Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Magic’s in the water, magic’s in the air

We’ve all heard of people who think they can walk on water or fly through the air. Most of us, however, have never seen anyone achieve such. An image of a man walking across the Thames yesterday, therefore, immediately left me fascinated.

Steve Frayne, who goes by the name of “Dynamo,” made it halfway across the river before being picked up by what appeared to be a police boat. The boat, it turned out, was also part of the act.

Dynamo walks across the Thames in front of the House of Commons

Dynamo, whose previous tricks number transporting a mobile phone into a glass beer bottle, physically moving a girl’s tan line and bringing a flutter of butterflies to life, was taught magic by his grandfather on the deprived Delph Hill Estate in Bradford where he grew up. His ability to combine hip hop culture and elements of dance in his magic, though, have resulted in an ever growing fan club that now numbers Gwyneth Paltrow, Ian Brown and Will Smith.

It transpires that Dynamo’s reason for standing in the middle of the Thames was to promote a new television series. His impressive stunt most definitely worked. I’ll definitely be watching.

I’m yet to see Dynamo perform but another magician who has repeatedly impressed me is 25 year old Drummond Money-Coutts. Money-Coutts, who uses the moniker “DMC,” is the grandson of the late Lord Deedes and a progeny of the Coutts banking dynasty.

 Drummond Money-Coutts appears to float in the air (image by Aliona Adrianova ©, http://www.adrianova.co.uk)

A talented card sharp, Money-Coutts has private residencies at Annabel’s and George Club in Mayfair and has performed for Hugh Grant, Queen Elizabeth and Michael Parkinson. A pair of velvet shoes, made by shoemaker Fin’s and a favourite of David Hasselhoff, has even been named after him.

Whilst Dynamo’s illusions make headline news, Money-Coutts also uses his ability to do good. In 2007, he travelled to Kenya to film Kenyan Conjurations: the School Built By Magic. The funds raised from its sale have been used to fund the building of a primary school there whilst a trip to Tanzania in 2010 resulted in an analysis of witchcraft in Tanzanian Devil – The Dark Truths B’hind the African Witchdoctors.

Watch out for much more from this brilliant magical duo.

The first in the series of Dynamo: Magician Impossible is on Watch on 7th July at 9pm. See http://uktv.co.uk/watch/homepage/sid/8829

For more on Dynamo see http://www.dynamoworld.com

Buy a pair of Drummond evening slippers at http://www.finsforhim.com

Watch DMC: Tanzanian Devil at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqtcwLNAUj8

For more on DMC Magic see http://www.dmcmagic.com

Monday, 27 June 2011

All that glitters is not gold

Middle Eastern boy racers, mostly in Gucci, flock to Aubaine in Brompton Road. Outside on a summer’s day shiny Ferraris and Maseratis glisten in their illegally parked splendour. These playboys are not the only rule breakers here.

 Aubaine, Brompton Road

For me French cuisine can be rich or it can be light. Be it cuisine classique or nouvelle cuisine, when done properly it’s frankly “magnifique.”  Aubaine sadly doesn’t fit into either category, rather it is a mish mash of “anything goes.”

“Aubaine” in French means a “godsend, a fortunate windfall or a stroke of luck.” Somehow though, I can’t imagine Elizabeth David would have thought such of a visit to this South Kensington haunt of Chanel-clad mothers and wealthy Arabs.

 Elizabeth David CBE (1913 - 1992)

Whilst the 35 day aged 250g rib eye steak is not bad, it most definitely is not worth £21.50. For much less elsewhere I’ve had far better. The rest of the menu is somewhat unadventurous with dishes like fillet burgers, chicken supreme and lobster spaghetti. Prices for these are equally high and on a par with much better venues like Bar Boulud at The Mandarin Oriental and the Brompton Bar & Grill.

Cluttered with bric-à-brac, Aubaine is fine for a quick coffee or cup of tea. It is a place, however, that doesn’t merit classification as a restaurant. In reality it’s a café that just happens to serve overpriced “faux French” cuisine.  

