Corinthia Hotel London + Dr Tara Swart

Food for Thought

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Does breakfasting at five star hotels make you cleverer? Yes is the answer, if you’re starting the day in Corinthia London’s Massimo Restaurant at . In a world first, the hotel has appointed a Neuroscientist in Residence. “We’ve 500 workers and one quarter of a million guests walk across our threshold each year,” relates Matthew Dixon, General Manager of Corinthia London and Commercial Director of Corinthia Hotels. “We want to understand more about ourselves to help and encourage the wellbeing of our guests, whether they’re spending £6 on a cappuccino in the Crystal Moon Lounge or £18,000 in one of our penthouses.” Enter Dr Tara Swart, lecturer at MIT. Throughout her residency, she’s advising on all aspects of hotel life including this morning’s brainpower breakfast:

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The Massimo is reassuringly grand – 10 columns (Corinthian, of course) rise like slender palm trees to the coved ceiling – but calmingly decorated in shades of grey and beige and cream. “Can a leopard change its spots?” asks Tara. Yes is the answer she explains, taking the peppered moth as a literal example. Pre Industrial Revolution, these insects were mostly pale but as trees grew dark with soot they were no longer camouflaged and made easy prey. Brown moths soon outbred their more conspicuous relatives. What about humans? Yes is the answer. Deeply entrenched methods of behaviour can be changed. “It’s ever more important to ‘learn, unlearn and relearn’,” she believes, quoting the futurist Alvin Toffler, “especially given Artificial Intelligence advances and recent geopolitical events.”

One neuroplastic tactic is choice reduction. It lowers stress levels and allows you to concentrate on more important things. Apparently Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wears the same type of clothes every day to avoid wasting brainpower. “Move away from the fixed mindset: criticising yourself and others; avoiding challenges; identifying failure with stupidity. Embrace the learning mindset: acknowledge your imperfections; enjoy challenges; view mistakes as learning opportunities.” Tara continues, “Be curious, play about, seek feedback. Interact with people who think differently from you. Spend time with people who are 20 years younger or older than you.”

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Can you change your luck through neuroscience? Yes is the answer, by altering what your brain sees. “What you see isn’t actually physically real; it’s based on what you choose to see and think. Be careful what you present to your brain,” Dr Swart warns. “Consciously change 10 small habits for the better to reconstruct your reality. Make sure your internal language is positive. Say to yourself ‘Today’s going to be a good day!’” And it is.

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Two Temple Place + Sussex Modernism

Retreat and Rebellion

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“It’s a virtue of the venue,” affirms Dr Hope Wolf. “There should be friction between an exhibition and its setting.” A lecturer at the University of Sussex, Dr Wolf is the curator of a major London exhibition on Sussex Modernism. It explores two questions. Why were radical artists and writers drawn to rural Sussex in the first half of the 20th century? Why was their artistic innovation accompanied by domestic, sexual and political experimentation?

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That venue. Now owned by The Bulldog Trust, Two Temple Place is an extraordinary neo Gothic mansion nestling next to Victoria Embankment. Its tip to toe carvings and coloured glass form quite a backdrop to, say, the De La Warr Pavilion architectural model. “It’s mostly a contrast but sometimes there’s less than you think,” she points out. “The Victorian emphasis on arts and crafts is a connection that runs through to Eric Gill’s work.” What a brilliant juxtaposition in the staircase hall though: three musketeers atop newels gazing down on Salvador Dalí’s Mae West Lips Sofa!

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“Designed by John Loughborough Pearson to satisfy William Waldorf Astor’s fantasies, Two Temple Place is something of a dream house. But his vision is demure when compared with the explicitly sexual imagery on display.” The curator acknowledges this tension in her choice of first exhibit. It’s a marble mini coffer decorated with an eroticised nude and filled with poems by the likes of Ezra Pound. In 1914 he and five other young poets presented to the Sussex writer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, whom Ezra called “the last of the great Victorians”. The admiration wasn’t mutual. “Wilfrid was a traditionalist. He hated the artwork and poems,” says Dr Wolf. “He kept the coffer but positioned it facing a wall to hide the nude.”

