Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A little horse worthy of backing


Cavallino is a new Chelsea restaurant that is partly owned by 5ft 4 inch tall Champion Jockey Frankie Dettori. Appropriately the name means “the little horse” and Dettori’s involvement in Cavallino follows on from his successful partnership with Marco Pierre-White in their Frankie’s chain. 

Neutrally decorated, Cavallino’s walls are adorned with images by iconic photographers such as John Stoddart of personalities including Martin Scorsese and Pierce Brosnan. The opening party earlier this summer itself brought a number of well known individuals to the restaurant, amongst them Ronnie Wood, Boris Becker, Nicky Haslam and Lapo Elkann.

Frankie Dettori MBE pictured with Cavallino's head chef, Roberto Bortolotto

Chef Roberto Bortolotto, formerly of Zafferano, has created a menu that combines traditional Italian cooking with modern flavours and focuses on using fresh produce.

At just £12.50 for two courses, Cavallino’s set menu is great value and I have to admit the minestrone soup I tried was hearty and certainly a fine example of this cornerstone of Italian cuisine. To follow I opted for meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce. The portion was generous and other options included chicken paillard with spinach and penne arrabiata.

The à la carte menu features starters such as fried calamari with tartare sauce (£12) and San Daniele ham with Comice pears (£14). Amongst the pasta dishes offered at Cavallino are spaghetti with clams and caviar of bottarga (£18) and taglioni baked with ham, cream and Parmesan cheese (£11/£15) whilst other options include ossobuco with golden crunch saffron risotto (£26) and a tuna steak with rocket and Sicilian tomato salad (£20).

To conclude I tried a tiramisu that was contemporary in terms of style and then followed with a selection of British cheeses. Other options include chocolate mousse and a semifreddo with mango. All are priced at £7.

The stylish interior of Cavallino

The wine list focuses on offerings in the £20 to £60 range and includes favourites such as Gavi di Gavi La Minaia di Niola Bergaglio 2010 at £31 a bottle and Barolo DOCG Paesi Tuoi Terre da Vino 2005 at £49 a bottle. For those seeking something more adventurous, Dettori’s special selection includes Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido 2007 at £249 a bottle and Solaia Antinori 2007 at £299 a bottle.

Rather appropriately Enzo Ferrari chose a little rampante horse as the logo for his company and since it has come to be symbolic of style and quality. Cavallino, equally, has both in abundance and if you happen to be on the search for Italian food that is truly delicious and great value for money, this is a little horse that is well worth visiting.

Cavallino, 4 Syndey Street, London, SW3 6PP. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7352 3435. Website: http://cavallino-restaurant.com

Follow Cavallino on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/CavallinoLND

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Singing like a drunken canary


A “fallen angel” appeared before the Leveson Inquiry yesterday. They’ve had to listen to Hugh Grant bleating and Sienna Miller sobbing. The McCanns have had their moment and just as I thought it couldn’t get any more ridiculous, we had to hear from Charlotte Church.

Charlotte Church gives evidence at the Leveson Inquiry

Comments from “venom spewing” Church, whose ex-husband, Gavin Henson, has recently been shamelessly promoting himself on a TV show named The Bachelor in an attempt to find a new wife, included:

“As a singer, a newspaper, in particular, is a very bad medium for promoting my work. I know from record sales figures that newspapers have never helped me sell any significant number of records.”

What utter tosh. Church is a woman whose entire career has been in the public eye and without the media she wouldn’t be known. Here also is a woman who is well known for behaving badly. How, therefore, can she not expect that the press would be interested in her when she has so regularly been spotted drunk out of her mind and with her “underwear round her ankles”?

A drunken Charlotte Church pictured on a night out

Church even went as far as to say that it would be “easy to portray the fact that I am giving evidence to this Inquiry as me being a whingeing celebrity.” For once I find myself agreeing with her.

For more information go to: http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk

Monday, 28 November 2011

Angelic Gastronomy


Recently voted one of Zagat’s top five London bistros, Angelus is a former public house that Fay Maschler describes as being “not a gastropub but a gastronomic one.”

Situated opposite The Royal Lancaster Hotel in a somewhat forgotten enclave of Bayswater next to the stables of my friends Richard and Basia Briggs, Angelus occupies the site of a former 19th century pub that used to be called The Archery Tavern. Much of the Victorian character of the pub has been retained with dark wood paneling, stained glass and banquette seating though the restaurant has been given an art deco lift through the use of chandeliers and elaborate mirrors.

