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Mei Ume Four Seasons Hotel 10 Trinity Square London +

A New Samuel Pepys

We haven’t been back to the Four Seasons Tower Bridge since Maud Rabin’s smart set – les belles personnes – were in town. That lunch was of course held in La Dame de Pic. But it’s always good to return to where Savage Gardens and Muscovy Street collide. A fascinating display of archaeology is on display before we enter That Rotunda. These are local finds: this hotel is built on the site of the Navy Office where diarist Samuel Pepys worked to pay the bills. An early piece is a 14th century decorative floor tile.

On this visit, we change direction from Madame de Pic’s, physically and gastronomically, turning left like on an aeroplane, to enter “May Ooo May” as it’s pronounced. This really is London’s most discreet restaurant. Well, turns out the Chinese Japanese fusion cuisine Mei Ume is worth the jaunt east. They serve the best chive sticked caviar topped prawns in Tower Bridge. “We’ve got to go to the Cointreau bar at Froufrou!” Maud later tempts us back to Paris.

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Architects Architecture Country Houses Design Luxury People Restaurants

Bibendum Oyster Bar + Restaurant South Kensington London

Le Confinement Est Fini

Go on, flick through the pages of 1990s House and Garden magazines and eventually you’ll come across a double page spread of the last and late Knight of Glin; his wife Madam FitzGerald, Min Hogg’s second best friend; and their eldest daughter Catherine, the garden designer, all tucking into fruits de mer at Bibendum Oyster Bar. Desmond has his starched linen napkin tucked right into his shirt collar. Standards, and all that. Did they gasp at the carpaccio of Scottish scallop and smoked pike roe? Or what about the black tiger prawns? Even more aptly, did they devour Irish oysters washed down with some dry and aromatic Viognier? “Our shells clacked on the plates,” wrote Seamus Heaney in his poem Oysters, “They lay on their bed of ice.”

All that was then and all this is now. Brill on the bone and crab quiche and other brilliant things are served up… and suddenly… with a showering of ado and a flowering of aplomb the Honourable Ola de la Fontaine rocks up totally on form sporting an emblazoned sports jacket. How terribly happening. Blazing blazers are a thing at Bibendum. For a moment, there’s some momentous momentary recall of a nebulous first floor restaurant lunch in May 2003 just when this place was ablaze with blazers. Ola’s now in top gear as always, revving it up, formulating plans and solving equations. She might resemble Charlotte Rampling’s younger much better looking sister, but Ola is more than a mere actress: she’s a qualified connoisseur of fabulousness with a diploma in decadence, a bachelor in brilliance and a masters in magnificence. And she just so happens to be South Ken’s top perfumier.

What Ola wants Ola gets: Gillardeau oysters. “Draycott Avenue and all around here has such a local vibe,” she shares. “Everybody knows everyone. Thank you for asking.” It helps of course that her local is double Michelin starred. Lunch is dreamy – “Laying down a perfect memory,” to quote Seamus Heaney again in his poem Oysters. Sometimes it just feels like Bibendum has been the fulcrum, the axis, the crucible of South Kensington life for at least the last two decades. Michelin building turned Michelin restaurant. Now that’s not so much a lost story arc as a full 360 degree circle. It’s all about Head Chef Claude Bosi’s 2020 French cuisine living up to building designer François Espinasse’s 1905 French architecture. “Did you know,” seeks Ola, “that the 18th century diarist Samuel Pepys fed his cat Hodge with oysters?” ­

Terence Conran who currently owns Bibendum took full control of the interiors,” completes Ola. “The Michelin man stained glass windows upstairs inspired the design of the snug chairs, the wall lights, the butter dishes, the salt and pepper pots, so much!” No fewer than 34 vibrant external tile panels depict car racing at its most glamourous early 20th century prime. This is Art Nouveau meets Art Deco meets art on a plate meets art on a date. But did Desmond FitzGerald all those years ago, tucking into his seafood, realise he was sitting in a former tyre fitting bay? Who knows. All that was then and all that will be is yet to come. Now for the new normalcy: an alfresco vernissage, the unveiling of the Koestler Awards 2020 for arts in criminal justice settings, is on standby at Southbank. Vroom vroom, time to get that car and burn some rubber!

