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.
Writing in Edwardian Architecture, Alastair Service describes the host building and its place in the architectural lexicon: “The commission for the Port of London Authority building was won in a competition of 1912 by Edwin Cooper (1873 to 1942), who had recently started a personal practice after working in a series of partnerships. Cooper’s success in the competition of 1911 for the St Marylebone Town Hall was, however, more significant for the future. Reviewing the entries for the competition, the editor of one architectural magazine wrote, ‘We cannot help asking ourselves whether all these colossal columns, domes, towers, groups of sculpture and other imposing features are felt by their authors to be the only natural and inevitable expression of the necessities of the case.’
Such criticism of extravagant building was in harmony with general feeling at the time. And the St Marylebone Town Hall built to Cooper’s designs shows a greatly simplified use of Classicism, emphasising the volumes in Holden’s [architect Charles Holden] way, rather than creating broken Baroque outlines encrusted in sculpture. The mention of Holden’s name is no coincidence. More than anyone else, it was his work that bridged the gap between the attempts at a Free Style and the varieties of Edwardian Classicism.”
White truffle – it’s in high season – is flaked over the cheese and mushroom gnocchi starter. Acquerello risotto main course is flavoured with pumpkin, bergamot and Yellow Bourbon coffee. Poached pear infused with sansho and ginger is decorated with argousier honey and beeswax. Each course is an adventurous fusion of taste and an avantgarde work of art. Unsurprisingly, the restaurant had barely opened before it snapped up a Michelin star. A second followed in hot pursuit.
Four Seasons at 10 Trinity Square may be quite close to the Tower of London and very close toSamuel Wyatt’s Trinity House but its immediate environs are surprisingly discreet. That doesn’t stop the 80 cover dining room being full on a midweek lunchtime. The interior is all about spare luxury. White walls and a tiled dado under a mirrored strip matching mirrored columns are softened by leather banquettes and a cluster of snugs below a central gigantic Chinese lantern.
The two vintages available at La Dame de Pic are Blanc 2006 and Rosé 2008. “These are two very different Rare Champagnes,” notes Nicolas. “The year 2006 was warm – winter was pretty mild and there was a summer heatwave. You can see the fullness of the sun in the ripe fruit taste. The year 2008 was cold which resulted in a very delicate cuvée – graceful and not too full bodied. You always have the same aftertaste in all our Rare vintage: duality of warmth and minerality.”
He continues, “The noble origin of Rare Champagne dates back to a presentation to Marie Antoinette and expresses its revolutionary spirit against the trivialization of vintages. Over the last four decades, Rare Champagne has declared only 11 vintages. The tiara adorning the precious bottle features the triumphant vine prevailing over the whims of weather. The bottle design, called Pinte Majeure, is asymmetrical as it was originally mouthblown.” Today, the soft curves of the design pay tribute to Marie Antoinette, thelast Queen of France and the first modern icon, renowned for her ability to set new standards.
“This is about more than just drinking Champagne,” relates Nicolas. “We are launching a luxury brand in the UK and Ireland. A luxury lifestyle – the Champagne experience. It’s about having nice glasses, nice places. The luxury way to entertain. And La Dame de Pic is the perfect place to enjoy Rare Champagne!” The celebrated sommelier Jan Konetzki, Director of Wine at Four Seasons, adds, “Rare Champagne is a great partner with La Dame de Pic’s food.”
A few days later, suddenly, sharing a waiter with other guests seems rather déclassé, or would be if we weren’t dining in classy Aquavit. Lady Diana Cooper once described Vita Sackville-West as “all aqua, no vita”. Not so this restaurant: aptly named after the Scandinavian spirit, it’s full of life. We’re here, for starters. Not just desserts. A Nordic invader of the New York scene in the 1980s, sweeping up two Michelin stars, it opened an outpost in Tokyo and has now come to Mayfair.