 The main dining space at Angelus

The proprietor of Angelus is Thierry Tomasin, a genial gent from Toulouse who began his career in London at Le Gavroche before becoming general manager at Aubergine in Chelsea. He opened Angelus in 2007 and received great critical acclaim from not only Maschler, but also Jay Rayner, Marina O’Loughlin and Terry Durack.

Thierry Tomasin and Martin Nisbet

Martin Nisbet has been the chef at Angelus since 2009. Nisbet learnt his skills from the legendary Anton Edelmann at The Savoy and then went on to open a restaurant named Anton's in Hertfordshire.

On arrival we were offered a glass of champagne in a bar area to the rear of the building that is perfectly comfortable but somewhat tired. The manager informed us that it will be redecorated before the year is out and this certainly is a required improvement.

The bar at Angelus

In typically French fashion, the menu comprises dishes that are rich and complex and in a typically gastronomic way this menu is far from what you’d expect to find in a neighbourhood bistro.

The three-course set lunch, priced at £40 per person, is certainly punchy in terms of pricing for this location but, as my companion pointed out, this is a place that is supposedly a favoured haunt of wealthy politicians such as Tony Blair. In times of old, I also discovered, Winston Churchill used to hold “covert meetings” in the building and a film about the Profumo affair used the adjoining mews as Christine Keeler’s home so there’s definitely something of a political theme to this location.

We moved through to the main restaurant where I began with a French onion soup that I thought truly excellent. My friend’s ham hock terrine, though good, did contain some gristle but beyond that he found it enjoyable.

To follow, I took the lead of the management when they suggested the unusual combination of roasted stone bash with a confit of chicken wings served with smoked garlic and lemon mash and a red wine jus (£26). The stone bass was perfect in taste as were the chicken wings but my only criticism would be that I found the mash a little too sweet for my palette. My guest tried a pot-roasted chicken with truffle, creamed sweet corn, girolles, button onions and truffle gnocchi (£25). Though beautifully presented, he did find the portion a little on the small side.

We ended the meal with a well-presented selection of British and French cheeses accompanied by toasted walnut and prune bread (£14) before embarking on a tour of the fascinating cellars beneath the restaurant.

In a cavern dominated by the best French wines, Angelus stocks wines that start at just £20 for a bottle of 2008 Muscadet sur Lie and rises to a 2005 Le Pin Pomerol for £3,400 a bottle. Here is a list that also includes New World and Lebanese wines as well as a range of Château Angelus 1er Grand Cru imported directly from Hubert de Bourad de Laforest’s own château. Beyond the cellars is a charmingly decorated private dining room and a chef’s table in the kitchen.

Angelus is a restaurant where it would be easy to while away many an hour but next time I’ll be sure to try a dish I shouldn't have missed, the restaurant’s signature foie gras crème brûlée.

Angelus, 4 Bathurst Street, London, W2 2SD. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7402 0083. Website: http://www.angelusrestaurant.co.uk

Sunday, 27 November 2011

A taxingly pointless carbuncle

Today the Mail on Sunday revealed that full council tax is paid on just four out of the eighty-six apartments in the world’s most expensive residential block, One Hyde Park. Westminster Council are said to be infuriated that they have been unable to gain further details of who owns the rest of the apartments whilst the chippy MP for North Kensington, Karen Buck, declares that: “The more money you have, the less you are required to pay.”

Though five further flats are paying the 50% discounted council tax owed on second homes, the remainder that have been sold belong to offshore companies based in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. This is a development that, according to the Daily Mail, is a Dubai-like “ghost town.”

One Hyde Park

One Hyde Park replaced a much loathed office block named Bowater House that was built between 1956 and 1958. Described as “one of the most problematic buildings in London,” this vision of ugliness was designed by Guy Morgan & Partners and was often compared to something “one would expect to find in a Gerry Anderson production” as a “backdrop for Thunderbird 2.” One would have thought that Westminster Council, given a second chance, would have insisted that the redevelopment by Candy & Candy in conjunction with architect Lord Rogers would have resulted in something that complemented the adjoining Victorian Mandarin Oriental Hotel and Wellington Court buildings. They did not.