Retreat and Rebellion is a multimedia exhibition. While Dr Wolf lectures on British Modernist Literature and is a Director of the Centre for Modernist Studies, she has a background in history. “The University of Sussex takes a multidisciplinary approach to learning. This exhibition was a chance to include literature and music as well as art. There’s lots of media in the upstairs gallery but all the artists – Serge Chermayeff, László Moholy-Nagy, Henry Moore, John Piper and Eric Ravilious – actually knew each other.”

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Those questions. This exhibition argues that a rural retreat provided an escape from the metropolis to explore alternative living. It illustrates how the regional setting both amplified the artists’ and writers’ contrary energies and facilitated their attempts to live and represent the world differently.

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Royal Albert Hall + Aquavit London

Last Night of the Poms | School for Scandi  

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that life is better experienced from inside the box. Especially if said box is the most columned, curtained, cushioned, closeted, contained and catered for one at the Royal Albert Hall. “Anyone for sheep’s milk ricotta and elderberry jelly on potato tuile or sweet garden pea soup with poached quail’s egg and truffle foam?” asks our in-house in-box in-the-know waiter.

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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.

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Shepherd Market is the foodie haven west of Piccadilly. St James’s Market, Aquavit’s address, is a new or at least reinvented Shepherd Market hopeful east of Piccadilly. It’s a discreet location on The Crown Estate, but more luxury restaurants and flagship stores are due to open shortly. “The location is coming,” we’d been told. Cultural additions to this heralded “new culinary hub” include a pavilion opposite Aquavit styled like a cabinet of curiosities. The disembodied voice of Stephen Fry reading an 18th century ballad “The Handsome Butcher of St James’s Market” floats above stacked dioramas.

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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.”

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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.

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The airy double height interior with two walls of windows was designed by Swedish born Martin Brudnizki, the creative force behind Sexy Fish, and showcases works by Scandinavian designers such as Olafur Eliasson. Furnishings are by Svenskt Tenn; photographic art by Andrea Hamilton; silverware by Georg Jensen; uniforms, Ida Sjöstedt. Wallpaper* meets Architectural Digest. We’d been warned that “it’s a bit of a fishbowl” but we’re down with that. See and be seen. Duchamp shirts and Chanel dresses at the ready. This glass box is Nighthawk without the loneliness; The London Eye minus the wobbliness; Windows on the World missing the dizziness. A mezzanine over the bar contains two very private dining rooms named ‘Copenhagen’ and ‘Stockholm’.

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The menu is divided into Smörgåsbord | Starters | Mains | Side Dishes | Desserts. It’s tempting to overindulge on the smörgåsbord – really, a return visit is required for that course alone. So it’s straight onto the starters. Scallops, kohlrabi and lovage (£9.00) in a light citrus dressing demonstrate Nordic cuisine does raw well. Dehydrated beetroots, goat’s cheese sorbet and hazelnuts (£9.00) – we’re getting citrus, nectarine and dill – prove there’s life beyond seafood.

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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.

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Monkfish in Sandefjord Smør (Hollandaise type sauce named after the city) and trout roe (£28.00) tastes so fresh it transports us like a fjord escort to the Norwegian coast. Landlubbers be gone! Purple sprouting broccoli and smoked anchovy (£4.00) is a sea salty side grounded by the flowering vegetable. Chestnut spice cake with salted caramel ice (£8.00) is a slice of perfection revealing tones of vanilla and orange. Swedish hazelnut fudge provides a waistline enhancing end to dinner.

