Collection. That familiar conundrum: Scott’s or Le Caprice? Best doing both. Home of tofu foam Sinabro would approve. It’s not like we’ve hit the skids ourselves, as they say. The choice of champagne is even less of a dilemma: it’s Claridge’s favourite Perrier-Jouët on (gold) tap.
Symmetry and the art of the perpendicular abound in the Masterpiece salons (displays being much too modest a term). Lady Rosemary “I hate furniture on the slant” Spencer-Churchill would approve. Tinged with temporality, touched by ephemerality, the rooms are nonetheless paragons of authenticity. Exhibitors’ choice of wall covering is all defining. At Wallace Chan, velvety black is not so much a negation as a celebration of the totality of all colours. The kaleidoscopic crystallinity of a heist’s worth of gems is a welcome foil to the solidity of the backdrop. Jewellery designer and artist Wallace tells us, “I am always very curious. I like to study the sky and the earth. I seek to capture the emotions of the universe in my works.” Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows by Henry Holiday cast an atmospheric rainbow over Sinai and Sons. Such a whirl of interiors – Min Hogg would approve. Purveyors of Exquisite Mind Bombs, Quiet Storm, add to the glamour. An exchange of fabulosity with Linda Oliver occurs. Moving on…
The late great Zaha Hadid, a regular visitor up to last year at Masterpiece, is now the subject of a commemorative salon. Interior designer Francis Sultana has curated an exhibition revealing Zaha wasn’t just the world’s greatest female architect – she was a dab hand at painting, jewellery and crockery design. Undisputed queen of Suprematism, curvature is her signature whatever the scale. Francis remarks, “Zaha never really believed in straight lines as such.” Across the boulevard, a moving arrangement by the Factum Foundation centred round a life-size crucifix is a reminder amidst this earthly wealth and glamour of the importance of faith and preservation. “Art is intention, not materials,” believes Adam Lowe of the Factum Foundation.
Like a forest fire, raging, sparking, keep ‘er lit, l’enfer, burning everything in its way with gusto, the desire, the lust, the greed, no make that the need to be and see and be seen and be paid to see and be paid to be seen… at the latest greatest eating house as it consumes London. London’s burning. Just as every other developer in town introduces his high density scheme as “inspired by the meatpacking district”, so the Manhattan trend for chasing restaurants for a fleeting 15 seconds has well and truly arrived in the English capital. Last year it was Balthazar, last Christmas it was Il Ristorante, last month it was Hoi Polloi, next month it will be Ham Yard. Now, very now, so now, right now, right on, it’s Chiltern Firehouse. Right?
With a three month waiting list for bridge-and-tunnel nonentities, the only alternative is to longingly gaze through the lead paned windows as girls-about-town celebrities Lily Cole, Lilly Allen, Lil’ Kim, bask in mutual glow, relishing the comforting closeness of riches and recognition, enjoying the peace and prosperity of the city. There’s always Monocle café across the street. At The Wolseley, Scott’s, Le Caprice, dining numbers dip slightly while the cameras flash outside The May Fair or Dabbous or The Ivy (weekend lunch menu Saturday 14th September 2002, £17.50, plus £1.50 cover charge in main dining room) and then it’s business as usual as Kate Moss, Kate Middleton, Katie Hopkins, return. In this feverish race to trip the light fantastic, skip the bright fandango, flip the trite almighty, moths fluttering up the lampshade of life, there are burnouts. Bistro K, where art thou? Senkai, why oh why? Enough. It’s time to tango in Paree.
The restaurant with a palace attached. No ifs, no buts. A ballroom (turn cartwheels ‘cross the floor) abuts the dining room abuts the marble staircase. A swimming pool fills the basement. More hôtel than hotel. Where the red carpet is always rolled out. Welcome to the Cristal Room at Baccarat, the hôtel particulier at 11 Place des États-Unis, 16th Arrondissement, a plumped up cushion’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe. Louis Quatorze, Quinze and Seize meet the current King of Design, Philippe Starck Première, Deuxième and Troisième. Where the past is never passé, lending a presence to the present. A place transcending our time, deserving of its own hard backed Assouline tribute. There are no equals.
Mirrored lipsticked lips snogging niches shriek of decorative welcome from the leafy square. Staggeringly strange explosions of rarity erupt amidst terrifying grandeur. Like an emissary from a modernist future, a marble head utters eloquent profundities. A chandelier, Baccarat no doubt, drowns in a glass cube of water (dry chandeliers are priced €20,000 to €120,000). A jaguar (glass objet d’art, not a car) in the library is ours or yours for €25,000. A gargantuan chair lords it over the landing. Upstairs, ladies lunch (“You simply must come to Munich”), boys do late brunch, eating, meeting, sat in satin seating. Le ciel, c’est les autres. A social whirl, the dining room is hummin’ harder, metaphoric symbols of cymbals clash in ironic oxymoronic cacophonic supersonic discordant harmony. Crystal (natch), mirror, gilt, chalkboard, linen (a whiter shade of pale), scaglioli, marble, wood, exposed brick (au natch) and trompe l’oeil (the sky’s the limit) rise as a realised Piranesian fantasy. Vasi, Candelabri, Cippi, Sarcophagi… “Vous êtes là!” the waiter randomly points on our opened map. We are, we’ve arrived. On a sultry late afternoon in August, fellow diners desert post dessert and we embrace the dining room to ourselves.
Appetites ablaze, we consume Michelin starred Guy Martin’s natural white asparagus, pecorino espuma and bresaolo in pesto garlic followed by Pollock fish cooked a la plancha with leeks and radishes in a dashi broth. C’est bon. C’est très bon. “Do you wish to continue outside?” Terrace for two, s’il vous plaît. Exquisite Harcourt is served alfresco. This is a light pistachio cream and crispy biscuit speckled with gold leaf as if fallen from the cornice. Let the rich eat cake. We call out for another drink, the waiter brings a tray. And so it was later.