According to a piece by Rowley Leigh in this weekend’s FT Magazine, Mrs David came to mourn the decline in “French gastronomic standards” by the 1970s. If she’d been able to visit Aubaine today, I imagine she’d remain equally downbeat.

Aubaine is not a restaurant I’ll be rushing back to. I can’t imagine Elizabeth David would have returned either.

Aubaine, 260 – 262 Bompton Road, London, SW3 2AS. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7052 0100. Website: http://www.aubaine.co.uk

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Fools and their footwear

I have written previously of a woman who allowed the former leader of the Conservatives to sip champagne from her Chanel shoe. Her husband is as well known for his red socks as he is for his for his inappropriate books. Another of my subjects, Bernard Madoff, was also known for his vast collection of monogrammed slippers. Those fascinated by his crimes paid vastly inflated sums at auction for them.

Yesterday, the husband of another well-known shoe lover, Lord Black of Crossharbour, was thrown back into the clink and given a $125,000 fine.

Lord and Lady Black leaving Chicago's Federal Court yesterday

His wife, who fainted during sentencing, will forever be remembered for an arrogant statement to Vogue of how her “extravagance knows no bounds” and her boasts about owning one-hundred pairs of Manolo Blahniks. This is a woman who wrote in The Sunday Times: "What does it matter if one well-off elderly white woman with too many pairs of expensive shoes now finds her social life largely limited to visiting her dearly missed husband in a U.S. federal correctional institution” in August 2008.

A master of wordplay, media baron Black was first sentenced to six and a half years in jail for fraud and obstruction of justice in July 2007. In July 2010 he was granted bail after the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned two of the three remaining mail fraud counts. Yesterday at a retrial, though, he was convicted and sentenced to forty-two months in jail, of which he has already served twenty-nine.

Bernard & Ruth Madoff at a beach party

Brian Koslow once commented: “Always wear expensive shoes. People notice.” The threesome I write of have certainly been noticeable over the years but Black, like the other two, may again wish his activities hadn’t been brought to public attention.

Bernie’s now in a cell, sentenced to 150 years. A certain disgraced newspaper tycoon will soon find himself back in similar circumstances. Meanwhile, Meyer has been exposed by the very newspaper Lord Black previously owned and used as a vehicle to peddle his self-promotion. 

Sir Christopher and Lady Meyer at a party hosted by Matthew Steeples

These shoe loving creatures, Imelda Marcos like, are sinking back into the quagmire from where they came.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Stylish Cuisine

Moroccan Joseph Ettedgui (1936 – 2010) founded the Joseph fashion label in 1974. He, along with his contemporaries Mary Quant, Terence Conran and Norman Foster were pioneers of their time. He is credited with revolutionising knitwear and his knack for retailing resulted in the business being sold to a Japanese clothing company for £140 million in 2005. Always complete with his cigarillo and Gatsby-esque glasses, I remember him as a local character.

The Joseph brand was not just about clothing. Ettedgui was also the first to merge a restaurant and a shop when he opened cafes in Draycott Avenue, Sloane Street and Westbourne Grove. One, Joe’s, has recently been given a makeover following the arrival of new executive chef Maria Elia.


Elia, like Ettedgui himself, has an impressive CV. Having gained experience in Spain at the renowned El Bulli and Arzak restaurants and as a chef on a private yacht, she held the role of head chef at London’s Delfina for ten years before gaining two AA rosettes and a Michelin recommendation when she opened the Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room.

Maria Elia 

Aside from cooking, this dynamo finds time to write for BBC Good Food, Olive and Sainsbury’s magazines and is a regular guest on Good Food Live, Daily Cooks, Perfect and Market Kitchen. Her first book, The Modern Vegetarian, was published in 2009 and a second, Create with Flavour, is due in September 2011.

