Royal Opera House + Ham Yard Hotel

Artisan Residence

Ham Yard Hotel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Hang on a minute. Are those elephant droppings in the courtyard? Is there a circus in town? Is Nellie on the rampage? Is it sh1t or sh1t art? We (very) gingerly bypass this and other disconcerting existentialist concerns and make our discerning way straight to the basement Dive Bar at Ham Yard Hotel. Boy, we haven’t been in as fun a disco dive bar since Pinkie Master’s Savannah (midnight in the venue of good and evil). There are enough fluorescent signs to keep even Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown happy. Viva Las Vegas. Flavour of the month Ruinart the imbibable equivalent of caviar, is on tap. Starting with big balls in the small hall, the art continues inside and thankfully improves. Or maybe that’s the bubbly kicking in.

Ham Yard Hotel Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Mayfair’s our usual hunting ground. Private views, our game. So firstly we’re gunning it to the Mayfair Gallery’s inaugural exhibition Impressionists and Modern Masters. It’s a new venture for W1’s antiques treasure trove. “The part of Mayfair Gallery fronting South Audley Street is ideal for exhibitions,” says Director Jamie Sinai. “We’re looking forward to holding more exhibitions in this space.” Watching this space, Renoir’s sensitive charcoal on paper Musicians and Louis Anquetin’s full on watercolour Aux Courses highlight penchants for portraiture. Other Impressionist and Post Impressionist household names represented by painting, sculpture and sketches are Boudin, Matisse, Moore and Picasso.

Ham Yard Hotel Sofa ©Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ham Yard Hotel Dive Bar © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley,

Next stop Ham Yard. We haven’t strayed too far from the closeness of riches, sticking firmly to the Regent Street edge of Soho. More than a mere hotel, this Woods Bagot designed piece of new townscape is stitched into the tight urban fabric. All the key town planning buzzwords are ticked: accessibility, flexibility, legibility, permeability. Stylistically too it’s a fit, displaying a kickass warehouse meets townhouse typology. Dotted around the perimeter of the courtyard are 13 boutique shops. In the hotel itself, as well as the Dive Bar there are 91 bedrooms and suites, a ground floor restaurant, orangery sunken halfway below street level and a theatre two floors down. Ah, the theatre. Our raison d’être at the Kemps’ latest development. Alex Beard (Chief Exec), Kevin O’Hare (Director of the Royal Ballet) and Kasper Holten (Director of Opera) have invited us to celebrate the opening of the Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season. “We’ve an audience to die for!” exclaims Alex. “We’ve got with us more than a smattering of Royal Ballet artists. Friends and rellies, you can catch me in the cinema! We’re going from strength to strength.”

 

Manon 24/09/14, Copyright 2014 ROH. Photographed by Alice Pennefather

Kicking off (although there’s probably a more genteel term for it) the season is Kenneth MacMillan’s acclaimed Manon performed by The Royal Ballet starring Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli. Madness, materialism, mayhem, mistresses, mystery, misery, Monsieur GM… they’re all in the gripping three acts of Manon. Kenneth MacMillan’s masterpiece may be 40 years old, first performed in 1974, but it remains thematically bang up-to-date. His Views of the Word are not defunct. Tonight’s performance is being simultaneously broadcast across 40 countries. Federico’s family are watching it in Genoa. But first for some revolutionary devolutionary evolutionary canapés. There’s the opening reception plus two intervals then the after party to navigate our way through. Phew. Thank goodness for avocado and lime on dried cracker; grilled goats’ cheese on mini toasted brioche; prawns marinated in basil pesto; grilled asparagus with garlic mayo; mini pulled pork and beetroot burgers; and pan fried cubes of chicken fillet. Not forgetting white chocolate caramel lollipops – they’ve got kick. Survival of the fattest.

