Having failed completely to get my act together sufficiently during the past few weeks to post my Christmas list, here it is in all its acquisitive glory… fingers crossed for 2013…!
A print by Takashi Murakami. A one-man show is currently showing at the Hong Kong outpost of mega-gallery Gagosian.
Lacquer Trays from Jonathan Adler (£225)
A 1920’s Lalique vase (Soudan vase pictured, £800-£1000). Bonham’s is the place to find it.
Queen Elizabeth II The Lightness of Being by Chris Levine. 2007 is one of my favourite contemporary works of art and I would love a print of my own – the one they have in the collection at the Groucho Club is the perfect size.
Copious amounts of Portobello Road Gin. They even do classes (£100) where you learn about gin, and get to make your own blend. I daren’t, as it shall lead me to ruin…
Plain old curiosity led the Client plus household to leave the Big Smoke and head out to Berkshire last Friday to visit Highclere Castle, the Carnarvon family residence which is famously the setting for the much-praised television drama Downton Abbey. I knew of Highclere before she became Downton, for it was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who funded the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. (I am sensing a preoccupation with ancient Egypt at present… I know not why…)
I have to admit to being slightly fascinated by the 1920’s. The discovery of the tomb in 1922 was a hugely influential cultural event, spawning new stylistic directions in fashion and particularly in jewellery. Cartier in particular was strongly influenced by such motifs as the scarab, the lotus flower and by the architecture of ancient Egypt. Many of their jewels, and those of other major houses from this period, reference the aesthetic brought to light in the discovery.
Other joys from the 20s include the early works of Agatha Christie, who’s first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles gave life to the much-loved Hercule Poirot and was published in 1920. My favourite AC novel is Death on the Nile (published 1937) and whilst not universally acknowledged as one of her best, does remind us of the grand tours undertaken at the time and evokes the glamour of travel in the jazz age – something that still resonates today with hotels such as Sofitel’s Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan reminding today’s guests that Dame Agatha was a guest there back in the day. P.G. Wodehouse was also writing at this time and his creations Jeeves and Bertie Wooster appeared in 1919.
One defining element of this period is the popularity of the cocktail, this being the era during which many of the concoctions we know and love today were created – or if not created then certainly given names and catalogued for wider reference. The defining tome for cocktail lovers everywhere is of course The Savoy Cocktail Book first published in 1930, with an absolutely cracking Art Deco cover design.
Speaking of cocktails, it was my great pleasure to dine with some chums at the Delaunay restaurant the other night and I must give praise for the absolutely delicious Sidecar they served up. Made with 1/3 brandy, 1/3 triple sec, 1/3 lemon juice, my benchmark for brilliance for this particular favourite is the one served at the Connaught Hotel’s Coburg Bar. I have to say the Delaunay’s comes in a very close second and I will need to return as soon as possible for another (for research purposes of course….) The food wasn’t bad either and I have to say the dining room, service and general all round experience was one I very much look forward to repeating, soon and often thereafter. It may well be my new favourite spot.
At this time of year I always feel the need to roll out the soapbox (any excuse!) and complain to anyone who will listen about the chronic overpackaging which seems to accompany every chocolate Easter egg. And the hard part to understand (for me anyway) is that the cheaper the egg the more packaging seems to envelop it… I dread to think how many tons of card, plastic and paper will be consumed (ie: ripped off in seconds and thrown away) this coming Easter.
The solution is this really lovely Fortnum’s Easter Egg Race hamper (£55) which comes with four golden eggs, four wooden spoons (to race) and a bunny-shaped cookie for the winner, as well as a jar of sugar-coated chocolate eggs and some fudge. Nearly everything is reusable… the hamper is the perfect size for a cute spring picnic for one and the wooden spoons will be racing for many an Easter weekend to come.
The heavenly Artisan du Chocolat (whose salted caramels are shockingly addictive) have a fun Easter Egg Hunt kit (£29.99) which not only contains delicious chocolate treats to hide, but also clue-cards for little (or large) egg hunters looking to bag a few chocolatey finds along the route.
Fortnum & Mason
Artisan du Chocolat
Say the words “pop-up shop” to me and I literally reach for my wallet and rush out the door, such is the level of excitement coursing through whichever (large I suspect) part of my brain is linked to shopping. There is something uniquely thrilling about the temporary, and no doubt consumer psychologists have a fully studied explanation for what that is. Frankly, I am not all that interested when my attention could instead be directed towards the life-enhancing wares on sale.
London Undercover is one of those fantastic brands you wished you’d thought of yourself…. it rains in London and we need lovely, chic, not-nicked-from-Claridge’s umbrellas with which to fend off nature’s carwash. This is what they make and sell. But, like all successful brands, they do it with a finesse and intelligence that takes the humble brolly into a new league of quality and enjoyability. The exteriors are plain black, grey etc but the interiors are lined with such fantastic prints as the 70’s District Line tube train upholstery (genius) or a really fantastic pigeon print (which I think they should do an upholstery fabric in it’s so fab). At between £95 and £120 these are not cheap by any means but then why should they be when built to last and last.
London Undercover Pop Up
38 Monmouth Street
London is feeling decidedly autumnal this week and that puts one in mind of all the delicious treats that have been ripening and readying themselves for harvest. Of most particular interest to me are damsons and sloes, for these sweet amethyst-coloured jewels are the flavouring for my favourite winter tipple; Damson Gin.
It couldn’t be easier to make… but first of all you have to track down some damsons. They are not all that common but luckily for me a friend has them growing in her garden near Lake Windermere completely organically and watered by nature so no energy or chemically intensive processes involved! One needs to apply a rule of two thirds damsons, washed and de-stalked to one third white sugar, placed into a jar with a tightly sealing lid, and topped up to the brim with gin. Leave the remaining soup to steep, shaking the jar (s) occasionally to ensure the sugar dissolves. After three months, it is ready to enjoy. Strain, bottle and share!
