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William Laffan + Abbey Leix Book Launch

Holland Days Source

Neither a Monday evening nor (apropos to an Irish shindig) drizzly weather could possibly dampen spirits. Not when it’s a party hosted by the dashing Sir David Davies and the lovely Lindy Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood last Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava the artist otherwise known as Lindy Guinness. And it’s probably worth mentioning the setting: the mid Victorian splendour of Lindy’s Holland Park townhouse city mansion.

International banker and businessman Sir David is President of the Irish Georgian Society. In between rescuing companies and country houses, Sir David leads a high profile social life (he counts Christina Onassis among his exes). Like all the greats, he once worked at MEPC. This party is all about the launch of a book on his Irish country house Abbey Leix. And Averys champers served with prawns and pea purée on silver spoons.

Two vast bay windowed reception rooms on the piano nobile of the Marchioness’s five storey house easily accommodate 100 guests. One room is hung with her paintings. Renowned Anglo American fine art specialist Charles Plante is an admirer: “Lindy Guinness brings forth abstraction in painting that mirrors the cubism of Cézanne and Picasso. Her works are irresistible.” It’s hard not to notice the staircase walls are lined with David Hockney drawings. Lucien Freud was Lindy’s brother-in-law and old chums included Francis Bacon and Duncan Grant.

The party’s getting going. Interior designer Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill is admiring the garden. Sir David’s glamorous sister Christine and her son Steffan are chatting in the hall. They’re from Ballybla near Ashford County Wicklow: turns out they’re big fans of Hunter’s Hotel. Writer Robert O’Byrne is talking to designer, artist and collector Alec Cobbe in the drawing room. “I still live in Newbridge House when I’m in Ireland,” confirms Alec. BBC3 Radio broadcaster Sean Rafferty is busy playing down his former illustrious career in Northern Ireland where he’s still a household name. “You must visit my cottage in Donegal.” A party isn’t a party without Nicky Haslam. Perennially topping Best Dressed Lists, the interior designer extraordinaire smiles, “I didn’t realise I was such an icon to you young guys!”

Fresh off the treadmill finishing the definitive guide to Russborough, a mighty tome on another Irish country house, Abbey Leix was erudite architectural historian William Laffan’s next commission. Sir David Davies bought the estate from the Earl of Snowdon’s nephew, Viscount de Vesci, for £3 million in 1995. William’s book celebrates the restoration of the house and its 1,200 acre estate.

“Thank you to Lindy for inviting us to her home,” he announces. “It’s very much a home not a museum. Someone asked me earlier was this my house. I wish it was! The only thing better than a double first is a double Guinness! Lindy is a Guinness by birth and a Guinness by marriage. And thank you to William for all the hard work. I asked him to write 100 pages and three years later he’s written hundreds of pages! The photographs are beautiful but do make sure you all read a bit of William’s great text too!”

The Knight of Glin’s widow Madam Olda Fitzgerald, mother-in-law of the actor Dominic West, is present. Sir David continues, “Desmond Fitzgerald was a great inspiration to me. Bless him, bless the Irish Georgian Society. I feel very honoured to follow in his footsteps as President. There are three other people I wish to thank without whom the restoration of Abbey Leix wouldn’t have been possible. John O’Connell, the greatest conservation architect in Ireland. Val Dillon, the leading light of the antiques trade. John Anderson, former Head Gardener of Mount Usher Gardens and Keeper of the Gardens at Windsor Great Park. I had to prise him away from the Royals!”

“Bravo!” toasts the Marchioness. She also owns Clandeboye, a late Georgian country house in Northern Ireland. Its 2,000 acre estate is famous for yoghurt production. The party is a resounding success: the launch is a sell out. A (fine 18th century) table stacked high with copies of William Laffan’s Abbey Leix book at the beginning of the evening is laid bare. Fortunately a few copies are available at Heywood Hill, Peregrine ‘Stoker’ Cavendish 12th Duke of Devonshire’s Mayfair bookshop.

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Comme Chez Soi + Hotel Amigo Brussels

Sprouting Brussels

Hotel Amigo Brussels Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

There are more painful ways to start the weekend than breakfasting on Sally Clarke’s bread rolls aboard Eurostar. Especially if it is preceded by dining at her eponymous restaurant the night before. Dinner was a set menu held in the intimate private dining room on the (to use estate agents’ speak) lower ground floor of her discreet Kensington Church Street premises. Call it Chatham House Basement. Lucien Freud animal drawings hanging on the walls are a reminder of the late great artist’s fondness for Clarke’s. She’s all about no nonsense good quality English cooking and baking:

Hotel Amigo Brussels © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Comme Chez Soi Brussels © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Saturday lunch was another pescatarian thrill but that’s where the similarity ends. A change of time zone wasn’t the only difference. Comme Chez Soi on Place Rouppe, a sedate square in lower town Brussels, has a Victor Horta influenced art nouveau dining room accommodating just 36 covers. That hasn’t stopped it gaining two Michelin stars. A family owned restaurant, chef Lionel Rigolet is the fourth generation owner. His wife Laurence explained, “Comme Chez Soi was established by my great grandfather in 1921. It moved to the current building 10 years later. We live behind the restaurant.” Comme Chez Soi celebrates classic French cuisine at its most refined:

Comme Chez Soi Dining Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Comme Chez Soi Dining Table © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

There are greater trials than concluding the weekend at Hotel Amigo, a bread roll’s throw from Brussels’ Grand Place. It is of course the continental flagship of the Rocco Forte chain and is Olga Polizzi’s baby. Keeping it in the family, Olga is television presenter Alex Polizzi’s mother who is Sir Rocco Forte’s niece. It’s hard not to fall in love in a city that has districts called Le Chat, Poxcat and Helmet. Testing endurance, at the end of the day, it’s off to Amigo’s health suite. In the words of Bobbie Houston, co founder of Hillsong, “A mannie, a peddie and a massage cause, gentlemen, that’s what you do when you don’t know what to do.” Comme des Garçons.

Comme Chez Soi Laurence Rigolet © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

*Yep caviar costs