The problem with PR

Posted in Fashion with tags on September 3, 2015 by markcoflaherty

I’ve been writing about fashion for over 20 years and, for the last five, been announcing ad nauseam that I’m almost definitely giving up (with a typically dramatic flourish on each occasion). Not because of the vampiric effect that the conglomerates have had on creativity and innovation – although that can’t be overlooked – but because being a journalist means I have to rely on the fashion industry equivalent of the aged Epson printer beneath my desk. It’s something that has one job to do, but has to be coaxed into doing it, and sometimes simply can’t be bothered: PR.

“Sorry, I thought the watch would be a great fit for your story on monogramming because it’s black and white”

There are, of course, agency owners who will always have my ear because I trust them and they know infinitely more than I ever will, and there are account heads who will reply to an email in a heartbeat to tell me when to expect an interview, collection notes, prices et al for a story, while also suggesting five other angles I hadn’t even considered. But there are times when the world of fashion PR seems populated largely by the disinterested and uninformed, drawn to the industry by launch parties, samples and glamour by association. Emails are replied to at a glacial pace; quotes cut and pasted automaton-style from press releases are offered as original interview material. Idiocy and attitude abounds: “What’s the hard deadline?” (As if there was a soft one.) “Maybe I could I send over a few samples… to sweeten the deal?” (From someone I’ve never heard from before, while attempting to place a story with all the finesse of a gypsy touting lucky heather). And my all-time favourite: “Sorry, I thought the watch would be a great fit for your story on monogramming because it’s black and white.”

Even something as simple as the details of what’s on the shop floor right now takes an age to be confirmed. “We’re still looking into that, sorry,” was the reply to my fifth email on a story recently about autumn prices. Two weeks after my first request, I went to the designer’s London store and detailed everything I needed with my iPhone. A week after I filed my copy, the designer’s PR emailed me the same prices.

Generally, I give myself six weeks to research any given piece. Where I can, I circumnavigate PR entirely

A significant problem is the increasing distance between designer and PR, particularly at the global agencies with myriad accounts. Trying to get the perspective of a creative director at a huge brand on any given topic is far more difficult than speaking to an independent. If I want to know what Rick Owens thinks about, say, Brutalism or Japanese asymmetry, I know he’s likely to call or email me directly (all in uppercase as is the Owens house-style – every aspect of communication is CONSIDERED). There’s no one above him who needs to sign it off. Tellingly, Owens worked without any out-of-house PR for the longest time. The turnaround from question to answer can be immediate. This isn’t typical. Generally, I give myself six weeks to research any given piece. Where I can, I circumnavigate PR entirely.

Brands need to value, encourage, educate and engage their PRs, beyond merely entrusting them with next season’s collection to book out for shoots, or setting them, pitbull-style, on the rare journalist or editor who dares offer criticism. And as for the aggressive posturing of the “big name” PR, a soi-disant mix of Diana Vreeland and Lucrezia Borgia but with more extravagant nail art, that whole act really isn’t constructive for anyone. There are brands I pointedly avoid covering because their PR representatives are self-regarding Gorgons who relish being seen as “fierce”, both by journalists and their usually short-suffering staff.

PRs can be lazy, just as journalists can be lazy. Many PRs operate a scattergun approach. They bombard everyone that the latest Fashion Monitor details as in-house with the most general of releases, ignoring the ever growing, influential freelance corps. I told the London-based PR of one of the most credible big Italian brands that, while they had been reactive with me for years, I had never received any news from them, ever. They explained that they were always in touch with my various editors, to which I pointed out that those editors weren’t in the business of disseminating information to the writers who provide them with the bulk of their copy. They aren’t there for that. Now I get daily emails from them. Usually it’s a Daily Mail-ready picture of Pixie Lott or similar carrying one of their bags, none of it relevant to a serious analysis of fashion. But it sums up the industry in many respects.

It doesn’t have to be like this. A PR’s role can be fluid and adventurous. Look at someone like Trino Verkade, who elevated PR into something else entirely at McQueen, and is now Thom Browne’s right hand for business development. Verkade has always been so much more than a cheerleader for her brand.

The role of the PR should be to inspire and attract the eye. They should be the oil that keeps the engine running. Crucially, the point of PR should be to supersede advertising, for a fraction of the cost. They should be the sommeliers of fashion and the true tastemakers.


The new man’s outfitter (FT How to Spend it)

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , on June 27, 2013 by markcoflaherty

There is a well-thumbed book on the counter of the Soho store Pokit, entitled Why a Man Should be Well Dressed. Written by the Austro-Hungarian architect and modernist thinker Adolf Loos, it contains a paragraph that Pokit proprietor Bayode Oduwole has marked in bright-blue highlighter pen: “A completely new type of shop has been introduced – the outfitter. In a well-run gentlemen’s outfitter one can expect to choose an item completely at random and not end up with something not in good taste. A true gentlemen’s outfitter cannot make any concessions to the needs of the masses.”

“That was written in 1930,” says Oduwole. “But it’s more true than ever.”

The term “gentlemen’s outfitter” is as evocative as the oft-cited “most beautiful phrase in the English language”: “cellar door”. It conjures up images of leather Chesterfields, wood panelling, tailors’ dummies and mahogany-framed glass cabinets. Though that style never truly disappeared, it’s now being revisited and adapted by a new wave of high-end retailers who are distancing themselves from fast fashion and anonymous shopping. They are redefining the one-stop shop for men, selling newly timeless looks that don’t disappear onto sale rails at the end of the season.