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Architecture Design Hotels Luxury People Restaurants

Sinabro Restaurant Battersea + The Beaumont Hotel Mayfair London

How Many Tears to Babylon?

Battersea Rise © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

First things first. Clapham Junction is not in Clapham. Never was, never will be. When the railway station was first built in Battersea, the Victorians had the bright idea of calling it after Clapham which is 1.5 miles away. The former was a no go zone; the latter as respectable as could be expected south of the river. How things change! Local campaigns regularly erupt proudly claiming back Battersea to where it belongs. Take note Clapham Cluttons on Northcote Road. Never mind all that. At least agents agree the best real estate in SW11 is “Between the Commons”. It’s a heated up toast rack of roads lined with handsome houses cushioned betwixt Clapham Common and Wandsworth Common. For Wandsworth read Battersea. So no matter what side you’re on you’re a winner. As for the Clapham Omnibus it’s long been replaced by the South Chelsea Tractor. This is after all Yummy Mummy Nappy Valley Uppity Middle Class central. Upmarket has gone downstream.

Historically, before London completely engulfed this part of semi rural Surrey, it was the home of architects Sir Charles Barry and Thomas Cubitt, authors Samuel Pepys and Graham Greene, saints Zachary Macaulay and William Wilberforce, and typographer and sinner Eric Gill. Not all at once. Battersea Rise forms one of the outer edges of the grill or grid. To the north, Lavender Hill may not have its mob anymore but gentrification, yes Sixties sociologist Ruth Glass is to blame for that term, hasn’t quite taken over. Yet. The same cannot be said, to put it mildly, for south of Battersea Rise, the tract of land once owned by the 1st Earl Spencer. Here, a Parisian meringue pâtisserie qualifies as a corner shop. Byron is the chip shop. Dip & Flip is the burger joint. The Bolingbroke Pub and Dining Room, the local. Quids in, it’s not for the price sensitive. Everyone’s moneyed in The Bank. There are as many red cords, pink sweaters and yellow jackets on the street as Roderick Charles’ shop display. Welcome to Paradisian Battersea. It even gets a couple of mentions in The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. Half the time Made in Chelsea is made in Battersea.

Between the Commons © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Aside from Battersea Rise the other boundaries of this low rise swathe of bedknobs and broomsticks land are Clapham Common West Side to the east, Bolingbroke Grove to the west and Nightingale Lane to the south. Social distractions aren’t new. William Wilberforce lamented in 1791, “I find that I must as little as is really right ask people to Battersea Rise to stay all night as it robs and impoverishes the next morning… in this way I love my time, and find indeed that less is done at Battersea Rise than elsewhere.” The competition’s stiff, but really, for boys who brunch there’s nowhere quite like Sinabro at 28 Battersea Rise. It’s a reality. It’s a dream. It’s a paradox. Welcome to Parisian Battersea. Francophile Marianne Faithfull’s As Tears Go By aptly plays softly in the background. Do turbot and merlot rhyme? Halibut and Malibu? In Paree do you drop the t? What about Moët? Hard or soft t? But soon life’s perpetual worries and other first world concerns subside and fade away.

Sinabro Battersea Rise © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sinabro © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Yoann Chevert © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sinabro Amuse Bouche © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Siabro Egg Celeriac Mushrooms © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sinabro Sea Bream © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Sinabro Baby Gem Salad © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We moved to Battersea three years ago,” relate Yoann Chevert and Sujin Lee, the owners of Sinabro. “We fell in love at first sight with this area because of its urban and suburban mix. We didn’t so much choose Battersea Rise for our restaurant as it chose us. We’ve been looking for premises for four years in London and had several abortive cases.” Sinabro is Korean for “slowly but surely without noticing”. Manager Sujin, originally from Seoul, explains, “This pure Korean word resembles us. We work hard as ants or bees collecting their foods by instinct!” There are just 29 covers in the sparely decorated restaurant: 16 at the bar overlooking the open kitchen, eight in a private space to the rear and the remaining at small tables overlooking Battersea Rise. “We have two, three and six course menus,” says Chef Yoann, originally from Loir-et-Cher. “Eventually it would be good to keep only the six course tasting menu. Our customers say each of our ingredients in a dish have strong intense flavours yet are delicate.” The Michelin Guide says, “Confidently prepared dishes that rely largely on classic French flavours but are modern in style.”

