Dan Doherty, chef, Duck & Waffle

For four and a half years, Duck & Waffle has been, quite literally, high up on the list of must-go restaurants in London. Sitting pretty on the 40th floor of a skyscraper on Bishopsgate, it has wowed guests with its thoughtful take on traditional British cuisine mixed with European influences, available 24/7, as well as its spectacular views and thrilling 40 second lift ride to the top.

Now, the team behind Duck & Waffle is bringing a new concept to ground-level, with the launch of Duck & Waffle Local – a more accessible but no less ambitious version of what guests can experience sky high. Dan Doherty, chef director, has been invaluable in solidifying the restaurant’s reputation. He explains that with an increasing interest in more informal eating experiences, now was the right time to open the more casual off-shoot of the much-talked-about original. “I think there’s space for restaurants that are more destinations – but there’s also a massively expanding fast casual market,” he says. “I think we kind of wanted to dip our toe into both and mix the worlds together.”

As a location for this concept, St James’s Market was on point, says Dan. Although the idea had been formulated, it was imperative for the team to find the right site for the restaurant. “Shimon (Bokovza, founder and CEO of Samba Brands Management that operates Duck & Waffle and Sushisamba) and I had the idea of doing like this for a while – we’ve been looking at a lot of different areas to do this.” He says that when the St James’s Market site came up, he saw potential in its geography and the space itself. “It was a very interesting proposition because of the location and the fact it was a new development. The way it’s facing, up towards Piccadilly – hopefully it’s going to be the perfect space. I really believe that.”

Dan and Shimon’s priorities for Duck & Waffle Local were to make the price point more accessible, serve dishes quicker and in relaxed surroundings. A big difference is the ordering system; diners place their order at the counter, before being seated. “Though you order at the counter, the food still comes on beautiful, handmade crockery,” says Dan, noting that the efficient new system does not detract from the dining experience, and that this service offers those with little time to spare the ability to enjoy quality food in a restaurant atmosphere, without looking at their watches. Dishes are also available to take away – something that will surely appeal to local workers who are time-pressed yet crave well-prepared food, as well as guests looking to eat al fresco when the summer comes.

The menu, of course, is duck-heavy – unique in today’s restaurant scene, where gourmet chicken joints are ten-a-penny and there is a zeitgeist for less decadent, plant-based dishes. “Duck has great flavour, which is first and foremost the most important thing,” says Dan, explaining his passion for the game bird. “It’s very versatile – you think of soft confit that just melts in your mouth – and you can crisp it up and get really crispy duck; you can get the really rich, succulent and decadent breast; you’ve got the hearts, liver and all the offal too…” He believes that the perception of duck as a top-quality meat has influenced its scarcity on London menus. “I think the reason there hasn’t already been somewhere like this is that, in the past, the preconception about duck is that it’s elegant and refined. Roast duck a l’orange has always been that showstopper in a fancy restaurant, whereas actually, it doesn’t need to be like that. Hopefully we’re going to change that.”

The majority of the menu focuses on flavourful plates of expertly-cooked duck, served in a variety of ways. “The whole process of the development of the burger has been really interesting,” says Dan, explaining one of the new dishes he has devised for the St James’s site. “Duck is a difficult meat to translate to a burger, so we’ve really had to be creative with how we’re making it really juicy and ducky.” He says that with duck as the only unifying concept tying the menu together, it has allowed the kitchen team scope to explore and experiment. “The great thing about the theme being an ingredient rather than an area of the world means that you can go to town on everything else. Yes we serve duck – but it means that maybe there’ll be a Middle Eastern dish, a burger, maybe a rice-based dish. It’s great to have that mixed bag.” The chef says that despite duck playing the lead role, “half of the menu is going to be vegetables” – which, judging by Dan’s work at Bishopsgate, will be similarly well-executed. For the less squeamish, Dan is putting the spotlight on “beak to bum” eating, as he calls it – aiming to use everything the bird has to offer. “There’s obviously the prime cuts – the breast, the leg, minced duck and stuff like that which will be at the core; and then we’ll use the hearts, gizzards and other bits and bobs. It’s important that we use the whole animal.”

Similarly efficient is the drinks offering – with head of spirit and cocktail development, Rich Wood, introducing cocktails on tap. Dan describes them as “no messing about, straight over ice, ready to go.” As well as being another indicator of Duck & Waffle Local’s looser approach, forgoing the flairing that ‘mixologists’ make guests endure, it also means that drinkers will have their chosen cocktail as soon as they sit down. A couple of own-brand beers will also be available, plus a concise wine lines. “It’s great – not to overthought of, and not with a million bottles on it.” Again, he says this plays into modern Londoners’ preferred dining experience. “It’s meeting the needs of the modern day guest; they just want to come in and choose something, not be over-inundated with information.”

Though the St James’s restaurant is yet to open, I wonder what’s next for the group, which has taken its time in branching out across London. But according to Dan, the team is solely focused on making this opening a success. “The main plan is to get this restaurant open – they we’ll see where we’re at and what works. We’ve got lots of ideas for stuff we want to do, but all our time and energy at the moment is making sure that this place fulfils its potential.”

52 Haymarket

Emma Bengtsson and Henrik Ritzen, Aquavit London

Aquavit was one of the first restaurants announced for the St James’s Market development, and its arrival caused quite a stir amongst London’s food lovers. A pioneering New York City hotspot since 1987 thanks to its innovative modern Nordic dishes, Aquavit further cemented its reputation as one of the Big Apple’s finest when it was awarded a first Michelin star in 2013; and in 2015, former pastry chef Emma Bengtsson was appointed executive chef, and her work garnered a second star for the restaurant.

Now, the London restaurant – elegantly designed by Swedish-born Martin Brudnizki, responsible for Sexy Fish and Scott’s – is up and running, bringing a more relaxed version of the New York original to St James’s. Though there are differences between the two sites – notably the London restaurant’s larger size – Bengtsson is hopeful that Aquavit will soon become a St James’s institution. “You always take a risk when you do something new,” says the chef. “This restaurant is going in a different direction than New York, which I think is really good – it gives it an edge. The quality, the product, the techniques and the passion for it are all coming over, but it’s a whole new spin on it.” She believes that London has been ready for a restaurant like Aquavit for some time – and the more informal slant to the London outpost is perfectly suited to today’s dining scene. “I think this vibe suits London a lot. This is the kind of place that London really embraces and needs,” says the chef. “We’re coming to a point where we’re moving away from white tablecloths, and moving towards a warmer, more approachable climate.”

The key indicator of this approachability is the all-day dining menu, designed to honour the culinary traditions of Scandinavia. Bengtsson and Aquavit London’s head chef, Henrik Ritzén, are introducing Londoners to regional specialties such those featured on the smörgåsbord section of the menu, including shrimp skagen, glassblower herrings, gravadlax and vendace roe; starters like venison tartar with wild blueberries, lingonberries and juniper, and langoustines with smoked eel and crown dill; and mains including turbot with horseradish and brown nut butter and Swedish meatballs with lingonberries and pickled cucumber. Bengtsson’s famed New York signature, the Arctic Bird’s Nest, appears on the dessert menu too.