 Bowater House

Construction began on One Hyde Park some five years ago and it caused great nuisance for the residents of Knightsbridge. Roads were diverted and traffic ground to a halt. Access to the park was restricted and many complained that what would replace Bowater House looked equally awful. I’m afraid I found it personally annoying at the time and what now stands there, to my mind, is just as much of a carbuncle.

 A bedroom suite at One Hyde Park

Now that it has been revealed that just a handful of the apartments at One Hyde Park are actually lived in, it truly does seem that this billion pound development has benefited simply a few and caused utter chaos for many.

Nick Candy and his partner Holly Valance and Christian Candy and his wife Emily Crompton at One Hyde Park

For more on One Hyde Park see: http://www.onehydepark.com


Saturday, 26 November 2011

At Forte’s Hotel


Agatha Christie completed her 1965 thriller At Bertram’s Hotel at Brown’s Hotel in Albermarle Street, Mayfair but this frankly is just a small part of what makes this institution so fascinating.

 The entrance to Brown's Hotel

Founded in 1837 by James and Sarah Brown, the couple expanded the property through the purchase of the adjoining St George’s Hotel in 1889 and it subsequently became the haunt of royalty, politicians and personalities. Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful telephone call from Brown’s in 1876 whilst Rudyard Kipling completed the Jungle Book there. Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, Elizabeth Queen of the Belgians and George II, King of the Hellenes all took up residence during their respective exiles and writers who were regular visitors included Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, JM Barrie and Bram Stoker.

The Forte family first bought Brown’s Hotel in 1968 and owned it losing control of the Forte Group as part of a hostile takeover in 1996. In 2003, as part of a £51.5 million deal, Sir Rocco Forte bought the property back and I recall attending a spectacular party, where guests donned hard hats, that was held to celebrate the return of Brown’s to the family fold.  A £24 million renovation commenced shortly afterwards and the resulting look is now quintessentially English but with a modern twist.

 HIX at The Albermarle with a view towards Tracey Emin's "I loved you more than I can love" installation

HIX at The Albermarle is the main dining room at Brown’s. Classically styled and retaining the original wooden panelling, this is a room that is filled with art by amongst others Tracey Emin, Bridget Riley, Michael Landy and Rankin. With comfortable seating, this bright space is ably managed by Scott McCaig, who formerly worked at Scott’s, The Wolseley and The Ivy.

 HIX at The Albermarle's Executive Chef: Marcus Verberne

Executive Chef Marcus Verberne’s menu is very much about the best of British. Verbenne, who is originally from New Zealand, worked previously at Le Caprice, J Sheekey and The Ivy, and alongside Mark Hix has focused on sourcing the seasonal ingredients through foraging and from the best suppliers.

With a set three course Sunday lunch for £37.50, HIX at The Albermarle’s signature dish is most certainly their roasted rib of Hereford beef with Yorkshire pudding (priced at £24.50 if ordered off the brunch à la carte menu) served from a stunning silver lunch trolley. On the Sunday I dined there, this was by far the most popular choice and on weekdays the trolley offering changes daily through lamb, ham, sirloin, pork, salmon and chicken (prices £19.75 to £25.75).

 An untitled Fiona Rae oil on canvas alongside HIX at The Albermarle's lunch trolley

After sampling the restaurant’s delicious bread and a spicy Bloody Mary (£15), I commenced with a hearty portion of a toasted crumpet with Bath Pig choirzo, sea purslane and a poached Burford Brown egg (£9.50) whilst my companion opted for a hearty soup dish.

For main courses, we both naturally chose the beef. In Jack Spratt fashion, my companion wanted hers well done whilst I wanted mine rare. Cleverly the restaurant managed to suit us both by virtue of the fact that they have two individual trolleys serving meat across the spectrum. Other options include dover sole (£36.50), Lancashire hotpot (£19.50) and a fillet of Kingairloch red deer with bashed neeps and haggis (£25.75).

To conclude we tried a trifle that was a little lacking but the British farmhouse cheese board that followed (£16.75 for two) was served at the correct temperature and quite delicious.

Wines reflect the typically extensive list in terms of price and variety of a five star hotel. Starting at £28 a bottle for an Argentinian Chardonnay, the list rises through a 2003 Château Monbrison Margaux at £89 to the heights of a 1978 La Tache Domaine de la Romanée Conti at £4,750 a bottle. A British beer selection that features HIX’s own oyster ale and an English sparkling wine selection are equally a suitably appropriate touch at this, the capital’s oldest hotel.