Manon 24/09/14, Copyright 2014 ROH. Photographed by Alice Pennefather

Kenneth MacMillan’s source was the 18th century French novel by Abbé Prévost. It had already been adapted for opera by Massenet and Puccini. But he drew new sympathy for the capricious Manon using his customary psychological insight and memories of his own impoverished upbringing. He described his heroine as “not so much afraid of being poor as ashamed of being poor”. It’s a heart wrenching drama accentuated by Jules Massent’s score. The great choreographer’s widow, Lady MacMillan personally introduces Manon at Ham Yard. “Kenneth loved cinema and would be delighted by this performance. I warn you – there’s no happy ending!” And the best bed flip award (presumably there’s a technical term for it) goes to Marianela Nunez.

Manon 24/09/14, Copyright 2014 ROH. Photographed by Alice Pennefather

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The Irish Georgian Society + Island Hall Godmanchester

The Most Beautiful House in England

Island Hall Facade © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A letter to Country Life from Simon Herrtage sets the scene. “What a catalyst for action the ‘Destruction of the Country House‘ exhibition was and how much we owe to Sir Roy Strong for staging it. On visiting it as a young man, I was immensely moved by the plight of these buildings, so when my father died in 1978, I sought out a house in need of help and bought 18th century Island Hall in Cambridgeshire, a fine structure that had been converted into flats following service occupation in the Second World War and subsequently suffered a disastrous fire. With the help of the late Peter Foster of Marshal Sisson Architects, the house was saved and, in return for grant aid from the then Historic Buildings Council, we opened the house to the public and enjoyed several happy years there. Had it not been for the exhibition, who knows what the fate of that house might have been – but, given that it was viewed as ‘beyond reasonable repair’ I think we can guess.”

Island Hall Gates © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

After this structural restoration was successfully completed, Simon advertised the house in Country Life to allow someone else to carry on the good work as custodian. “Drive on,” warned Lady Linda Vane Percy when her husband Christopher, the distinguished interior designer, purposefully slowed down outside Island Hall in 1983. Two weeks later, they bought it. Christopher had good justification to be interested. The property had previously been in his family’s ownership for almost two centuries save for the rickety 20th century patch when Simon Herrtage rescued it. “We are proud of Island Hall’s war record,” admits Christopher. “In 1943 my grandfather’s cousin was given 48 hours to leave his house. It had been requisitioned. Things unravelled again when it was requisitioned a second time under the Emergency Housing Act. With its odd assortment of tenants it became like a grand version of Rising Damp!”

Island Hall Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Things went from bad to worse. “In 1977 a fire broke out in what is now our telly room,” relates Christopher. Hell. “The tenant in this part of the house was a milliner and her materials caught fire.” Lady Linda adds, “I was recently sent an East Anglia Television video of the event. Even now it is rather unnerving seeing what was later to become our home in flames.” Otherwise, conversion into 15 flats wasn’t all bad news for Island Hall. “The alterations looked brutal but architectural features were boxed in which protected panelling and chimneypieces,” he recalls. The Georgian organ visible in an early 1900s photograph of the entrance hall wasn’t so lucky. It ended up on a bonfire. This historic photograph shows the entrance hall crammed full of gas lamps, occasional tables, rugs, prayer chairs, nursing chairs, dining chairs, more chairs. The staircase is shown partitioned off by a bizarre Gothick screen – eclecticism taken a jarring step too far. “The house was waterproofed and almost entirely heated by the time we bought it,” says Christopher. “We quietly worked our way round restoring columns, rerunning cornices, replacing missing chair rails and recovering Georgian colour schemes. The staircase had been repainted bright orange!”