The Bespoke Room at Hostem

The Bespoke Room at Hostem

“We live in an age where you can order something online and it arrives within three hours,” says James Brown, owner of east London store Hostem. “That’s a great service, but it’s devoid of any experience and enjoyment. We want to focus on interaction.” In March, Brown launched Hostem Bespoke, operating out of the shop’s Chalk Room and bringing together the talents of – among others – tailors Casely-Hayford and shoemaker Sebastian Tarek to create one-off and made-to-measure pieces. Here customers can be measured for a head-to-toe outfit and order luggage by Globetrotter (from £725) at the same time.

The new style of men’s outfitter is the antithesis of big-brand seduction. “What people wear is often motivated by status and aspiration,” says Tarek. “My shoes are minimal and modern, and use traditionally tanned leather that ages beautifully. I create them for men who enjoy having something made personally for them. The cost of my shoes [from £1,500] is a result of the materials used, time and care, not the profit margins of a multinational luxury group.”

“The consumer benefits from direct interaction with the creator,” says Joe Casely-Hayford. The Casely-Hayford label – designed by Joe and his son Charlie – sits somewhere between the world of classical tailoring and the accessible end of high fashion, which is where many of the new men’s outfitters are positioning themselves. “Our work has a clear aesthetic. We both studied at St Martins, while I designed clothes for bands such as The Clash, and then more recently I was creative director at Gieves & Hawkes. Our style sits where these two worlds cross.” Casely-Hayford suits at Hostem (from £1,250) are fashioned from four different blocks and made to measure from a choice of hundreds of fabrics.

While many elements of the traditional outfitters have been co-opted by chain stores and watered down to create a kind of ersatz Jermyn Street, Hostem has energised the ambience and style. Yes, there is a buttoned leather 19th-century sofa, but the space has been reworked by interior design duo JamesPlumb and a long wooden table has been incorporated into the sofa itself. The timber and metal textures are rough, dark and dramatically 21st century.

Some might find Hostem intimidating. Similarly, the huge skull above the front window and the rock’n’roll imagery that decorates the interior of tailor Tom Baker’s shop in Soho isn’t to all tastes. There are electric guitars on the walls covered with backstage passes, and a (fake) blue plaque commemorating Sid Vicious. Alongside the swatch books from English mills Scabal and Dugdale Bros that Baker shows to his bespoke clients, there are also oversized hats (£150) and quirky ready-to-wear pieces (tailored jackets from £275) by Child of the Jago, the label designed by Joe Corré (Vivienne Westwood’s and Malcolm McLaren’s son), and a wall full of footwear by Jeffery West (from £240), including what Baker calls “bastardised brogues” (£325). Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin comes here for his suits, but then so do major players from the Square Mile.

“Eighty per cent of my customers come to me for a good business suit,” says Baker. “I’m known for my English Cut [from £2,700]: succinct shoulder, elegant waistline, slim sleeve and no excess on the chest; it’s often single breasted, with one button and peak lapels. Customers like coming to the store because they appreciate the association with rock’n’roll. They like a space with spirit and a heartbeat. Oddly enough, the huge skull outside the store works as a natural filter. I don’t get any time wasters. The sort of men who come in are confident and have money to spend.”

It’s not just attentive service, styling advice and the ability to buy everything from socks to weekend bags that make the modern outfitter special; it’s the freshness and the sophisticated twists in the tailoring. The Spencer Hart flagship in Mayfair can kit a man out from head to toe for weekends in the country as well as for deal-clinching power lunches, and specialises in what designer Nick Hart calls “Savile Row cool as opposed to Savile Row dandy – pared down, sharp and modern”.

Meanwhile, Brooks Brothers might be seen as the very epitome of the staid US men’s outfitter, but it has energised its stores around the world by having New York’s Thom Browne, renowned for the truncated hem lengths on his 1950s Hitchcock grey suits, design the Black Fleece range (from £130). For spring there are plaids, tartans, shorts suits, monochrome cardigans and, of course, business suits (from £1,350), all styled in a far more restrained way than Browne’s eponymous main line. “I think the role of the modern men’s outfitter should centre around good, timeless clothing,” he says.

The tailoring at Pokit also plays subtly with proportion, while otherwise classic Goodyear-welted brogues (£285) are elasticated and made to fit without laces. There are two-tone knitted ties (£55), a range of bright corduroy trousers (£179), three styles of white shirt (£154-£179), ridge-top Panama hats (£165) and four styles of Seven Foot Cowboy jeans (£225-£295) made in England from 15oz Japanese narrow-loom denim. “Jeans are a part of our style heritage,” says Oduwole. “The traditional men’s outfitter never stocked them, but jeans and a sports jacket are now key. And an outfitter is a one-stop shop.”

Ready-to-wear and one-off jeans – created in genuine bespoke style according to a pattern unique to each customer – are an integral part of the offering at Against Nature in New York City, a store with a wood-lined and Chesterfield-leather fin de siècle aesthetic that general manager Nathaniel Adams describes as “sumptuous decadence with a Victorian edge”. The space – named after the infamous Huysmans novel that led to the downfall of Dorian Gray – is the result of a collaboration between four designers who between them cover all of the main bases of any outfitter, old or new.

Amber Doyle and Jake Mueser tailor suits (bespoke from $3,250) and shirts (custom from $350) with what they describe as “a manly silhouette with strong shoulders, a trim waist and long legs”. Ryan Matthew creates custom-made and ready-to-wear jewellery, cuff links and belt buckles (from $250), while Simon Jacobs is responsible for the denim lines (from $275 ready to wear). There is also an extensive range of leather luggage, as well as footwear (from $550) by Jeffery West – more classic than the range at Tom Baker’s in London, but still with a twist.