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Right now, Aquavit is hotter than Lisbon in July and cooler than the Chanel party in Peckham. And that’s just the beautiful staff. It shares Executive Chef Emma Bengtsson with the New York site and Head Chef is fellow Swede Henrik Ritzén, who previously cooked at The Arts Club in Mayfair. Emma, who is visiting England for a television appearance, believes, “Everyone has their own flavour profile – how they like things. I’m very intrigued with keeping flavours to highlight the produce itself. It’s very pure. The flavours are understandable… You gotta keep trying. Never stop trying.”

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Aquavit isn’t cheap but this is a high end establishment in Mayfair with form. It’s The Telegraph’s How To Spend It territory. After all, the person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good meal, must be intolerably stupid. And as Lady Diana Cooper once quipped, “money is fine”. Blink and you’ll miss daylight but that doesn’t mean January has to be dull or dry. We’re full and full of the joys. It’s not a school night and round the corner in Soho, Quo Vadis isn’t just a restaurant… Time to cut loose under a garish sky.

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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.

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Quique Dacosta + Quique Dacosta

Arts and Roses

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Evelyn Waugh called life a “hamper of perishable goods”. Suppers literally are but this one’s for the memory bank. A triple starred Michelin chef cooking specially for Lavender’s Blue. It may be a long way from his eponymous restaurant near Valencia but, spoiler alert, Quique Dacosta is looking to open in London before too long. “The first thing is I love London.” Recognised as Spain’s leading chef heading up one of the world’s best restaurants, Quique digresses, “I wanted to be a DJ when I was young, not a cook. I’m too old for that now!” Music’s loss; cuisine’s gain.

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“Don’t try this at home unless you have a Porcelanosa kitchen!” quips Quique. He has partnered with the luxury Spanish owned company to create a new kitchen design called Emotions. “My restaurant and Porcelanosa are neighbours. We share the same good quality and innovation so it was a natural experience.” Oak panels slide back to reveal everything and the kitchen sink: an element of surprise that is also a trademark of his cooking.

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Please don’t eat the daisies,” sang Doris Day but she didn’t say anything about roses. Yup, the crimson petals are for eating. Surely the pebbles in the ceramic bowl aren’t? “Some are stuffed with Manchego and truffle,” Quique explains. “Others are actual pebbles. Choose carefully – we guarantee we don’t have dental security!” A wooden plate holds equally enigmatic objects, this time a cluster of brown, orange and green crispy leaves. They turn out to be made of root mushroom, orange peel and green pickled pepper. Easy. An apple and gold powder cocktail completes this introductory culinary voyage of discovery.

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He points to the yellowish fish containers for the ceviche course. “We throw a lemon in the sea and two days later it comes back as a lemon fish! Valencia has a tradition of cured rare fish. This is fillet of sole in salt and sugar. The sauce is made out of the roasted bones of the fish. The kumquats are from the terrace of my restaurant. So are the lemons – we have 330 small citrus trees along our terrace. This soup has a chili and citrus aroma. The pineapple juice foam on top is for decoration.”

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A frying pan of eggs appears. We’re warned things are about to become a little more complicated. More so? Shirley Conran famously remarked “life is too short to stuff a mushroom” but we discover not an egg. Quique stuffs the egg whites full of truffle under a jelly skin and covers them with a white asparagus shell and gold leaf. “The good thing is my food is always good!” Albarino Martín Códax and Rioja Crianza are served.

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“In Valencia the most emblematic dish is paella,” confirms Quique. “When you Google Spanish food tapas comes up but tapas are from northern Spain, the Basque Country. Rice is the principal ingredient of paella and it is always served as a main course in Spanish tradition. There’s no cheese in this dish. I’ve used cream which is lighter than the parmesan texture of risotto. Black grated truffle and trumpet of chestnut mushroom make it dark with a lot of different textures. The rice is from the landscape in Valencia.”