In 1989, Country Life reported: “Until quite recently London lacked continental style brasseries. There has always been a wide choice of restaurants but the alternative to an expensive meal has been the ‘greasy spoon’ café, the pub or various questionable ‘takeaways’. Traditionally the City provided dining rooms, now almost extinct, together with a diet of boisterous restaurants such as Sweetings, the catering world’s equivalent of the floor of Lloyds or the Stock Exchange. But greater sophistication was demanded by a new generation keen on modern design, New York and cuisine, as opposed to cooking.”
That all changed with the arrival of Corbin + King and Richard Caring who have filled Mayfair and beyond with brasseries. Aquavit fits into the higher end of that mould. CEO Philip Hamilton says, “Our aim is to create a relaxed morning to midnight dining experience.” Handy, as we – the Supper Club (Lavender’s Blue plus) – all have Mayfair offices, from Park Lane to Piccadilly Circus. Scandi style has been ripped off so much by hipster hangouts but this is west, not east, London. Pared back lines allow the quality of the materials to shine (literally in some cases) through: marble floors climb up the dado to meet pale timber panelling, softly illuminated by dangling bangles of gold lights.
Sourdough bread and knäckebröd (Swedish rye crisp bread with a hint of aniseed) come with whey butter. “The whey butter is from Glastonbury,” explains our waiter. It’s all singing all dancing. Chillout music is playing in the background. We’re experiencing what the Scandinavians call ‘hygge’, that cosy relaxed feeling you get when being pampered, enjoying the good things in life with great company. All the more reason to sample Hallands Fläder (£4.50), an elderflower aquavit. A continuous flow of sparkling water is (aptly) plentiful and reasonably priced (£2.00). Ruinart (£76.00) keeps our well informed sommelier on her toes.
Our dedication to reportage ever unabated, is it a dream sequence or the following day do we return for a smörgåsbord of diced and smoked mackerel tartare, sorrel and lumpfish roe (£7.00) in a salad bowl, sitting at a timber table on the polished pavement? Not forgetting the unforgettable Shrimp Skagen (£9.00)? Skagenröra isn’t just prawns on toast, y’know. Named after a Danish fishing port, other essential ingredients are mayonnaise, gräddfil(a bit like soured cream) and some seasoning. Grated horseradish, in this case, adds a bit of spice. Best crowned with orange caviar. It’s Royal Box treatment all over again as we have a dedicated waiter to our table. Or maybe that’s because we are the only alfresco brunchers braving the elements outside the box. By Nordic winter standards, it’s a positively balmy morning. We’ve a love | hate relationship with Aquavit. Love here | hate leaving.
This isn’t a tale of two pities. At last! A country house in Ireland not being converted into flats or a hotel or worst of all abandoned? Rather, being returned to its original use? Well, that is a good news story. Ok, it’s a country house historically if not geographically cause it’s plonked in Ballyhackamore, Belfast’s very own East Village, off a busy dual carriageway, but still. Restoration is ongoing – already, correctly detailed skylight windows in the stable block and proper cleaning of the sandstone suggest it’s all going to be terribly smart. Consarc are the architects of its revival. Ormiston House had a narrow escape. Planning permission was granted in 2010 to carve it up into 20 frightful flats. Thank goodness for a knight and madam in shining white armour in the form of the owners of Argento Jewellers. Past distinguished owners include Sir Edward Harland of Harland + Wolff fame.
With a burst of turn of the century optimism, the Northern Ireland Assembly bought Ormiston for a whopping This Boom Will Never Bust £9 million. Late 20th century uses had included a boarding house for nearby Campbell College and a police station. The final sale price to Peter and Ciara Boyle was a few quid over £1 million. Scottish architect David Bryce’s 1860s baronial pile is back in town. A grand 57 square metre staircase hall accessed through north and south lobbies sets the tone. Back of country house essentials such as a pastry kitchen and boot room aren’t forgotten. The four staircases will be put to good use, linking two floors of formal reception rooms, informal entertainment suites and bedrooms to a turreted top floor of two airy eyrie guest rooms.