Island Hall Topiary © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s an Irish Georgian Society London Chapter tour and the entrance hall which fills the central three bay block, front to back, is laid out with rows of chairs as it can be for weddings. Island Hall is available for hire. A choir of clocks chimes. “The house was built in the 1740s by a Mr Jackson for his son John’s combined 21st birthday and wedding present. The Jacksons went bust two generations later when another John described his home as ‘this family wreck’. It’s just like Hogarth’s Marriage à la Mode engravings in our hallway. Money, fortune, affairs, debts.” Limbo. Christopher continues, “A certain Mr Fisher was a debtee of my great great grandfather Jacob Julian Baumgartner, a naturalised British citizen of Swiss birth. Island Hall was for sale at an auction in nearby Huntingdon and Mr Fisher bought it for £2,008 and 16 shillings. Island Hall fitted the bill, the debt! My ancestor was given the house by Mr Fisher on condition he paid 50 guineas to John Jackson. My family settled here. I come from a long line who did no Victorian or 20th century improvements. John Jackson would recognise the pale green colour of the entrance hall walls.” Save perhaps for the Quinlan Terry style stone dressing up of the central windows sometime in the 19th century. This relative lack of change to the house may be in part explained by a predecessor who didn’t believe in primogeniture, dividing the estate in 1874 between his 11 children. “We’ve been poorer ever since!”

Island Hall Urn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Island Hall Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Island Hall Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Island Hall Bridge © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Even though there are 250 acres of flooding meadow nearby we’re situated above the 100 year flood level,” he continues. “The Georgians knew where to build! Island Hall was built on a brownfield site – a tanner’s yard and two or three timber framed houses. It was positioned to enjoy east and west vistas.” The east vista across the road in front of the entrance front has long been redeveloped but the west vista still stretches across a croquet lawn and on to the rebuilt rococo Chinese Bridge leading to the two acre island after which the house is named. “We redesigned the gardens to incorporate borrowed vistas,” says Christopher. “We’ve had a lot of fun. To quote Sir Roy Strong, ‘At least we didn’t have to resort to flowers!’ Our 32 years living here have gone by in a complete rush.” Topiary sculptures contrast with shady informal corners. Green is the new black.

Island Hall Staircase © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Grade II* Island Hall is perfectly symmetrical, save for the attached dormered mews house topped by a cupola and weathervane, and unusually both main elevations are the same. No bows, no bays. An architectural spot the difference – trick question, there aren’t any. Its face to the world, village facing, is the same as its face to its owners, island facing. Two storey two bay wings abut a three storey three bay pedimented breakfront. The dentilled pediment floats on plain corbels set in from the corners of the projection. This is just one of many quirky charms of the architecture. Perhaps Mr Jackson himself had a strong say in the design?

Island Hall Dining Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The panelled interiors are quintessentially English, grand yet intimate, majoring in studied elegance. Heaven. A metal urn in the hallway piled high with trilby hats balanced at jaunty angles is a foretaste of what’s to come. Mixing toile de jouy wallpaper with mirrored Indian furniture in one bedroom illustrate Christopher’s originality of talent and taste. Debretts, after all, lists President of the International Interior Design Association among his many accomplishments. The first floor drawing room stretches across the middle three bays of the entrance front and is decorated in rich tones of crimson and burgundy. The walls are lined with gilt framed oils of ancestors. Christopher is a direct descendent of the Gunpowder Plotter Thomas Percy. His great grandmother insisted the family add her surname Vane. Lady Linda’s family are the Grosvenors. Her father was the 5th Baron Ebury and her brother is the present Earl of Wilton. “Island Hall is important,” finishes Christopher, “but the people it has nurtured are absorbed into the very fabric of the house.

Island Hall Peer's Robes © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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House of the Nobleman + Wolfe von Lenkiewicz

Algebra The Reunion of Broken Parts

Wolfe von Lenkiewicz @ Lavender's Blue

The artist, concept and venue are familiar. We last saw Wolfe von Lenkiewicz at Portland Place in the Edwardian space where that interminable yawn The King’s Speech was filmed. A couple of years before that, we popped up at the House of the Nobleman in one of Nash’s terraces overlooking The Regent’s Park. Our jaunt to the French Renaissance styled Il Bottaccio for an Italian job was just a few weeks ago. Combine the three and here we are back at 9 Grosvenor Place. Sometimes, familiarity breeds respect. A New Master | curation as an art form | heritage assets.