Both Bengtsson and Ritzén’s upbringings in Sweden helped shape their interest in cooking – and particularly the dedication to locally-sourced, simple produce. “Swedish cuisine is about going back to basics. It’s about being honest with what comes from nature and not overcomplicating things,” says Ritzén. He says that the emphasis is always placed on the ingredient – and preparing dishes at Aquavit involves letting the produce speak for itself. “It’s all about good quality ingredients, with as little as possible done with them. There’s salt, acidity or bitterness involved; but it’s very clean and it’s very approachable.” The chef thinks that this is an ethos that diners are increasingly buying into. “More and more people are craving that approach. They want to understand what they are eating.” Henrik gives the example of Aquavit’s turbot dish – fast becoming a classic in the area. “It’s basically just the perfect piece of turbot, poached and served with horseradish, brown butter and lemon. That’s it.”

While much of the menu features ingredients grown around the British Isles, Ritzén and Bengtsson are going back to the source for some of the more specialist Nordic produce required to bring the vision to life. “There are a few things we’ve had to get from Sweden, like the vendace roe and some of the berries unique to Scandinavia. Luckily there are a couple of good suppliers here that have things like Ättika, which is a high percentage distilled vinegar. It’s important for capturing the flavour for pickles,” says the chef.

Despite focusing on a cuisine in which Londoners are not fully educated, the team hopes that Aquavit will become a spot that customers will return to frequently, rather than as an occasional treat. “We had a big challenge because we don’t want to be a restaurant where people just come once and think it’s great – but then maybe only come again the following year,” explains Ritzén. “We want to have a restaurant that people come back to – at least once a month.”

1 Carlton Street

Sabrina Gidda, chef; Gabriel and Marcello Bernardi, owners, Bernardi’s

The sun makes a rare breakthrough as I wander up Seymour Street and into Bernardi’s, one of Marylebone’s recent culinary hotspots. It has only been open for 18 months, but in that time the restaurant has garnered glowing reviews from critics and the local community.

I settle into a window-side booth, joined by founders Gabriel and Marcello Bernardi and head chef Sabrina Gidda. The sun streams into the room briefly, before being obscured by clouds. It’s 3pm, and customers are enjoying coffee while working on laptops; some are nibbling on pizzettas. While dinner service takes on a buzzy restaurant vibe, the Bernardi’s team want to make the day-to-day atmosphere here very relaxed.

“I’m really keen on making the restaurant accessible as kind of a drop in,” says the infectiously irreverent Marcello. “We want it to be a place where you can use your laptop, hang out.” He says that they plan to remodel the front of the restaurant to bring a lounge feel to the space. “Breakfast, lunch and dinner are our bread and butter, but the eternal challenge for any restaurant is being approachable at different times of the day.”

Sabrina agrees. “Bernardi’s is sexy enough to come here for an occasion; but similarly, you can come in with your trainers and a t-shirt.” A big influence on Bernardi’s are Italian restaurants that evoke elegance while remaining egalitarian. “Rome has these beautiful restaurants, but somehow it feels like you can just pop in. It’s Italian casual sophistication.”

Sabrina is integral to the offering at Bernardi’s. An untrained chef, her dishes exemplify the Italian ethos of letting ingredients speak for themselves. “We take the best of the Italian and British seasons, put them together, and cook in a really free way,” she says, adding: “When you have three things like single estate extra virgin olive oil, Sicilian tomatoes and burrata from Puglia, you don’t need anything else.” From the get-go, the team eschewed “foams, dots, purees and flowers”; and no dish is served on anything other than a beautiful plate. “It’s not going to come to you on a slate or in a hat or in a shoe,” she says with a wry smile.

Despite an upbringing that celebrated food, as well as her “inherent greed”, Sabrina didn’t go straight into cooking. With an interest in women’s fashion, she enrolled on a year-long course in womenswear fashion design, before studying a degree in fashion PR and marketing. While her British Asian family were supportive of a fashion career, Sabrina says they didn’t quite understand the appeal of standing up in a kitchen for 18 hours a day. “When that epiphany came to me, I realised very quickly – as did my family – that cooking was the thing that I was supposed to be doing.”

Beginning her journey in gastropubs, Sabrina later worked for corporate clients, including Freshfields law firm in the City, where she ran three kitchens overseeing 14 chefs. “Being in the corporate environment was great – but it wasn’t accessible to your family or friends, or to anyone, really. If you can’t share your food with anyone, then that’s a bit limiting.” It was while working in corporate hospitality that the budding chef entered the prestigious Roux Scholarship, becoming a finalist twice – the only woman to do so in the two years she entered. She says that the recognition helped validate her career change. “It was an incredible experience,” she says, clearly proud of her achievement. “I learnt a lot about myself as a chef. That competition is held in very high esteem, so it was lovely.”

Then, through an acquaintance, she was introduced to the Bernardi brothers. Sabrina clicked with Gabriel and Marcello – and she immediately saw potential in the site. “I remember the first time they showed me the restaurant; when I walked through the door, there was just a feeling about it, that this was the kind of project I wanted to be involved with.” Marcello agrees. “Gabriel and I developed a simple seasonal Italian menu that had a little bit of an Antipodean edge to it to begin with – a bit of playfulness, not too traditional. Sabrina absolutely got it, instantly. She nailed it.”

While the dishes at Bernardi’s are rooted in Italian tradition, there is certainly an Australian slant thanks to the brothers’ influence, namely in the reverence for the ingredient. Their upbringing in Melbourne saw Gabriel and Marcello become immersed in food from a young age. “Cooking was a big part of growing up,” says Gabriel. “Our parents were very inventive and they loved Italian food. We had something different every night of the week.”

“We were lucky enough to have a house in south western Australia, where we would go in the summer,” says Marcello. “There’s a real appreciation for growing and eating food – and we did it in a typical Italian style: growing our own olives, making olive oil – not really what a normal Australian kid does!”

Though food and drink continued to be a passion for the brothers, they cut their teeth in other industries before entering the restaurant business. Gabriel owns the interior design company Coote & Bernardi, while Marcello comes from an advertising background. Both are employing their skills to create a well-rounded business model for Bernardi’s. “Historically, we’ve used both of our skills to put together our restaurants. My focus is very much on the marketing, creative angle; Gabriel is on the interior side of things.”

Bernardi’s is not their first restaurant project. It was when they acquired the site of what would be The Thomas Cubitt in Belgravia that they realised they could unite their aesthetics-driven careers with their love of food. They helped to create a successful pub-restaurant – a process which lit a fire under the budding restaurateur duo. “It was very much learning as we go for a lot of it – but we had the skill set to back up the running of it.” After a series of openings that included The Pantechnicon Rooms and The Orange, both in Belgravia, Gabriel and Marcello reassessed. “For Bernardi’s, we had to look at the area, what we were going to do and what was going to resonate with people. We’d always wanted to do Italian food, but in the pubs, British was a natural fit.”

18 months on, and Bernardi’s’ dishes are hailed as some of the best Italian plates in London. “We’re building a collection of dishes that we know are absolute mega hits, which is really nice,” says Sabrina proudly. These include her rabbit ragu with tarragon gnocchi and pancetta pangrattato; ricotta gnudi (“now we keep the component part and rotate the garnish, because people absolutely love them”); and the pizzettas, which incorporate expertly chosen and unusual ingredients such as confit leek with Taleggio and Italian celery.

With so little time under their belt, it’s still early days for the team; but that doesn’t stop them from being ambitious, showing a desire to stand the test of time. “In the future, I hope Bernardi’s is an institution – the place people always come to as a default,” says Gabriel. As the sunlight breaks across the street and floods into the restaurant, you can picture it.

