London: Knightsbridge to Chelsea
Hats, furniture and interior design
Best Pool: The Berkeley
What optimism, to build a rooftop pool with a glass ceiling that opens in a city with weather like London's. But when the ceiling's closed, swimmers can enjoy panoramic views from the surrounding windows. Other reasons to book: The ambitious spa, mixing the expected with the adventurous—treatments from Bali's Begawan Giri and New Age offerings like aromatherapy massage with a crystal wand. The coolly beautiful David Collins-designed Blue Bar. And three conservatory suites with large roof terraces—in case the sun does come out. Rooms, $585-$5,140. Wilton Pl.; 800-637-2869, 7235-6000; fax 7235-4330; www.savoygroup.com.
Fay Maschler Recommends: Zafferano
Chef Andy Needham has proved a worthy successor to Giorgio Locatelli at popular Zafferano, where set prices encourage relaxed enjoyment of the Italian four-course formula ($65 per person) even if the less-than-comfortable chairs in the two saffron-hued rooms do not. Dishes are delicate enough that a salad of baby artichokes can be followed by tortellini in brodo, rolled pork stuffed with herbs, and finally a traditional tiramisu. Dinner, $115. At 15 Lowndes St.; 7235-5800; fax 7235-1971.
For 23 years, Cutler and Gross has been creating eyeglasses that are not only finely crafted but sophisticated and cutting-edge as well. Sunglasses are the specialty here, and the company uses top-quality CR39 lenses in fanciful colors like peacock blue and fuchsia, from lightly shaded to block-it-all dark. Frames are another story entirely: 54 shades and nearly as many different shapes (we particularly like the robo-warrior fantasy and cat-eye styles). From $155 to $450. At 16 Knightsbridge Green; 7581-2250.
—G. Bruce Boyer
Fay Maschler Recommends: Racine
Racine opened this summer to great acclaim. Here chef-proprietor Henry Harris—who established the Fifth Floor Restaurant at chic department store Harvey Nichols—revisits the food of his youth, when his father ran a bistro in Brighton and when so many English restaurants were being profoundly influenced by French provincial cooking. The unfussy dining room, run with charming efficiency by Harris' French business partner, Eric Garnier, provides little distraction from staunchly delicious dishes like chicken-liver pâté lightened with fresh herbs; the northern French fish chowder marmite Dieppoise; roast fillet of cod with spiced crab butter; and the chestnut lover's dessert, Mont Blanc. Dinner, $90. At 239 Brompton Rd.; 7584-4477; fax 7584-4900.
Cozmo Jenks has just finished her fifth Royal Ascot—the standard unit of time measure-ment in the world of British hats. In between rushing to and from appointments, she turns out consistently exquisite toppers inspired by the glamour of the 1940s from her tiny, cluttered Knightsbridge studio. Despite a wild mane of fuchsia-tinted locks and a strange affinity for the film Casino Royale, she caters to a clientele that ranges from Countess Serena Linley to pop star Kylie Minogue. Whether molding wonky shapes that impart a hint of magpie chic or oversize brims with soft flowers perfect for a summer wedding, she's got you covered. From $345 to $650. By appointment only. Call 7823-9758.
Among the crop of intimate townhouse hotels Knightsbridge has sprouted is The Franklin, four 19th-century houses decorated by the Duchess of Roxburghe in English country-house style (oil paintings, antiques, Colefax and Fowler fabrics). Best of the 47 rooms: no. 71, with a box canopy 15 feet above the bed and a view onto a private garden. Rooms, $295-$495. At 28 Egerton Gardens; 800-473-9487, 7584-5533; fax 7584-5449.
The 44-room Knightsbridge Hotel, opened in May, is a lite version of the formula successfully mined by Kit Kemp at Charlotte Street Hotel, Covent Garden Hotel, and The Pelham. That means no restaurant, generally smaller rooms, and lower prices, but with Kemp's fresh design and a superb location, on a quiet street a block from Harrods. Room to get: no. 101, the largest, with a terrace and a white-beige color scheme accented with just the right touches, like a wrought-iron chandelier. Rooms, $255-$580. At 10 Beaufort Gardens; 800-553-6674, 7584-6300; fax 7584-6355; www.knightsbridgehotel.co.uk.
Kemp also decorated 11-suite Durley House, so many of the design touches look familiar—the exquisite antiques, the mix of traditional English prints and bold fabrics, the cozy sofas and surprising accent pieces. You'll want to move permanently into the Piano Suite (named for the Blüthner grand in the sitting room), with its gray-pinstripe bedroom walls and windows overlooking a garden; because the suites all have kitchens, you could. Rooms, $430-$810. At 115 Sloane St.; 7235-5537; fax 7259-6977; www.durleyhouse.com.