Mona Lisa @ Lavender's Blue.

It’s a private view, so private it’s Lavender’s Blue* and Wolfe touring the two floors which have been transformed by museum lighting and, of course, art. “You don’t have to go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa!” exclaims the 48 year old British artist. The French surroundings are immediately rather apt. “Some paintings are so iconic they seem unapproachable. But think of how artists like Duchamp and Warhol reinterpreted famous historic art.”

This Mona Lisa for the 21st century – although it will later transpire that time is not of the essence in the House of the Nobleman exhibition – is a recognisably intimate version of its predecessor. Same scale, same pose, same serenity, different detail. On closer inspection the painting is actually a medley of motifs found across Leonardo da Vinci’s oeuvre. The trees to the left are from his Annunciation; the trees to the right, The Virgin and St Anne; the shoulder ribbons from La Belle Ferronnière, and so on. He condenses Leonardo’s artistic output into a single enigma. It’s conceptual without being conceptualist.

Wolfe reveals he chose the Renaissance as a platform for experimentation because it was an age when artists attempted to root the making of art in a mathematical and aesthetically programmable formula. He renders his pencil and oil studies with a careful craftsmanship that seeks to replicate the original conditions and painting practices of Renaissance artists. It’s an exploration of the possibility of algebraic multiplication in reverse, drilling down an aesthetic object to its essential numbers. And onwards, to its prime number. Wolfe presents a Wittgensteinesque proposition that an artwork requires no further description to be in and of itself.

Wolfe von Lenkiewicz House of the Nobleman @ Lavender's Blue

“These works represent a nonlinear flattening of history,” he relates. “They’re inspired by centuries of art… Botticelli, Michelangelo, Bruegel, Stubbs, Riley, Hirst. Why not Rupert Bear too? Inspiration doesn’t always have to be highbrow art or even art! On the surface, Wolfe transfixes and seduces us with his rare technical ability. Dig deeper beyond his respectful grasp of iconography. Yes, he succeeds in reviving the algebra of art, liberating it from the confines of history to a newness of meaning. In this way, Wolfe’s latest works question the notions of resolution and finish while maintaining the utmost respect for his forebears.

*wherever there’s design there’s Lavender’s Blue

House of the Nobleman © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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El Nivel + His Excellency Mr Diego Gomez Pickering

Cultural Diplomacy

UK Mexican Ambassador Diego Gomez Pickering © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

Lavender’s Blue catch up with the ebullient Mexican Ambassador to the UK His Excellency Mr Diego Gomez Pickering. The setting is a lively Mexican, of course, restaurant El Nivel on Maiden Lane, that gourmand’s international delight running between Covent Garden and The Strand. “It’s thrilling to be in charge of such an important relationship for Mexico,” says Ambassador Pickering. He started life as a journalist, working for CNN in Mexico City and the Americas edition of The Wall Street Journal. “London is the capital of global media. Here, you have some of the most influential news outlets in the world.” Moving on, he says, “Next year, 2015, is The Year of the UK in Mexico and the Year of Mexico in the UK. The year focuses around three pillars: cultural exchange which includes exhibitions, films and events across the UK; economic exchange emphasising tourism; and education. Britain is the number one destination for Mexican students – we need to takes this to the next level.” It’s an opportunity to build a legacy that deepens the relationship between the two countries. In the meantime, there’s always TequilaFest in November 2014. Sipping an Ambar Tequila, Ambassador Pickering quips, “Tequila is a good ambassador for Mexico too! ¡Salud!”  