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“You fancy a little sweet? Why not?” Nothing is Ronseal (”does exactly what it says on the tin”) with Quique Dacosta but the name of his pudding is a clue. Strange Flowers. “You won’t know any of these flowers though! They have lots of aromatic flavours but aren’t as heavy as the mains which were very rich. Their very light vibrancy contrasts with the fishy and acidic flavours earlier.” Mango and lychee are two of the more recognisable ingredients. If anyone needs to sample a hamper for Quique Dacosta London, we’re on standby.

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Abbeydene House Whiteabbey + Westminster Property Association Lunch + President Trump

Angels Unawares

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A phalanx of genteel residences, sphinx-like architectural sentinels, guards the east coast of Belfast Lough. Monuments to elaborately espaliered family trees, long forgotten aristocrats and plutocrats, sepia tinted sequins and foxtrots, Elysia lost to rampant suburbia. Sequestered by sequoias is Abbeydene House. The building was shorn of accretions when it was restored as part of a late 20th century redevelopment of the estate. Thus Abbeydene stands in mid Victorian sandstone glory amidst mildly colonial neighbours. The American style has some historic bearing: General Eisenhower lunched at the house in 1945 when it was owned by Mayor McCullough. Sir Crawford McCullough was the instigator of the five minute (since shortened to two minute) silence for fallen soldiers.

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The current owners accept paying guests. The original nine principal bedrooms have been reduced to eight all with en suite bathrooms. Rooms are named after American Presidents so naturally there’s the Eisenhower and also the Lincoln and Roosevelt. Only one Clinton. What about a Trump Suite? “No chance,” says host Tim Clifford. Abbeydene, or Lismara as it was originally called, was designed by architect-engineer engineer-architect Sir Charles Lanyon. “His son lived here,” notes Tim. “Sir Charles Lanyon didn’t build many private homes. He was better known for his public commissions such as Queen’s University and Ormeau Bridge.”

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In 1890 Sir Herbert Lanyon died and the house was sold to Edward Robinson, one half of Robinson + Cleaver, a once celebrated Belfast department store. Up until the late 20th century, the city had several iconic Edwardian department stores, now all sadly gone. A competitor was Brand’s + Norman’s with its famous tearoom, The Tuesday Room. Black and white clad uniformed maids would serve coffee in individual filters along with bowls of sugared crystals, while middle aged models would sashay between the tables, parading the latest Louis Féraud rigouts from the ladies’ section. Lavender’s Blue insider Anne Davey Orr recalls Peter Brand telling her he got his ideas from visiting stores in London. Robinson + Cleaver’s famous marble staircase ended up in Ballyedmond Castle in County Down, which was rebuilt by Eddie Haughey later Baron Ballyedmond.

Lots of original features are retained at Abbeydene, restored and reinstated following its stint as a nursing home. The pair of enormous bow windows to the rear, perfect for watching ships cruise along Belfast Lough while breakfasting, have curved glass and elaborate pelmets. Egg and dart architraves, niches, arches, fireplaces and a carved staircase all add character. Five of the bedrooms are accessed off a spacious first floor sitting room lit by a tripartite window over the entrance portico. A further three are hidden under the eaves. Abbeydene is Merrythought Café meets country house.

Time for some channel hopping (sea not TV). The Westminster Property Association Annual Lunch took place, as usual, in The Great Room of Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair. Under the bulbous onion shaped chandeliers and billowing waves of acanthus leafed cornices, the hum of 1,500 people chatting rose to a roar by mid afternoon. This crescendo slid to diminuendo as the guest speaker got to her feet. The BBC’s Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg led the audience on an odyssey from Cameron to May. “’The grownups are back in the Cabinet,’ one senior diplomat told me.” Inevitably Trump came up but was trumped (sorry) by the arrival of the food:

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Adventures in The Urban Jungle + C P Hart Bathrooms

Underneath the Arches

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Lights! Models! Guest list! There’s a clash of fabulous invites but we’ll always have Home House. Bathroom showrooms are the new members’ clubs when it comes to fun times. We’re off to the opening of a door. Albeit a rather fine bathroom cabinet door. This is, after all, C P Hart. And we’re all for doing our bit for the environment. The party is Adventures in the Urban Jungle: The Bathroom Transformed. Very green. Disruptor alert.