62 Seymour Street

David Muñoz, chef, StreetXO

StreetXO has been one of London’s most anticipated restaurant launches for at least two years. There were a number of reasons why the restaurant, which opened at the end of last year, has been on the tip of the food world’s salivating tongue; StreetXO is the sister restaurant to the gushingly-acclaimed Madrid hotspot, DiverXO. Opened to fanfare in 2007, DiverXO is the only three-Michelin star restaurant in the Spanish capital, and has been hailed as one of the most innovative eating experiences in the world. Its chef, creative visionary and founder, David Muñoz, was the youngest ever chef after Pierre Gagnaire to be awarded the coveted three stars, aged just 33; and to make the story even more succulent for gastronomes and the media, Muñoz appears a different breed to the old guard of Michelin chefs. Curved, tribalistic spikes twist from his earlobes and his hair is a closely buzzed mohawk; his press photos depict him as a culinary droog.

Descending from Old Burlington Street’s empty air into a clandestine cavern, StreetXO is nightclubby on first glance – angular seats, low lights and buzzing neon dominate the space. But the focal point is the open kitchen – vibrantly-lit, a cacophony of sound, smoke and sizzling pans; all tables have been positioned so diners can get a good view. The influence of Asia’s hawker markets is evident in the eye-burning neon, jam-crimson palette and the odd cart dotting the space, resting bottles and plates. A neon fish floats, suspended above the hot lights of the open kitchen, which is teeming with chefs putting spoons to their mouths – quizzical, concentrated expressions drifting across their faces. A straightjacket rests on the bar, waiting for its owner to slip into it.

StreetXO is no ordinary restaurant – and it’s certainly not typical of Mayfair. It’s a restaurant that aims to subvert expectations as to what constitutes ‘fine dining’ – now somewhat dirty words on London’s gastronomic scene, though Muñoz is happy to describe his latest venture in those terms. “This is a fine dining restaurant,” he says matter of factly, in enthusiastic English with a heavy Spanish lilt. “I wanted to make fine dining food, but redefine what ‘fine dining’ meant. Some people think that fine dining food has to be had within a comfortable experience.” He says that he wanted to challenge that idea with the decor, the music, and of course, the food. “StreetXO is aggressive – and I mean that in a good way. It’s like a rollercoaster. I thought London was missing something like that.” Muñoz realises, of course, that his penchant for irreverence and confounding norms is not to everyone’s taste. “Some people like it; some like it less. That’s normal when you’re making something unique, or something personal.”

The site was a blank canvas, which allowed the chef to let his imagination run wild when it came to the decor and atmosphere. “I want people to come here and feel like they’re not in Mayfair anymore. They are in David’s mind,” says Muñoz. Ultimately, though, the chef’s focus is on food; for Muñoz, the aesthetics are simply another way to create a fully-formed experience. “The most important thing is the food. Even if the decor is awful and the restaurant is in a bad location – if the food is amazing and unique, the people will go.” He notes that the goal is to create a totally unified offering, where each aspect of the restaurant complements the other. “Everything plays the same role. Everything is important. The food is crazy, so the decor and music have to match that – even the uniforms, with the guys in straightjackets. Everything must be on the same page.”

So what of the food, which has received such acclaim from those in the know? “My food is powerful, it’s intense, it’s aggressive; it’s like a gunshot,” he says, passion practically spewing from his lips. Muñoz says that ultimately, cooking is a form of expression, with influences from across the globe uniting to create something distinct. “The food at StreetXO is not really fusion,” he says, acknowledging the diverse ingredients and cooking methods evident on the menu. “We get inspiration from all over the world in terms of ingredients and cooking techniques – but at the end of the day, we are making something really different.”

Despite asserting that chefs are “not artists, but artisans”, it’s hard to tell the difference with Muñoz. His plates are considered, and are striking in their presentation; Pollock-esque dribbles and smears, delicately piled ingredients like miniature installations. For the chef, it’s all about playing with guests’ expectations. “Lots of these dishes will trick you, they will play with you. I love to surprise people. When something is fun, unique, a surprise and it’s delicious – that is perfection. This is the most emotion you can get out of eating.”

The menu makes you work. Names of dishes are stylised and lengthy, and descriptions of each can only hint at what will be served to you. Tandoori chicken wings, buried under a moss-like thicket of pickled red onion, trout caviar and katsuobushi are supremely tender and evoke Asian, Indian and European flavours in one bite; king crab with chipotle and paprika sauce and marinated soft-shell crab team up on a plate artfully dressed in a decadently rich butter-champagne emulsion and a long strand of spaghetti – made from sherry. Two dishes, Muñoz signatures, have been brought over from Spain: Pekinese dumplings with crunchy pig’s ear, aioli and pickles come placed on a sheet of paper liberally splattered with strawberry hoisin; and the steamed club sandwich featuring suckling pig, ricotta, quail egg and chilli mayonnaise turns a classic on its head.

Though the food offering at StreetXO is less elevated than at his original, three starred restaurant, it is this seeming fearlessness in creation that has made Muñoz one of the most celebrated chefs in Europe. Gaining those coveted three stars is the ultimate accolade and validation for a chef working at this level – but Muñoz tries to stay grounded. “When I got three Michelin stars, I was 33. I could have gone mad. Everyone was talking about DiverXO breaking rules, so the media went crazy with it,” he explains. Muñoz was wary of getting carried away with the acclaim, and remained focused on the food. “You have to be aiming for perfection all the time. But when you get there, you have to stay there,” he says, speaking like a man with first hand experience. “People’s expectations are really high.”

Muñoz acknowledges the positive impact the Michelin stars have had on his career. “It means a lot to me – the third star changed a lot of things for DiverXO, in a good way. I was never following the stars – but it was an important thing for the success of the restaurant.” Having already gained three stars, one would think there was little else to achieve for Muñoz; but above all else, he is driven by a passion for cooking, and showcasing his dishes in tailor-made environments such as DiverXO and StreetXO. For now, the focus is on Madrid and London. “We are not rushing. I want to improve London, make the restaurant better than it is now. I want people to be queueing all the time – for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. After that, I want to grow Madrid using everything that we have learnt in London.”

Currently, Muñoz is working between 14 and 18 hour days, seven days a week. “Sometimes I’m cooking in Madrid on Saturday morning, taking a plane to London for dinner service; two days in London, then back to Madrid and cooking straightaway. I don’t take any days off.” It must be an exhausting lifestyle – and Muñoz knows it won’t last forever. “I’m happy; this is my hobby, this is my passion. But I know I cannot keep going at this level forever – not with this pressure and stress.” He says that he wants to see out a number of ventures before cutting back on his professional responsibilities. “I’m 37 right now. I want to push at least six more ideas at this level. And then I want to take things easier. I don’t know what that means… but I would like to be a father at some point. You need time to have children.”

Only time will tell whether Muñoz’s cooking translates in London; but with creativity and confidence to spare, let alone the approval of the food world, you wouldn’t bet against it.

15 Old Burlington Street

Tricker’s, Northampton

Northampton is less than an hour’s journey from London, but the urban sprawl quickly gives way to bucolic vistas of rolling, verdant fields. Indeed, it is the town’s location that has helped make it the spiritual home of shoemaking worldwide; materials necessary for the process are within easy reach of Northampton’s factories. “You might be sitting in a typical middle England town here, but two or three minutes outside of Northampton in any direction, you have the most stunning countryside,” says Martin Mason, managing director of Tricker’s, the oldest shoemaker in the area. He says that the nearby oak forests were essential for taking bark to be used for tanning leather. Agriculture has always had a strong presence here, and with leather being a by-product of the meat industry, this was also in abundance. The town’s location on the Grand Union Canal also offered logistical ease for transporting goods to hubs like London and Manchester.

