The Importance of Being Very Earnest
The Importance of Being
It’s not every coastal town that has a restaurant run by a descendent of the lover of the greatest wit of the 19th century. But Deal in Kent isn’t just another coastal town. It’s chockablock with listed buildings without being chocolate box boring. The upwardly mobile relaunch of The Rose (firmly prefixing gastro to pub) complete with Tracey Emin prints hanging on the walls is simply the latest proof in the pudding (St Émilion chocolate torte tonight) of Deal’s rising status as Battersea-on-Sea. Roast Jerusalem artichokes with shallots and hazelnut dressing provide more memorable menu moments.
On a rainswept late Friday evening, The Black Douglas along Deal’s esplanade is an atmospheric hive of joyful activity. “My name’s pronounced ‘DL’,” says owner Lady Dalziel Douglas. There are a few visual giveaways. One is the sepia soaked photographs of distinguished aristos in court dress – lots of ermine on display. Another couple of clues are Dalziel’s cheekbones to slice Manchego with and her piercing blue eyes. She is of course the great great niece of Lord Alfred Douglas, the dashing poet better known as ‘Bosie’, Oscar Wilde’s amour. “My great great great uncle, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, invented the Queensberry Rules of Boxing!” smiles Dalziel, pointing to one of the photographs. The Douglas clan motto is Jamais Arrière which means ‘Never Behind’. True to form, Dalziel confirms, “We were one of the first places to open in Deal of this nature. We’ve been here for 14 years and it’s given other people confidence to open up similar businesses.”
Just as The Rose and The Black Douglas have weekend dinners down to a tea tee, Deal Pier Kitchen upholds the great British breakfast tradition with a twist or rather lots of vegan twists. Eating the first meal of Saturday to the rhythm and splash of lapping waves is a must. Suspended over the sea at the end of a 1950s concrete pier, the café is in a timber and glass pavilion designed by Níall McLaughlin in 2008. The architect has continued Deal’s centuries old dedication to romantic maritime architecture.
The First September
The new year really starts each autumn. As the first golden leaves fall, where is it possible to see The Wallace Collection, Sir John Soane’s Museum and a swathe of Parisian hôtels particuliers in one room? In the Long Drawing Room of Marchmain Dartmouth House, on the same street where Oscar Wilde once resided in Mayfair, but only if you’re on the exclusive invitation list to the EV (Evening View). This house beautiful is not open to the public. Interior Impressions, a major exhibition of drawings by Trevor Newton is presented and curated by Anne Varick Lauder. It’s the first monographic exhibition of the accomplished artist in eight years.
New York born London based Dr Lauder, who has held curatorial positions in the J Paul Getty Museum, the Louvre and the National Portrait Gallery, announces, “We are delighted to be in the Long Drawing Room for the Private View of new drawings by the English topographical artist Trevor Newton. All 60 new works are of grand or highly individual British and European interiors from Versailles to The Ritz, to the Charleston of the Bloomsbury Group and the intimate Georgian houses of Spitalfields. It is therefore appropriate that this invitation only exhibition should take place in one of the finest private interiors in Britain.” She adds, “Interiors within interiors!” A 21st century – and for real – Charles Ryder.
Trevor studied History of Art at Cambridge, later becoming the first full time teacher of the subject at Eton. A present of The Observer’s Book of Architecture for his eighth birthday spurred a lifelong interest in buildings and their interiors. Rather than pursuing modish photorealism, he sets out to capture impressions of a place, often adding whimsical details imagined or transposed from other sources. His atmospheric renderings experiment with the interplay of light and reflection. Dense layers of mixed media – body colour, pen and ink, wash, watercolour and wax resist crayon – evoke a captivating sense of the aesthetic and nostalgic. His framing portrays a theatrical awareness of view: how the onlooker visually enters the room. There’s an enigmatic absence of people yet signs of habitation: a glass here; a magazine there. Trevor says, “My drawings are attempts to convey the emotions generated by art and architecture.” Emotional revisits. Anne considers, “It’s like he redecorates on page.”
Fellow alumnus Stephen Fry recalls, “While many of his contemporaries at Cambridge were Footlighting or rowing, Trevor seemed to spend much of his time drawing and painting. His specialities then were lavish invitations for May Week parties, illustrated menus for Club and Society dinners, posters and programmes for plays and concerts, along with a highly individual line in architectural fantasy drawn for its own sake and for the amusement of his friends. He managed to combine the frivolous and the baroque in a curious and most engaging manner: Osbert Lancaster meets Tiepolo. Trevor is still drawing and painting as passionately as ever and though the content of his work may be more serious, in style and execution it still has all the youthful energy and verve which characterised it over 30 years ago.”