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The Elveden Estate + Maharajah Duleep Singh

The White Stuff

The Elveden Estate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

In conversation with Arthur Edward Rory Guinness, the 4th Earl of Iveagh, the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of the original Arthur Guinness of the 1759 Black Stuff fame, and his wife, the 4th Countess of Iveagh. Or Ned and Clare as they are informally known. Over the last number of years Lord Iveagh has turned round the 22,486 acre estate in Suffolk he inherited aged 21 into the largest working farm in Britain. Over 10,000 acres are given over to producing great quantities of grain, onions and potatoes. Around 4,000 acres are forest – conservation is taken seriously. The Elveden Estate as it’s called is a world of its own, complete with a smart inn and even smarter farm shop. They might be billionaires, but even the Iveagh family have found the 30 bay 70 bedroom Grade II* balustraded, niched, columned, rusticated, quoined and pilastered Elveden Hall a little on the large side. After his father sold the contents in 1984, this palatial barracks of a place was barely lived in again. But plans, they are afoot.

The Elveden Estate woods © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“In fact,” starts Ned, “Elveden Hall has been only used as a permanent Guinness family base for 10 years out of all the time we’ve been here. It was a shooting box. A large shooting box! Apart from films – Eyes Wide Shut and Vanity Fair were shot here – and some special occasions, it sits quietly here.” But it is the graveyard of the 900 year old estate church of St Andrew and St Patrick that best neatly tells the history. Cheek by jowl with the Guinness family plot are the gravestones of the last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire and his wife Princess Bamba. What? Here in rural mid Suffolk? Indeed. The first country house was built here in the 1760s by Admiral Keppel whose descendants Alice Keppel and Camilla Parker-Bowles would famously become royal mistresses. The East India Company forced the Punjabi Maharajah to relinquish his territory and the Koh-i-noor diamond after the end of the 2nd Anglo-Sikh War. He bought Elveden in 1863 with the compensation he received. His architect John Norton engulfed the Keppels’ house into a larger 13 bay building which is now the west wing of Elveden Hall.

Elveden Hall Eyes Wide Shut © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Sikhs from around the world visit the graves,” Ned comments. “It was in my great great grandfather’s day that it became two churches. The Maharajah’s successors were disinherited so us Guinnesses, we bought Elveden.” A simple plaque reads: “This church was restored and the north aisle and chancel added by Edward Cecil, 1st Earl of Iveagh, in the years 1904-6. He died on October 7th 1927 aged 80 years and is buried in the north east corner of the churchyard.” Ned explains, “The 1916 bell tower and colonnade were added in memory of Adelaide, his wife, the 1st Countess. It’s a beautiful working church and school. Between 1895 and 1910 my great great grandparents built the estate model village using red brick from our brickworks.”

“Two houses with something special in the middle,” is how Ned succinctly describes Elveden Hall. The Guinnesses spruced up the exterior of the Maharajah’s house and duplicated it on the other side of a porte cochère behind which lies that something special: the Marble Hall. “The decoration of the Indian style room at Queen Victoria’s Osborne House is actually made of plaster. Ours is Carrera marble. The handiwork of 700 craftspeople working on site. We were immune at that stage to financial restrictions,” he smiles. “Although my great great grandfather was still very careful with money too. He recorded what he spent on newspapers.” This architectural aggrandisement isn’t entirely unlike the transformation of Straffan House into the K Club, only several notches up again. “Clare and I were married in the Marble Hall. It makes for a great party! It’s got a sprung dance floor but is a terrible room for echo!” The spectacular galleried domed space, all four storeys of it, is cathedral meets mosque. “It expresses my great great grandparents’ desire for exoticism and plays tribute to Elveden’s history.”

The design of the Marble Hall was inspired by the rooms of the Maharajah’s house. “He wanted to be reminded of the Court of Lahore. The walls and ceilings are ornately decorated between mirrors. His Drawing Room is divided by slender Indian style columns into conversation areas. The cantilevered staircase cost £30,000. The Maharajah was furious as this took up a large portion of his annual allowance. We whitewashed everything, us Guinnesses,” observes Ned, “it does get dark in winter in Suffolk!” Upstairs an enfilade overlooks the driveway: the King’s Bedroom, the Queen’s Bedroom, the Ladies-in-Waiting’s Bedroom. They retain remnants of Edwardian plasterwork and stencilled paint effects. “George V, George VI and Edward VII were frequent guests,” he explains. Mrs Keppel came too. The Royal Family last visited here for a shooting party in 1931.