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The C P Hart showroom is enough to make Flanagan and Allen burst into song: “Underneath the arches | We dream our dreams away | Underneath the arches | On cobblestones we lay.” This cavernous store fills a run rabbit run warren of railway arches south of Waterloo. Oh no, time for another Flanagan and Allen rendition: “Anytime you’re Lambeth way | Any evening, any day | You’ll find us all doin’ the Lambeth walk.”

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The brick vaults and hanging lightbulbs are as deconstructed as Kuskus Foods’ root vegetables served in Thurlby Baston baskets. Who needs to dine at The Ritz or The Carlton when you can balance on a bath or sit on a cistern eating Joy of Taste’s crabsticks and caviar? New room set: House of Hackney’s leafy Palmeral wallpaper is the perfect backdrop to designer Christian Sieger’s characterful Dornbracht brassware. The Urban Jungle is all about celebrating light, air and greenery in urban living. Colourful tribalism in; white minimalism out. “Maybe it’s because we’re Londoners…”

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Gerard Brooks + Christ Church Spitalfields Organ

Building Bridge’s

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There must be weirder ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than stuck inside a church organ, but there can’t be many. Balancing on planks between 2,000 precious pipes was a catwalk cakewalk compared to hanging off nave-top ladders to get a decent shot of the crown and mitres. This organ’s a massive two storey structure. Lavender’s Blue commissions have ranged from supermodels to super models, redaction to red action, beds to dog beds, but never capturing images of the innards and outtards of one of the finest Baroque church organs in England. All at the behest of one of the most distinguished organists in England. It was a first.

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After a half century silence and a £1 million restoration, the organ is back in tune. International concert organist Gerard Brooks, Organ Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, Director of Music at Methodist Central Hall Westminster and Curator Organist at Christ Church Spitalfields, related, “Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields, the 18th century organ originally built by Richard Bridge was magnificently restored by William Drake.” Richard Bridge was the greatest organ builder of Georgian England. Handel played the instrument when visiting friends in the neighbourhood.

An inaugural performance was held to mark the launch of a double CD with a wonderfully illustrated sleeve. Yes, that photography session. A Giant Reborn features Gerard Brooks playing Baroque music by the likes of Purcell, Prelleur, Stanley and of course Handel. Introducing the evening, Reverend Andy Rider declared, “Christ Church is the best place to be in London before Christmas! This is a very special night in lots and lots of ways. It is the first recording of the Richard Bridge Organ in 300 years.”

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“When it was completed in 1735 it was the largest organ in the country. It is now the largest surviving Georgian organ in existence,” explained Gerard. “This organ is made for music as envisaged by composers of that period – there are relatively few like it. You are hearing what 18th century ears would have heard. The keyboard goes down to Bottom G so music written in the lower register can be played. Prelleur was the first organist of this church. Handel knew Richard Bridge and spoke very highly of him.”

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Mount Stewart Greyabbey + Lady Rose Lauritzen

Long Shadows Cross the Lawn

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Not many country houses are closely associated with their female lineage. Mount Stewart in Greyabbey, County Down, is an exception. The last two centuries have been dominated by the ladies of the manor. First there was the triple barrelled Lady Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart; then her high flying daughter Lady Mairi Bury; and now her glamorous granddaughter Lady Rose Lauritzen. National Trust owned for the last two generations, the house and garden have been relaunched with an all guns blazing £8.5 million restoration under the watchful eye of Lady Rose. Now spending six months a year at Mount Stewart, her ladyship reveals,

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“I came here when I was a week old ‘cause I was born in London in the middle of The Blitz and then came over with a nanny on the boat a week later ‘cause everyone was then working in London. My mother had been driving ambulances and then I came back here – this is where I lived. I went to a lovely day school in Holywood called The Warren which I absolutely loved. That was really nice and then I was sent off to boarding school which I hated every second of. I wanted to be here!”