One tip I was given to make the process of steeping the fruits easier is to freeze them, which causes the ripened fruit’s skins to burst and therefore negates the need to prick each fruit individually to break the skins. Also, once strained at the end of the steeping process, one can apparently dry the remaining fruits in the oven and add them to cakes and other festive bakings… although I personally haven’t tried that yet.
Without wanting to wish the coming weeks away, I am SO looking forward to opening the results of our brief labours to enjoy a taste which reminds me instantly of festive celebrations and the excitements which await us.
‘A new Hollinghurst novel is always a great literary event. And his latest could be his greatest yet… History is more likely to see Hollinghurst for what he is – not a gay writer, but a great writer’
It never fails to amaze me how many people bemoan the loss of town centres, local shops, community spirit and the like, whilst ordering their books exclusively from Amazon or doing all their food shopping at the out-of-town supermarket. “It’s such a shame the fishmonger / deli / bookshop closed down” you will hear them say. I beg you to ask them… “When was the last time you bought something there?” I will wager nine times out of ten that they either won’t recall, or if they can it was so long ago that it defies accurate mention.
I don’t think it is necessarily the consumers’ fault entirely. Local businesses can sometimes appear, for want of a better word, lazy… expecting customers to grace their shopfloor (and fill their tills) regardless of whether or not the windows are appealing, the merchandise compelling, having made little or no effort to entice them in with a differentiated offer. Cheap, worn fixtures and fittings and even worse demotivated, low paid team members can make “shopping local” a very dismal experience, leaving one clamouring for the polish of the West End or the convenience of the drive in – shop – drive out experience of an out of town mall.
I was fortunate to hear (via a friend) that an independent bookshop in Bloomsbury called Gays The Word (for it specialises in gay-orientated titles) was this evening hosting an evening with one of my favourite authors, Alan Hollinghurst. A Man Booker Prizewinner (for The Line of Beauty) Hollinghurst has a new novel out, The Stranger’s Child, and was promoting the book with a reading and booksigning in a fab little bar near the shop called The New Bloomsbury Set. This is the perfect example of a small business doing something not only to promote its own product and engage with customers, but also to expand and share the benefits with another local business in rainforest-esque symbiosis… a bookshop and a bar joining forces for their mutual enrichment and for the enjoyment of their customers. It was a sell-out evening and a lovely Tuesday night passtime for the assembled crowd, who enjoyed selected passages from the book and then a Q&A with the author.
The book is fantastic and I would definitely recommend Hollinghurst’s work. But the point of this post is not the book. It is a wake up call to small independent retailers and shops everywhere… take a leaf out of Gays The Word’s book and put yourself out there. A tasting hosted by a noteworthy local farmer or chef… a booksigning, reading, concert… whatever it is, promote yourself to customers old and new in ways which engage and excite them. Getting to you might not be as easy as getting to the supermarket, so make it worth your customers’ while with fabulous friendly service and a reason to go out of their way. Add value to their experience and they will be back, spreading the word about you to new customers.
But just as important is a wake up call to customers too. Buy local every now and then or indeed whenever you can… support your local bookshop (Amazon is a godsend but don’t get lazy!) cornershop or deli. Go in frequently and find out what’s new and above all, support their events and happenings whenever possible. Your local community depends on them and they in turn depend on you.
Gays The Word Bookshop
66 Marchmont Street
020 7278 7654
Every now and then my mind wanders off into a little daydream, and a recurring theme for me is to think about what I would do for my perfect dinner party. I think about guests, linen, crockery, flowers, the menu… and of course the surroundings. Fuel for this fantasy fire has been well and truly dispensed by a visit this week to the artful surroundings of One Aldwych, just off the Strand.
Whilst the Savoy was going through its root-and-branch refurbishment, this place was the only decent hostelry in an area which is congested and profoundly overbusy with tourists and theatre goers… nothing wrong with that of course, but does make it a little inconducive to a relaxed evening when you can’t get a taxi outside for love nor money and navigating a chewing-gum strewn pavement in your best pumps rather takes the edge off. So I haven’t been to this place more than a handful of times before.
However, once through the doors and greeted warmly by the doorman, I was reminded that One Aldwych is home to a room which has given me a new backdrop for my fantasy dinner… The Dome Suite… formerly the boardroom of the newspaper company which was this listed building’s original occupant… is a truly intimate and elegant space. Off an amply proportioned suite of bedroom, bathroom and sitting room, it is circular, which lends itself perfectly to a feeling of inclusiveness and friendship, and the round table in the centre is perfectly aligned with, you guessed it, a soaring dome above. One feels that sitting at this table with nine of your best people would be somewhat akin to being a Knight of the Round Table, except you’re more conveniently located than in Camelot.
Flowers can be supplied by the creative in-house team, and if the display in the Lobby Bar is anything to go by… they are capable of truly great things. A chaotic, firework-esque explosion of Phoenix Palms, Agapanthus, Alliums, Monstera leaves and hanging Vanda orchids currently towers above the drinkers, creating the feeling as though one is the temporary inhabitant of a tonally-managed lilac rainforest.
If stopping by briefly, a cocktail in the Lobby Bar gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy a sculpture by one of my all time favourite artists, Emily Young. Dionysus – Goddess of Chaos & Wine is an object of great sensitivity and beauty which if I could lift my own bodyweight in stone I would happily pop into my tote and take home.
London WC2B 4BZ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7300 1000
Emily Young, Sculptor