On the other side of the Marble Hall, the rooms in the west wing reflect “the neoclassicism of my great great grandparents” confirms Ned. “The Boudoir opposite the Dining Room is where ladies congregated while men retired to the Smoking Room. It once held a collection of ecclesiastical themed tapestries. They must have faded as it’s south facing. More recently the Boudoir was the setting of my 30th birthday complete with oyster bar!” The Guinnesses’ architect was William Young. He’d proved his capability by designing the ballroom of Iveagh House, their Dublin City townhouse on St Stephen’s Green, and making alterations to Farmleigh, their County Dublin country house in The Phoenix Park. Practical design at Elveden includes double glazing on the north facing entrance front: sashes placed behind external casements. The 1st Earl asked Caspar Purdon Clarke, director of the V&A and an expert in Indian decoration, to design the Marble Hall to link the new and the old.

The Elveden Estate Stained Glass © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I’ve managed the estate for 23 years. It pays for itself now.” The current Earl and Countess live with their young sons Arthur and Rupert in a rectory on The Elveden Estate. “But Elveden Hall is an enormous work in progress, an unfinished canvas. Our policy is to use the estate team for all restoration work where possible. I love the house but it’s a big challenge. You can’t see the fruits of our work so far. I’m very proud though we’ve reroofed the whole building, quite an engineering feat. The roof is now tilted to allow rainwater to run off. We’ve secured the shell of the building and it’s watertight now. What’s next? I want to use the house, to safeguard its future. Tens of millions of pounds of restoration you’re talking about. One step at a time. That’s my plan. I’ve furniture in storage too,” ends Lord Iveagh. Over to Lady Iveagh, “I’m not moving in until there is at least heating and hot water!”

The Elveden Estate

 

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Victoria House + The Bloomsbury Ballroom

Save me the Waltz | Ballistics

Bloomsbury Ballroom Victoria House © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Like Selfridges, that other great Beaux Arts behemoth cathedral to commerce, Victoria House confidently swallows up a whole urban block. An architectural display of imperialism with balls of stone commanding attention along one full sweep of Bloomsbury Square, the (breathe in) di style in antis Ionic Erechtheion portico (breathe out) soars heavenward on giant columns through the upper floors to a pediment boxed in by the mother of all parapets below a monster green slate triple mansard. All this is so emphatic. Incidentally it was used as a setting for the television series Mr Selfridge. Again incidentally it is faced with Portland stone from the same quarry as St Paul’s Cathedral. Back in the day, or year, 1926 to be exact, the architect Charles William Long’s brief was to “add to the dignity and beauty of the metropolis”. Something we’re not averse to doing either.

Bloomsbury Ballroom Victoria House Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Amazingly the interiors remain virtually intact. Entrance lobbies on all four sides are faced in Subiaco marble, decorated Greek style, dressed up to the nines with brass detailing and capped by coffered ceilings. Three halls with sprung floors for dancing are slotted between the panelled offices. The south hall is now called The Bloomsbury Ballroom. It’s a picture of a fabulous age, a place for roarers and flappers. Is that Alabama Beggs shimmying across the shadows? Seamus Heaney believed, “If poetry and the arts do anything, they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness.” Conversely we reckon if architecture and the arts do anything, they can fortify your social life, your waywardness. Smash the carapace. Have a ball. And so, an invitation to a glittering world of Divine Comedy Decadence, an exploration of the darker side of paradise, utopia displacing dystopia, delving into a phantasmagoria, transcending into a transmogrification, proves irresistible.