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“My grandmother really brought us up. My mother was very young and my father was in the army so they were always travelling round and I saw an enormous amount of my grandmother who read to us, told us stories, kept us at work. I mean, one of our main jobs was watering the terrace. You know, we were tiny with heavy watering cans – such hard work! She kept everyone working in the gardens: housemaids, guests, everyone, even if they didn’t want to!”

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“It really has needed a huge restoration for 30 years. Now it’s been done we’re all delighted. It’s very exciting! It was last redecorated in the Fifties by my grandmother and then my mother used to keep up the structure of the house. She mended the roof – she mended everything because in those days we had our own carpenter, our own electrician, plumber, wrought iron man, our own blacksmith. It was totally utterly self sufficient. She kept it up till she gave the house to the National Trust in the late Seventies, whenever it was, and then obviously you don’t have a team of maintenance people and there’s no money.”

“So it really needed a huge restoration. Now it’s been done. We’re all delighted about this – very exciting. Teams of experts had been coming over and looking at the paint and looking at the fabrics and textiles and they mended and restored it. I’d redone some of my rooms, and bedroom, and I’d redone the sitting room with this lovely material Venetian silk and things like that. But they’ve restored it beautifully, and we’re all very excited about it.”

“The central hall now is exactly the way it was till I was in my twenties. I suppose it was my mother who repainted this hall the wonderful Chinese pink but this is how I remember it and it looks I think absolutely sensational. The gallery above which we always called ‘the dome’: no guest, no one ever went into the dome itself. Only the housemaids and the children used to take shortcuts through there and then peer through the balustrades to look at what was going on. And now that’s all beautifully done I think oh yes I remember all of us up there looking down and spying.”

“The drawing room is my favourite room in the house. It might be large but it’s the cosiest. You know, it’s pretty, it’s comfortable, it’s full of sunlight and in the past it used to be full of flowers and then obviously all the dogs were running round, jumping on the sofas too. So it was like the family room. It was where everyone, all the guests, everyone congregated here.”

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Tir Nan Og is the family burial ground made by my grandmother for the family and it means Land of the Ever Young and it’s got a wonderful view over the garden and she had all these statues made. It was all her sort of idea. The first to be buried here was my grandfather and then my grandmother. They have very ornate carved stones with all their favourite things on them like my grandfather, everything to do with flying, playing cards, all sorts of things, and my grandmother with her parrots and her dogs and her garden.”

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“When my grandmother died, the little cockatoo was distraught so it plucked all its feathers out so we had this oven ready bird with a crest and when I first brought my husband to Mount Stewart we were all so used to it we’d forgotten what it looked like and he practically fainted! You know, you suddenly walk into the house for the first time and it was in the central hall and it was in its aviary. There was this blue skin with a beak and this huge crest!”

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“My mother is the most recent to be buried at Tir Nan Og and we designed the stone so that it’s got the Stewart dragon looking duly fierce because he has to protect the family and then it says beloved daughter of Charles and Edith Londonderry because she was the favourite daughter. And then the other side says devoted to Mount Stewart which she was. I wanted her to be bigger than her sisters but smaller than her grandparents and a different coloured stone so it’s a pinkish stone. I think it’s actually very pretty. You know often we come up here and just sit and you know you relax your mind and it’s so soothing to the soul up here and I know that those who’ve gone before us are resting in peace and they’re in a happy place.”

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Christmas Champagne Breakfast + sketch Mayfair

The Morning and Night Before Christmas

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Afternoon tea and champers are, by definition and nature respectively, not before noon. But this is sketch Mayfair, the restaurant-cum-bar-cum-gallery which invents the rules. Or abandons them altogether. Case is a case in point. Lower is the new upper. What’s not to love sipping like dowagers while untying ribboned cheesy toastie sliders. Bûche de Noël anyone? The zany interior has gone even more cuckoo now that the season to be very jolly is round the corner.

