England became a unified state in AD 927 and, since the 15th century, has had a significant impact on the wider world, developing the English language, the Anglican Church, and English law – the basis for the common law legal systems of many other countries around the world. Its beautiful and varied countryside is interspersed with quaint villages and cosmopolitan cities including the capital, London.
The name "England" is derived from the Old English name Engla land, which means "land of the Angles". The Angles were one of the Germanic tribes that settled in Great Britain during the Early Middle Ages.
Boyd’s Brasserie – Trafalgar Square’s grand surprise
NORTHUMBERLAND AVENUE, a grand Victorian boulevard running from Trafalgar Square to the Thames Embankment, hides a dining treat.
IN 1887, a select and wealthy group of Victorians gathered outside a splendid new building in London’s Northumberland Avenue, a step away from Trafalgar Square. Described in The Builder as “in the Renaissance style… somewhat severe” and costing £200,000, this was the 500-bedroom Victoria, the latest in the capital’s growing list of grand hotels. The group admired the architecture, they were impressed by all the mod cons. But when they climbed the steps and entered the foyer, there were gasps of admiration. This wasn’t just grand design, it was superlative. Today, after 70 years in the doldrums as government offices, £7million restoration and refurbishment into a hotel, restaurant and private club complex, the old Victoria is drawing in the guests – and they are gasping again.
I did it myself. Climb those stone steps, go through the swing doors and you’re in The Marble Hall, now Boyd’s Brasserie and Bar. The only restaurant in the complex. It is breathtaking. Here are alabaster walls with inlays, dado, panels, Corinthian columns and floor of Bardiglio, Verde de Prato and Sanguino marbles. It’s like being inside one of those stripey sand bottles you see at English seaside resorts.
The colours are soft, earthy, restful, the lights low. The only splash of brightness is from a large abstract painting on one wall. There are potted palms, original stained glass windows and rococo ceilings. Guests sit on comfy banquettes. It is truly stunning and one of the grandest period rooms remaining in London. A sweeping staircase once stood in the centre linking an upstairs coffee room to the Marble Hall, but this was demolished in 1914, giving the room double height. Today that space – now the Bar – is tastefully lit with circular chandeliers like coronets holding tiny sparkling lights. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten in such opulent and utterly Victorian surroundings.
The food, by head chef David Collinson – who previously catered for 32,000 guests at the Queen’s Garden Parties – is 21st century and delicious. We were tempted by the Menu du Jour and Pre-Theatre selection, but were finally persuaded by Ayman, our delightfully enthusiastic Moroccan waiter, to try a little of that with a lot of the rest on offer! We shared our starters, combining what Boyd’s call Little 8s – tiny plates of moreish morsels like braised venison and celeriac puree, glazed goats cheese with red pepper fondue and lobster dauphine with saffron mayonnaise – with stilton quiche, poached pear and caramelised walnuts. For the main course, my companion chose a tuna steak with tomato fondue, garlic salt and mashed potatoes. I had pan fried sea bass with more of those delicious lobster dauphines, pickled cucumber and a saffron sauce. We shared a bowl of crispy Boyd’s chips.
I had to have the intriguingly named Gypsy Tart for pudding. It should be horribly sweet, being made of lots of Muscavado sugar, but it’s very cleverly made and not at all gooey. It comes with crème fraiche and nut brittle and I could have eaten two portions. My friend had caramelised banana waffles and chocolate icecream. To complement the meal, we had an excellent special offer red Côtes du Rhone 2007. (Do ask what the “special” wine is if you’re eating the good value Menu du Jour.)
When we’d finished our excellent dinner Lewis, one of the restaurant managers, took us on a guided tour of the Victorian Ballroom and Banqueting Hall, used for special events and banquets. They are just as elegant and superbly restored as the Marble Hall, with beautiful plasterwork, stained glass windows and elegant columns. Plans are afoot to introduce Afternoon Tea, which, in such a grand space, will be a wonderful step back into the past. They are The Northumberland part of this complex, which also contains the new 80-bed Grand Hotel. Boyd’s Brasserie – owned by Charles Boyd and Adrian Brain – is their restaurant.
