Lee Broom + Wedgwood

Breakfast at Harrods

Ever since he started pottering about in 1759, aged 29, Josiah Wedgwood’s surname has been synonymous with feats of clay. Just 11 years later the self proclaimed ‘Vase Maker General to the Universe’ wrote to his business partner Thomas Bentley about a “violent vase madness” afflicting the Anglo Irish aristos. Trust the West British to have a weakness for garniture. Americans have subsequently assumed the mantle.

The last time we dined at Harrods we were plonked on a banquette next to the late Lady Lewisham (aka Raine Spencer) sporting the grandest bouffant since Marie Antoinette. Her Ladyship was promoting Le Grand Atelier. Today it’s breakfast and launch. Generations come and generations go. Now it’s the time of the talented designer Lee Broom to shine. He’s a tastemaker and a man of taste (Kitty Fisher’s is one of his favourite London restaurants).

The stats are impressive. In less than a decade Lee has: released 75 furniture and lighting products under his own label | designed 40 commercial and residential interiors | created 20 products for other brands | opened two eponymous showrooms (London and New York) | won 20 awards including British Designer of the Year 2012 | received a Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2015. Having collaborated with iconic brands such as Christian Louboutin and Mulberry (he has a fashion degree from Central St Martin’s), it was only natural that Wedgwood would come knocking on his door. He may have products in 120 stores worldwide, but there’s only one Harrods (complete with Wedgwood concession).

In person, Lee is charming and polite. “I was inspired by Wedgwood’s historic black and white Jasperware,” he explains. “It already has a contemporary feel. I’ve taken the classical elements and silhouettes and stripped back the ornamentation for an even more modern look. I love the charcoal colour and biscuit texture of Jasperware which I’ve injected with neon high gloss details!” Priced from £7,500 to £12,000, the bowl and vases are handcrafted in Wedgwood’s Stoke-on-Trent factory. Josiah would approve.

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The Ned + Little Thakeham House Sussex

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Ned is having a moment. The smart money for a hot spring London staycation is on The Ned, bang next door to Trinity House. Carved out of the former Midland Bank HQ and named after its jolly architect Sir Edwin ‘Ned’ Landseer Lutyens, the hotel cum member’s club is the latest affair from Soho House complete with spoiling Cowshed spa. Even more exclusive (it’s not open to the public) is Little Thakeham, a very private house by Edwin at the end of a long lane, meandering past vineyards, embedded in the edge of the South Downs.

Since its inception at the turn of two centuries ago, Country Life has provided a weekly dose to the shires of girls in pearls and country house porn. The ultimate double page spread quenching all the quintessentially British desires surely is Little Thakeham ever since it first graced the magazine in 1909. The Arts and Crafts with Elizabethan roots of Country Life owner Edward Hudson’s house Deanery Gardens elopes with the Grand Mannerist Wrenaissance of Country Life’s original offices Hudson House. For once, the gardens aren’t by Ned’s green fingered chum Gertrude Jekyll. The architect designed their structure and the original planting was by his client Ernest Blackburn.

This Free Vernacular meets British Empire marriage organically climaxes in the main reception room (currently a music room). A double height mullioned bay window (recently restored following mini tornado damage) to make Bess of Hardwick proud abuts rustication and half moon pediments keeping up with Inigo Jones. Only a talented architect could pull off such stylistic daring. Little wonder Ned himself proudly called Little Thakeham “the best of the bunch”. A country seat with a country seat: 14 times the size of the average British home. Nine bedrooms. Eight bathrooms. Five reception rooms. One Thakeham Bench. First designed for Little Thakeham, this ubiquitous garden seat design has become synonymous with Sir Edwin Lutyens. Some people are always in fashion.

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Brighton + One

Kind Hearts and Minarets

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The Merrion Hotel Dublin + Paul Henry

Paint the Town Bed

Oh yeah baby. Bring. It. On. It’s the five star hotel with a museum standard art collection. Peter van Lint’s Pool of Bethesda; Sir John Lavery’s Portrait of Eileen Lavery;  Louis le Brocquy’s Woman in White: you name itDublin’s finest. Then some. The one and only Merrion. Lustre between the canals. Architectural Digest raves about it. The Merrion’s frontage is unmistakably Dublin Georgian. Architectural historian Jeremy Musson once observed, “Irish Palladian houses somehow seem more perfect that many of their English contemporaries.” He was referring to country houses but the same could be said of their urban counterparts: Georgian Dublin. A vigorous typology, the pure geometry of their window to brick gaps ratio and half umbrella fanlights reads perfection. Easy to architecturally digest. Step aside inside.

Architectural historian Mark Girouard once observed, “There tends to be something impersonal about English plasterwork of the Adam period; Irish work of the same date, though often less sophisticated, has at its best a certain gaiety and freshness that has survived from the rococo period.” There is nothing staid about stuccadore Robert West’s birds and baskets made from lime and crushed marble. Below the 18th century drawing room plasterwork ceilings, a 21st century social carousel whirls in finite graceful circles. Smashing. Slip away. And so to bed. Yup, 400 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. Colourway inspired by a Paul Henry painting in the staircase hall. Italian Carrara marble bathroom. Got it.

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The Morrison Hotel Dublin + Sparkling Afternoon Tea

Shadows and Highlights

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All in the name of research, you’ll understand. No really. We – the Delphic Oracle of hospitality – have been asked to nominate candidates for the World Boutique Hotel Awards. The next ceremony is less than eight months away: so little time, so many boutique hotels. Back in the day, or decade (the Nineties), The Morrison in all its monochromatic glory was where it was: It Boys, It Girls*, just it. The lobby cum lounge cum bar cum posing gallery was practically pitch dark and forever echoed to the clamour of clinking glasses and laughter. Dublin liked to party, and there was nowhere better to perch than on the John Rocha cow skins draped across black leather banquettes. A vague utopia of younger dreams. Boom.

Bang. Bust. Boom again. Google Googletown. The Celtic Boomerang Economy. The hangover’s over; Dublin’s back to partying. If you can’t beat them… sparkling afternoon tea for two please. Sparkling company, sparkling conversation and a glass of fizz. In the intervening years, The Morrison has become a DoubleTree by Hilton. Its interior is lighter now and even has – shock, horror! – accents of colour. A splash of fuchsia on the carpet runner; a streak of lavender across the reception desk. Still got it, though.

That familiar flow from savoury to sweet via homemade scones and fresh cream, as calming as the River Liffey framed by great windows open to the south, starts with smoked salmon and lemon butter sandwiches followed by cucumber with cream cheese and chives sandwiches. A trouser stretching diet busting calorie mounting range of miniature puddings completes the pleasure. Blueberry Bakewell tarts | mango and passion fruit panna cotta | lemon drizzle cake | best of all banoffee pie. A table filled with the talk of youth. Innocence and beauty.

*Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, the greatest It Girl since Clara Bow, was beloved by all. Scott’s in Mayfair was one of her favourite haunts. The restaurant famously has only one combined entrance | exit. Tara dined at Scott’s just after she got her nose job. The paparazzi eagerly gathered on Mount Street outside. “Do you think they’re here to photograph my legs?” she laughed, pointing to her rather fine pins.

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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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