The clientele, with the exception of two members of the Spencer-Churchill clan, wasn’t quite on a par with the grand guests of old. On previous visits I recall there being many well-heeled Americans and plenty of Mayfair grandes dames. On this occasion the majority of the customers seemed to be out of towners on Christmas shopping trips and somewhat badly dressed individuals in T-shirts. A slightly stricter dress code would perhaps be an appropriate suggestion.

Overall, HIX at The Albermarle is great value for those seeking the best quality British food. I’ll definitely be returning again and again.

HIX at The Albermarle, Brown’s Hotel, Albermarle Street, London, W1S 4BP. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7518 4004. Email: thealbermarle@roccofortehotels.com. Website: http://www.thealbermarlerestaurant.com

Follow Brown’s Hotel on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/Browns_Hotel

Friday, 25 November 2011

Cocktails at the top of the city


The London Hilton on Park Lane is a hotel that has aroused much controversy since its completion in 1963. This 331ft tower was bombed by the IRA in 1975 and described by many as an “insensitive intrusion” on Hyde Park. The Queen is said to have opposed its construction and has never visited but to others the building of this 453 room hotel marked a milestone in improving standards in terms of accommodation.

 The London Hilton on Park Lane

For many years the building was notorious as a seedy pickup joint but in recent years improvements to the bars and restaurants have resulted in an altogether more salubrious atmosphere.  

 The view eastwards from the London Hilton on Park Lane towards the Millennium Wheel, the city and Canary Wharf beyond

Managed by Marco Ercolano, the Hilton’s 28th floor bar forms part of the Michelin starred Galvin at Windows restaurant. With impressive views extending towards the Millennium Wheel, Battersea Power Station, the BT Tower and The Gherkin, Galvin at Windows is amongst London’s few drinking spots that can offer a truly special view of the city.

 The Galvin Garden cocktail

The bar has recently launched a new cocktail named the “Galvin Garden” that combines Bloom Gin, St Germain, apple juice, peach bitters and muddled cucumber. Priced at £13.50, this is a cocktail that is refreshing and enjoyable and well worth taking the lift to the 28th floor for.

Galvin at Windows, 22 Park Lane, London, W1K 1BE. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7208 4021. Website: http://www.galvinatwindows.com

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Cellars, spies and media moguls


The Stafford's mews

The Stafford Hotel featured in many a photograph this summer as a result of Rupert Murdoch, who also has an apartment in St James’s Place, having dinners and meetings there with his son, James, and former chief lieutenant, Rebekah Brooks. At one, on the weekend before his appearance before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the news tycoon was, I’m reliably informed, subjected to a preparatory murder board.

 Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks walk from his apartment towards The Stafford

One can easily see why Murdoch favours The Stafford. Hidden in a backwater off St James’s Street, this Victorian hotel is discrete and efficiently run. With a history dating back to 1858, The Stafford was purchased by Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group, Kempinski, in 2009 and has been subjected to an impressive refurbishment.

 The Lyttelton restaurant at The Stafford

The most recent improvement has been the opening of a new restaurant, The Lyttleton. The restaurant is named after Lord and Lady Lyttelton, who lived in the building until Lady Lyttelton, daughter of Earl Spencer became nanny to Queen Victoria’s children in 1849.

Decorated in ivory and gray with a flowery carpet, the management describe the style as giving the “feeling of dining in a friend’s home.” I’d agree with Fay Maschler, though, who suggests rather that it is a “well mannered space” but one that sits somewhat at odds with the comfortably cluttered American Bar at the rear of the hotel.

Kempinski hired Lancashire-born Brendan Fyldes to oversee The Lyttelton as Executive Chef in January. Fyldes has a tremendous CV that includes having worked under Nigel Haworth of Northcote Manor, Richard Corrigan at Bentley’s and one of my favourite chefs, Paul Heathcote, at his Longridge restaurant. Fyldes states that his menu offers a “rustic interpretation of British cuisine that emphasises the season’s best local produce and products” and I have to say that his cooking is indeed most impressive. In her review, Maschler describes the menu as being “refreshingly forthright” and with a three-course business lunch menu at £27.50, it is indeed one that needn’t beat the bank.