Sinabro Bavarois © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The two course lunch (£25.50) of liquid potato amuse bouche then egg, celeriac and mushrooms followed by sea bream, cabbage and mustard sauce with baby gem salad (£3.50) proves to be just that. Why stop there when there is fennel bavarois, strawberry and lemon sorbet for pudding (£6.90). The wine list is helpfully categorised. “Crisp and Mineral” includes Château Carbitey 2010 Graves Bordeaux (£44); “Rich and Medium Bodied”, Weingut Von Winning 2012 Pfalz (£37); “Leafy and Savoury”, Domaine Raymond Morin Saumur-Champigny 2010 Loire (£30); “Fruity and Supple”, Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Beaumes de Venise 2012 Rhone (£42); and finally “Big and Bold” includes Château Puy Mouton 2008 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru (£58). “Frédéric Simonin in the 17th District is our favourite restaurant in Paris,” says Yoann. “We worked together for eight years! He is such a talented man.” Yoann’s Parisian experience included a stint at Michelin starred establishments Taillevent, Le Meurice and La Table de Joel Robuchon. He met his wife and future business partner Sujin at Le Cordon Blue. Yoann was formerly Sous Chef with Hélène Darroze at The Connaught Hotel.

The Beaufort Brown Hart Gardens © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Connaught. One of London’s oldest hotels, it’s the perfect pit stop for a sybaritic Bolly or four before full steam ahead to the soft opening of London’s newest hotel. The Beaumont. Fedoras at the ready. Restaurant royalty Jeremy King’s and Chris Corbin’s first hotel, the Art Deco styled Colony Grill Room is painted with Twenties American sporting activities. The adjacent Cub Room continues the theme but with a fine line in American whiskeys stops hospitably short of Prohibition. A Hemingway Daiquiri (£11.75) of Maraschino, rum, grapefruit and lime juice hits the spot. Across the bar sit modern writers Dylan Jones and Caitlin Moran. Overlooking the discreet oasis of Brown Hart Gardens in Mayfair, but just a Celebrations Cracker’s throw from Selfridges, The Beaumont possesses that frequently sought yet rarely achieved blend of intimacy and grandeur. The 73 bedrooms and suites range from £395 to upwards of £2,250. Breakfast is included.

The Beaufort Hotel Mayfair © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Architecture Design

Trinity House London + Samuel Wyatt

Sometimes We Do It Right

2 Trinity House London copyright Stuart Blakley

Decisions, decisions. There may not be as many approaches to architectural criticism as there are to architectural style but there are still plenty around for sure. The formal approach championed by Huxtable. Historical by the likes of Goldberger. Experiential by Muschamp. Activist by Sorkin. So on and so forth. This essay relies on a combination of formal and historical as befits its subject. The Mumford (not & Sons) walkthrough is adopted with its emphasis on the visual. A sprinkling of the sustainable approach is added to the mix. It’s a tale of two architects two centuries apart anchored by continuing moments of beauty. Dr Roderick O’Donnell, one of London’s leading architectural historians, is on standby for sound bites.

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Time now for a whistlestop tour. Trinity Square is a quoin stone’s throw from the Tower of London. No.10 is a bombastic Beaux Arts building commissioned by the Port of London Authority in 1911. Designed by Edwin Cooper, its superscaled stony vastness tries hard to dominate the square. To borrow Oswald Spengler’s phrase, Cooper’s construct is “swaggering in specious dimensions”. Somewhat aptly it will soon reopen as London’s first six star hotel. Woods Bagot has slotted a 121 bedroom hotel and 30 apartments into its titanic floorplates.

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But this essay isn’t about No.10. Although the neighbouring building may be significantly lower in scale, its dignified presence holds its own. Welcome to Trinity House, Trinity Square. Samuel Wyatt’s masterpiece, an authoritative assimilation of Greco Roman style. Over to Rory: “His younger and better known brother James is more flash. Samuel is a much more controlled architect – he’s not headline. He is best known for designing a series of sold satisfying small country houses.” Isabella Blow’s family seat Doddington is one example. Built in the 1790s, Trinity House displays the Wyatt dynasty’s love of the lateral. “Horizontal emphasis is a Wyatt trait,” confirms Rory.