Tricker’s started making shoes as early as 1829. For the majority of its existence, Tricker’s has made the country boots and shoes of choice for monied landowners and successful farmers – as well as the army. “At the turn of the century, Tricker’s created a genuine waterproof solution for boots and shoes – the ‘reverse split welt’.” This revolutionary advancement in the shoemaking industry allowed the landed gentry to tramp through wet, straw-ridden cowsheds and leave with dry feet. Mason says that for the early part of the 20th century, Tricker’s was frequently advertising in Farmer’s Weekly.

The company’s shoes were considered expensive – but the quality craftsmanship that went into every pair appealed to those with money to spend. “It was an investment purchase,” says Mason. “The gentry tended to buy something of very high quality, keep it for a long time and repair it. That’s exactly what still happens today with Tricker’s shoes.” Mason and the team are proud to repair customers’ old shoes – production director Barry Jones says that this way, “the customer gets his money’s worth.” About 40 repairs are completed in the factory’s bespoke room each week.

By the 1970s, Tricker’s’ clientele began to expand and evolve, as the Japanese market started to show interest. “The Japanese took it back and wore the boots and shoes on the streets of Tokyo,” says Mason; by transporting Tricker’s from Britain’s fields to “the most urban environment in the world”, the Japanese made it into a “desirable item that is still there today.” Japan is still one of the biggest international markets for Tricker’s – the boots and shoes being embraced for their functionality and quintessentially British look. “The Japanese are incredibly discerning,” says Mason. “They will find the very best pieces and they want to buy that. Tricker’s is a must-have item if you’re Japanese.” He says that the brand is stocked in every major department store in Tokyo, as well as smaller independents such as BEAMS.

Tricker’s does not target a specific demographic, and Mason says that it transcends ages and industries. “We still have people coming into our shop whose father and grandfather bought Tricker’s, and they wouldn’t wear anything else. It’s the shoe of choice at Eton – we know that from friends of ours; but Tricker’s is also widely embraced by what I would call ‘creative media’ types in London.” Despite the increased interest in the brand, Mason does not want Tricker’s to be perceived as ‘trendy’. “We don’t want Tricker’s to become too popular – we certainly don’t want it to be fashionable.”

The “vast majority of sales” come from the brogue shoe and the country boot. The boot – a British style classic – was introduced in 1840, and was a crude version of what customers can try on today. It is still made from a last that was created in 1937, just before the brand opened its Jermyn Street flagship (after relocating from another site on the street). The store remains almost identical to how it looked on opening; even the pre-war cabinetry is made from Northampton oak, and retains scratches from where the store windows were blown out during the war.

The refined Jermyn Street store is a different beast to Tricker’s’ Dickensian factory, where each room buzzes with the sound of machinery. Up steep stairs, hides are cut, stitches are punched into leather, and materials are manipulated to achieve the brand’s signature look. Towards the bottom of the factory, the uppers finally make contact with Tricker’s’ heavy duty soles; a woman works a machine filling soles with cork, while a man artfully buffs away any rough edges. Everything is considered, to the minutest detail. “You can do a pair in a day, but that’s not proper shoemaking,” says Jones. “Because we make a quality product, we don’t do it the quickest way – we do it the belt and braces way.”

The key reasons for the respect and cachet Tricker’s enjoys are varied. Firstly, craftsmanship is considered the most important aspect of the business, rather than sales. Each shoe goes through around 250 processes before it is ready to leave the factory and enter stores – either at the brand’s premises on Jermyn Street; online retailers like Mr Porter; or in London’s department stores. Of the core collection, Tricker’s sells around 900 shoes a week.

Though Tricker’s is dedicated to the craft, finding a new generation of shoemakers to take on the mantle is no easy feat. “It’s not getting easier – it’s a struggle to get people in here,” says Mason, disappointedly. “If you had advertised for a role 30 to 50 years ago, you’d probably get 30 applicants. Now, you might get two.” Since arriving as managing director in 2015, Mason has brought in initiatives to help those interested in shoemaking develop their careers. “I opened a training school when I joined, and we’re very open and keen on developing apprenticeships. But it is getting more difficult; a lot of people don’t want to make things anymore,” says Mason. He thinks that the local councils and the government could do more to ensure that the craft of shoemaking continues to be healthy. “There used to be a fantastic shoemaking training college at Wellingborough that they closed down. Northampton University has some shoemaking, but it’s not what it used to be…”

But Tricker’s refuses to become part of history. In fact, Mason’s appointment was primarily to take the heritage brand into unchartered territory, adapting to newer forms of commerce and marketing. “The family are shoemakers; they’ve always worked in the manufacturing of the shoes. I think they were looking to bring in somebody with experience of working with international brands who could tackle the challenges going forward while respecting the brand.” The biggest change since Mason’s arrival is that Tricker’s now trades online. “Now, it’s not an option for any brand to not have an online presence.” Mason says that he has no interest in opening more retail shops – but is committed to developing Tricker’s’ digital marketing. Despite moving into the future with its business model, ultimately, Tricker’s is dedicated to creating shoes that transcend any particular era. “It’s got to be enduring – it’s not about changing things too much.”

67 Jermyn Street

Tony Gaziano and Dean Girling, Gaziano & Girling

Since launching just over 10 years ago, Gaziano & Girling has become one of the most in demand shoemakers in the world. Its store on Savile Row is testament to the emphasis its two founders, Tony Gaziano and Dean Girling, place on super luxury; surrounded by the world’s most exclusive tailors and brands on the street, Gaziano & Girling has incorporated itself into the world of sartorial finery with aplomb – despite Tony and Dean starting their fledging project only a decade ago, in their home workshops.

Dean and Tony were accomplished shoemakers when they joined forces. Dean was working as a freelance shoemaker, mainly picking up commissions from John Lobb – while Tony was designing for luxury shoe company, Edward Green. “I was an independent shoemaker; Tony asked me to make a bespoke shoe for Edward Green, so we got a bit closer then. We had the same sort of ethos of what we wanted to do in the bespoke industry.” The idea was to take the considered approach and attention to detail found in bespoke, and apply it to manufactured shoes. “We wanted to bring a ready to wear shoe to the market that had a very bespoke aesthetic.”

Alongside 100 per cent bespoke commissions, the brand’s manufactured shoes with a bespoke look are another key part of the Gaziano & Girling business, and it is a formula that has allowed the brand to carve a niche in an otherwise competitive market. “When we started, there was a big divide between London bespoke aesthetic and quality, and Northamptonshire manufacturing – mainly because not many people crossed over between the two worlds,” explains Tony. “We wanted to bring to the market a super luxury manufactured shoe that had all the aesthetics of a bespoke, but without the customer having to go through the process of eight months of fittings to get there.” Tony and Dean began to introduce bespoke materials, such as English oak bark soles, into the manufacturing process – as well as craft skills that were not normally used in Northamptonshire.    

The bench made side of the business has been a significant factor in the company’s growth; but far from neglecting true bespoke, Gaziano & Girling has improved its bespoke offering to make it relative to the manufactured side. “You could probably get some of our manufactured shoes that aesthetically look better and are finished better than a lot of bespoke shoes,” says Tony matter of factly. “At the same time as we became successful doing that, we had to upgrade our bespoke offering, because the gap between the manufacturing and bespoke closed.” With the brand’s ready to wear models fetching around £1,000, and bespoke options reaching upwards of £4,000, it was necessary for the brand to justify the three grand difference.