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Opening the front door of sketch is like entering C S Lewis’s wardrobe. Florist Carly Rogers has gone to town – and country – with a snowy forestscape called Hollow Way. Carly says she “takes inspiration from across the creative world: painting, fashion, interiors, pottery, textiles, architecture and more!” So the eclecticism of sketch is the perfect partner for her displays. Fairies by florist JamJar float around the ceiling of The Glade, sketch’s bar. As Elizabeth Bowen would say, “Upstairs is crazy with dreams or love.” In The Lecture Room, the first floor restaurant of sketch, Tony Marklew’s rose strewn Christmas tree Let It Snow fits neatly under the domed ceiling.

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Merchant Taylors’ Hall City of London + The World Boutique Hotel Awards

Guild Secrets | Articulate Laurels | Materiality

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Tonight’s the night! We’re down at the seat of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors, one of the 12 Great Livery Companies of the City of London. This medieval guildhall, protected from the proletariat by a cloistered courtyard overlooked only by the neon glory of 99 Bishopsgate, endows picturesque scenery on the international awards ceremony celebrating brilliance in luxury boutique hotels and villas. It’s the gala evening, the very grandest of City Livery dinners. The jetset have flown into town. We’re so excited we just can’t hide it! We just can’t get enough:

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Select industry players, 200 of us, are black tied and white laced and ball gowned, ready for pleasures in the night. An enigmatic entrance off Threadneedle Street, a discreet doorway to decadence, leads into a long hallway lined with old masters of old masters and deadly 15th century hearse cloths illuminated by Grecian sconces. A vaulted gallery spills into the floodlit garden and flows into the great hall, its beauty blurred by the suffusing warmth of a thousand candles. The architecture is a highbred of Queens: Elizabeth, Anne, Mary and Elizabeth again.

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“Be amazing!” declares guest speaker Tim Dingle. “If you want to be successful you can genuinely change the world. Don’t survive, thrive!” The awards recognise an academy of excellence amidst these suitably collegiate surroundings. “Liking your blog very much by the way,” says Mercedes Alonso. Scarlet Bray agrees. Wallpaper*, Elite Traveller, Spear’s Magazine, The Financial Times and The Telegraph: everyone is here. Clare Island Lighthouse, a clifftop six roomed hotel, scoops a prize, adding prestige to our emerald isle. Barry and Roie McCann are thrilled!

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Echo Valley? Echo Valley? Norm and Nan Dove’s British Columbian ranch is amazing. Cowboy hats at dawn. Summertime in Goa, an exclusive use hilltop villa, wins Asia’s Most Romantic Retreat. Actually Asia features heavily. Our Man in India Alfred Tuinman is pleased. So is Suzanne Vertillart Chayavichitsilp. Africa is big this year. We’re dreaming of being washed ashore to Sea Monkey Villa, Mahé Island. Lovely to meet Christabel Milbanke-Brayson. Lyton and Eroline Lamontagne look resplendent.

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There’s at least one UK winner: Hotel Gotham in Manchester gets the vote for World’s Best New Hotel. The top prize for World’s Best Boutique Hotel goes to Secret Bay Hotel, Dominica. All the hotels and private villas, the finest on earth no less, are illustrated in a glossy book, a coffee table essential. Sponsor Elisabeth Visoanska’s synergistic products mean we’ll all be looking particularly fresh for the next while. The Parisian cosmetician believes, “Preserving one’s youthfulness does not mean stopping the course of time; it means living life with continually growing passion.” We’d like to propose our own toast to Most Fun Boutique Hotel Reception Staff. And the winner we know, we know, we know is… The Capital (on Basil Street, a ruby’s throw from both Harrods and Harvey Nics). Sweet memories.

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Posted in Architecture, Design, Hotels, Luxury, People | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments