Postcard from London or: Made in Chelsea
Chelsea was once considered London’s bohemian quarter and, in Victorian times, home to artists, writers and poets. Then, in the 1960s, its main artery, the long King’s Road, became the colourful focus of the Swinging Sixties, micro mini skirts, bell bottoms, white boots, Mary Quant, psychedelia and pop stars cruising in their souped up Minis with blacked out windows. In the 70s, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood ran their famous shop ‘Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die’ here, later renamed ‘Sex’, and Punk Rockers created and followed the edgy fashion scene, peopling the area with rainbow coloured mohicans and covered in safety pins. By the 1980s the area, particularly at the Sloane Square end, had become expensive, exclusive and conservative, giving rise to the Sloane Ranger, invariably a young woman from an upper crust background with a cut glass accent, predictably dressed in a navy blue pleated skirt, a pie crust collar, gold embellished Gucci loafers and wearing pearls, and an Alice band in her hair. They shopped at Peter Jones, worked as secretaries at Vogue or Christie’s and learnt Cordon Bleu cooking while waiting to be married to an equally rah rah young hunting and shooting Hooray Henry and settling down to raise children and Labradors in the home counties. Emblazoned on my memory is a comment from just such a girl who nonchalantly told me :’Oh, I don’t mind at all if my future husband has affairs, men will be men, so long as I get his name, get to live in the country house and have my dogs. That’s what counts.’ (Or, to quote her phonetically: “eh-ah, I don’t mind at awl if my future husband has affais, men will be men, so long as I get his name, get to live in the countre hice and have my dogs. That’s what kintes.”)
These days, like the rest of Central London, Chelsea is an affluent homogenously International area without extremes but still very fashionable, smoothly adjoining as it does, Knightsbridge and Belgravia. It’s a hop and a skip to Harrods and Harvey Nichols and the top designer boutiques on Sloane Street, with the younger, mildly trendier shops, boutiques and interior design outlets lining the Kings Road all the way from Sloane Square to and into Fulham. Other areas of London such as Notting Hill, Marylebone, Camden and Hoxton arguably may have caught up but Chelsea is still the place to see and be seen. It’s no coincidence that the reality TV series ‘Made in Chelsea’ is set here to showcase how the other half lives.
Colbert 50-52 Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AX, United Kingdom Tel.: +44 20 7730 2804 www.colbertchelsea.com
Situated on Sloane Square beside Sloane Street Tube station and the Royal Court theatre, Colbert calls itself a French Boulevard Café. It has taken over the premises of the previously legendary Oriel Café Restaurant which in 2010 had its 25 year lease withdrawn by the Earl of Cadogan, who owns 90 acres of London, because he didn’t like the food at Oriel and found it overpriced. Typical British eccentricity! Colbert opened to great expectations and fanfare and, for a while, it was impossible to get a table. It’s typically French in ambience with tiled floors, bistro tables and framed posters and photographs on the walls and, of course, an equally typical French menu. Breakfasting or lunching here is still very much de rigueur when you happen to be in Chelsea, so this is where I met with one of my London girlfriends for a good catch up and gossip.
She ordered a spinach omelette, I asked for two slices of wheat-free toast with preserves and, to wake us up, we each requested a pot of Americano coffee. The staff are French and have clearly brought that Parisian ‘eh beh, serving you is somewhat beneath me but this once I’ll see what I can do’ attitude with them. ‘Sit there, Lady’, I was told by a harassed looking waitress and ‘What do you want, Lady?’ Cowed, I muttered ‘Breakfast?’. The omelette was good, the toast and preserves excellent. The coffee was well made and fresh too, if only it hadn’t taken several reminders before we eventually got it. The bill was £21 and we literally had to repeatedly beg to get it, finally taking matters into our own hands and chasing after the waitress, wildly waving our money in the air. But here’s the thing: the atmosphere was actually very nice, comfortable and fun, with the sun streaming in through the big windows, and the lack of attention from the waiting staff allowed us to talk ten to the dozen without interruption. I guess you win some, you lose some. Despite the rather mediocre service, I’d happily go back simply because it’s a pleasant and convenient spot to chill out in good company and chew the fat. The Gallic shrug is just part of the deal.