Dartmouth House is something of a hôtel particulier itself. A château-worthy marble staircase and 18th century French panelling in the reception rooms add to the cunning deceit that just beyond the Louis Quinze style courtyard surely lies the Champs-Élysées. The Franglais appearance isn’t coincidental. In 1890 architect William Allright of Turner Lord knocked together two Georgian townhouses for his client, Edward Baring (of the collapsible bank fame) later Lord Revelstoke, to create a setting for his collection of French furniture and objets d’art. Ornament is prime. Dartmouth House is now the HQ of the English Speaking Union. Except for tonight. When it’s utterly-utterly Great Art Central.
East Coast Cooler
It’s the last weekend of summer. As the train meanders past the chalky White Cliffs of Dover we come over all Vera Lynn. Altogether now: “There’ll be love and laughter; and peace ever after…” Although it’s hard not to dream of the cliffs as topography’s answer to Fanny Cradock’s powdered cheekbones. Past Priory (no, that one, although smuggling is involved), our sun kissed naval base looms into view. Maybe not quite looms. Deal isn’t big. Nor raw. Deal meal. Puns (mostly) over, we’re here for the domestic architecture.
A tale of two towns. Kind of. A higgledly piggedly jumble of centuries old topsy turvy Georgian or Georgian faced townhouses squeezed between the esplanade and High Street contrasts with voluptuous Edwardian villas strung out along the coast. Of course that’s a gross oversimplification but wherever there’s pudding to be egged there’s Lavender’s Blue. Britain’s only brutalist pier doesn’t fit our narrative. Nor do the Brightonesque Regency houses. Nor does the tulip shaped Tudor castle. Ours is a binary filtered storyline of sepia saturated prose.
Close of play is more like end of day as a cricket match on the pebbly beach unfolds unabated through an unforgiving sunset. It is, though, a spectacularly balmy evening. We stroll past The Black Douglas Coffee House. Named after a tyrannical 14th century Scottish ruler, the surname is more closely associated with his descendant Bosie. It’s owned by Dalziel Douglas. Her partner is closing shop. “Come for breakfast tomorrow and Lady Douglas will give you the full history! She’s the great great niece of Bosie.” Oscar Wilde called the Douglas family a “mad, bad line”. The aptly black painted shopfront is in a quintessentially Deal block. Four buildings – four window levels – four eaves heights – four colours. All perceptibly lopsided, living in fear of the perpendicular, clinging to each other like tipsy aged fishwives.
We dive into the orb speckled alleyways behind Beach Street. No minimum distances between dwellings; no wonder everybody knows everybody. Tiny windows peep above pavements and a dusting of Dutch gables graces the slit of artists’ sky above. Christmas House; The Paragon; Steadfast; Tally Ho. Some have planchette plundered passageways; others, secret hidden rooms. Collectively, a smugglers’ paradise of the past. And if you didn’t benefit from ill gotten gains back then, there was still plenty of booty to be had. A poster on a wall announces:
“Wreck sale on the quayside of this port at 10 o’clock in the forenoon on the 24th day of April 1796. Part of the cargoes of ships that have recently come to grief in these parts. Consisting of: 56 Bales of Wool | 124 Deer Skins | 37 Cases of Flour | 9 Casks of White Lead | 287 Oak Handspikes | 21 Barrels of Tar | 341 Pieces of Cloth | 67 Articles of Pewter | 23 Barrels of Potash | 154 Pieces of Firtimber | 1 Open Boat | 16 Hatchets | 20 Casks of Cudbear | 112 Cases of English China | 45 Pipes of Linseed Oil | 209 Spills of Cotton Yarn.”
A poster on a bow window advertises the clandestine sounding Dining Club. Temptations listed include potato and mushroom terrine followed by roast mullet and pea fritter. Leaving the twisted grid of ghostly cross lanes behind, we head south. Between the two halves of the town we promenade past an antiques shop named 1815 in a building that looks 1915. The mesmeric shop window displays chandeliers, piers and a stuffed seagull. The art of the deal.
Beyond, the Edwardian villas are unabashedly self important, acutely aware they can be viewed from all angles unlike their narrow northern neighbours. Widows’ and Juliet balconies galore. There are terraces and balconies and verandahs and terraces on balconies on verandahs. One especially memorable house is crowned with a gloriously top heavy coven of witch’s hat roofs. Their inhabitants aren’t self important: they even say hello on the street. Goodness, this really isn’t London-on-Sea. Shame that discovering The Black Douglas was on our last night. But it’s not a deal breaker. We’ve an excuse to descend on Deal again. Not that one’s required. Last pun (for now). It’s a deal.
