by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
An unusual trip
This was an unusual trip. 2 nights R&R at an iconic hotel in Knightsbridge, the delectable delights of London available on your doorstep, followed by a night with your daughter in remote suburbia, several tube stops, a commuter train and a car journey from the excitement. In a way it was the best and the worst of this mega-city. The sublime enchantment of a city that has everything followed by the ridiculous reality of life in a town where your weekly commute robs far too many hours from your life and way too many pounds from your pocket. But for 48 hours we were truly enchanted and this is what we did:
We stayed at the London Mandarin Oriental which is located right on Hyde Park facing Harvey Nichols. There’s no better location if you need the triple endorsement of a good address, period real estate and a plethora of luxury brands. You’re surrounded by high culture (the V&A is a mere stroll away), high prices and a heightened sense of privileged entitlement. This might account for the slight snootiness of the doormen at MO but once you run their gauntlet, the supreme aesthetics of the interiors are calming and reassuring. Our guest room was courtyard-facing, small and dark but that’s not uncommon in cities like London. The MO experience was evident by the regularly refreshed fresh fruit, the “his and her” slippers and the genius whimsical touch of a fan shaped bookmark discreetly placed in your book on the night stand.
Day 1 3:30 pm – visit V&A
Squally rain greeted us as we ventured outdoors. I would have preferred a cheery greeting and a proffered umbrella but our doorman was too busy shielding himself from the elements. We headed for the V&A and spent a fascinating half hour at The Porter Gallery viewing the 10 finalists of the Jameel Prize, an bi-annual competition for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic traditions. We then spent an hour at the “Club to Catwalk” exhibition which showcased the “creative explosion” of London fashion in the 1980s where new styles were debuted in the clubs before hitting the catwalk and finally becoming mainstream. The V&A is a vast cornucopia of cultural delights but it’s best to dip in and out, picking one or two rooms per visit, like you might pick luscious pralines from a velvet lined box.
Day 2: 10:30 am – commence a London Odyssey
Following an exceedingly good breakfast at MO we took the District Line to Tower Hill and made our way back to Knightsbridge along the South Bank over Waterloo Bridge and down The Mall. En route we encountered a couple of Irish buskers on mandolin and fiddle who regaled our carriage with jigs and waltzes and some sparkling repartee: “If you’re not very good at dealing with social situations” the Mandolin Man announced to the packed carriage, “just pretend we’re invisible!” Our walk took us through the Borough Market where we stopped for coffee at Monmouth, a London institution since 1978 promoting sustainability and fair trade long before they became mainstream and fashionable. Their newsletter outlines how they travel extensively in search of interesting varietals of coffee, building relationships with growers and exporters:
“we believe that where a relationship exists, quality, quantity and price requirements can be discussed in an open and equal way”.
And so say all of us.
Day 2: 2:00 pm – visit The Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House
Somerset House dates from Tudor times but the building complex we see today is the work of Neo-classicist, Sir William Chambers. It’s a huge private venue that has become a major arts and cultural centre and, when we visited, was readying itself for London Fashion Week. I spent an hour at the Courtauld Institure of Art, a small gallery with an immense cultural footprint, particularly of nineteenth century impressionism. Édouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, [1881-82] is worth the entrance fee alone.
Day 2: 5:30pm Drinks at London Edition
When Jill O’Hare departed the former Ritz Carlton Powerscourt to open The London Edition we all knew that Marriott must be planning something rather special. Located in a stunningly restored Edwardian building, Edition combines Marriott’s long tail in hospitality with Ian Schrager’s legacy in design to create a hotel experience that’s playfully informal yet reassuringly upscale. Edgy contemporary art pieces, sourced in Germany and Korea, provide dramatic counterpoint to the beautifully lit period cornicing in the vast entrance lobby / bar while Berners Tavern, the adjacent dining room, is lavishly decorated with a mosaic of gilt edged period picture frames displaying contemporary photography. Entrance level guest rooms are small (remember, this is London) but uncluttered and feature warm wood paneling and luscious linens. Bathrooms have over-sized steam showers. And, yes, it is very special indeed!
Day 2: 7:30 Dinner at San Carlo Cicchetti, Piccadilly
Knowing we love Italian food, the Lewis-Wrighton’s planned dinner in Piccadilly at San Carlo Cicchetti. This restaurant trades on authenticity so there was nothing fake about the sumptuous starter plates of cold antipasti and the perfect al dente pasta that we all devoured. A popular dining choice in Piccadilly, Cicchetti purred and buzzed with joyful abandon yet everything was impeccable right down to the charming French waiter’s Italian!
Day 3: 11:00 am Notting Hill and the Museum of Brands
It was overcast as we departed Mandarin Oriental and headed for Hyde Park. The pervasive grey intensified into a nasty black and by the time we reached the Peter Pan statue the rain was chucking down in horizontal sheets. This continued right up the Portobella Road and we reached the Museum soaked to the skin. However, this Aladdin’s cave of everyday treasures lifted our spirits and amused us for the hour it took to visit and the 60 minutes we took to dry out. The museum contains over 12,000 original items from the unique Robert Opie Collection, and tells “how well-loved brands evolved through their creative use of packaging and advertising, and how we evolved with them”.
To Paul Miller of Spectra Travel for his suggestions now and during a previous visit to London; to Eoin Breathnach for sharing with us his favourite walk; to Jill O’Hare for taking us around The London Edition; to Martin and Ali for a wonderful evening’s company; to John and Cliodhna for their wonderful hospitality