The store looks like Oscar Wilde could walk in at any moment in the company of Keith Richards to order a cashmere cape. There are stuffed white peacocks, drawers full of shirt collars and paisley ties, tables covered in antique metal shoe trees, and rows of those aforementioned crisp dark-blue jeans. “We use the strongest raw and selvedge Japanese denim,” says Jacobs. “But all the jeans are single-needle stitched and pressed by hand. We make sleek and clean designs that men can wear to the office.”

Just around the corner from Against Nature, off the Bowery, is Freemans Sporting Club, well known in the city for its wide range of slick, high-quality, workwear-inspired casual clothing and accessories, from boots to bags (from $40). The shop is also the first port of call for men with appointments for the FSC BenchMade Bespoke Studio, which is a little further down the alleyway, accessed by a staircase in Freemans Restaurant and through a door disguised as a bookcase. Here bespoke suits (from $3,950) are commissioned and made on site. The factory is attached to the studio and is on view, via an open wall between the spaces. “If customers are trusting us to construct a bespoke suit and committing to the process,” says Kent Kilroe, FSC’s managing partner, “they should be able to be part of the experience.”

The name Freemans has had a place in the New York zeitgeist since 2004, when the of-the-moment, off-the-radar restaurant of the same name opened. So what flagged up the gentlemen’s outfitters as the “next big thing” for them? “I think it’s about people looking for integrity in what they consume,” says founder Taavo Somer. “They are highly knowledgeable about where and how their food is grown and raised. Likewise, they make an educated choice to buy a suit crafted by hand before their eyes in New York City, rather than a mass-produced ‘mystery meat’ child-labour product.”

The Bespoke Room at Hostem

The Bespoke Room at Hostem

Alongside the bespoke, FSC has two new off-the-peg offerings – the House Cut suit (from $2,875), which is displayed in store without a collar or sleeves, to be finished after fittings with the customer, and a made-in-the-US, ready-to-wear suit (from $1,200). Remarkably, at a time when fused linings – which can lead to fatal creasing at the hands of a dry cleaner – are to be found in many a rack-bought jacket, FSC’s new ready-to-wear suit is fully canvassed.

One of the things that makes the space such a destination for men on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is the adjoining FSC Barber. The true men’s outfitter is always so much more than a tailor and accessories retail unit. It is the male, no-nonsense equivalent of the spa – a place to socialise as well as somewhere for grooming. The barber at FSC, like the in-house barber’s space on the top floor of Bourdon House, the Alfred Dunhill “Home” in London’s Mayfair, couldn’t be confused with any kind of salon. It’s the classic cinematic set-up, with foot-operated leather chairs, white basins and pomade: no hairspray, just hot towels and cut-throat razors. It’s luxurious (at Dunhill there is the offer of “something stronger?” before your appointment), but in a prosaic, masculine way.

Alfred Dunhill, which might have been the ultimate original men’s outfitters, might also be the ultimate modern one. You can dine in the club, have coffee in the cellar bar, get a massage and buy everything from Denon headphones (£650) to alligator-skin-cased mah jong games (£10,500). Away from the bespoke room, there are tussah-and-mulberry-silk-mix zip-through casual jackets (£550), two cuts of jeans with red selvedge detailing (£225) and new-season ready-to‑wear crease-resistant suits in high-twist wool (£1,450), perfect for the travelling-light, globetrotting businessman. And, of course, lest you be in any doubt that you are in a gentlemen’s outfitters, along with all the brass pillars and wood cabinets, vintage-map wallpaper and other HG Wells-esque detailing, there are those omnipresent Chesterfield sofas.

Against Nature, 159 Chrystie Street, New York, NY 10002 (+1212-228 4452; Alfred Dunhill, 2 Davies Street, London W1 (0845-458 0779; Brooks Brothers, 150 Regent Street, London W1 (020-3238 0030; and branches. Freemans Sporting Club, 8 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002 (+1212-673 3209; Hostem, 41-43 Redchurch Street, London EC2 (020-7739 9733; Pokit, 132 Wardour Street, London W1 (020-7434 2875; Spencer Hart, 62-64 Brook Street, London W1 (020-7494 0000; and branches. Tom Baker, 4 D’Arblay Street, London W1 (020-7437 3366;

Scents and sensibilities (FT Weekend)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , , , , on June 27, 2013 by markcoflaherty

“You know, I can’t actually remember what it smells like, but I just LOVE that bottle.” It is the opening Saturday of the No.5 Culture Chanel exhibition at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and two young women – looking trés bon chic bon genre – are wandering through rows of perfect, transparent Lucite cases housing a vast archive of Chanel No.5 related art and ephemera. Like Dior’s New Look and the revolution of pret a porter, the modernist salvo of Chanel No.5 – which launched in 1921 – changed the world of fashion forever. The design of any new fragrance would become significantly more important than the product inside.

Chanel No.5 by Andy Warhol

Chanel No.5 by Andy Warhol

“N°5 is not a fragrance, but a cultural artifact,” says Jean Louis-Froment, the curator of the Palais de Tokyo show. “It has a unique aura. It is a manifesto.” Fragrances come and go, but the best become icons. Few achieve the landmark status that Chanel No.5, with its own Warhol silkscreen, has. Still, every year, designers spend fortunes and weeks on designs for new bottles. Each has to sum up the brand, and trigger an emotional response as strong as anything they put on the catwalk. They are miniature mass-produced sculptures. This spring, Yohji Yamamoto and Dries van Noten – two of fashions most renowned intellectuals – launched new product.

