Over the last week I’ve made it to three Christmas parties and my favourite was Bluebird’s Winter Palace party, which took place in a marquee on the Bluebird forecourt. The venue was a cocoon of whiteness and lights whilst the Belvedere vodka cocktails and delicious canapés were being served. Great fun!
Yet as the Christmas party season sweeps me along, I’ve also started to reflect back on the year as it draws to a close. My latest thought bubble was inspired by a recent online discussion about the correlation between the affluence of Chelsea and the number good restaurants available, or lack of.
There were a few amusing opinions expressed, such as the local residents’ penchant for school dinners rather than so-called serious food along with the suggestion that Chelsea’s apparent ladies-who-lunch should be able to prop up the local businesses with their fine dining. And whilst my initial response was reactionary (just as any Londoner would jump to the defence of their home turf), I did wonder later on why other factors such as the landlords’ rates weren’t entertained.
Chelsea has lost many of its local gems because of that simple factor called rent increase, which must give stalwarts such as Chelsea Bun and La Famiglia something to celebrate; perhaps business developers aren’t bidding for their spots just yet.
It’s also worth remembering that Chelsea isn’t just a place for the rich. There is an abundance of social housing within the area and so local restaurants such as Chelsea Kitchen make eating out accessible to all.
As for the overpriced menus that don’t deliver, it’s just a matter of time. These places simply don’t survive because the locals won’t support them; the classic example being Earl Cadagon’s apparent decision to close down Oriel because he didn’t enjoy his meal and found it too pricey.
Still, there is one thing to look forward to next year: Picasso’s return. The locals will be getting one of King’s Road’s institutions back and I for one can’t wait.
Whilst King’s Road is in full festive swing with its gorgeous lights and Christmas trees, last week was time to put myself in for a pre-Christmas MOT. So I booked myself in for a Kiehl’s facial, perfectly timed but not in anticipation of my Martini fuelled hangover from Sophie’s Steakhouse the night before.
Without realising it, I had discovered the perfect hangover cure thanks to the wonderful hydrating facial massage that was part of the treatment. And as my dehydrated skin was being brought back to life with a healthy glow, I also had the pleasure of getting to know Stephen who was taking care of me.
Stephen has been working on King’s Road since 1968 and had plenty of stories to tell, including the time when he worked at Elliott’s shoe shop where The Beatles and The Rolling Stones used to hang out.
This led me across the road to Proud Gallery Chelsea which unveiled a new John Lennon photography exhibition on Wednesday. The intimate photos of John and Yoko were a delightful glimpse into the closeness of their relationship whilst early photos of The Beatles reminded us that these legends were once fresh faced pop stars at the beginning of their career. And speaking to Jess at the gallery, I also discovered that Proud Chelsea’s building used to be the location for The Beatles’ tailor which was part-owned by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
In a world where communication is becoming less personal, it’s a real joy to speak to the other Chelsea locals and discover the stories that helped establish King’s Road as an important chapter in fashion and music history.
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Last week I was just about to step into The Botanist when I was asked what my poison was. I replied King’s Robe. But when the kind gentleman went to the bar, I discovered that the King’s Robe was no more. As much as I was devastated that this delicious rhubarb martni was now a distant memory, I was excited to take a look at the menu and discover something new. I chose the Dusty Rose Martini which consisted of a “large shot of Pinky vodka muddled with fresh pink grapefruit, homemade white rose syrup and a splash of fresh lime juice.”
The Dusty Rose was a refreshing drink. It didn’t pull any surprising punches but it did have a delicious sweetness when it touched the lips. Dangerously, it didn’t have a bite either so was easy to knock back. This drink is a definite recommend if you’re looking for something light and not too sweet to drink. The pink rosebud at the bottom is also a very pretty touch.
The antithesis to The Dusty Rose was the Roasted Plum Martini which I tasted at TwentyTen Restaurant at The Wyndham Grand Hotel on Chelsea Harbour. This drink, which consisted of sake, Stolichnaya vodka, roasted plum and golden syrup was confusing. The flavours didn’t blend so easily. They were so jarring that I had to look at the menu to remind myself of the ingredients. Perhaps it was the clash of the sake with the golden syrup that confused my taste buds. It was a pity because this drink was on the verge of being a great martini for Christmas. As much as I tried to enjoy it, I struggled.
Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive about walking into Eighty Six. After all, I was so used to 86 Fulham Road being my favourite tequila bar in London. Sadly, Cactus Blue closed its doors for the last time during the summer and its loyal customers were left in the lurch as to what might take its place.
Last week, this question was answered as I walked past No. 86 to see that the lights were on inside. And so as quickly as I could, I headed back there to see the transformation for myself and of course to see what delicious treats I was hoping to find on their menu.
My drink of the night was the Yellow Pepper, which contained rose liquor, vodka, apple juice, vanilla, yellow pepper and lemon juice. The rose, apple and vanilla must have worked to soften the flavour of the yellow pepper because the yellow pepper wasn’t overpowering at all. If anything it was delicate. My favourite drinks are those that look deceptively simple but are wonderfully complicated when they hit the taste buds and this was one of those drinks.
The Yellow Pepper hasn’t fast become a favourite but it was an exciting departure from the familiar selection on most cocktail menus. Simply delicious.
When Cactus Blue’s doors closed this summer, it was a very sad day. All that was left of this Chelsea institution was a note on the door to thank everyone for the great memories. Months later, and a new bar and restaurant called Eighty Six has opened in its place and I have to admit, the new ground floor layout is infinitely better.
The main bar now sits to the left of the room and there is an extension towards the back, giving the ground floor a whole new space to play with. Eighty Six doesn’t have the crammed feeling associated with Cactus Blue. And with a great cocktail list and retro dance music, the atmosphere on a Saturday night was very buzzy.
Earlier that evening, I had popped over to Brick Lane for a private viewing of Stephen Santos’ art exhibition. Whilst the event was successful, with a great crowd stepping off the streets to join the party, I couldn’t help but wonder why I had to endure such a difficult journey east thanks to London Underground’s engineering works to see the exhibition of a Chelsea artist. I wondered why Chelsea’s art scene was restricted to Park Walk and Lots Road. What about the other local artists with more experimental works?
There was a time in the 60’s when Chelsea College of Art was influential with the fashion, music and graphic design scene that gave King’s Road the edge. Now, Chelsea College of Art has moved to Pimlico and the local art scene is determined by the commercial tastes of gallery owners and not the attitude of artists.
I know of one local artist who will soon be setting up a pop up exhibition using one of the empty shop units on Fulham Road. It would be great if Alahna Fiveash’s show could help inject artistic energy back onto the streets of Chelsea. Why should East London have all the fun?
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