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The ground floor is presented as a channelled stone rusticated podium with the order raised above framing the principal floor. The central segmental arched doorway is set in a three bay reticent recess flanked on either side by single bay projections with segmental arched tripartite windows. These deferential round headed apertures act as a counterpoint to overall elevational orthogonality. Upstairs, paired unfluted Greek Ionic pilasters distinguish the outer bays. Just as François Mansart gave his name to a certain type of roof, James Wyatt popularised a window type. The Wyatt window is a tripartite arrangement resembling a Palladian window (another eponymous architectural term) with the arch omitted and the entablature carried over the wider central window. Samuel places Wyatt windows over the doorway and on the first floor of the outer bays. Matching unfluted Greek Ionic columns frame the central bay with single windows on either side. Balustraded aprons fill the space below the five windows. Above, relief panels display nautical emblems and together with a couple of busty mermen hint at the building’s use. A dentilled cornice over a plain entablature surmounts the façade.

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The side elevation to the left is five bays wide but squeezes in an extra floor at entablature level, resulting in a more domestic scale and character. Wyatt continues the rustication of the ground floor. A string course is the only decoration on the upper two floors. There is no rear elevation. The building abuts others behind. To the right of Wyatt’s façade is a 1950s extension by Albert Richardson. Yikes! The era that taste forgot. Fear not. Richardson’s addition is a lesson in architectural good manners. Rory pronounces, “Richardson’s work prolongs the lines of the original but is kept subordinate by setting back the two bay link and differentiating the appearance through the very subtle use of light brick on the upper storey.” A three sided canted bay terminates the Tower Hill frontage. A full stop. Richardson repeats the ground floor rustication and introduces another Wyatt window in the middle of the canted projection. Look now: the two angled walls are slightly recessed. Look up: this seemingly minor detail magnifies to create an almost pagoda effect when the cornice is viewed from the forecourt.

1 Trinity House London copyright Stuart Blakley

“The roof usually isn’t visible in classical architecture,” explains Rory, “so Richardson correctly treats it as a separate architectural entity. He clad it in copper. Richardson enjoyed and was adept at working with metals. His Financial Times building near St Paul’s, the first post war building in England to be listed, incorporates bronze framed casements and cornices trimmed with copper.” The wrought iron weathervane of a 16th century ship jauntily perched on a copper ball provides the finial. An exclamation mark! The side elevation to the right of the frontage appears as one large canted bay with three central openings. A flying first floor wing links this elevation to the building behind. Again Richardson uses metal: an expanse of glass on either side is framed in bronze with rosettes crowning the joins.

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Back to Rory: “Richardson was a very competent Georgian revival architect. He was a neo Georgian in every sense – he lit his house with candles and wore 18th century costume. Richardson wasn’t interested in Soane – he would have considered him too radical, not Georgian enough. He wanted to revive Georgian architecture and wasn’t interested in developing a big commercial practice. Unlike the boring hackneyed neo Palladian architects of today, Richardson was his own man. “

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Ding-a-ling-ling. Time to go indoors. What’s the relationship of container to contents? That’s a question for the Nazis to answer. A World War II bomb landed on the, er, landing on a Saturday evening in 1940. The ensuing fire gutted the building. Although the furniture was destroyed, the paintings, silver and records were fortuitously in storage. Richardson reconstituted a slightly streamlined version of Wyatt’s interiors relying on 1919 Country Life photographs. “Most of the rooms, certainly in the original block, look like convincing 18th century interiors,” Rory reckons. Richardson excels at imbuing space with meaning. A sense of scale and proportion is achieved through carefully controlled containment, boundaries and direction. The low ceiling of the entrance hall accentuates the dramatic sequence of what lies beyond – and above. Applied decoration in the entrance hall takes the form of incised panels and niches holding lighthouses. A further clue to the building’s use. Walking past the ground floor timber panelled cloakroom, Rory observes, “So much of Richardson’s detailing is implied, reticent, recessed rather than extruded.”

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A pair of Roman Doric columns with gilded capitals, sea green scagliola shafts and black bases heralds the approach to the staircase hall. This tripartite opening is an unglazed variation of the Wyatt window and is a recurring motif throughout the building. Just as the stairway is one of the great architectural problems, so Wyatt’s is one of the great solutions. On axis of the entrance door the staircase is both complexly configured and perfectly, restfully modulated. The upper two treads of the first flight bow inwards as if in anticipation of the bowed flights to come. Such rhythm of compression and vertical expansion of space stretching heavenward to a clerestory and trompe l’oeil ceiling. The stone treads cantilevering out from the great semicircular apse. The fine wrought iron balustrade with anthemion panels. Sometimes they do it right. Wyatt and Richardson making waves. A tongue shaped secondary staircase slips in behind the main event. Entablatures of Ionic columns facing the landing carry mini galleries with balustrades and pairs of caryatids. Rory spots a sea change in design direction. “The introduction of the Ionic order gives a different flavour to this floor. It suggests thinking, something more intellectual.”

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Off the landing is the Court Room. It’s the same size as the three bay entrance hall below but has a high ceiling above a deep cove. A trompe l’oeil sky by Glyn Jones adds to the feeling of latitude. “Jones was a very ambitious figurative painter of the mid 20th century,” notes Rory. This room has the character of a country house saloon. A gilt framed mirror stands over the while marble with ormolu detail fireplace. Six full length majestic regal portraits grace the walls: George III and Queen Charlotte by Gainsborough Dupont; William IV and Queen Adelaide by Wills Beechey; Edward VII by Frank Holl and George V by John Collier. A hemicycle shaped wine table sits on the Killybegs woollen carpet. Tall double mahogany doors with ormolu escutcheons open into the Luncheon Room. Oyster sea shell pink wallpaper awaits.

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The first floor of Richardson’s wing contains three main interconnecting rooms. The intimate Reading Room, the large Library and an annex called the Pepys Room which is lit by the metal framed windows. At first the Library’s function is not apparent as the books are concealed behind doors in the panelling. The two ends are treated as ellipses with the south end accommodated in the projecting canted bay. Stained glass dating from the 16th century is placed in the sashes. “I think one would know this is a 20th century room. It’s very pretty with beautiful detailing based in the vernacular,” observes Rory. “In using the term ‘vernacular’ I am of course referring to domestic Georgian architecture. ‘High street Georgian’ to coin a phrase.” He’s on a roll. “There are extensive drawings in his seminal publication Regional Architecture of the West of England. For example, Richardson meticulously studies traditional shop fronts. The inventiveness and attention to detail – look again at the Library panelling, the Pepys Room fenestration – are clearly derived from his studies.”

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Trinity House is the headquarters of a guild of mariners established in the 1300s. The safety of shipping and the wellbeing of seafarers have been its main concerns ever since Trinity House was granted a charter by Henry VII in 1514. Samuel Pepys was a former master. Princess Anne is the current master. Present elders include Earl Spencer and Baron Browne of Madingley. Three times in its history Trinity House has had its headquarters destroyed by fire. The first two times were the Great Fire of London of 1666 and the Water Lane Fire of 1716. Today, Trinity House serves three functions. Firstly, it is the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. Secondly, a charity dedicated to the safety, welfare and training of mariners. Thirdly, it is the Deep Sea Pilotage Authority providing expert navigators for ships trading in northern European waters. The guild’s offices occupy the ground and top floors of the headquarters. That leaves the first floor shipshape suite of rooms available to hire for christenings, bar mitzvahs, samskaras. Around 300 events are held here each year. Hark! Next year, a special event will take place. Trinity House will celebrate its 700th anniversary.

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Complements, compliments. Time to reflect on the architecture once more. This is a building by two designers or engineers or engineer designers working at the height of their powers, a complete work of substance. Future proofing, to use the latest dire planning jargon, was probably not top of Wyatt’s agenda. But his architecture remains aesthetically pleasing to the modern eye and with Richardson’s help has adapted well to contemporary requirements. That’s what’s called… eek more planningease… sustainable development. Stop. In a final Huxtablesque moment, the scale of the building, the subtlety and seriousness of the architectural style and material, of sculpted stone and smooth brick; the visible and tangible continuity of London’s Georgian tradition; the accent and nuance – colour, size, style, massing, space, light, dark, solids, voids, highs and lows – all are just right.

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