Yamamoto’s fragrances – both ‘homme’ and ‘femme’ – are essentially a re-release of a range that vanished due to licensing issues in 2005, but with a new bottle design in addition to the original test-tubes which Yamamoto selected because it was “the simplest bottle on earth.” For many, the idea of esoteric Yamamoto doing anything as commercial as a fragrance seemed outlandish. He would, of course, do it his way. A new version has been designed by Vonsung, with an architectural curve reminiscent of Richard Serra, but in glass rather than metal. “The box is origami-inspired,” says Yulia Livne of Yohji Yamamoto Parfums. The bottle itself might be seen to echo the wrap of a kimono, something repeatedly evident in Yamamoto’s own designs.

Several designers have working relationships with big name architects and artists to create their product. Zaha Hadid created a typically amorphous bottle for Donna Karan Woman last year. “Her vision is uniquely graceful and strong,” says Karan. “There’s always a sense of lyricism and fluidity to her shape.”

Dries van Noten’s fragrance is in collaboration with parfumier Frédéric Malle, renowned for the minimalism of his presentation. It comes in the simplest of circular bottles, in an orange fabric-texture box. “It’s a modern aesthetic,” says Malle. “We avoided unnecessary details, very much like Dries’ fashion. It’s crisp and clean, not old fashioned or fussy.”

A stark, modernist approach to bottle design continues to be popular. It’s something that stems from Chanel’s original intention for No.5. At a time when fragrance was presented in the most ornate, rarefied crystal vessels, she commissioned a simple, stark, modernist flacon, and subsequently added a stopper based on the layout of the Place Vendome. “What Coco Chanel wanted was an invisible bottle,” says historian Tilar J. Mazzeo, in her book The Secret of Chanel No. 5.

There are still some dubious visual puns around in the world of bottle design. One might consider the gold bullion container of ‘1 Million’ from Paco Rabanne, or ‘Konvict’, which comes in two chained-together bottles in the shape of handcuffs, as witty and ironic. Or one might not. One of the sole successful and stylish examples of the visual pun is the Bond No.9 range. Each fragrance is based on a different New York neighbourhood, with a visual motif to match. “We use silk screening and engraving and metallization techniques with the theme of the New York subway token,” says founder Laurice Rahmé.

Sometimes, the sweeping iconoclastic visual statement is still the biggest success. Last year Lady Gaga became the latest in a long line of celebrities to put their name to a mid-market fragrance. ‘Fame’ comes in a bottle that looks like something Thierry Mugler sketched late at night and thought better of in the morning; regardless, it sold six million bottles in its launch week. It still has a long way to go to rival Mugler’s own ‘Angel’, which continues to be one of the five best selling fragrances in the world, 21 years after it first appeared. The crystal futurist star-shape of the bottle – produced by Normandy glassmaker Brosse, who were also responsible for early Chanel No.5 – is one of Mugler’s greatest visual achievements. A Mugler-esque sci-fi looking silver stand is now available to buy which displays the fragrance as an artwork.

Parfumier and fragrance historian Roja Dove has his own line of fiercely high-end perfumes which come in bottles adorned with gold and Swarovski crystals. They are some of the most highly priced and successful in the world. He believes that maximalist French glass designer René Lalique has been at least as influential as Gabrielle Chanel in terms of the look of fragrances. “He was the first person to create what we would call today an holistic conceptual package,” says Dove. “Bottle, label and box reflected the intellectual idea of the scent it contained. ‘Nilang’ has two gilded, fantasy lotus blossoms suspended above the bottle as if floating on invisible water. It has inspired many commercial creations since.”

Bottle design can be a truly inspired, and scarce and pristine pieces – including ‘Shocking’ by Schiaparelli from 1937, with its Mae West body and bouquet of flowers around its neck – are highly collectible. Perfume bottles can be as much an expression of modernism as a piece of Bauhaus or Prouvé furniture, or they can have an embellished narrative. One of Roja Dove’s favourite pieces of design is the bottle that Salvador Dali created for Schiaparelli’s ‘Le Roi Soleil’ back in the 1940s. “It’s been rereleased recently,” he says, “executed in Baccarat crystal, in the shape of clouds and a huge sunshine, with doves in flight creating a face in the centre of the sun. It represents the end of the darkness of the Second World War.” It’s a precious as well as beautiful object: originals can reach $25,000 at auction.

The town that Rogan built

Posted in Travel with tags , , , on June 27, 2013 by markcoflaherty

Ten years ago, few people outside of the Lake District had heard of the small farming town of Cartmel. Now, thanks to chef Simon Rogan and his fast-growing mini empire, it’s become one of those otherwise offbeat destinations – like Bray and San Sebastián – synonymous with thrill-ride, avant-garde, destination dining.

There’s not much of Cartmel, but what there is looks so lovely that it seems almost ersatz. At one end sits a tiny square, with ancient pubs and a shop renowned for its sticky toffee pudding. From here, the medieval main street crosses a stream – complete with a photogenic regatta of ducklings – and runs along to the huge stained glass windows of the 800 year old Priory church. There are antiquarian booksellers, chocolatiers and acres of fields with lambs and slate rubble walls. There are handmade, crafty jack-in-the-boxes in window displays and the kind of gift shops that obsess over handwritten labels on brown card tags and anything branded with Gil Sans type. Then there is a small contemporary British restaurant called L’Enclume, with its locally foraged ingredients and internationally influential, epic tasting menus, all bathed in the soft alluring light of its Michelin stars.