Spare a look at Northumberland Avenue after lunch or dinner. Leading from Trafalgar Square down to Thames Embankment, in the 19th century it was one of London’s grandest streets. Designed by George Vuillamy and civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette, who had cured The Great Stink in 1865 by improving the capital’s sewers, it was – and still is – reminiscent of a Parisian boulevard with its tall trees and wide pavements. A forgotten street after years of its buildings being turned into civil servants’ offices, it’s now being brought back to former glory, with Boyd’s offering a good value dining spot so close to Trafalgar Square, with its National Gallery, and The Strand, with its theatres.
Boyd’s Brasserie and Bar, 8 Northumberland Avenue,WC2N 5BY; 020 7808 3344; www.boydsbrasserie.co.uk Report by Pat Moore.
Rarely-seen Chagall painting to star in Impressionism auction in London
Bonhams, the British auction house founded in 1793, has a rarely-seen Chagall masterpiece in its Impressionism sale this June.
A MASTERPIECE BY Marc Chagall, rarely before seen in public, will be one of the stars of the Impressionist and Modern Art auction at Bonhams in London on 22 June.
Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was a pioneer of modernism in the 20th century. He was born in Russia but spent most of his life in France and his works reveal his Jewish heritage alongside his Russian background and the modern art influences he encountered in Paris.
This large painting in the Bonhams sale has an estimate of £1,200,000-1,800,000. It’s called La Revolution and shows elements of the Russian war of 1917 and the Spanish Civil War of 1936/7, along with his trademark ‘married couple’ and goat. It was thought to have been painted in 1937 but recent research suggests the true date to have been 1968. It was cherished by Chagall: he kept it at his house in Saint-Paul de Vence in France until his death in 1985.
Bonhams is a British auction house, founded in 1793, with offices worldwide. Further information on this sale, tel: (020) 7447 7447; or go to www.bonhams.com/impressionist.
Fit for a King – 500 years of Royal Arms and Armour
The new exhibition Fit for a King, showing 500 years of Royal arms and armour, is now permanently on view in the White Tower at the Tower of London. Read More »
WIN a luxury private cruise on the River Thames, worth £2150: Competition now closed
There are few more relaxing ways to spend some long idle days than gently floating along a river. Read More »
Best of British in bloom at Hampton Court
HAMPTON COURT PALACE Flower Show is celebrating its 21st birthday this year (6-11 July) with an eclectic showcase of horticultural delights on the 33-acre site beside the River Thames.
HAMPTON COURT PALACE Flower Show is celebrating its 21st birthday this year (6-11 July) with an eclectic showcase of horticultural delights on the 33-acre site beside the River Thames.
The Royal Horticultural Society flower shows have become a much-loved British institution, with the season kicking off with RHS Show Cardiff (16-18 April), followed by the Malvern Spring Flower Show in Herefordshire (6-9 May) and the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show (25-29 May) in London. Tatton Park in Cheshire takes up the baton next (21-25 July) then Malvern stages its autumn show (25-26 September).
This year’s show at Hampton Court Palace is going for a very British theme with Shakespearean gardens, a festival of roses and Vintage England floristry displays. Home Grown is a new area this year highlighting the diversity of fruit, veg, cut flowers and nursery stock that can now be grown on British soil. The Floral Marquee this year will be a dramatic 225-metre-long feature on the north side of the showground, filled with over 90 displays from some of the UK’s best nurseries. And leave plenty of time to explore the usual line-up of stunning show gardens – always a very popular part of the RHS shows.
Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2010, Tue 6-Sun 11 July, Hampton Court Palace, Surrey KT8 9AT; tel: 0844 338 7528; www.rhs.org.uk/hamptoncourt. Tickets £14-£32.
The Petersham and the Bingham on Richmond Hill
DESIGNED BY Victorian architect John Giles and opened in 1865, The Petersham hotel sits on Richmond Hill with views over the River Thames. Nearby, the Bingham offers Michelin fabulous cuisine.
|The Petersham on Richmond Hill|
THE VIEW OF THE Thames from Richmond Hill, which so inspired countless artists, also influenced Victorian architect John Giles, when he was asked to design an imposing hotel on its slopes. He’d just finished London’s first ‘grand hotel’, the Langham in Portland Place and his client wanted something equally important, making the most of the riverside setting.