The Stafford's Executive Chef: Brendan Fyldes

To start my friend commenced with a crab “Officers Mulligatawny” soup (£11.50). Here Fyldes has introduced a little known soup that was favoured by British officers stationed in India in the 1800s that is based on adding curry to broth. I tried the classically dressed English Crab with mayonnaise and lemon (£18.90) and found it most enjoyable.

For mains, I chose a superb grilled Welsh black gold sirloin steak (£25.50) and accompanied this with some superb buttered Chantenay carrots and hand cut chips. My companion found his veal striploin (£24.50) melted in the mouth and to conclude we shared an apple and whiskey crumble (£9) that was sadly a little too tart and a truly excellent mulled wine trifle (£9).

The wine list is as extensive as one would expect in a hotel of this calibre and there are plenty of reasonably priced options as much as there are exotic and expensive options.

The "White Mouse" Nancy Wake sat in The Stafford's American Bar

We subsequently moved through to the American Bar where we concluded with coffee and ginger tea and learnt about Nancy Wake (1912 – 2011), one of Churchill’s most highly decorated special agent’s during the Second World War. Having first visited in 1946, resistance heroine Wake lived in the hotel from 2001 to 2003 and sat daily in the hotel’s American Bar consuming gin and tonics whilst entertaining The Stafford’s clients and staff. This phenomenal lady, who had also interviewed Hitler as a journalist in the 1930s and who the Nazis named the “White Mouse,” now has a corner named after her. Funded by the hotel’s owners and anonymous donors including, allegedly, Prince Charles, Wake’s stay sadly ended when, after a heart attack, she moved to the Royal Star and Garter Home for Disabled Ex-Service Men and Women in Richmond.

 The Stafford's American Bar

The bar itself is truly eccentric and stuffed full of artefacts from the Second World War given by members of the Free French, the American Eagle Squadron and Canadian officers, who used the hotel as club, glasses used by the Royal Family and photographs of Margaret Thatcher, who used to be a regular visitor.

The Stafford's wine cellars

We were subsequently invited to tour the hotel’s charming Carriage House rooms and Mews Suites before descending down into The Stafford’s historic wine cellars. My lunch companion immediately remembered a 21st birthday party he attended there when the hotel was owned by the Costain family and I have to admit that getting to see them was a true privilege. Containing over a $1 million worth of wine and some 20,000 bottles, the cellars were built by Lord Francis Godolphin in the 17th century and now also contain as a museum relating to their use during the war.

The Stafford certainly is a place with a story to tell. If a meal at The Lyttelton is anything to go by, there will be many more great chapters yet.

The Lyttelton at The Stafford London by Kempinski, 16-18 St James’s Place, London, SW1A 1NJ. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7493 0111. Website: http://www.thelyttelton.com


Photography of The Stafford Hotel and The Lyttelton © Kempinski 2011.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

I’m running out of reasons to cry

When politicians run out of excuses or become short of something to say, they tend to get emotional. Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, however, takes this to another level in this month’s Total Politics, when he tells Caroline Crampton:

"I cry at the Antiques Roadshow. You know, when someone comes in with some family heirloom… Incredibly emotional.”

The Right Honourable Ed Balls MP, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

Balls is a man who is meant to be leading the Official Opposition’s attack upon Her Majesty’s Government but here, it seems, instead is a sobbing wreck who instead spends too much time getting upset about antiquities.

In A Journey, Tony Blair branded Gordon Brown a “man of zero emotional intelligence” with “no feelings” and it is certainly true that there is room for sadness in politics as there is elation. Blair himself is said to have cried when he heard of the death of Dr David Kelly but true leaders like Winston Churchill, despite many a “black dog” moment, never saw the need to publicly show his feelings and just got on with the job in hand.

 Time magazine's March 2007 "How The Right Went Wrong" cover

A 2007 Time magazine cover showed Ronald Reagan with a single tear on his cheek. Though photoshopped, this image truly captured the spirit of what the magazine termed “How The Right Went Wrong” as much as did Margaret Thatcher’s tearful exit from Downing Street in 1990. The end of the careers of these two magnificent leaders was certainly something that rightly many got equally emotional about.