We’re a little late arriving. Thank goodness for 3am licences. It’s been a long day starting with breakfast at The Travellers. Jennifer’s Diary eat your heart out. We’ve schlepped across London from an exclusive top secret party. It was a very private view for The Beautiful People of a three bedroom apartment at 155 Sloane Street curated by Wallpaper* editors for the next issue. Co-hosts were Wallpaper* Editor-in-Chief Tony Chambers and Cadogan Chief Exec Hugh Seaborn. Chatham House? What’s that? Is it National Trust? Anyway, it’s terribly important don’t you think to use colour for branding. Asprey Purple. Crown Cream. Linley Green. Tiffany Blue. Veuve Clicquot Yellow. Barry White. Hotel Chocolat Black. Acqua di Parma Gold. Bloomsbury Ballroom Black and Gold. Classy. The psychedelic Long Bar off the ballroom employs the full spectrum with lampshades of every shade in the colour wheel. Lights, cameras, lots of action: this starring Space Works world’s a candelabra-filled stage. Fuelled by Lotus Events canapés, ballroom dancers from City Academy take to the floor, tripping the polychromatic light fantastic. The room is on fire.

Turner Prize nominee Tris Vonna-Michell “creates circuitous, multi-layered narratives, characterised by fragments of information, detours and repetitions, designed to confuse and enlighten in equal measure.” The same could be said for the bars off the ballroom. The 32 metre Long Bar lives up to its name. So does the Crush Bar: we’re shoulder to shoulder with the air kissing crowd. “Things are always unnoticed until they’re noticed,” declared Tesco Chairman Sir Richard Broadbent, hell bent on stating something or other of consequence. “A monument to our creativity and a brilliant day out,” assertively commented Tony Blair on the Millennium Dome in the days before irony. Returning to paraphraseology we enthusiastically say The Bloomsbury Ballroom is a noticeable monument to our creativity and a brilliant night out. A dignified and beautiful ballroom of one’s own.

The Bloomsbury Ballroom candles © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Sinabro Restaurant + The Beaumont Hotel Mayfair

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.

Wandsworth Common © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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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+ One

Self Portrait

Self Portrait © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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B + H Buildings

Reconstruction of the Country House

Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I am not an invention of your twilight hours.”

Clerkenwell has more architects per square metre than anywhere else in London. Take Bowling Green Lane. Tis the address of heavyweights Zaha Hadid, CZWG, Ian Simpson and Wilkinson Eyre. The density of pubs and restaurants is equally high. Handy presumably for wining and dining clients. This is after all the birthplace of the gastropub and the home of Exmouth Market. Round the corner on the corner of Northampton Road opposite a corner of leafy Spa Fields, an attractive 20th century Georgian revival block (as double fronted as the fireplaces inside) has been reborn as B&H Buildings with more than a sniff of Greenwich Village Manhattan sidewalk. What’s not to love? Clerkenwell links central London to the east end. Kind of. It was discovered by early loft pioneers before most Shoreditch hipsters were even born. A variegated skyline harks back to earlier glories: the 2000s polemical pyramidal Park Hut; the 1960s cliff face of Michael Cliffe House; the 1880s bastioned basilica of Our Most Holy Redeemer; the 1890s shadowy chateau of Kingsway Place; the 1790s spiritual spire of St James.

B&H Buildings © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“I will make you feel young again.”