Bumpkin 119 Sydney Street, London SW3 6NR, United Kingdom Tel.: 020 7594 4944 www.bumpkinuk.com
How super cute is this little restaurant? I am completely in love with it! Just off the Kings Road, hidden away on Sydney Street, it’s right beside the Chelsea Gardener ‘garden center’. (I can assure you, this is no garden center as you know it, although they do sell plants) and it’s tiny weeny, very pretty in a country tearoom kind of way and it has a secret garden in the back. Painted floorboards, floral cushions, mismatched chairs and plates on the wall, ah, it is just so inviting!
There are four Bumpkin restaurants in London, in Notting Hill, Kensington, Westfields and here in Chelsea respectively. I have been to two of the others (where, incidentally, Prince W and his lady wife have also been spotted on several occasions) and have always enjoyed the relaxed gastro pub vibe where they serve scrumptious locally sourced, seasonal British food at reasonable prices but this little baby Bumpkin is really something special ambience wise. I was there on a chilly winter’s day but it’s also nice to know that in summer they do a BBQ in their dinky little garden. You step inside this place and all the hecticness of the big metropolis just melts away entirely.
This is bangers and mash territory, roast chicken, venison, fish & chips, pork belly, ox cheek hot pot, as well as some delicious looking fish dishes and veggie options are part of the menu selection. Two of us were here for a light lunch, so we shared some warm fire bread, flat bread with beautifully melted cheese on top, and a roast pumpkin salad with foraged mushrooms, along with three cups of coffee and a glass of soda and lime, all great quality, wonderfully tasty and well portioned. Service was warm, personal and friendly and the bill came to £20. The puddings looked fantastically tempting but we resisted reluctantly. Next time, for there will surely be a next time, there’s no question about that!
Rabbit 172, King’s Road, Chelsea, London SW3 4UP, United Kingdom Tel.:020 3750 0172 www.rabbit-restaurant.com
When my daughter suggested dinner at Rabbit, I assumed that we were in for a strictly vegetarian treat. Rabbit food and all that. Not so! In fact, Rabbit is a whole new concept, once again offering strictly seasonal, locally sourced and preferably organically farmed or foraged British food in tapas sized portions, allowing diners to ‘graze’ like rabbits, I suppose. It starts with ‘mouthfuls’, which are literally one bite sized tasters, leading on to what might be described as small starter sized portions. The idea is that you order a selection of various dishes, as many or as few as your appetite demands. Great idea, this way you get to enjoy a whole variety of different taste sensations.
The restaurant, which, apart from Sunday lunch, is only open in the evenings, is small, busy and buzzy with tables quite close together. It’s certainly very rustic with an almost shed like design with raw wood tables and paneling, and mismatched chairs including some slightly uncomfortable looking metal tractor stools. Still, it’s fun and it’s different and it’s certainly very popular. Rabbit is the second restaurant venture by the three Gladwin brothers, conveniently a farmer, a chef and a hospitality expert who have successfully fused their individual skill sets. Their restaurant in Notting Hill is called The Shed – aha! That explains a lot!- and they’ve published the highly acclaimed The Shed cult cook book which doyen of British cuisine, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall describes as ‘gutsy, rustic, generous dishes- from tempting ‘mouthfuls’ to more lavish roast meats, grilled veg, glorious dressed salads and scrumptious puds’. So far, so impressive.
True enough; the food at Rabbit was surprising and exquisite with very unusual, delicious taste and texture combinations, one dish better than the next. As ‘mouthfuls’ we had ‘endive goats’ cheese medlar, jam and hazelnut’ and a to-die-for ‘mushroom marmite éclair, confit, egg yolk’, as tapas type dishes ‘stout smoked mackerel, iron bark, pumpkin, cranberries, kale’, then ‘lamb chips, parsley, lemon, harissa’, ‘brussel sprout, apple, cheddar, hazelnut salad’ and the totally divine ‘chorizo, labneh, crisp bread, kale’, all served on well warmed plates and accompanied by a Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc. For dessert, we ordered a lovely rhubarb concoction. It may all sound a bit strange but it was just an incredible eating experience, something altogether new and different and quite stupendous. I’m still salivating at the thought of it. The bill came to just over £90 including wine which is hefty but, I thought, worth it for this exciting new culinary experience.
So, three eateries, all with their very own charm, Rabbit and Bumpkin being really quite outstanding. Chelsea still rocks!