Thursday, 17 June 2010

Cafes: the crème de la crème

Years ago, Bee and I rented a flat above a shop in Clapham. We could climb out of the window onto the flat roof overlooking the Common – it was a fantastic, if slightly precarious, place for a party. Clapham Picture House was round the corner, plus the atmospheric restaurant Gastro with its tumblers of red wine and bowls of mussels. You’d often see Vivienne Westwood’s muse Sara Stockbridge in there or Westwood herself as she lived around the corner. My only regret is that Patisserie Macaron was not there then. As cafes go, this one is pretty well perfect: the counter is piled high with éclairs, freshly made warm croissants, French sweets and jewel-coloured macaroons; the coffee is excellent, and there are views over the Common. The only tricky bit is getting a seat before all the bleary-eyed Sunday morning dads pile in with the kids. Friendly and fabulously French – take the 88 bus from Oxford Street and breakfast in style.

Patisserie Macaron,
22 The Pavement,
London SW4

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The best beauty stuff for summer

Don't worry, I'm not going to write about that whole 'preparing your beach body' thing – I hate those smug beauty articles that assume you're off to the Caribbean for a holiday rather than some chilly Irish beach, and go on about all the detoxing/toning/Gwyneth-style pilates you should have been doing for the last year, and the coral lipstick you have to slick on to visit the beach bar. But there are a few products around at the moment that are genuinely good for summer and are worth trying out, whether at home or abroad. Here's a round-up of the best ones I've tested:

The only essential (not just in the summer, but every day) is to wear an SPF cream on your face. Clinique’s City Block Sheer comes in both SPF 25 or 40. The 25 looks tinted but smooths on without any colour or scent and at £15 it’s the best protector I’ve tried; it's very light rather than leaving a thick or shiny layer.

For skin dried out by swimming/sun/or simply the ravages of age, Elemis’ new Skin Nourishing Shower Cream (£22) definitely helps (and they’re doing a deal at the moment where you can get the shower cream plus Nourishing Hand and Body Lotion for £35; see The shower cream is luscious, creamy enough to really moisturise your skin, and has a light, clean scent. They also do a neat travel set for 15 quid containing mini versions of their best products, including the hugely popular Pro-Collagen Marine Cream, said to work wonders on wrinkles. I really rate their products, even the Body Refining anti-cellulite serum and firming cream, which I tested out for a beauty article when it launched a few years ago. Though I approached it with huge cynicism, it's actually really good... as good as it gets, in fact, without actually having to thunder along a treadmill.

Best of all for summer skin though is the humble wooden body brush – both Elemis and E’SPA do good ones, for around £17; brush morning and evening towards the heart and get the circulation pumping to make your skin look firmer and brighter.

While we’re being this shallow, here are some other fine summer beauty products: Palmer’s Body Butter, one of the best and cheapest moisturisers around (available in most supermarkets), now has added SPF15. For knackered summer hair, dried out in chlorine or the sun and sea, try Aveda’s Hair Detoxifier (not cheap, but lasts a long time). Frederic Fekkai’s range is also effective but wildly expensive, so the cut-price alternative is the James Brown London range at Boots: the Intensive Mask for hair is around seven pounds and goes a long way to rescuing ruined locks and his Scandalous Intensely Glossy Rescue Treatment is a good bet at £8.

For summer scents, it’s hard to beat the fresh, unisex scent of Acqua di Parma, or the fruity and intriguing Le Figuer by Diptyque. I’m still obsessed with Chanel No.5 Eau Premiere, the younger, lighter little sister of Chanel No.5, the mother of all perfumes. Especially now it’s available in a neat handbag size that’s perfect for getting through the airport (40ml spray from £52). It's still unmistakeably No.5, but more wearable, less overpowering for hot days.

The most super-frivolous summer product has to be Huile Prodigeuse Or Amazing Dry Gold Oil by Nuxe, £36, to give skin, hair and body for a light and lustrous golden sheen. The By Terry products stocked in SpaceNK are equally decadent. We’re talking top-end topicals here, and ones that really work; Terry de Gunzberg is the make-up genius behind YSL Touche Eclat concealer, one of the best-selling cult beauty products ever. The rose-scented moisturisers and serums smell amazing and just melt into parched skin.

Monday, 7 June 2010

It's hard to beat Burberry

The thing about summer clothes is that a) they tend not to be black and b) they tend to be flimsy, very short and sleeveless. Trying to find a half-decent summer dress can feel like mission impossible unless you want to wear something that's about four inches long, or something from Jigsaw. (Was Jigsaw always so expensive, by the way? Some of their maxidresses are pretty, but most clock in at the £100-150 mark; when bolder brands like Acne and American Vintage, Whistles and Cos are doing something quite a bit cooler, this feels like too much).

Anyway – now the sun's gone again and so I'm looking ahead at the new collections. They look so classy and investable next to the garishly colourful pieces clogging up the rails right now. Wouldn't you rather save up for one fabulous coat than waste cash on dresses from H&M and flimsy sandals that you'll get to wear for just a week or two? It's a rhetorical question, clearly, when you come face to face with the new coats at Burberry. The cut, the shapes, the fabric – these are classic with a capital C and yet completely of the moment, with military-style double-breasted versions (see above). The enduringly cool peacoat (£395) stands out as the hottest shape for autumn/winter for both boys and girls. Designer Christopher Bailey continues to keep Burberry at the very top of its game.

Burberry autumn/winter 2010. Photo Marcio Madeira /

Expensive, yes, but the cost-per-wear argument stands up to serious scrutiny here – because each of these coats and jackets are made to last and last. It's not like buying into the latest trouser shape, which will change surely and inevitably. Currently, magazines and websites are breathlessly telling us this season's 'must-have' is the Houlihan by J Brand, a cargo pant/skinny jean hybrid with unflattering hip-side pockets (striding in at a hefty £245). It's true that J Brand trousers are beautifully soft to wear and have a flattering cut. And that, thanks to Balmain, skinny trousers are here to stay a while, having ousted anything boot-cut or flared to the dark dustbin of fashion. But I still reckon that anything remotely cargo will be consigned to the sale rail before the year's out, particularly those in GI Jane-style khaki. Just remember how quickly we all went off cargo trousers the first time round. Because they looked rubbish.

A Burberry trenchcoat still looks as good as new a decade, two decades later. Versatile, practical even, it lends the wearer a touch of understated style and elevates the rest of an outfit to its level (or, at the very least, covers it up). Likewise, next season's wool and cashmere coats with their military twist are truly covetable, and there will be a million high-street copies – but none of them will look quite like this...

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Birds, chains and Skirt

Bird necklace, £75, Alice Eden

Skirt boutique is one of the most quirky and original places to shop in Newcastle. As well as stocking some intriguing Scandanavian designers, they always have an interesting selection of jewellery on display. On my last visit, it was necklaces by Alice Eden that stood out. Her themes aren't groundbreaking – stars, birds, hearts, horseshoes – but the pieces have a simple charm. The flock of birds seen on skirts, bags and shoes at Miu Miu this season seem to have migrated into silver and gold: Eden’s sterling silver hoops decorated with bird charms start from £40, and the punky yet pretty long necklace with silver bird charms enamelled in black is £110. In other collections, the jade tusks on a long silver chain have been a big seller, and her long star necklace has a touch of Chanel about it (£77); all are also available in gold. An ex-stylist, Alice Eden is now stocked in shops around the world, from Jess James and Supragirl in London to Smock in Dublin, and online. Also at Skirt you'll find the more affordable Swallow necklaces by Maria Allen, £18.

Silver bird necklace, £75, Alice Eden

With feathered friends as a theme Eden is following in the footsteps of jeweller Alex Monroe, who has been crafting birds and bees, flowers and feathers since he set up in 1986. Now sold everywhere from Liberty to Fenwick, his delicate pieces featuring bumble bees through to buttercups sell like hot cakes to those who want something a bit different and fashionable, yet enduring. Monroe’s latest collection, Eyebright, branches out into precious stones, from citrine to sapphire, held on tiny slim bands. Also check out the Trunk Show pieces on his website to bag one-offs such as this nautical bangle.

The other jeweller ahead of the game is acclaimed designer Scott Wilson, based at Cockpit Arts studios in London. I remember seeing his exquisitely made silver feathers on long chains at the regular studio sales years back (and still kick myself that I didn't buy one). Wilson now designs pieces for designers such as Peter Pilotto, Matthew Williamson and Jaeger (s/s 2010) and his online store opens shortly.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Bargain boutique hotels in London and beyond…

Town Hall Hotel & Apartments, Bethnal Green

I’ve just come across an excellent travel website,, which offers good deals on the best hotels around the world. One of the best bargains up for grabs right now is the five-star Town Hall Hotel & Apartments in Bethnal Green, a new super-hip spot in the centre of east London. There are 98 rooms available in this art deco building right in the centre of the east end action. From here you can walk to Columbia Road, Hoxton Square and tons of other ridiculously hip places, plus it’s only one stop to Liverpool Street Station – and there’s a beautiful sleek swimming pool and lively bar on site too. Rates are seriously competitive: taking a June Saturday as an example, there are double rooms available from £130, a luxurious feature room with its own kitchen and all mod cons at £144, and a two-bed apartment sleeping four at £182 (all per room per night). The Town Hall’s rooms usually start from £290, with apartments from £320, so this is really quite a bargain (though it’s worth noting that weekend stays are sometimes available for £99 via the hotel direct; call 020 7871 0460 or email to check;

Travel Intelligence also lists rooms at other 5-star hotels including the Boundary (see post dated 13 May) from £211.50 per room, and The Sanctum Soho Hotel – bang in the centre of town with a bar and a jacuzzi on its roof –from £195. In Dublin, book into the brilliant Clarence, right on the River Liffey, from £118, or at the John Rocha-designed Morrison from £93.