Margaret Thatcher's tearful departure from Downing Street

Harold MacMillan once argued that there was “no use crying over spilt summits” and politicians today should spare their emotions for truly upsetting incidents such as the ongoing deaths of our troops in Afghanistan. Ed Balls, though, on the other hand, ought to stop blubbing in front of the telly: If he doesn’t, his reputation as Labour’s “attack dog” will well and truly be confined to the gutter.


Monday, 21 November 2011

Has Tarzan lost the plot?


“I think we will join the Euro,” commented Lord Heseltine in a BBC interview yesterday. Several days earlier, speaking to the Conservative China Group, this out-of-touch politician argued:

We made a great mistake in not joining the euro… It would have been good for Britain… All my political life, we have suffered in this country from a vile disease called inflation… Every government, regardless of political stripe, takes the soft option and devalues our currency. If we had joined the euro, the Germans would have forced us to be more competitive. I am telling you this country needs to become more like Germany. We should still join the euro."

The Right Honourable Lord Heseltine CH PC

As the weak link eurozone countries suffer and their governments fall, the remarks of Heseltine, a man best remembered for “stabbing Margaret Thatcher in the front,” seem utterly ludicrous. Tory MP Douglas Carswell sensibly responded by describing the comments as “delusional” and argued that the Prime Minister should listen to: “New Tory MPs with innovative ideas” instead of “a throwback to the 1950s.”

Wolfgang Schäuble

Amazingly, it seems, Heseltine is not alone in his belief. Earlier in the week Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s Federal Minister of Finance, suggested that the euro will still eventually become the common currency of the entire European Union. Of Britain, in particular, he stated his “respect” to keep the pound but added that non-members will ultimately be forced to join: “This may happen more quickly than some people in the British Isles currently believe.”

 Nigel Farrage MEP

On the 16th November, Nigel Farrage MEP, the leader of UKIP, though, gave a passionate speech to the European Parliament in which he claimed that: “By any objective measure the Euro is a failure… It’s getting like an Agatha Christie novel.” He is utterly right. Lord Heseltine should retire to his arboretum and share his views with his plants. They might actually be the only ones prepared to listen.

The words of the 1991 Chumbawumba song Mr Heseltine Meets His Public seem particularly relevant to this story: “Mr. Heseltine I’ve made up my mind, I’ll never give support to you and your kind.”

Watch Nigel Farrage’s speech to the European Parliament at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-vgp0g42xI&feature=share

Listen to Chumbawumba’s “Mr Heseltine Meets His Public” at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czODto8XGtI

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Watch out for the quiet ones


The London restaurant scene continues to buzz despite the nationwide recession but there seems to be a new approach of “discrete openings” rather than glitzy launches.

 The DownTown Mayfair by Cipriani logo

In Mayfair last week, the owners of the Cipriani brand opened a new venue they’ve named “DownTown Mayfair by Cipriani” in a clear effort to avoid the trouble they had with the name of their Davies Street restaurant. With no website and without the traditional PR drive normally associated with restaurant launches, little is known about what they have planned other than it is on two storeys, has a private room and offers the traditional Cipriani menu. This is a very different approach to the mass of publicity surrounding the opening of Cipriani London (now “C-London”) in 2004.

Chris Corbin and Jeremy King

Equally over in Sloane Square, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King have somewhat discretely announced their next project, Delaunay, located on the old Oriel site. This most successful duo, no doubt, have taken this approach with a mind to keeping their landlord, the notoriously private Earl Cadogan, happy and will be opening a “grand café” in time for the Olympics.

 The Oriel - closed after Earl Cadogan decided he didn't like it

At a recent party I also spoke with the PR for several new venues that will be opening shortly. She stated that she was keen to keep them under wraps for the moment and didn’t want to get too much publicity too soon.

Gone, it seems, are the days of big, brash openings. Here comes the era of discretion and understatement.

DownTown Mayfair by Cipriani, 15 New Burlington Place, London, W1.  Telephone: +44 (0) 20 3056 1001

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Mark my words


Chelsea Green has seen many restaurants and bars come and go: Cahoots, Tom’s Place, Monkey’s and Album are just four that immediately spring to mind. Though situated just off the Kings Road and close to Sloane Avenue and the Fulham Road, often restaurants and bars here get overlooked in favour of the glitzier venues like Daphne’s, the Cheyne Walk Brasserie and Bibendum. Now, though, there’s good reason to revisit this backwater: The Markham Inn.