Fay Maschler Recommends: Zuma
Someone eventually had to challenge Nobu's long reign as most fashionable Japanese restaurant in town. The focus at Zuma—a dramatic design statement in stone, granite, and wood—is on an informal style of dining known as izakaya, a series of small dishes, many of them cooked on a robata charcoal grill, and on the pleasures of a busy bar. The cooking shows the nuances picked up by Japanese chefs working abroad. Salads and sushi are happily mostly traditional, but under the headings "Robata" and "Zuma Dishes" are novel—and successful—creations like char-grilled pork ribs with miso-jalapeño glaze and sake-marinated roast duck in hoba leaf. Sommelier Dawn Davis can guide you through the list of 22 sakes. Dinner, $105. At 5 Raphael St.; 7584-1010; fax 7584-5005.
The astonishing wraparound panorama from the 2,000-square-foot, 18th-floor Presidential Suite of The Carlton Tower takes in all of London—from the tower of the V&A to the London Eye, Big Ben, and east to Canary Wharf. The negatives? The somewhat chain-hotel feel and debatable decor (purple velour chairs, an iron fourposter buried under fabric). Suite, $5,450. Cadogan Pl.; 800-223-6800, 7235-1234; fax 7235-9129.
Totes and Toe Tappers
Legions of addicts keep returning for the newest must-have accessory from Anya Hindmarch, whose leather bags are a fashion staple. Her photo-transfer tote bags and change purses ($90-$250), like her trademark image of aging pensioners on the boardwalk, are coveted from Richmond to Greenwich. For winter, carryalls are adorned with vintage images from ski spots like Courchevel and St. Moritz ($335). Her new shoe line, featuring pointy toes and a luxe quilted lining, has the same wit and a '40s vibe ($370-$800). To keep those toes pointing down, the underside is tipped with Hindmarch's signature bow in bronze, assuring a nice click with every step you take. At 15-17 Pont St.; 7838-9177.
Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien, Elspeth Gibson designs clothes aimed at "transforming enchantment into a magical fantasy of romantic femininity." Gibson is, as one observer put it, the queen of girly-girly fash. Silk tulle is trimmed with feathers and beads; cashmere knitwear is adorned with beading; a baby-blue tunic with rosettes closes with silk ties. Skirts are long and flowing or short and flirty. Her couture pieces (from $1,540) have been worn by Elle Macpherson and Cate Blanchett. On a recent visit we made to her pink (yes, pink!) atelier, we fell in love with an ethereal strapless dress with a white-feather bodice and sequined silk tulle skirt. Ready-to-wear pieces from $150 to $1,500. At 7 Pont St.; 7235-0601.
Owned by two former Issey Miyake colleagues and a favorite haunt of such minimalists as Donna Karan and Giorgio Armani, Egg pays homage to the art of display. Housed in what was once a dairy, it feels more like a home than a store; in winter, a fire burns in the upstairs showroom. Most of the clothes are made at a workshop established by co-owner Asha Sarabhai in India and are defined by the concept that less is more. Comfortable pared-down tunics ($245-$430) and drawstring pants ($125-$290) are distinguished by their luxurious fabrics and hand-finished detailing. Favorites include large, comfy shawls and loose-fitting cashmere sweaters. At 37 Kinnerton St.; 7235-9315.
Often inspired by '40s Paris, Guinness' whimsical limited-edition handbags are the collectibles of the fashion set. While some argue that banks should start offering mortgages on them, lack of financing hasn't stopped investors from scooping up favorites like the Chinese Pagoda, the Parisian Townhouse, and the racy Bordello. The Florist Basket (one of three Guinness bags in the V&A's permanent collection) comes in straw or silk with camellias and is especially fetching dangling from the wrist. Even the little change purses with poodle appliqués or one of Guinness' waterproof travel cases makes you feel like you just stepped out of an Audrey Hepburn movie. From $500. At 3 Ellis St.; 7823-4828.
View to a Thrill
Instead of taking in London's quintessential display of pageantry—the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace—amid the throngs, watch the Royal Horseguards, in their red jackets and gold helmets, trot alongside Hyde Park en route to and from the palace each morning from the terrace of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park's Royal Suite. Since the century-old hotel's $78 million revamp two years ago, one could happily start the day with a Champagne breakfast on the suite's broad stone terrace and never leave the building. You'd never go hungry, with the Park restaurant's Indian-Asian fusion menu and the modern European cuisine at the formal, one-Michelin-star Foliage. There's also a dazzling Adam Tihany-designed bar, and a tranquil spa with Asian, Balinese, Ayurvedic, and Native American treatments (much in demand, so reserve well in advance). Rooms, $475-$6,235 (Royal Suite: $4,680). At 66 Knightsbridge; 800-526-6566, 7235-2000; fax 7235-2001; www.mandarinoriental.com.
It's not exactly news, but increasingly fashionable women are headed to a clutch of small specialty shops in search of one-of-a-kind pieces from up-and-coming talent. A few favorites: The Indian-chic look dominating London these days is covered by Knightsbridge's Ananya (4a Montpelier St.; 7584-8040), where flare-leg trousers are overlaid with hand-embroidered lace sparkling with sequins and beadwork. • Chelsea's Mimi (309 King's Rd.; 7349-9699) carries more than 70 labels at a time—small British designers like Saltwater, which does lovely English tea-party dresses. • Down a Kensington backstreet is Musa (31 Holland St.; 7937-6282), run by Joy Andrews, a former rock-music stylist, who likes to match, say, a vintage lace top with sexy jeans by contemporary designers. • Covent Garden's Koh Samui (65-67 Monmouth St.; 7240-4280) is known for the latest labels, topnotch service, and an encyclopedic knowledge of the needs of its demanding customers.
Frocks for the Cocktail Hour
Nadia La Valle has been creating perfect cocktail dresses for a certain internal crowd of royals and socialites for a quarter of a century. On a recent visit to her small shop, Spaghetti (its name a nod to her homeland), we ogled a grass-green silk-linen shift hand-embroidered along the hem with glass-bead flowers ($2,305), a sandy-colored shift with an overdress of cotton latticework ($4,610), and a divine frock covered with cascading daisy appliqués ($2,305). The great news? Everything can be individually tailored. At 32 Beauchamp Pl.; 7584-0631.
La Dolce Vita at The Halkin
Staying at The Halkin, you may not be sure whether you're in London or Milan (or, for that matter, given the occasional stone idol as decoration, Bali). But that's the point: The sleek design, with curved walls and hallways, minimalist furniture, and high-tech guestrooms, is by a Milanese firm, and the staff uniforms are by Armani. A few months after the hotel's opening in 1991, Italian was the house language, too—a bit disorienting in central London—but now the staff speaks English with Italian (and other) accents. Service, once curt, is now smooth, cordial, and thorough. Our one quibble: The 41 rooms are beginning to look dated. We trust that the current renovation (to be completed by year's end) will rectify matters. Rooms, $455-$1,535. At 5 Halkin St.; 800-223-6800, 7333-1000; fax 7333-1100; www.halkin.co.uk.
Fay Maschler Recommends: Drones
At Drones, vintage black-and-white photographs of the famous line the walls, and frequently their contemporary counterparts fill the long leather banquettes. Marco Pierre White has rescued a floundering site and restored it (with a redesign by David Collins) to the sort of clubby place—some call it The Ivy of Belgravia—that Bertie Wooster would be happy to patronize. The cleverly crafted Anglo-French menu includes favorites like crème Du Barry (cauliflower soup) with sea scallops and truffle; oxtail en daube with rutabaga purée and bourguignon garnish; and, for dessert, gelée of red fruits with raspberry syrup. Dinner, $130. At 1 Pont St.; 7235-9555; fax 7235-9566.
Of Beds and Butlers
"The façade might look somewhat intimidating, so we work on making the staff accommodating," says Colin Short, chief concierge of The Lanesborough . That's an understatement. Sumptuously decked out in Regency decor, the hotel features the poshest suite in town—even more so since an April redo: three bedrooms, formal dining room, and study, with parquet floors, white marble fireplaces, inlaid mahogany furniture, silk wall coverings, and a master bed (right) whose canopy is topped with a gold crown—a Royal Suite indeed. But what truly distinguishes the hotel is service. Short, for example, can seemingly do anything, whether that means getting you a table at The Ivy or tickets for the hottest show in town. The Lanesborough was also the first hotel to provide every room with butlers, who do everything from teaching you how to pack (or doing it for you) to nursing you through a cold. At the hotel's mahogany-and-leather Library Bar, Salvatore Calabrese (formerly of Dukes) serves the world's rarest Cognacs. Rooms, $595-$7,705 (Royal Suite). Hyde Park Corner; 800-999-1828; 7259-5599; fax 7259-5606; www.lanesborough.com.
Fay Maschler Recommends: Nahm
Halkin owner Christina Ong has lured chef David Thompson away from Sydney's hot Darley Street Thai to bring his unique take on the cooking he studied in Thailand (sometimes at the feet of old, wise women) to Nahm at The Halkin. The understated room, paneled in pale teak, lets all the fireworks happen on the plate. The fixed-price meal ($70) is the best route to understanding Thompson's sweet-sour, crisp-soft, salty-peppery storming of the taste buds. Dishes include squid broth with chicken, samphire, and shiitake mushrooms; salted duck eggs with fish cakes and sweet pork; and prawn and chicken simmered in palm sugar with shallots, garlic, and peanuts on pineapple and mandarin-orange segments. The ideal approach: Ask him to orchestrate a meal for you. Dinner, $140. At 5 Halkin St.; 7333-1234; fax 7333-1100.
The city's best French bread comes from Poilâne (46 Elizabeth St.; 7808-4910), the great Paris baker's new London outpost. Specialties here include the sourdough, as well as the lightest, most heavenly croissants.
Topping it Off
At 35, Irish hat designer Philip Treacy has earned exhibit space in London's V&A for his witty, often audacious and gravity-defying creations (a show at the Irish Museum of Modern Art featuring Treacy hats was entitled Unlikely Sculpture). Silk and fine mesh are molded into extraordinary forms, then adorned with rich and unexpected materials from around the world—Tahitian black pearls, diamonds from Asprey & Garrard, quills from Yokohama chickens. Chanel, Valentino, Galliano, and Alexander McQueen have enlisted Treacy to design for their runway shows. Joan Collins, royals, Liza Minelli's bridesmaids, and, yes, even Madonna are clients. Besides atop fashionable heads, his designs can be seen on a series of British postage stamps. From $150. At 69 Elizabeth St.; 7259-9605.
A New Sparkle
Leo de Vroomen's jewelry boutique, just opened on newly chic Elizabeth Street, not only showcases his stunning creations in beaten gold, colored gemstones, and fine enameling; it also offers a service for customers who wish to participate in the design process. But don't expect to have too much to say—De Vroomen has very definite ideas. "My forte is to create jewelry that suits the wearer's complexion, personality, and lifestyle," he says. "I approach this as a couturier would. I don't want to scare off the less adventurous; I just want everybody to be as passionate about jewelry as I am." From $1,000 to $300,000. At 59 Elizabeth St.; 7730-1901.
In the signature jewelry designs of Erickson Beamon, hand-strung beads and semiprecious stones drape in layers on the neck like Charlotte's web, creating the effect of intricate Victorian lace. Many covet the Chandelier Choker (from $1,040), sparkling with Swarovski crystals and glass beads—a perfect match to those frilly open-neck tops now in vogue. At 38 Elizabeth St.; 7259-0202.
Known for a self-assured, feminine style whose glamour appeals to the likes of Liv Tyler and Kate Winslet, Tracey Boyd designs clothes on the tame side of quirky without sacrificing high-end tailoring. This season's winter-wonderland theme has inspired pieces like a black bias-cut silk skirt with hand-embroidered polka-dot tulle overlay ($1,495) and a simple gabardine dress ($385) draped with a cape of pieced-together leaves and berries in felt (to order). Her shop, Boyd, with its vintage chandeliers, feels more boudoir than retail. At 42 Elizabeth St.; 7730-3939.
Now known as the man who did "that red dress" for Kate Winslet at this year's Oscars, Brooklyn-born Ben de Lisi is finally getting the notice he deserves. His small shop, with lilac walls and a floor of sea-green pebbles set in resin, is a cool, crisp venue for his clothes' elegant and simple lines. Silk chiffon in a pattern vaguely reminiscent of the Wiener Werkstatte hits the knees with a flirty fluted hem ($995). Simple halter dresses cut on the bias from Italian sanded crepe are detailed with iridescent appliqués along the neckline ($920-$4,590). Beautiful, sexy, modern clothes. At 40 Elizabeth St.; 7730-2994.
Steinberg + Tolkien
Rummage along with Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Naomi Campbell, et al. in this vintage shop for '50s Dior and Balenciaga, crocodile handbags (from $100), old shoes, great capes, coats, belts, and so much more. Current favorites: an early Balenciaga navy blue suit ($620), an Yves St. Laurent long gown with jeweled belt ($1,965), and a very early Kelly bag for just $735—a steal! At 193 King's Rd.; 7376-3660.
—Lucia van der Post
Robert Emmett makes, as he puts it, "stylish shirts for the new age." His dress shirts—which combine traditional British styling, including a perfect spread collar and double cuff, with meticulously selected, high-quality fabrics in contemporary patterns and colors—are a favorite with British dandies of all ages. Dressy fabrics include superfine poplins, pinpoint royal oxfords, twofold twills, voiles, and ottomans in bold stripes and oversized checks. Look for his signature contrasting fabric under collar and cuffs and on the label. Casual shirts with barrel cuffs, soft collar, and full-cut body are done in bright linens and gauzy cottons in summer, steep twills and herringbones in winter. Emmett makes only 25 shirts in any one pattern, and when they're gone, they're gone. No pattern has been known to last more than two months. From $115. At 380 King's Rd.; 7351-7529.
—G. B. B.
While you may find a few Starbucks here and there, the King's Road, where Mick Jagger and Vivienne Westwood used to strut way back when, remains as vibrant and hip as ever. Terence Conran's Bluebird Club (350 King's Rd.; 7559-1129)—named after a famous racing car, owned by record-holder Malcolm Campbell and displayed in pictures throughout the place—is big, noisy, and crowded, with a great wine list. (Members only; membership costs $385.) • A world away is the Art Deco-inspired private enclave of Monte's (164 Sloane St.; 7245-0896), a cocktail bar (with a great cigar selection), restaurant, and nightclub. You'll have to find a member to get you in at night, but the restaurant (consulting chef: Jamie Oliver) is open to all at lunch. • Though Ronnie Scotts jazz club in Soho may be more famous, the city's funkiest jazz scene is at The 606 Club (90 Lots Rd.; 7352-5953). To get into this insider's haunt, you just have to dine here.
For a true English townhouse experience, stay at Eleven Cadogan Gardens. Four Victorian houses are decorated sumptuously but with proper British reserve: pedigreed but not flashy antiques, hand-blocked William Morris and Colefax and Fowler wallpapers, carved plaster ceilings, oil portraits, polished-pine paneling. (No. 35 is the room to get, with its garden views and handsome antiques.) This is the kind of place where they set out tea and cakes in the afternoon, followed by wine and canapés, and wouldn't think of charging for them—a place where you really feel like a houseguest, with a proficient staff standing in neatly for Jeeves. Rooms, $335-$725. At 11 Cadogan Gardens; 7730-7000; fax 7730-5217; www.number-eleven.co.uk.
Regalia for feet, proudly proclaims the label sewn onto the sole of every Emma Hope shoe—and it's not hyperbole. One of Britain's most original designers, Hope has managed to do the impossible, creating romantic, often historically inspired, beautifully made shoes that make love to your feet. Violet velvet slingbacks with chenille and hand-stitched bullion-flower embroidery ($475) are old-fashioned yet sexy, too. You'll ooze confidence in a pair of slim black pants paired with her leopard-skin ballerina pumps, and the luxe leather flip-flops with giant orchids sprouting from between the toes are very Mrs. Robinson. Her often elongated designs feature the softest nappa, richest suedes, and best Italian craftsmanship. Kitten-heel brogues in creamy toffee will take you comfortably and stylishly from office to party. From $290 to $550. At 53 Sloane Sq.; 7259-9566.
For one-of-a-kind costume jewelry old and new, Merola is the place. We found a pair of Miriam Haskell pearl earrings for $270 and one of her brooches for $450. And watch for great big beautiful "coral" or "turquoise" resin bracelets or necklaces starting at $230. At 195 Fulham Rd.; 7351-9338.
—L. v. d. P.
The nearly four-acre Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673 to educate apothecaries in medicinal plants and to acclimatize, within this mild microenvironment along the Thames, the many species being brought back from the age's voyages of discovery. The garden now contains more than 5,000 varieties, arranged not for showy display but to demonstrate botanical family relationships, some of them quite surprising. If you're in town in May for the nearby Chelsea Flower Show, come here to be awed by the rare Echium pininana from the Canary Islands, with its amazing eight-foot-high blue flower spikes. At 66 Royal Hospital Rd.; 7352-5646.
David Gill is a pioneer of the New London Style, in which avant-garde furniture sits nicely in Georgian rooms. His shops show off his keen eye for classic (mostly French) furniture, as well as paintings, jewelry, sculpture, and photography by the likes of Jean Cocteau. At 60 Fulham Rd., 7589-5946; by appointment only at 3 Loughborough St., Vauxhall, 7793-1100.
Jane Sacchi's showroom is a shrine to all things white and ironed. From shelves stacked with the finest French embroidered and monogrammed linens, this antique-linen dealer extraordinaire can hand-pick a lifetime's worth of pristine hemstitched sheets for the bride-to-be. But knowing the limitations of the antique market, Sacchi has also worked with master weavers in Scotland to create her own line of luxurious linens in contemporary sizes. Her Danish mattress ticking, ideal for the summer house, and her wool and linen blends have all the character of her 19th-century inspirations. By appointment only. $ At 7 Markham St.; 7838-1001.
Trained as a textile designer and well known on the London social scene, the divine Allegra Hicks has turned her keen eye to fashion this time out, creating a line of luxurious caftans as well as tunics, shifts, and simple little day dresses in silks, chiffons, and cottons. Many are embroidered in designs with names like Fan, Bamboo, and Dandelion in a delicious palette of tomato red, chocolate brown, olive green, and caramel. Her line is a hybrid of the '70s cover-up and the long gown, cut from sensual textiles that skim the body in just the right places. Abbreviated versions have side slits. From $155 to $460. $ At 4 Cale St.; 7589-2323.
At After Noah, you never quite know what you'll find. Every visit is a chance to fall in love with something, from a 1930s Heal's oak sideboard ($1,505) or an 1880 Arts and Crafts linen cupboard ($4,355) to a restored 1940s Anglepoise lamp ($285). $ At 261 King's Rd., Chelsea, 7351-2610; and 121 Upper St., Islington, 7359-4281.
—L. v. d. P.
Fay Maschler Recommends: Chutney Mary
Over a dozen years of nurturing, Namita Panjabi has turned Chutney Mary into one of London's best Indian restaurants. A recent revamp of the interior—now very sleek and sensual, with banks of candles and jewellike silks—has been complemented by a new team in the kitchen, including chefs brought over from India who specialize in the cooking of their regions. The presentation problem that bedevils Indian cooking—too many bowls filled with brown gravy—has been solved with an artistic eye to the colors and textures of garnishes and the commissioning of elegant serving dishes. Tandoori crab, inspired by the cooking of coastal Maharashtra, is not to be missed. The tasting curry platter of Punjabi lamb, Mangalore prawns, and Goan chicken provides a swift gastronomic itinerary. Dinner, $85. At 535 King's Rd.; 7351-3113; fax 7351-7694.
Bentleys traffics in great old things from the good old days: leather suitcases, silver cuff links, binoculars, crocodile cigar cases ($465), amazing picnic sets (like a 1920s hamper with fittings by Coracle, the grand supplier of such baskets, for $8,490), croquet sets, a desk made from the wing tip of a 1943 airplane ($18,335), and even a private posting box from a gentleman's club (a mere $5,560). At 204 Walton St.; 7584-7770.
—L. v. d. P.
"Thomas Carlyle's house [24 Cheyne Row; 7352-7087] gives a deeper sense of 19th-century London than anyplace else I know. The writer and historian was an extraordinary figure in London intellectual life. When you go to his house, you can imagine John Stuart Mill coming around, or Carlyle wheeling his books around to Dickens."
—SIMON SCHAMA, AUTHOR OF A HISTORY OF BRITAIN
Will Gordon Ramsay Take Over the World?
Scriptwriters could not have created a more perfect celebrity chef than Gordon Ramsay. His hopes for a career as a professional footballer for Glasgow thwarted, the beefy working-class lad from the industrial north makes an unlikely move into the kitchen. In 1988 he goes to work for the "bad boy" of the kitchen Marco Pierre White, who's making waves at his south London restaurant Harvey's, not only with his genius for cooking but also with his gaunt good looks and his intolerance of fools (in the dining room as well as the kitchen).
Ramsay's ability to thrive in the heat of that kitchen propels him to Paris, where his culinary skills are honed under Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon, two of France's top chefs. Back in London, Ramsay earns his first Michelin star at Aubergine at age 27 (and later a second), but after a tiff with his backers he walks out, taking all 45 staff with him, and in 1998 opens Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea (68 Royal Hospital Rd.; 7352-4441; dinner, $200), again earning two stars.
At this point comes the big close-up, when a TV documentary, Boiling Point, films him over the course of a year in the restaurant kitchen. The sarcasm, the swearing, the macho posturing enthrall and appall. Parents plead with their children not to become chefs. Despite the notoriety, the Michelin guide will later (in 2001) award Gordy his third star, justly acknowledging his obsession with pushing ingredients to their peak performance in dishes like sea-scallop tartare with Osetra caviar and avocado purée, served with a chilled tomato-basil consommé; and fillet of Aberdeen Angus with caramelized pig's trotter, fried quail egg, sautéed baby artichokes, and truffle sauce.
Like most high-profile, high-octane chefs—and he's currently cock of the walk—Ramsay is drawn to the role of entrepreneur. In 1999 he sets up one of his chefs, Marcus Wareing, at Pétrus in St. James's (where Wareing carries on Ramsay's cunning way with French classics, tweaking them into daring creations). He installs chefs in hotels in Glasgow and Dubai. In 2001 he revitalizes one of London's grand but moribund dining rooms when he, in his own words, "gets rid of the dribble mats and the waltzing" and opens Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's (Brook St.; 7499-0099; dinner, $155), installing another favored son, Mark Sergeant.