Completed in 1865 in a style known as ‘florid Italian Gothic’, with tower, pitched roofs and decorative ironwork balconies overlooking the Thames, it’s still an imposing building. Now called The Petersham, it certainly deserves its four stars.
The Petersham is privately owned by the Dare family and they’ve kept the Victorian flavour. Here are marble floors, a grand staircase – the largest unsupported stone one in Europe – Italian oil paintings, chandeliers and red plush hangings. But they’ve added all the 21st century ‘must haves’ like en suite bathrooms, big beds, fine food and friendly staff, headed by manager Andrew Crompton. It’s a favourite with international actors, rugby stars and referees. Pop icon Mick Jagger – who lives on Richmond Hill – often pops in for dinner and there are lots of photographs of famous folk in the hall. Popular, too, are the Petersham’s ‘tutored’ wine dinners where guest learn about oenology and each course has an appropriate wine.
|A Petersham bedroom with view of the Thames|
I felt as though I was staying in a well-run, intimate country house, not a large 60-room hotel. And when I got up early and strolled out on to my balcony, there was that wonderful view of the river, bathed in golden light. My comfortable room in shades of cream, had dark mahogany furniture and linen cushions embroidered with deep red and sharp pink Oriental poppies. The bathroom was large with lots of fluffy towels, snuggly bathrobe and slippers.
After I arrived, I had gone down for afternoon tea in the Restaurant At The Petersham. From this elegant dining room with its huge picture windows, I had yet another river vista. Andy, the Head Waiter, concerned that I was eating on my own, asked if I’d like something to read? It’s gestures like that that make this hotel deserving of its stars. They don’t stick the solitary guest behind a pillar or next to the service door here. Tea, with assorted sandwiches, scones with strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream and several quite irresistible homemade pastries, was delicious. I’d have eaten the lot had I not been booked into the nearby Bingham Hotel for dinner.
|The Bingham restaurant|
In contrast with The Petersham, The Bingham’s exterior is modest 18th-century brick hiding a chic boutique hotel and restaurant. It’s located on a slight slope above the river Thame and guests can eat on the terrace in summer. Winner of the Best Small Hotel Award (it has 15 bedrooms), the restaurant has three rosettes and in February chef Shay Cooper was awarded a coveted Michelin Star. Simple grey walls, with subdued lighting from sparkly chandeliers, showed up exotic fresh orchids on the tables.
Guided by Rish, our smiling Nepalese waiter, we started with a delicate amuse-bouche of minced quail under a butternut squash mousse, decorated with slivers of fresh ginger. Served in a tiny glass, it gave a delicious edge to our appetites. I chose roast quail with leek, potato and artichoke salad, a potato terrine and hollandaise sauce as my melt-in-the-mouth main course. My companion chose her favourite roast monkfish with a positive “seaside” of delicate shellfish, seafood bisque, fennel marmalade and citrus oil. We were recommended Pinot Noir Antoine Rodet from Burgundy for me and Caliterra Reserva, a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc to go with the fish. Both were excellent.
|Dine outside on the Bingham balcony|
Pudding choice was – as usual – hard. I had the Amadei Chocolate Tart with orange chantilly, passion fruit sorbet, cocoa tuille, while my friend had Honeycomb rice pudding with red wine jelly, caramelised figs and coffee ice cream. Divine. We could hardly rise from our seats, but just managed some of the tiny, toothsome sweets Rish brought with the coffee. I recommend the blood orange and ginger jelly one, not to mention the dark chocolate truffle and maybe the caramel with pistachio. Decisions, decisions.
If that’s what Shay Cooper can do with one Michelin star, I can see why guests come 12 miles down from Central London to dine at The Bingham.
The Petersham Hotel, Nightingale Lane, Richmond, Surrey TW10 6UZ; tel: (020) 8940 7471; www.petershamhotel.co.uk.
The Bingham Hotel, 61-63 Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey TW10 6UT; tel: (020) 8940 0902; www.thebingham.co.uk.
Report by Pat Moore.