Simon Rogan at The French, Manchester

Simon Rogan at The French, Manchester

Back at the start of the century – with much of Cumbria deeply depressed by the devastation of Foot & Mouth Disease ­– this was a different, darker place. When born and bred southerner Simon Rogan moved here and opened L’Enclume in 2002 it was the opening salvo for a very new way of approaching ingredients and cooking. Inspired by rave reviews for his high-science cooking, which compared it to that of molecular masters Ferran Adrià and Pierre Gagnaire, Londoners began making the five-hour journey for dinner even before he’d opened rooms for them to stay in. Then he set up a second, more casual restaurant: Rogan & Co., and last year added a lovely ungentrified boozer, the Pig & Whistle, to the fold, with plans to create the perfect pub lunch. (“Because we’re doing it, people expect so much more than just a pie”). Increasingly, Cartmel is defined by one man’s vision and art.

“When we first came here, there was a real attitude of distrust,” says Rogan. “People wanted to know: ‘Who is this southerner coming up here, doing this strange food?’ But over time that changed. We’ve brought a lot of people to the village, lots of new businesses are opening up, and we shout from the rooftops about how lucky we are to be in such a beautiful place. I love it up here. I love going to Coniston and looking down at the water at what looks like a beach. And I love the desolation and isolation of Wastwater at the bottom of the highest peak of Scafell Pike.”

At a first glance around its conservatory dining space on a Wednesday evening in spring, L’Enclume is handsome, but hardly revelatory. It’s elBulli rustic rather than Ducasse grand. The waiters are jovial and diners wear jeans. A couple – who look like father and daughter – are sharing an electronic cigarette. “The style of service fits the food,” says Rogan. “It’s natural, happy go lucky and a bit wild. It’s about having fun. Take pictures, kick your shoes off if you want.” There’s no fancy art or David Collins palaver at L’Enclume. The bare wooden tables and chairs – all occupied – are evidence of a contemporary eye, but the walls of what used to be an old blacksmith’s are rough and whitewashed. This may be an unprepossessing space, but it’s a place of pilgrimage – a must-visit for Sunday supplement food porn addicts, drawn by its two Michelin stars and its 10/10 score in the Good Food Guide [only The Fat Duck has the same] – and a kind of foodie Lourdes for long married couples looking to rekindle the long lost art of supper conversation.

There’s a lot to talk about. Rogan and the town are on a roll. A summer refurb at L’Enclume has just added much needed space for the kitchen and front of house. The French in Manchester, a visually soigné sibling to Rogan’s Cumbrian mothership, opened in March and has become the talk of the town. With its art nouveau doors that open from the lobby of the Midland Hotel – where Mr Rolls first met Mr Royce – and its vast crystal chandeliers, resembling twin Swarovski Death Stars, it sits in stark contrast to the two year London pop-up Roganic, which was not so much Scandic austere as ascetic in style. The French has been booked solid every night, and looks like a dead cert to give the city its first and only Michelin star since Paul Kitching closed Juniper and decamped to Edinburgh, back in 2008.

Then there’s the new Rogan-owned farm, a short drive from L’Enclume, that grows much of the specialist greens that are a staple of Rogan’s menus, from apple marigold cress to borage. “Visiting is a real experience,” he says. “We’re building a room for schools, and we hope to have barbecues up there.” As with Thomas Keller’s farm in Napa, which diners are invited to visit before they take their seats for the evening at The French Laundry, being able to see the agricultural side of Rogan’s kitchens brings depth to the Cartmel experience. On any given Rogan tasting menu, there are umpteen ingredients that you may never have encountered before, and most of them are either foraged, or grown here in a collection of giant polytunnels. The greenhouse containing Rogan’s cresses is particularly beautiful – myriad verdant plant beds sit together, creating a wild green patchwork. “I loved being in this space in the winter,” says Lucia Corbel, who works on the farm and in the L’Enclume kitchen. “It’s always so green and bursting with life. The nasturtiums are growing like mad now, and the borage is so succulent and fresh, it’d be great to just throw it in a gin and tonic.”

There are, increasingly, echoes of Napa in Cartmel. Both are rural idylls that have mined a rich vein of gold in the form of fine dining – but Rogan has an arguably more contemporary approach to the concept. He’s developed a distinctive signature that’s proving influential: small, light, surprising dishes that customarily do eccentric things with English herbs and vegetables – celeriac, ramsons, sea buckthorn, sorrel and stonecrop – rather than depend on sous vide cooked meats and overwrought sauces. Possibly the most memorable dish on the L’Enclume tasting menu is raw venison with charcoal oil. It’s basically the best steak tartare that will ever be. Tellingly, coal oil is starting to appear on menus in London, along with second, third and fourth rate versions of Rogan-style plates.

Meanwhile, the Cartmel influence is rippling across the Lake District. The Samling, on Lake Windermere, is one of the most famous luxury country hotels in the country. It’s old school, rural, chic with overstuffed cushions. The Michelin-starred restaurant, however, is anything but trad, and recently won “Best Dining Hotel in the World” at the annual Boutique Hotel Awards. Dinner (“No photographs please” begs the menu, to thwart the Instagrammers) includes tuna sashimi with Iberico ham, mandarin and vanilla oil. Roast venison – rich, dark and lush –comes with reindeer moss, a much-foraged favourite down at L’Enclume. Dessert involves theatrics with dry ice. The bar has been raised in this part of the country, along with expectations.