While there’s a smattering of architects at the launch and a plethora of alpha types wearing Omega watches, a broader social mix – beta, zeta, eta, theta – reflects the appeal of an all day brasserie and bar from the people that brought us Bourne & Hollingsworth Bar, Reverend JW Simpson, Blitz Party and Prohibition. Fewer beards more socks less attitude than Hoxton. The brand’s offices are upstairs, hence the name. “If you don’t feel decadent you’re doing something wrong,” maintains that sage of New York, Sonja (JP) Morgan. Haut monde, beau monde, demimonde, tout le monde. It’s time to mingle; bring on that decadence. Whether vernissage or finissage, tastemakers or savants, we’re trailblazing our esoteric odyssey through town. The Music Box (golden section) apartments launch hosted by Gordon Ramsay. The Wallace Collection’s Great Gallery (golden frames) reopening. Wrong for Hay’s press lunch at 35 Queen Anne’s Gate (golden postcode). The Wish List (golden wonder) after party at Ognisko Polskie Club. Brunch at Sinabro on Battersea Rise (golden egg cocotte). Fortieth Anniversary of the Destruction of the Country House Exhibition (golden age) at the V&A. On canapés overdrive, little wonder The September Issue is always the fattest.

“I am the child of a lost era.”

Ah! Country houses. The V&A exhibition featured Breathless Beauty, Broken Beauty by Vanessa Jane Hall, a hauntingly evocative video triptych of country house ruins and restorations. Her cryptic murmurings provide our standalone quotes. We have form. “The interiors of the B&H restaurant and café capture the idea of an abandoned country house where the gardens and staterooms have slowly grown into one another,” explains Lou Davies of Box 9 Architects. An inside-out outside-in design emerged from her collaboration with the in-house creative team and Lionel Real de Azua of Red Deer Architects. Lionel calls it “a dramatic transformation” although the spaces are purposely not overdesigned. Trailing creepers and hanging baskets frame wicker seats grouped around cast iron tables. A white marble mosaic bar looks good enough to dance on. Head Chef Alex Visciano, former Sous Chef at the Connaught, delivers some fine culinary moments. Cod tempura bites with pea sauce and red bell pepper and thyme cake. Yum. Cider Rose (Somerset Cider Brandy, blackberry and champers) and Eton Fizz (Rathbone Gin, strawberries, lemon, honey, Greek yoghurt, egg white and soda). Complex cocktails, easy to drink. What’s the verdict on B&H Buildings? The jury’s in. No double takes. Or mixed metaphors. Just oxymoronic single entendres. B&H stands for burgeoning brilliance and a harbinger of happening.

“And in my heart I will paint these ashes as shining white snowflakes.”

B&H Buildings Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Lavender’s Blue Opera + Selfridges

Postcode Lottery 

Opera on the Terrace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s our anniversary. Time to celebrate. Christmas – with a little help from Selfridges’ luxury handmade Celebration Crackers – came early to Lavender’s Blue. We’re looking fresh for our 100th and not worn out at all by 1,000,000 hits. After 99 articles from Serbian Royalty to British Royalty, Savannah to nirvana, Cristal to crystal, the falls to the Shankill, Royal Mint to polo minted, Edition to limited edition, Masterpiece to masterpieces, Duck + Waffle to our usual waffle, Knights at home to nights abroad, Clive Christian to Christ Church, Goodwood to New Forest, rural Darlings to society darlings, earls to pearls, supermodels to super models, Futurism to the past, we’ve left Home House for home. Party central at Lavender’s Blue.

Lavender's Blue Party Stuart Blakley

Classically trained soprano Sara Llewellyn serenaded us – and half the postcode – to a dream like performance on our courtyard terrace. After earning her Masters with Distinction from the San Fran Conservatory of Music, Sara’s many operatic lead roles include Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro at Berkeley. And yes, she has performed at the Royal Opera House. After jaw dropping renditions of Bach’s Ave Maria, O Mio Babbino Caro and Con Te Partirò, the tempo slowed down and the sun shone for an awe inspiring Summertime. Sara then proved her diversity while testing our moves with I Could Have Danced All Night. Tear jerkers followed with I Dreamed A Dream and You’ll Never Walk Alone. Finally, words and music at the ready, altogether now: the full Team Lavender Cupcake impromptu choir belted out That’s Amore. The whole postcode was entertained to our new take on Dean Martin’s classic. Glyndebourne SW4 had competition.

Morning Opera on the Terrace Lavender's Blue © Stuart Blakley

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