Oracle of our orbit, balancing on a notional pedestal, we don’t need a doctorate in aesthetics to enjoy Bourne + Hollingsworth’s revamped salon. It’s the antithesis of a mesmeric void. Kaleidoscopic covered antique chairs and floral banquettes fill the space around the marble bar. Pink is the new black. As (once upon a time) MP Keith Vaz would say, “Let’s get this party started!” A quirky basement cocktail bar, it’s the perfect hideaway for a cocktail inspired foray into the far precincts of the mind. A shadowy cavalcade of pedestrians parades by at street level, marching marionettes unaware of the subterranean soirée underway underground. It’s time to let our hair down over a Rapunzel cocktail (a refreshing mix of Polish vodka, lemon, mint and a ginger kick). A Pink Mojito (agave tequila, fresh lime and mint coloured with cranberry) judiciously coordinates with the fuchsia hued fabric wallpaper. A Heisenberg Daiquiri (Jamaican rum shaken with Chartreuse, lime and blue falernum) is art in a glass. Unlike Oscar Wilde, we can live with the wallpaper of this haunt. Actually, we don’t want to leave.
All That Glitters
“He walked, as was his custom, through the shaded streets and pleasant squares of Mayfair,” writes Michael Arlen in A Young Man Comes to London, 1932. “This corner of town was our hero’s delight. He loved its quiet, its elegance, its evocation of the past. Of Mayfair he wrote those stories which no editor would publish. In those stories he dwelt on the spacious lives of the rich and on the careless gaieties of the privileged.”
Mayfair has long been celebrated in literature, most famously in the 1890s in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband and Lady Windermere’s Fan. This compact area, north of Piccadilly and west of Hyde Park, a patchwork of streets linking the generous squares of Grosvenor, Hanover and Berkeley, has been developed by several landlords over the last few centuries, most notably the Grosvenor family. There are four “golden streets” of the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair and neighbouring Belgravia: Mount Street, Elizabeth Street, Motcomb Street and Pimlico Road.
Mount Street shines the brightest. East to west, it starts opposite Alfred Dunhill off Berkeley Square and ends at Grosvenor House Apartments, Park Lane. The hotel is on the site of the Grosvenor family’s original townhouse or rather town mansion. Edwin Beresford Chancellor records in 1908, “Park Lane is synonymous with worldly riches and fashionable life. Down its entire extent, from where it joins Oxford Street to the point at which it reaches Hamilton Place, great houses jostle each other in bewildering profusion on the eastern side while on the west lies the park with its mass of verdure and, during the season, its kaleidoscopic ever-shifting glow of brilliant colour.” Park Lane is London’s Park Avenue (Manhattan not Bronx).
Between the classical Protestant Grosvenor Chapel on South Audley Street and the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, known to all and sundry as “Farm Street” after its address, lie Mount Street Gardens. First laid out in 1890 on the site of a former burial ground, the gardens are now a sanctuary for locals, travellers and wildlife. Native London Plane trees grow between a more exotic Canary Island Palm and Australian Mimosa in this sheltered oasis.
Close to where Mount Street meets South Audley Street is the Mayfair Gallery. A treasure trove of furniture, lighting, paintings, sculpture and objets d’art, it was founded by Iranian born Mati Sinai who has dealt in antiques since the 70s. “Mayfair was and still is the premier location in London from which to exhibit and sell some of the pieces we have acquired over the years,” he says. “There is a peaceful serenity to the area.” His two sons Jamie and Daniel have joined the family business. “Once upon a time,” Mati says, “90 percent of our sales went to Japan and the US. Whilst we do still get customers from those regions, the growth of Russia, the Middle East and now China has radically changed our business.” A pair of vast vases commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I stand proudly in the shop front. The streets may not literally be paved with gold, but even on the outside of the red brick buildings are blue and white ceramic vases set in terracotta niches.
Mayfair has always attracted the rich and famous. Chesterfield Street alone boasts three blue plaques marking the homes of former Prime Minister Anthony Eden, playwright William Somerset Maugham and dandy Beau Brummell. The Queen was born in Mayfair, 17 Bruton Street to be precise. A Michelin starred Cantonese restaurant called Hakkasan is now at that address. Sketch on nearby Conduit Street is such a fusion of art, music and food that it is an installation itself. Art curator Clea Irving says, “Mayfair has a high concentration of artistically minded people – architects, artists, fashion designers, gallerists.” The fine dining restaurant at Sketch has two Michelin Stars.
A property budget of £1 million will at best stretch to a studio flat in this “golden postcode”. Established over 30 years ago, Peter Wetherell’s eponymous estate agency is on Mount Street. “Wetherell recognises that people from around the world seek Mayfair’s finest properties,” he says. A few doors down, 78 Mount Street has just been sold by Wetherell for £32 million. This corner mansion, originally built for Lord Windsor in 1896, has five reception rooms, nine bedrooms and nine bathrooms spread over six floors. An international influence is evident in its architecture, from French neoclassicism to Italian Renaissance and English Arts and Crafts. Two of Osbert Lancaster’s architectural idioms originate in Mayfair: “Curzon Street Baroque” and “Park Lane Residential”. Another two could easily be “International Eclecticism” and “Grosvenor Grandeur”.