Dean and Tony went about streamlining their business – bringing everything in house to ensure consistent quality across the brand’s whole output. “We got rid of the traditional old London ways of using outworkers, where you’ve got a variety of different standards of quality and aesthetic. We now have a very small, concentrated bespoke team that are producing shoes that are on the verge of art, rather than just shoes.”

Tony and Dean clearly have confidence in their product; not only has their combined experience given the brand a strong platform on which to build, the scale on which it operates means it can make the very best – whether that’s true bespoke, or bench made models. “Because of how small we are in production on bespoke, we can actually position ourselves to be the best in both fields,” says Tony. “We produce the best manufactured shoes, and at the same time, the best bespoke shoes.”

Gaziano & Girling has been able to embrace both bespoke and bench made in a way that other brands can’t. “Other brands don’t have the facility to do that,” says Tony. “We’re the first factory to open in over 100 years. We have the luxury of having our own in-house bespoke team, as well as our own manufacturing plant, which we have complete control over.” Dean agrees. “We’ve got free reign.”

Maintaining the vision the two set out at the very start is vital to taking the business in the right direction according to Dean and Tony; and the fact that the company’s driving forces are themselves at the very top of their craft means that quality is never sacrificed, and corners are never cut. Dean explains that knowledge of the craft makes all the difference. “There are very few shoe companies where the person at the helm – the MD, or whatever – is an actual craftsman, and can actually design and make a pair of shoes. Gaziano & Girling has still got that.”

Of course, retaining the control and vision for the brand is a factor that Tony and Dean are thinking about as their business grows. “The negative aspects of our growth are the demands of running the business trying to pull Dean and I away from the craft,” says Tony. “That’s not what we want; we want to be floor-based. That’s what we specialise in.” He says that for such experienced shoemakers, it would be a travesty to work solely from the boardroom. “Dean was the top in his field making bespoke shoes. He wants to be able to get involved more in the production to be able to execute things the way that he wants to. But obviously, that can be compromised by the demands of just simply running a business.”

With their experience, Dean and Tony believe that the company is unequalled in its offering – and that working on a relatively small scale has allowed them to reach that pinnacle. “In the beginning, our aim was to compete with Edward Green. Now, though our name is still young, there is no competition. We are a margin above those brands now; and we can be, because we probably produce three quarter’s production less than them,” says Tony.

With a dedication to high luxury, there is no better place for Gaziano & Girling to be than Savile Row. The pair say that residing on the street gives the brand cachet – while attracting customers already shopping on the Row for their suits. “Savile Row is known around the world as the mecca of tailoring,” says Dean. “There are no finer tailors than Savile Row tailors. If somebody comes to the Row for a nice suit, you’d like to think that they would like a nice pair of shoes to complement it.” Tony thinks that while areas like Jermyn Street embody British heritage, Savile Row offers a unique mix of traditional and contemporary options. “We felt that Jermyn Street was getting a little bit tired in the way that it was; and Savile Row was a mix of a little bit more contemporary, with Ozwald Boating and a few others. You have a different kind of client up here; you get billionaires walking around, which I can’t imagine you do on Jermyn Street…”

Gaziano & Girling’s star is in the ascendance; and 10 years into the business, Tony and Dean are more sure of which direction to take the brand than ever before. “We built our business mostly on the wholesale side, because we never had retail,” explains Tony. “Now we’re realising that we don’t need to grow the factory and the numbers they’re producing; we need to exchange those wholesale units for retail. That way we can increase our turnover and profits – and the quality isn’t compromised.” The aim is to open further retail stores globally. “We feel that Asia – particularly Hong Kong and Tokyo – would be good locations for future stores. We have a very big following in the Asian market,” says Dean. He notes that the brand also sees a lot of interest Stateside – and that it would be “a dream to have a standalone store in New York.” For now, Gaziano & Girling’s presence in the Big Apple comprises a showroom on 57th.

It seems that while there is a desire to expand, Tony and Dean are seeking longevity – and are committed to improving the business one well-heeled step at a time. As Tony says, “We just want to take our time and produce a super luxury product.”

39 Savile Row

Ben Tish and Simon Mullins, Salt Yard Group

Behind golden hoardings, the new St James’s Market has quietly risen out of the backwater between Regent Street St James’s and Haymarket. A 210,000 sq ft development of office space, retail and restaurants built around a flash central square, it is set to be a focal point in this district. While it is the local business community that will immediately benefit from the development, the hope is that the square will soon become a destination in its own right.

While the retail offering here expands on The Crown Estate’s vision to make St James’s a style hub, building on the arrival of Dover Street Market on Haymarket, it is the restaurants that are the big draw, and are what will ensure that this stretch of St James’s remains in the conscience of London’s spoilt food lovers.

So far, only a couple of the seven proposed restaurants have launched. Veneta was one of the first, opening in November. It is the fifth restaurant from Salt Yard Group – the hospitality company that helped kickstart London’s move towards egalitarian dining with the launch of its first site, Salt Yard in Fitzrovia. Offering expertly-prepared small plates in an informal space, that restaurant can now, some time later, be seen to have had an impact on the way Londoners now eat. “The small plates thing has obviously been going on for hundreds of years, but it’s really taken off since we started,” says Simon Mullins, founder of the group. “We were certainly one of the very first in London,” agrees executive chef Ben Tish. Simon continues, “Our most important thing is that we’re always serving up great food, with staff who know what they’re talking about and are passionate about what they do.”

It was while working for Spanish food importer Brindisa that Simon first decided to open a restaurant. He was initially researching an Italian concept with his partner Sanja Morris; but his time at Brindisa helped him “develop a real passion for Spanish food”, and the pair decided to shelve the idea for a purist Italian restaurant. “We came up with a hybrid, which was to combine Spanish and Italian in the form of an enoteca slash tapas bar.” After finding the site that would soon become Salt Yard, they refined their vision even further. “The venue came with a full kitchen and dining area – so it evolved into a fully-fledged restaurant.”

It is this marrying of Spanish and Italian regional cuisines that has become the group’s trademark – albeit executed with individuality at each site. As executive chef, Ben Tish, says, “They naturally have different vibes to each other because of the area, but with the same kind of service standards.”

Salt Yard opened over a decade ago. The years since have seen four more openings from the group: Dehesa on Kingly Street; Opera Tavern in Covent Garden; Ember Yard in the heart of Soho, on Berwick Street; and Veneta. While the group’s previous restaurants took inspiration from across both Italy and Spain, Veneta marks a change, in that it focuses solely on the culinary traditions of Venice – with Spain not at all represented. But according to Simon and Ben, it was the process of finding a site that dictated the restaurant’s concept.

“We looked at a site on Regent Street St James’s, which has now become Milos. We walked into the space – which is a huge, grand space. Ben said, ‘This place would be great for a Venetian grand café.'” Simon says that the idea stuck, though they didn’t take the space. “A little while later, we started to know more about the St James’s Market development and we really bought into the vision. Then we saw this particular unit – beautiful, big bay windows, tall ceilings. Veneta is a distilled version of the original idea.”

Simon and Ben looked to create a restaurant that would chime aesthetically with the rest of the area. “We felt that it needed to be something grand, because St James’s has this rich, royal heritage. Obviously Venice comes with lots of history and grandeur too, so we felt like it was a good fit.”