Wouldn't you know it: Beneath that tough exterior beats a soft heart. He dedicates schmaltzy songs to his wife and daughters on Desert Island Discs. And despite having claimed that women are no use in kitchens since they have to take a week off every month, he has quietly nurtured the talent of Angela Hartnett and placed her as head chef in the revamped dining room of another historic London hotel, The Connaught, opening this fall, we're told at press time, under the name Angela Hartnett's Menu.
The chef-as-entrepreneur can spread himself too thin, but right now Ramsay has the world—or at least London—at his feet. The best place to catch him is over the stove at the original and now three-star restaurant on Royal Hospital Road.
Chelsea | Pimlico Road
Fashion designer Roland Mouret claims he is attempting to "find a new vision of beauty," somewhere between the London gutter and the chic of Paris. There's no camp to these clothes; they convey an effortless glamour with a hint of tough sexuality that was said to have made Catherine Zeta-Jones squeal with delight during a recent photo shoot. Beautiful in movement—think Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story—his pieces are the epitome of modern elegance. His new jewelry collection of white gold and uncut rough diamonds, some as large as 17 carats, is not about blinding sparkle but, like his clothes, quiet glint. From $290 for a shirt to $3,845 for a wool cashmere coat. $ At 250 King's Rd.; 7376-5762.
Doctors On Call
Call from anywhere in central London anytime, day or night, and within two hours the emergency-trained staff of SOS Médecins (7370-3777) will pay a visit to your hotel. Visits from one of the dozen French doctors on call begin at $95. Follow-up clinic visits are available.
Love Among the Reproductions
Pimlico Road is the stomping ground of international decorators, architects, and collectors looking to furnish a Scottish castle or a New York loft. Some of the best dealers with the keenest eye for quality are also reproducing well-made, hard-to-find essentials for the home. Christopher Howe (93 Pimlico Rd.; 7730-7987), the first on the street to get into the repro act, also boasts such treasures as a nickel-plated '30s table lamp "crafted like a piece of Cartier jewelry," he says. • Hilary Batstone (8 Holbein Pl.; 7730-5335), a few doors off the main road, stocks wonderful Venetian mirrors, Swedish painted chests, and beaded and crystal chandeliers, plus copies of Fontana Arte floor lamps. • Ciancimino ($ 99 Pimlico Rd.; 7730-9950) deals in European Art Deco and rarefied 20th-century and antique Chinese wares.
But perhaps my favorite stop along this road is Soane (50 Pimlico Rd.; 7730-6400), a furniture-and-design showroom in a period townhouse. Antiques dealer Christopher Hodsoll and furniture designer Lulu Lytle are not snobs about reproduction furniture, copying their own rare 18th- through 20th-century finds when reluctant to part with the original. British master craftsmen work in such luxe materials as vellum, rare woods, bronze, marble, silver, and onyx; pieces can be adapted to the specifications of professionals as well as novices. Designers Thierry Despont and Victoria Hagan are customers, and Soane's custom-designed lights hang in Lee Radziwill's Paris apartment. Recently spotted: a slipper chair upholstered in vegetable-dyed goat skin, and a satinwood-veneer demilune commode that could easily have been mistaken for an original from Rue Jacob.
Fine furniture maker David Linley, as famous for his marquetry as for his royal lineage, continues to dazzle with exquisitely crafted keepsakes in rare and exotic woods. Though the furniture at Linley, Neoclassical in style and mostly over-the-top, may not suit everyone's interiors, the masterfully made humidors (last year's collection reproduced London landmarks), desk accessories, and garden furniture are just restrained enough to be superb. This year's star: a desk in French walnut with Indian-ebony and nickel-plate detailing, topped with a miniature of Apsley House, home of the first Duke of Wellington ($85,000). At 60 Pimlico Rd.; 7730-7300.
At Babylon you'll find everything for the eclectic, cutting-edge interior: retro pieces, some '30s and '40s French, some '40s-'60s Scandinavian, as well as Babylon's own pieces. Recent stars were a pair of Paul Kjaerholm leather sofas from the first production for $18,520, a Flavio Poli glass vase for $695, and a Hans Wegner dining chair for $620. $ At 301 Fulham Rd.; 7376-7255.
—L. v. d. P.
A decorator's genius lies in creating a space that satisfies all the senses, a feeling that one's every desire has been met. Interiors guru Kelly Hoppen epitomizes what's modern now, which is why we're excited by the "lifestyle boutique" she plans to open this fall. Included will be her sleek, boxy furniture, cashmere fabrics by Holland & Sherry, natural floor coverings, Asian-inspired blinds, lacquer paints, and Wedgwood accessories and china. Hoppen's style is an evolving mix of the modern and the bohemian, emphasizing all that is Zen and chic. In-house stylists will be on hand to help clients furnish an entire house or put together the most perfect baby crib on planet Earth. At 175-177 Fulham Rd.; 7351-1910.