At the same time, Rogan has pared back the science. His heart is in his farm, and the alchemy now comes from the combination of just a few fresh ingredients, rather than spherification kits and culinary jazz hands. The experience is better, more delicious. It’s a very modern way of eating. Long after the surprise of the first encounter, who ever needs to see another piece of salmon served in a bell jar pumped full of smoke? “I became bamboozled by technique and foreign ingredients for a while,” Rogan admits. “A few people I trusted told me to concentrate on my strong points. So I got back to basics. We went through the science phase, and kept the bits that worked. Spherification essentially dilutes flavour. Now I just want to take the most perfect carrot ever, and barbecue it. Five years ago we would have deconstructed and reconstructed it four different ways. We still have the latest kit in the kitchen, but we use it in a different way.”

With Heston Blumenthal’s credibility adrift somewhere between his hot cross buns for Waitrose and his quest to make the world’s largest Kit Kit on television, Rogan has ascended to becoming the most influential, and arguably the best, chef in the UK. He wants a third Michelin star for L’Enclume (“Michelin only became important to me when we got our second star – now I want another one”). He also wants to win at least a single star in Manchester – where a second restaurant, Mr Cooper’s, is opening in September – and re-establish an outpost for his team in London. But it comes back to Cartmel in the end. “Absolutely everything we do is about making L’Enclume as good as we can,” says Rogan. “The town is a magical place and it’s a very significant part of who and what we are.”

Curiouser & curiouser (FT How to Spend it)

Posted in Architecture, interiors and design with tags , on June 27, 2013 by markcoflaherty

Window dressing is largely about storytelling. The festive displays at New York and London department stores are grand static theatre, while fashion designers have risen to fairy‑tale acclaim following debuts behind the glass at Browns on South Molton Street. One of the most influential window spaces in the world is at Dover Street Market, the London offshoot of the avant-garde Comme des Garçons style empire. The store is a barometer for design and visual culture: fashion aside, it was ahead of the curve by showcasing Victorian-style taxidermy years before it colonised the city’s bars and lounges. When the imposing four-storey space gave over its window display to the team behind pop-salvage company M Goldstein last June and July, it was an endorsement of much more than just the company’s approach to art direction. It pointed to a growing popularity for incorporating mainly 20th-century curios, with unique narrative resonance, within interior design projects. These are pieces that tell bold, evocative tales. They are less about the magpie’s capricious eye, more about the modern collector’s gaze.

Simon Costin's home, London

Simon Costin’s home, London

Entitled Scale & Distortion, the Dover Street Market installation – by M Goldstein owners Pippa Brooks and Nathaniel Lee Jones – included an 8ft robot called Cygan, built in Turin in 1957, a pair of supersized, perfectly detailed Balmoral leather boots from Rhodes Rawling of Halifax, a miniature raincoat by Wetherdair from the 1930s, and sets of concave and convex mirrors. They are typical of the pieces in the company’s shop on Hackney Road. “We want to avoid the word ‘vintage’,” says Brooks. “We believe it’s more accurate to say that we sell art, antiques and attire.”

The style of M Goldstein brings to mind some of the antiques stores in Clignancourt Market in Paris; many of the smaller pieces look like curios that have surfaced at street markets. For Brooks and Lee Jones, running a shop is crucial. “It’s about having a permanent showroom, rather then setting up a beautiful stall and then packing it all away again,” says Brooks. It also dictates their kind of customer. “We are a little out of the way here,” she says, “so people really have to want to seek us out.”

Visitors to M Goldstein are drawn to the atmosphere of the space, which is filled with old commercial lettering, paintings, flags and neons, displayed around and on the rescued Victorian mahogany shop fittings. Alongside these sit paintings and ephemera belonging to the late “outsider” artist, recluse and hoarder Reginald Alan Westaway, who died in 2008. Part of the collection includes the single set of clothes that he wore and repaired time and time again, until the individual items became overstitched sculptures in their own right.

Whether placed in a stark and modern interior, or an artfully decorated one, there is a growing demand for the salvaged objects on display at M Goldstein. “The ‘curiosity’ trend is popular,” says Lee Jones, “but our interest is to do with pieces that are more useful or decorative than just a stuffed squirrel playing cards, which I find boring. I’d rather sell a pair of second world war aircraft seats that look like they originated in Rodchenko’s studio.” Many pieces started out life as shop or commercial fittings; their battered edges speak of decades of robust use.

Circus Antiques in London’s Kensal Rise recently sold a gigantic pair of metal spectacles – originally the signage for an optometrist in France – for £1,400. “There’s always been an interest in high-end architectural pieces,” says the store’s owner, Mark Slade. “Now it’s about a more eclectic approach. People in the creative industries, in particular, appreciate the graphic qualities of these objects. Before we sold the spectacles, we had them repaired and then surrounded by neon. We also had a set of signs recently from a circus in Blackpool that were very comic-book in style, which lit up and read ‘flash’, ‘bang’ and ‘wallop’. They sold for £2,500 to a writer who has a house in the countryside.”

Industrial and commercial lettering is particularly popular. M Goldstein has had several McDonald’s letter Ms pass through the shop, while the online store often has sets of wooden public house sign letters, and 1970s red Odeon/ABC cinema signage lettering (from £8 per letter) available. In the US, sells old movie theatre marquee lettering (from $3 to around $60) that is the very essence of romantic, popcorn-scented Americana.