Immersing himself in the city’s famous food culture, Ben sought to look past the usual Venetian fare of cicchetti – instead focusing on its abundant fish and, of course, pasta. “One thing that stuck out for me was their focus on fish and seafood. There’s a lagoon there, and they have something called lagoon fish. It’s very specific to the region.” Ben says he was inspired by the sushi-like preparation of these fish. “Crudo – which is raw or lightly cured shellfish with lemon, rosemary and salt – is a big focus there. We wanted to recreate that here, so we introduced the raw bar downstairs.”

While the menu is extensive and covers everything from meats, fish and a section dedicated to fresh pasta dishes and risotto – to a gelato menu on top of the regular dessert menu (“Venice is renowned for sweet things”), it is the raw bar that seems to be making an impact at this early stage, with its fresh, healthy options. “From the feedback we’ve had already, the raw bar is a real hit – in particular this dish which is a crab cocktail served in a spider crab shell, on a special crab plate we designed. That’s been one of those dishes that people have been talking about; it’s been posted a lot on Instagram.” Another difference Veneta brings to the group is the introduction of breakfast, which is available throughout the week; a reflection of the needs of St James’s business community.

Though still early days for Veneta, the Salt Yard Group has more openings on the horizon – even if the concepts are not yet fully formed. “We’re always in discussion with landlords and agents on sites. We haven’t signed anything yet, but we’re looking to do something else next year,” says Simon. “We’ll continue to grow – but for us, it’s always been about taking the right opportunity – only when we’re ready for it – and making sure we absolutely get it right. Going forward, it’ll be the same. Let’s call it considered growth.”

3 Norris Street, St James’s Market

Tom Parker Bowles, food writer

Fortnum & Mason has come a long way since opening in 1707 at Hugh Mason’s small St James’s Market shop. A move to an iconic site at 181 Piccadilly and three centuries of history later, it is perhaps the world’s most famous grocery store. This time last year, the company reported record sales figures of £88 million – and the recent launch of its first standalone restaurant, 45 Jermyn St., has pushed the brand further into new territory.

Now, the company has taken another step forward, with the publication of its first official cookbook. Featuring recipes for longtime classics, dishes pulled from the archives and contemporary dishes, the book provides a history of the store’s life; a snapshot into Fortnum’s past through the prism of its most well-loved dishes and ingredients.

The man tasked with consolidating 309 years of history into just 304 pages is Tom Parker Bowles. A respected food writer, critic and sometime television presenter, he also happens to have royal connections, being the son of Camilla Parker Bowles.

While the presumption might be that these connections might have led to Tom’s appointment by the Royal Warrant holding Fortnum & Mason for the purposes of writing this historic book, the reality is far more prosaic – as he explains over coffee at 45 Jermyn St.

“I was filming in Australia about a year and a half ago. Ewan Venters (CEO of Fortnum’s) and I sat over a long lunch at a place in Bondi, and I said to him: ‘You have over 300 years of history, but you haven’t done a cookbook.'” Tom offered his services, and soon the process of researching and compiling recipes began, alongside Fortnum’s’ executive chef, Sydney Aldridge.

The team’s aim was to produce a usable, working cookbook. “You want it stained, battered and bruised from constant use,” says Tom, whose enthusiasm for food is reflected in his hyper-speed speaking and a penchant for jumping to his next thought before articulating his last. He says that picking the recipes for a book “three hundred years in the making” – taken from Fortnum’s archives, dishes available in the store and at 45 Jermyn St – was challenging, but “fascinating”.

Fortnum & Mason: The Cookbook has something to please all home cooks, at all skill levels, according to the writer. From quick dishes to “elaborate” recipes, Tom says there is much to enjoy. Personally, he enjoys the “more comforting dishes; it’s probably because of the season.” He rattles off a number of unctuous, flavoursome dishes perfectly suited to the colder months – Welsh rarebit (“Fortnum’s perfected it”) is just one British classic that makes an appearance.

Tom says Fortnum’s has had a presence in his life since he was a child. “I grew up in the country most of the time, but my grandma used to take my cousin and I here. When you’re a kid and not in the city much, London is a magical place. With its glittering windows, Fortnum’s had that sense of magic – especially at Christmas. I was always slightly in awe of it.”

Though Tom grew up in nature and enjoyed the seasonal produce readily available there, it wasn’t until going to boarding school aged eight that his “healthy interest in food turned into greed.” After university and a string of jobs unsuited to him (“I was sacked from every job I ever did”), Tom was made Tatler’s food writer – and remained there for eight years, before making the move to GQ, and then to Esquire. He would soon also become the food critic at the Mail on Sunday. Tom says he is grateful to have found a career he gets so much enjoyment out of. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than write. “Sometimes I think, ‘My god, I’m eating and writing about it’ – that for me is a dream.”

Tom has now notched up hundreds of restaurant reviews up and down the UK and across the globe. With such experience, what does he think of the restaurant scene in Mayfair and St James’s – two of London’s more challenging districts for restaurateurs? “I always knew St James’s pretty well – my father was always in the area; and my uncle used to have a restaurant round here. The Crown Estate are doing up the whole area, so he had to move out – we’re looking for a new site as we speak.” That restaurant is Green’s – recently acquired by restaurateur Marlon Abela.

As for Mayfair, Tom says there are a number of iconic restaurants here that never fail to deliver the goods. “I can absolutely rely on Scott’s every time – it’s a fantastic place.” Same goes, he says, for The Wolseley. “It amazes me that it’s only been there for 11 years. Jeremy King and Chris Corbin are incredible restaurateurs.” According to Tom, food is just one facet that makes Corbin and King’s restaurants modern day classics. “You go for the whole experience – that cacophonous, echoing room – and that never ceases to get me excited.”

He tells me that he hopes to see more of what he calls Mayfair’s ‘new breed’ of restaurants. “Kitty Fischer’s on Shepherd Market is fantastic. It’s small, decently priced, but it’s cool. That’s the new Mayfair for me – you don’t have to wear a tie and you can eat lunch there for £25.”

Tom believes in the democratisation of food. He is a champion of the street food scene and is involved in East London food market Dinerama. “It’s always packed. I think that’s great, because 20 years ago you wouldn’t have found that. You can have amazing food for a tenner, a few drinks… That’s how the food scene has changed, and I hope that’s the future.”

Fitting someone whose “life is food”, Tom has an emotional view of eating that he says connects each and every one of us. “You can communicate through food, no matter where you are,” he says. “You can be celibate, you can pay taxes or you can dodge taxes – whether you like food or not, we still have this shared experience. To sit down and break bread together – I think that’s a very important thing.”

Fortnum & Mason: The Cookbook is published by Fourth Estate and priced at £30.

Liz Hurley, actress, model and designer

Actress, model and beachwear designer, Elizabeth Hurley, is one Britain’s most recognisable faces. Starring in a number of international movie hits including Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Bedazzled, she has recently used her profile to help raise awareness for charitable causes close to her heart. She talks with Reyhaan Day about fame, family and her memories of Mayfair, as she prepares to turn on the Shepherd Market Christmas Lights.

You will be appearing at the Shepherd Market Christmas lights in Mayfair. What appeals to you about the area?

I’m fascinated by the history of Mayfair and have always thought it one of the most special places in London. I rarely go further east in London than Mayfair, as everything I like is there: Farm Street Church, Thomas Goode, my hairdresser Jo Hansford, Scott’s, 5 Hertford Street, 34, Annabel’s, Sexy Fish, the Curzon cinema – all of which are fabulous.