The Pelham is the country house of one's dreams transported to South Kensington. With style bordering on brio, Kit Kemp has mixed details like oak paneling, plump couches, and oil portraits. A most to-the-manner-born suite is no. 102 ($700), with its high, carved-plaster ceilings, half-tester bed with embroidered spread, and marble fireplace. (The only drawback: You may find yourself eye-to-eye with folks waiting at the bus stop outside the window.) Rooms, $280-$1,075. At 15 Cromwell Pl.; 800-553-6674, 7589-8288; fax 7584-8444; www.pelhamhotel.co.uk.
The firm Andrew Martin is known for helping to popularize the East-meets-West design philosophy of the '90s through its signature calligraphy-patterned fabric and its series of style books. Today designers stop by its showroom to see what proprietor Martin Waller (half of the original team for whom the shop is named) has brought back from his travels to exotic countries whose native crafts have become the objets of choice to adorn some of Belgravia's most elegant mantels. Amazonian headdresses, Burmese lacquered boxes, African spears, Chinese parchment trunks, architectural elements from Thai temples, and even an RAF airplane complement his inspired collection of upholstery, coffee tables, and lamps. Just back from a buying trip, Waller jokes: "There's nothing left in Africa." At 200 Walton St.; 7225-5100.
New at the V&A
The British Galleries of the Victoria and Albert Museum have added 15 rooms and 3,000 objects to the venerable (if sometimes dusty and dowdy) institution as a way to tell the story of Britain's culture from 1500 to 1900. Highlights include the Great Bed of Ware, the embroidered panels made by Mary, Queen of Scots during her imprisonment, and Dickens' manuscript of Oliver Twist. Cromwell Rd.; 7942-2000.
Daring young men in their driving machines race across three sides of Michelin House, an Art Nouveau fantasy built as Michelin Tire Company headquarters in 1910. Depicted in dozens of colorful ceramic-tile friezes are scenes from famous motorcar rallies of the day. Inside are Bibendum, a marvelous restaurant and oyster bar, and one of the two London design stores of Terence Conran, who restored the building in the 1980s. At 81 Fulham Rd.
Want it all under one roof? Then head to Joseph's flagship store for women in the trendy mini-neighborhood of Brompton Cross for chic basics from the Joseph Mainline Collection, like straight-leg trousers in all the season's best colors, plus a well-edited selection from the designers du jour. The place is hopping on weekends; you never know who you might see. At 77 Fulham Rd.; 7823-9500.
Blakes is a fantasyland of theme decor—some British Raj, some Turkish empire, some indeterminate, but all laid on with a trowel. Every inch is taken up by some designer touch: a stack of vintage books, a wire birdcage, a bed with carved goat heads. While designer Anouska Hempel's style here has its fans, the decor can feel dated and suffocating, although attempts are being made to lighten things up, for example in the now all-white and breezy Corfu Suite. (Service sometimes takes a back seat, from a lack of doormen or porters to unanswered phone calls.) One definite advantage to staying here: room service from the excellent but pricey and generally booked Asian-accented restaurant downstairs. Rooms, $395-$1,910. Dinner, $215. At 33 Roland Gardens; 800-926-3173, 7370-6701; fax 7373-0442; www.blakeshotels.com.
Design from the Continent
Gordon Watson (50 Fulham Rd.; 7589-3108) is a tiny shop packed to the rafters with a mix of French and Italian designer gems from the late '30s to the '60s. Keen eyes might spy Neoclassical furniture by Gio Ponti and Jules Leleu, acid-etched glass by Daum, and early silver by Puiforcat. But what we love is Watson's stash of signed jewelry by Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Suzanne Belperron, reserved for his most discerning clientele. • Just across the street at no. 173 is Hemisphere ($ 7581-9800), with pieces by Jean Royère, Jacques Adnet, and Paul Dupré-Lafon—just a sampling of the who's who of French furniture designers from the '30s to '50s to be found among owner Raymond Paynter's stellar stock for the serious collector.
Neisha Crosland is a sliver of a shop full of treasures: scarves ($60-$1,000), throw pillows ($380)—small fashion statements packed with punch. Art Deco, nature, Pop art, and Japanese kimonos vaguely inspire designer Crosland's colorful, bold prints in silk, velvet, cotton, linen, and wool, fashioned into skirts, tops, and bags. Her new collection of wallpapers is equally tactile and glamorous, mimicking familiar images from nature, such as quail-egg shells, bubbles, and raffia, in colors like Box Orange, Hyacinth, Kingfisher Green, and Clotted Cream ($70 per roll). At 137 Fulham Rd.; 7589-4866.
Member of Fine Hotels, Resorts & Spas.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.