 The bar area of The Markham Inn

Owned by Piers Adam and Nick House, who also operate Mahiki, Whisky Mist and The Punch Bowl in Mayfair, The Markham Inn has been designed by the Robert Angell Design Studio. Angell, who was also responsible for The Crescent Inn in Ilkley, has created a look that crosses the divide of bistro, bar and brasserie with shiny black wooden floors, red banquettes and polished brass. The style is as much a mixture of Paris and New York as it is London “gastro” destination.

Ably and affably run by amongst others Daniele Conti and Lydia Forte, The Markham’s service is second to none. In an Evening Standard piece, Adam commented that he wanted to have the “best-looking staff” but he’s also hired a team that I commend as efficient and welcoming.

Chef Mark Blatchford, who has previously worked at Claridge’s, Racine, the Soho House in New York and The Beckford Arms in South Wiltshire, has created a menu that spans breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner.

A generous sized Scotch woodcock (£6) was perfect as a Sunday starter whilst my companion enjoyed a goat cheese salad with beetroot and almonds (£7). For our mains, we respectively opted for roast chicken and roast beef (£18). Both hearty plates were most enjoyable and other options include fish and chips (£12), a grilled bacon and cheeseburger (£11) and pan-fried seabass with piperade and spinach (£22).

The wine list starts with a La Picoutine Ugni Blanc for £17.50 a bottle and rises through a wide selection of offerings in the £20 to £30 range. This is a list that is indeed reasonable and accessible that also includes a Cloudy Bay Chardonnay at £50 a bottle and Krug at £1,100 a bottle.

The main restaurant area of The Markham Inn

The clientele on a Sunday, I’m told, tends to be families with children for the first early sitting at lunch and a crowd of younger locals later. I saw several bankers I know as well as the owner of a Lowndes Street clothing firm. The couple next to us had driven over from Pimlico and another group had sauntered in after attending the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at The Cenotaph. A pattering of glamour, some could argue, was added by the presence of a girl my dining companion identified as Lauren Pope from The Only Way is Essex and her rather curious entourage.

Though, in criticism, I can say the décor is somewhat dark and the acoustics need improvement, Adam and House have created a fashionable and clubby hotspot with a great value menu at The Markham. Mark my words, I’ll definitely be back.

The Markham Inn, 2 Elystan Street, London, SW3 3NS. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7581 9139. Website: http://www.themarkhaminn.com

Follow The Markham Inn on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/MarkhamInn

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Rooted in lies


Keith Valentine Graham, a man also known as Levi Roots, brought joy to millions when he turned his Reggae Reggae Sauce business into a mammoth success. Here was a character who inspired and gave pleasure but here also was a man who had to out himself yesterday in a London courtroom as an utter fraud.

Keith Valentine Graham (AKA Levi Roots) with his Reggae Reggae Sauce

In February 2007, Roots appeared on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den and pitched successfully to get a £50,000 investment from Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh for 40% of a sauce company that he claimed was based on his grandmother’s recipe and had been “the taste of the Notting Carnival for 15 years.” He captivated the nation with his enthusiasm and the result subsequently was the most successful ever investment return for the Dragons.

Dragons' Den's Peter Jones (second left) and Richard Farleigh (far right) pictured with Theo Paphitis, Deborah Meaden and Duncan Bannatyne

The memorable television appearance resulted in Sainsbury’s immediately signing up for the sauce and in the coming months Roots had a hit with his “Reggae Reggae Sauce Song” and won a CoolBrand award. The product flew off the shelves and in July 2007 it was revealed Sainsbury’s who had expected to sell 50,000 bottles in year one, were actually selling 40,000 to 50,000 a week. Today the business, which now includes numerous other lines, is said to be worth some £30 million and also has its products carried in Morrison’s and Asada and used by Subway, Pizza Hut, JD Wetherspoon, Domino’s and Birds Eye.

Sadly, the inspiring tale of Reggae Reggae’s mammoth success has now been proven to be nothing other a “marketing ploy.” Roots, yesterday, during a court case with a former business partner, Tony Bailey, had to admit when questioned that the origin of the sauce was nothing to do with his grandmother and that the Notting Hill claim was fictitious:

Roots' colourful former business partner: Tony Bailey

“When I was trying to market the sauce, I thought of every conceivable way that I was connected with music and the Notting Hill Carnival… I cooked all that in a bag together and tried my best to make a story about it.”