Mayfair must have been a fascinating place in the 90s. What are your fondest memories of that time, and how do you think London has changed since then?

Thankfully, I don’t think the atmosphere of Mayfair has changed much at all, which is why I like it. All the restaurants and shops are vastly improved, although, like everywhere, parking is now a horror. But I was working all though the 90’s – I didn’t go out much.

Did you know from a young age the life you wanted to enjoy when you were older? Were you after a career or a lifestyle?

I didn’t even think about a lifestyle until I had my son; for me it was always all about work. I grew up in the suburbs and was lucky to have wonderfully supportive parents. From a very young age I did hours of dance and drama classes after school every night and moved to London when I was 18 to continue training, where I didn’t know a soul.

When did you realise that you would be able to make a career out of acting and modelling?

I got my first agent in my third year of college and started working right away. First in commercials, then I got a play and then film and TV. I lived in LA for ten years and worked like a dog – but I had the best time.

You’ve had a long association with Estée Lauder. How has being involved with a global brand like that helped your career?

I’m in my 22nd year of working for Estée Lauder and they have been the most incredible company with whom to work. I’d never modelled before and they took a real chance on me. As well as shooting their campaigns, I’ve been the global ambassador for The Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign (BCA) for over twenty years, and it’s one of the most important things in my life.

Do you see yourself as an actress first and foremost? Or do you think that your fashion business is more representative of where you are now at?

I took eight years off from acting to raise my son, and was incredibly lucky to get back into the industry. I did a season on Gossip Girl; a movie with Gerard Depardieu; and am now playing the Queen of England in The Royals – we just wrapped on the third season. I started my beachwear company, Elizabeth Hurley Beach, while raising my son and still put a great deal of energy into it, but I am really enjoying acting again. My heart is in show business.

Why did you decide to get involved in fashion from a business perspective? What are you bringing to the table with your beachwear line?

I decided to venture into beachwear not only because I’ve always been obsessed with holiday clothes, but also because it’s an area where women, regardless of shape or size, can either look amazing or really get it wrong. I wanted to develop resort collections which make women feel fabulous at any age. We have a very loyal fan base and are in great department stores around the world, like Harrods and Saks 5th Avenue; and we’re in lots of fabulous smaller stores and luxury resorts.

You are heavily involved in charity work. Tell me about a couple of projects that you are working on that are close to your heart – and why do you think that it’s important for you to put the spotlight on these issues?

In addition to serving as the global ambassador for The BCA Campaign, I support several charitable causes and organisations—particularly those focused on health, children and the military. I am a strong supporter of Elton John’s charity, Elton John AIDS Foundation; I’m the president of Hop, Skip and Jump, an organisation focused on providing high quality respite care for children and young adults with disabilities; and I’m a patron of the City Veterans Network and Walking with the Wounded.

In what way have your priorities changed over the years?

Everything is a juggling act and, as every working mother knows, something always has to give. Once I had my son, I decided that he would not be the one losing out – which is why I stopped doing movies and TV for the first eight years of his life. I don’t regret it for a moment. I adore my son and we are very close. I am more like an Italian mother than an English one, and I think he’s the bee’s knees. I’m pretty strict and he’s very well behaved. He has been very well socialised from a young age and I can take him anywhere.

Do you see similarities between your son and your teenage self?

When I was a teenager I had pink hair, a nose ring and ripped up clothes. I wasn’t really rebelling against anything though; it was just fashion. Plus, I really loved the music and still often have the Clash blasting. My son is extremely focussed and just had his first acting role in The Royals, where he plays Prince Hansel von Lichtenstein – a rich, spoilt, royal, reality TV star. He loves show business too and would love to leave school and start working. Cruel Mummy says no.

What dreams do you have for you and your family? Have they changed as you’ve become wiser and more successful?

My friends and family mean the world to me and without them I’d be truly sunk, so no matter what I’m doing, I always find time for them. I long for everyone I love to be happy.

What is your relationship like with fame? There must be both positive and negative aspects…

If I could choose success or fame, I’d definitely go for the former. However, in my business they are closely intertwined, and losing some privacy is the cost of doing business. I try as hard as I can to retain some privacy though and, over the years, I have carved out ways to achieve that. I go through stages of living like a recluse but, as a mother, I have to moderate that a bit so my son has as normal a life as possible. Nevertheless, he’s always on ‘binocular duty’ when we go on vacation and scans the horizon for stalkers with long lenses.

Do you see yourself as a positive person?

I love my life, I love change and I love new experiences. Saying yes is so liberating; it’s my favourite word. I have the same friends and still do most of the same things that I’ve loved to do for thirty years. I’ve always been ambitious and determined – but I like to giggle along the way.

What has been your proudest moment so far? What is there left for you to achieve – professionally and personally?

Professionally, as the global ambassador for the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, there are two research scientists at The Royal Marsden Hospital and Institute of Cancer that share a grant in my name based on funds raised through The BCA Campaign. To know that through my work as the Campaign’s global ambassador I can help such important research be achieved, is something that I am proud of and has had a profound impact on me. Personally, having my son and watching him grow up and develop makes me an extremely proud mother.

Do you have regrets?

My father died before I had my son Damian; the fact that they never knew each other is a constant source of regret. I worshipped my dad, and would have loved to have had him in my son’s life. Nevertheless, Damian has been regaled with hundreds of Grandpa Bear stories over the years.

When are you most ‘yourself’? Is it hard to really be yourself when you are constantly in the public eye?

I’m pretty much myself the whole time – there’s no Jekyll and Hyde thing going on. I’m definitely more comfortable with people I know and trust, but they are the people I’m with 99 per cent of the time.

Where do you feel most relaxed – physically and mentally?

When I head west, to my home in the country, I feel my shoulders relaxing and a calmness befall me. I love going home – the hair goes in a ponytail, the Ugg boots go on and my spirits rise. I play with the dogs, the cats and the parrot, I garden, I light bonfires, I read and I giggle with my son and friends. Bliss.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

Hopefully still working. I can’t imagine not having a project.

The Shepherd Market Christmas Lights switch on takes place on December 8.

Sloane Square – Chelsea’s artistic links

Chelsea has a long-running history of art running through its streets; from the Pre-Raphaelite painters of the mid-19th century, to the 1960s countercultural revolution on the King’s Road and the 2008 launch of the Saatchi Gallery on Duke of York Square. Reyhaan Day takes a trip through the decades to discover Chelsea’s artistic links.

Chelsea’s reputation as London’s foremost artistic borough first gathered momentum with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – a group mid-19th century English painters that resisted the idea of Renaissance painter Raphael as the artistic ideal; a view that was the status quo, and upheld by influential figures within the art world.

Formed as a secret society, its painters began signing their works with the PRB initials; and in the process, founded an artistic movement that was to shake up the British art world.

William Holman Hunt, James McNeill Whistler and Dante Gabriel Rossetti – three founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – lived at 5 Prospect Place, 101 Cheyne Walk and 16 Cheyne Walk respectively.

Attracted to the area by low rents, studio space and access to the inspiration-giving river – while still remaining within easy reach of the West End and prospective buyers – the Cheyne Walk artists found themselves in a community of like-minded thinkers. Joseph Mallard William Turner had seen out his days here, living secretly with his mistress in accommodation on Davis Place, which later became 118-119 Cheyne Walk; but the artist’s private nature meant that his presence went unnoticed by other artists beginning to move into the area.