While there’s certainly the demand for these items, acquiring the perfect object for a room isn’t a precise science. Much of the sourcing is a case of rummaging and falling in love with something you never knew you wanted, and the more substantial pieces are generally price on request and subject to negotiation. For many people, active pursuit of pop salvage is simply too time-consuming, but there are some locations worthy of expeditions. Clignancourt in Paris is one of them, as is Sunbury Antiques Market in Kempton Park, the stores along Lillie Road in London and Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market in New York City. It’s also worth looking at and, which, along with some of the more obscure local markets and auctions in the UK, are favourite hunting grounds for the interior designer Russell Sage, a man well known for incorporating quirky elements into his projects. “Often with items like this,” he says, “people have a justifiably romantic idea of them, but they have gone through a dozen different dealers and started out as something that was part of a clearance sale and sold for £10.” The use of macabre Victorian taxidermy is something of a Sage trademark, and while he spends weeks scouring auctions for remarkable objects, it’s also possible to visit Viktor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors in London’s East End to pick up an off-the-shelf eight-legged stuffed lamb (£2,000) or a two-headed calf (£3,500).

Simon Costin's home, London

Simon Costin’s home, London

Sage acquired several pieces when the Brading Waxworks on the Isle of Wight closed in 2010, as did Simon Costin, an art director for Fabergé, Yves Saint Laurent and Hermès, who has them on display in his home in London’s Dalston. Costin’s house is a paradigm of the salvage style, but with an emphasis on the darker end of the spectrum. When he bought the house, the previous occupant had painted many of the rooms in a colour he describes as “eye-grating cerise”. Now it’s a shadowy gothic fairy tale. “I’m a collector, but I don’t really focus on anything in particular,” says Costin. “I like things with a story.” An 18th-century glass-topped Italian funeral coffin acts as a focal point for the living room, while shelves on every floor of the house are filled with carnival flourishes, old toys and Doctor Who props. “Visitors always respond to the toys, like my 1920s devil Punch and Judy puppets,” he says.

Playthings from the early 20th century may well have been passed down as family heirlooms, and come charged with nostalgia. In the same way, more recent objects can have great pop currency, particularly if they were never intended for the home. The artist and designer Misha Milovanovich has oversized ice-cream displays and a giant fibreglass teddy bear on show in her home in London’s Ladbroke Grove, next to original artwork by the likes of Julian Opie and Charles Avery. She recently bought a toy shop prop from Circus Antiques – a scaled-up, life-size, Playmobil Indiana Jones – which stands next to her desk. “When I moved in here, it was an empty shell with concrete floors,” she says. “I wanted to create my own little playhouse.”

Milovanovich’s aesthetic will seem too extreme for many, but these items from the recent past serve as a great alternative to contemporary art for interior designers. M Goldstein recently took stock of an illuminated sign from the late 1960s, from a defunct strip joint in Tisbury Court that reads: “Soho’s Live Girls”. At the time, it would have been an invitation into one of London’s less salubrious venues; now, it has a charming, almost melancholy quality to it. In its way, it’s an elegiac piece of social history.

Several designers are experts in the field of salvage. Henri Fitzwilliam-Lay works on particularly refined and high-end interiors. Her style mixes the plush, grand elements of Dorothy Draper with the clean, corporate modernism of Florence Knoll and contemporary bespoke pieces by the likes of Rupert Bevan, but she’s increasingly working with collections of 20th- and 21st-century items. “I particularly like working on children’s rooms,” she says. “Collections of items can turn chaos into order, by giving objects definition. Vintage toys also work well in arrangements around the house. I think you can make a collection of just about anything – even my children’s tiny Japanese plastic Gogos figures – and the skill lies in the displaying of objects to create what I often refer to as the ‘still life’. I hunt at antiques fairs, and after a first purchase the rest of the day may be spent finding more and more complementing pieces.” The weathered appearance of an item is also important; Fitzwilliam-Lay has started using old survey maps as wallpaper, “because I love the faded colours.”

James Russell and Hannah Plumb work together as the interior design duo James Plumb, and their rough-hewn aesthetic and use of scavenged items is contemporary yet artfully cobwebbed. “We have just created a new space called The Chalk Room for the menswear store Hostem using discarded items,” says Russell. “Their stories – real or imagined – inspired us. We combined objects so that they felt like they might always have existed like this.” Among the items they used was an old harp case, from Wurlitzer Co of Cincinnati, which they turned into a wardrobe, and a crate designed for carrying a prize stud pig, marked in faded lettering: “Ashville Herd – Pedigree Large White Pig”. The imagery the crate conjures up is eclipsed by the possibilities surrounding it. It could have been a theatrical prop, or integral to a farmer’s fortunes. Like the nostalgia of an old Soho fluorescent sign, abandoned cinema façade letters, a once state-of-the-art robot from a mid-20th-century technology expo, or a set of discarded toys, it may have exhausted its original use, but its dynamic visual energy can be channelled into a new context.

Crossing countries in Patagaonia (The Independent)

Posted in Travel with tags on January 30, 2013 by markcoflaherty

As car-ferry crossings go, my trip from Puerto Fuy to Puerto Pirihueico was infinitely more appealing than the usual mix of slot machines, duty-free opportunities and chips with everything in the buffet. There was no gift shop; no one was the worse for wear after sampling rather too much on a booze cruise. In fact, there were no below-deck attractions at all.