The redecoration of Joe’s has brought with it comfortable, red leather chairs, wooden flooring and an oak shelved wall of wine. Iconic imagery fills the walls, a number by photographer to the stars John Stoddart. The overall result is simple yet stylish.

The reasonably priced menu features several classics such as chargrilled rib-eye steak and fish and chips, but Elia accompanies these with several unusual twists including strawberry and radicchio risotto and a starter of carrots, red lentils and herbs with tahini yoghurt. My choice of quail with broad beans, salt cod brandade and a quail scotch egg to start and a main of pork belly, ham hock, cockles and spring greens was especially excellent.

Grace Coddington, Vogue US's creative director, in an obituary of Ettedgui in The Guardian, remembers buying her Azzedine Alaïa dresses at the Brompton Cross Joseph store in between meeting friends for coffee and lunch at Joe’s. "It was my Saturday hangout. I loved it."

Elia’s recent makeover of Joe’s décor and menu is, to my mind, a much deserved success. Fashionistas and foodies will rightly continue to flock to this stylish restaurant.

Joe’s, 126 Draycott Avenue, London, SW3 3AH. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7225 2217. Website: http://www.joseph.co.uk/joes-cafe/locations

Epicurean Living

The latest edition of Epicurean Life magazine has just been published and includes my piece on photographer to the stars, John Stoddart.

Edited by Eliza Burnett, Epicurean Life is a magazine that focuses on all things luxury – here you’ll find pieces on fine dining and watches as well as others on supercars and boutique hotels. In this edition there are reviews of The Kensington Hotel, The Sydney Arms and The Dorchester alongside suggestions of presents for men, highlights from the Motor Show and an article about the contemporary Indian art market.

As ever, the magazine’s society pages brim with well-known local faces. Amongst parties covered is the Vodka O sponsored Matjaž Tančič exhibition at the acclaimed Richard Young Gallery attended by John Stoddart as well as Reggie Yates, Kelly Hoppen and Ben de Lisi. Others number a cocktail party at La Brasserie where guests included Lana Kington, Claire Rubinstein and Basia Briggs.

The summer edition is out now at selected retailers including Harvey Nichols and can also be found in restaurants such as La Brasserie in South Kensington.

To purchase a subscription to Epicurean Life go to http://www.epicureanlife.co.uk/#!__contact

Check out John Stoddart’s works at http://www.johnstoddart.co.uk

To read my original piece on Stoddart and his works go to http://dasteepsspeaks.blogspot.com/2011/06/matthew-steeples-takes-look-through.html

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A load more of Bernie’s Bull

Friends of mine were amongst the biggest victims of the $65 billion Ponzi scam artist Bernard Madoff. Naturally, therefore, I’ve followed the fallout with great interest. It’s an awful story and one not only of financial loss. This is a story of suicides, bankruptcies and social downfall.

Today, following on from yet another auction of Madoff possessions in Florida, Madoff’s yacht, Bull, was put up for sale. Hemel Hempstead auctioneers Wyles Hardy & Co seek $4.3 million, a price inflated, they say, because of “the Madoff connection.”

Complete with the monogrammed initials of Bernie and his wife Ruth on the bedspreads and towels, the 90ft powerboat comes with six berths including owner’s stateroom, VIP en-suite cabin, guest en-suite and three crew berths. One can only imagine the thoughts of the former owner as he cruised the French Riviera.

To try and tempt interest, the boat, currently located in Monaco, was demonstrated to a reception of invited guests from the Gaim hedge fund conference last night. One would think these “hedgies” wouldn’t want to see, let alone own, a reminder of something that brought shame on their industry, but many turned up to sip champagne on the balcony of the Liorca Café.

Wyles Hardy state “If the owner wants anonymity a simple name change is all that is required.” If only it were that simple for those Madoff cheated.

It’ll be interesting to see how much this load of Bull will actually fetch.

For more information contact Gordon Wyles of Wyles Hardy & Co on +44 (0) 1442 832234 or email him at gordon.wyles@wyleshardy.com. Website: http://www.wyleshardy.com