Cheyne Walk has enjoyed the greatest concentration of artists in Chelsea since the mid-19th century. From lesser-known painters such as Walter Greaves – born on the Walk and whose father had been Turner’s boatman – who enjoyed a brief glimpse at Chelsea’s artistic community, living at 104 Cheyne Walk, before being largely shunned and dying in poverty; to landscape painters Cecil Gordon Lawson and Edward Arthur Wilson; leading British impressionist Sir Philip Wilson Steer; and more recently, cartoonist and impressionist Sir Gerald Scarfe.

Many others of a similar disposition took up residences in nearby Glebe Place, Tite Street and Manresa Road – the location where, later, the Chelsea College of Arts began; and where Trafalgar Studios, one of the first and most significant of Chelsea’s emerging multiple studio spaces, was first opened in 1878. The building of studio space such as this attracted artists of varied income – important in lending Chelsea its bohemian, artistic air.

Similarly, The Studios on Tite Street created its own enclave of artists, including Whistler, John Singer Sargent and Augustus John. The influence of these large units spawned a series of smaller studio groups around the King’s Road and Glebe Place; and soon led to a healthy environment for artists and art lovers, with regular life classes and sessions with some of the era’s now-lauded names.

The Pre-Raphaelites would have a significant impact on a later but equally important era of art culture in Chelsea: the 1960s. In the years between the dissolution of the Brotherhood and the mid-20th century, the movement and its principles fell out of favour with those in artistic circles – particularly the emerging British Modernist movement – with the Pre-Raphaelite preoccupation with medieval imagery akin to the passé ideal of painting fully representing reality. But the technicolour aesthetic of ‘swinging’ London in the sixties generated a renewed interest in the movement’s work; while Chelsea artists in this age took bold new steps into unchartered territory.

The King’s Road, by this stage, was the key example of a wider countercultural movement that embraced the romantic, naturalist and heavily symbolic principles of the Pre-Raphaelites’ paintings. A smattering of stores opened on the road, many indirectly influenced by the medieval style adopted and popularised by the Pre-Raphaelites – boutiques including I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, Granny Takes a Trip and The Sweet Shop proffered garments reminiscent of John Everett Millais’ Ophelia’s flowing gown, with colours as vibrant as those chosen by the earlier generation of painters.

In the 1960s, Chelsea became home to some of the decade’s most in-demand photographers – namely those immersed in the countercultural revolution taking place along the King’s Road. Terence Donovan based himself in the area in the mid-sixties, opening hip outfitters The Shop at 47 Radnor Walk with designer Maurice Jeffery – a boutique that a 1965 issue of Rave magazine described as “a favourite of the ‘in’ crowd”. Donovan was one of the first celebrity photographers alongside David Bailey – and his groundbreaking fashion images paved the way for a generation of photographers to come.

Fellow photographer Robert Whitaker’s studio was also located in Chelsea, on The Vale. Over two years from 1964 to 1966, Whitaker intensively documented the public and private lives of The Beatles. The band’s Yesterday and Today cover, with its surrealist shot of John, Paul, George and Ringo accompanied by dismembered dolls and raw meat, was taken by Whitaker in his studio. When The Beatles announced that they would no longer tour and had holed up in Abbey Road Studios to record Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Whitaker moved on to another project. Now based at well-known residential studio space, The Pheasantry, on the King’s Road, he teamed up with friend and pop artist Martin Sharp to help create the album artwork for Disraeli Gears – the seminal LP by Eric Clapton’s band, Cream. The success of this project led to Whitaker’s frequent collaborations with the underground magazine, Oz; an influential, tripped-out countercultural rag, considered one of the era’s most visually exciting documents.

Photography gradually became the artistic expression of choice during this era, and other respected names found themselves living and working in Chelsea. Chelsea Manor Studios – which had originally opened in 1902 – was the location of Michael Cooper’s studio. Occupying Studio 4 of the building, Cooper was set a task that would be his making – to put together the infamous photographic montage for the sleeve of The Beatles’ masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Taking place in March of 1967, the shoot required wax figures from Madame Tussaud’s, various props and collage items and the band themselves; Cooper’s photograph was then painted by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth to achieve the final, eye-catching cover. Cooper, who was a significant figure in the music scene of the day, was also responsible for the lenticular cover of former Chelsea residents The Rolling Stones’ experimental 1967 release, Their Satanic Majesties Request.

The increasing perception of Chelsea as London’s most ‘happening’ district directly led to the area’s gentrification. Understandably, many of the artists initially drawn to Chelsea’s bohemian, cutting edge atmosphere were priced out – with many artists’ studios closing. Chasing affordable rents, creatives moved to nearby Notting Hill and towards Camden – leaving Chelsea with a rich artistic heritage, but less of an active community of working artists.

One of the few that continued living and working in the area was Julian Barrow – who worked for almost 50 years in the same Tite Street studio as John Singer Sargent and Augustus John, until his death in 2013. The demand for converted studio houses is such that they now command prices in the millions. Landlord Cadogan has, however, attempted to keep the bohemian traditions alive in Chelsea, by protecting some of the studio spaces for use by those in the art world.

Though there were less artists residing in the area, a number of commercial galleries began to open – smaller than in the traditional art nucleus of Mayfair; and the success of societies such as the London Sketch Club, the Chelsea Arts Society and the Chelsea Arts Club, as well as the Chelsea School of Art (now Chelsea College of Art), continued the artistic traditions established in the area. Notable alumni from the art college include art critic John Berger, Quentin Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Peter Doig, David Hockney and many others.

Influential and prominent artists of the time, such as master British abstract painters John Hoyland, Howard Hodgkin and former student Caulfield, taught their skills at these institutions, impressing their styles upon future artists. With the increase of wealth in Chelsea during the 1980s and 1990s, the galleries became more professional endeavours – with collectors heading to Chelsea for its boutique vibe and stylish, high net worth local clients.

The influence of the area’s historic art scenes is still felt in Chelsea today, with a number of galleries promoting the works of emerging painters, photographers and sculptors, as well as more recognised names. Langton Street, towards the World’s End Estate, has had a long line of galleries occupy the street – a tradition that continues today, with 9 Langton Street exhibiting contemporary works by London artists whose stars are rising. The Little Black Gallery on Park Walk upholds the photographic traditions of Chelsea; home to works by the late, iconic photographer Bob Carlos Clarke, one room at the gallery is permanently dedicated to his irreverent photographs. Michael Hoppen Gallery, on Jubilee Place, also showcases the best emerging photographers, alongside established masters of the form.

Chelsea’s reputation as an artistic hub has been revitalised further thanks to the opening of Charles Saatchi’s world class Saatchi Gallery – originally opened in a disused paint factory in St John’s Wood in 1985, it moved to the South Bank for two years in 2003. Forced closure left the gallery without a venue for three years, but in 2008, the Saatchi Gallery found a permanent home in Duke of York Square.

A 70,000 sq ft space, it has been a significant addition to London’s art scene, with the gallery hosting five of the six most visited exhibitions in London in 2009 and 2010. Most recently, the biggest rock and roll band in the world, The Rolling Stones, took over the gargantuan space to chronicle the group’s life thus far, with Exhibitionism – one of the highest grossing and most visited London events in recent years, which even featured a recreation of the band’s shared flat in Edith Grove. The gallery has also become known for showcasing works from internationally acclaimed artists as well as those unknown to the art world, in exhibitions focusing on new art from regions such as China and the Middle East.