He also admitted to lying about his claims to have been selling Reggae Reggae Sauce for fifteen years and when questioned by Ian Glen QC, on behalf of Bailey, who called him a “barefaced liar,” commented:

“It's not about sauce, it's about Levi Roots. It [the carnival stall] was only popular because it was a Levi Roots stall.”

Levi Roots tweets about his court case

Separately, on his Twitter account Roots described those challenging him in court as “angry posidons gorgols and lostrigonian cyclops” before adding: “They can’t harm me.” I’d certainly agree with that:  Roots, in Nietzsche-esque fashion, has illustrated that “success is always a great liar” and he is indeed singlehandedly responsible for his current predicament.

Frankly, consumer confidence in Reggae Reggae will most probably deservedly drop through the floor whatever the outcome of this case but will the Gerald Rattner of sauces be able to make a comeback from this terrific own goal?

For more on Levi Roots and his sauces go to: http://www.reggae-reggae.co.uk

Follow Levi Roots on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/levirootsmusic

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The turning of Meryl Streep


Until this week, most of the talk about the upcoming film The Iron Lady has centred upon it “tastelessly” portraying our former PM as a deluded old lady who has lost the plot. Now, thankfully, the caravan seems to be moving on and this exciting film is getting the kind of analysis it truly deserves.

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady

Yesterday Meryl Streep, who plays Thatcher, alongside Jim Broadbent (Dennis Thatcher) and Richard E. Grant (Michael Heseltine) was in London to launch the film’s full trailer and a poster to announce it. The entire film itself was also showcased to a selected audience – sadly I wasn’t amongst that group.

The trailer’s opening scenes portray a frail Lady Thatcher shuffling across a zebra crossing unsupervised and without security (which I recognise as being the intersection of Lowndes Street, Cadogan Place and West Halkin Street). Other scenes are said to show her imagining her husband Sir Denis is still alive and conducting conversations with him. These are exactly the kind of things that have come in for criticism but they are precisely what make Lady Thatcher so real and are sadly also a reflection of the toll of recent years have had upon her.

 Lady Thatcher (Meryl Streep) out shopping for milk in Belgravia

There is also said to be a scene in the film where Margaret Thatcher is at present day dinner party and she states: “I don’t like coalitions” after another guest points out the current Prime Minister is doing well. The Tory party are plainly afraid of what damage this film could do to their “New Blue” reputation but they should celebrate what looks to be an excellent portrayal of one of their best ever leaders.

Friends of the former Prime Minister have come out issuing statements calling the drama a “Left-wing fantasy” and Lord Bell, a former key adviser to the Prime Minister during the 1980s, curtly stated: “I cannot be bothered to sensationalise this rubbish.”

In today’s Daily Mail, Baz Bamigboye, who saw it yesterday, takes an alternative view on The Iron Lady:

I have no doubt, that this will come to be seen as magnificent portrait of Lady Thatcher… The film’s certainly not the Left-wing propaganda many feared when the movie was first announced more than two years ago… Streep should win an Oscar for the Thatcher voice alone, not just for the incredible transformation.”

 Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in Cabinet in The Iron Lady

Left-wing American actress Meryl Streep was attacked as an “inappropriate choice” when cast. Now, she’s said to have come to “admire” Lady Thatcher and commented:

“You want people who are willing to find a solution. I admire the fact that she was a “love-me-or-hate-me” kind of leader who said: ‘This is what I stand for.’ It’s a hard thing to do and no one’s doing that now.”

“It took a lot out of me, but it was a privilege to play her, it really was… I still don’t agree with a lot of her policies. But I feel she believed in them and that they came from an honest conviction, and that she wasn’t a cosmetic politician just changing make-up to suit the times.”

Meryl Streep unveils the poster for The Iron Lady in Central London, 14th November 2010

The Iron Lady, written by Abi Morgan (The Hour and Sex Traffic) and directed by Phyllidia Loyd (Mamma Mia!), is released in UK cinemas on 6th January 2012.

Whilst The Lady never turned, Meryl Streep sure has.

For more information and to watch the full length trailer go to: http://www.theironladymovie.co.uk

Follow the Iron Lady Movie on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/IronLadyFilm