Victoria and Albert: Love and Art
A charming exhibition at London’s Queen’s Gallery until 31 October looks at the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, from their engagement through to his untimely demise.
|Franz Xaver Winterhalter, The Royal Family in 1846|
THREE OF THE smallest objects shown in Victoria and Albert: Love and Art at London’s Queen’s Gallery until 31 October are also three of the most evocative in this charming exhibition. Each symbolises the couple’s devotion to each other and their young family. I liked the simple, pebble bracelet made from tiny pieces of agate they’d found on their first journey together in 1841. Prince Albert had the stones sent back to London for polishing and then mounting in gold. It became a tradition on future trips to everywhere from Brighton to Woburn Abbey and each location is engraved on the mount. The second piece I found touching is a winged cherub brooch, inspired by a Raphael painting and designed by Albert. The wings are studded with precious stones, but the cherub’s face is Princess Victoria, their first child. In contrast is a tiny gold and enamel thistle brooch. Its flower is actually the Princess’s first lost milk tooth. On the reverse, an inscription notes that it was pulled by her father at Adverikie (Scotland) on 13 September 1843.
|Queen Victoria’s Costume for the Stuart Ball, 1851|
Assistant Curator Katherine Jones commented, “Albert often designed jewellery himself and no occasion was left unmarked or unrecorded by the couple in one way or another.” Which is why this fascinating exhibition, which focuses on the period of Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert, from the time of their engagement in 1839 to the Prince’s untimely death in 1861, covers everything from intimate family occasions and country walks to State occasions and official gifts sparkling with diamonds. Katherine’s particular favourite is the rarely seen Queen’s costume for the Stuart Ball of 1851. Designed by Huguenot artist Eugene Lami in beautiful silks and lace, it’s decorated with faux pearls and silver fringes. “It’s so delicate and sums her up somehow,” she said.
Here are Landseer’s paintings of Eon, Prince Albert’s favourite greyhound – “very friendly if there’s plum cake in the room” wrote the Queen – and the couple dressed as King Edward III and Queen Philippa of Hainault at a Bal Costume in 1842. William Ross’s delicate miniatures on ivory of the young couple are exquisite.
|Winterhalter, Queen Victoria, 1843|
One painting would probably have shocked her subjects – and it is still considered quite saucy for a royal! Queen Victoria shown with her head tilted provocatively and her brown hair flowing down her shoulder. By Winterhalter, she commissioned it as a surprise birthday present for Albert and it was in his dressing room.
Among the tasteful things on show are their occasional lapses, though fashionable at the time. Few could live with the stag’s horn, hoofs and teeth furniture from the Horn Room at Osborne, the over-the-top German carved writing table, or my particular dislike: the carved marble arms and feet of the Royal children. Awfully creepy.
Arguably the most extraordinary exhibit is the South Indian throne and footstool. Made of elaborately carved ivory and hardwood, set with gold, diamonds, emeralds and rubies, it’s upholstered with embroidered silk velvet. Originally shown in the India section of the 1851 Great Exhibition, it was presented by the Maharajah of Travancore when the Queen became Empress of India in 1876.
Victoria and Albert were very interested in new technology and they especially liked photography. There’s an entire cabinet of carte-de-visite portraits, which would be given to friends and family or arranged in albums by the Queen. In 1860, she posed for some to sell to the public, which were a great success. The couple’s favourite image from the newly formed Photographic Society is also on show: Obaysch the Hippopotumus sleeping at London Zoo!
|Roger Fenton, The Queen and Prince Albert, Buckingham Palace, 1854|
Among the art exhibits are some delightful and well-executed watercolours of her children by Queen Victoria, watercolours of interiors of the Royal residences and some master works collected by Prince Albert for the Royal Collection. Included here are Frith’s Ramsgate Sands, Cranach’s Apollo and Diana and Landseer’s Isaac van Ambergh and his Animals. The lion tamer was a favourite with Queen Victoria who saw him six times. “One can never see it too often, for it is different each time,” she wrote.
The last part of the exhibition deals with Albert’s death. There is a heart-rending photograph of Victoria gazing mournfully at a bust of Albert while her daughter Princess Alice looks sadly at the camera. It would be another 40 years before she would be laid beside him in the mausoleum she had built at Frognal and this great love story would finally end.
Victoria and Albert: Love and Art is on until 31 October at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1. Tel. (020) 7766 7301; www.royalcollection.org.uk.
Report by Pat Moore
Images: Royal Collection (c) 2009, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II