Huilo Huilo, Chile

Huilo Huilo, Chile

And if, like me, you weren’t in a car, then you were hemmed in along a narrow, shade-free, open-air gangway either side of the boat. Comfort was in short supply, the potential for sunburn high. But what this ferry crossing offers for the length of its 90-minute duration is some of the most spectacular scenery in South America, coasting through the Patagonian Andes from Chile towards the Argentinian border. There’s a lush, green-velvet rainforest portside and a gleaming glacier-capped volcano to starboard. It can be cold here, and it can rain, but on my journey the air was clear and warm. The cloudless sky – which felt somehow so much bigger than usual – was a startling shade of electric blue.

The trip across Lake Pirihueico is one leg of one of the greatest, but also the easiest, journeys you can make through the Andes. From Temuco in Chile to Bariloche in Argentina, you can (if you have the time, are adventurous enough, and are willing to take minor detours) go white-water rafting, ski, sunbathe or hike through cracks in glaciers so pronounced that they form maze-like corridors. All of these things are possible, depending on the time of year.

Before you pass Go, you have to get to Chile. In my case, this involved an epic 14-hour night-flight from Heathrow, via Paris. Rather than risk a fresh-off-the-red-eye transfer time in Santiago for a flight to Temuco that I wouldn’t, as it turned out, have made, I holed up at the W hotel, drank blueberry caipirinhas by the rooftop pool and snoozed away the effects of last night’s flight.

Normally I’d seek out the most offbeat, locals-only, not-in-a-guide-book restaurant, but I discovered that there was a Jean-Paul Bondoux restaurant off the hotel lobby and a new branch of Osaka across the hall, so I stayed put with superlative ceviche from both.

After a short-hop flight the next day, my tour operator arranged a transfer from Temuco to Huilo Huilo, an astonishing, Tolkienesque version of Center Parcs, fashioned entirely from logs and branches. (One of the lodges is a wild, plant-covered cone that has a constant stream of water gushing from its apex.)

The road trip started out drab but became spectacular, as motorways, mooching cows and the occasional rusted pioneer-town rail bridge gave way to high-impact nature. We passed mountains with soaring trees clustered together in patterns that looked as if they’d uprooted themselves to climb higher. I saw tumultuous rivers and a distant volcano issuing a long, elegant doodle of smoke. We rushed through tiny towns that looked more Alpine than South American. Then, 68km before Liquiñe, as the sunset became particularly golden, we passed an unlikely looking, peculiarly remote disco called The City. This rotunda structure on the edge of a lake looked as if it had landed from space, in the midst of the most striking, gorgeous vista.

Two nights at Huilo Huilo are enough to drive those undelighted by groups of four or five squawking toddlers into a frenzy, but the facilities and myriad rainforest excursions – from birdwatching to ziplining through the canopy – are fantastic and the architecture curious enough to distract your attention from the tots. And for children, of course, it’s an awe-inspiring, adventure-filled wonderland. It’s also mere hiking distance from here to the ferry, which makes it an appealing pit stop before crossing the border into Argentina.

On the other side of Lake Pirihueico, I was picked up by taxi and driven at speed through clouds of dust and a cascade of flying pebbles down an unpaved road to the border. Once in Argentina – via two mildly confusing passport checks – all became Disney-beautiful. This is the Patagonian Lake District at its most wonderful. It’s little wonder that half the Argentinian population want to retire to San Martín de los Andes, possibly the most beautiful lakeside town in the country. The main street is full of varnished log cabins and chocolate shops while the road around the lake itself is a grand widescreen collage of the Great Outdoors: sparkling water and campsites, young couples hitch-hiking, girls in expensive sunglasses swimming and jogging, shirtless boys glistening as they skateboard and perform stomach crunches at the side of the road. Everything and everyone glows with health and energy.

With a fairly long drive behind me, I’d hoped that my next stop, Río Hermoso, would have a decent pool: a dip, a glass of vino rosado and a couple of paperback hours would be just the ticket. However, the eponymous hotel on the river turned out to be a pretty, very modern take on an Alpine mountain cabin, stuck in the middle of Lanín National Park and staffed by women in chic, beige gaucho pants. There was no pool. Instead, there was something so very much better. The hotel sits on a dramatic, painterly bend of Evian-clear river, flanked by soaring, lush green mountains. If any resort has a better view from what is effectively its back garden, I haven’t seen it. As I ran into the water, a condor glided above, drifting from side to side as if being worked by a balletically minded puppeteer.

There are several ways to travel from Río Hermoso to Bariloche, the tourist capital of the Argentinian Lake District. My guide advised that we avoid the well-travelled Road of the Seven Lakes, as coaches churn up so much dust that views become almost invisible, while other traffic moves at a snail’s pace.

Instead, we took Route 63, which was more a riverbed of pebbles, rocks and boulders that just happened to be arranged in the direction we wanted to go in. Forty-five minutes in, as we juddered past a battered traffic sign that had clearly been subject to repeated drive-by shootings, I wondered how far I was from chronic whiplash. And yet, the scenery was a soother, and my attention was soon diverted to my guide and her stories of the local Mapuche people, who speak a language that cannot be written and name their children at the age of three, when the town’s designated wise woman decides on what it is to be.

Bariloche is the most obviously populated town in the area, and locals bemoan the ever-increasing tourist numbers, but with so much space around an immense body of water, it absorbs its visitors fairly easily. As I looked out beyond the figures diving elegantly off the pier behind the El Casco Art Hotel, silhouetted by the sun, things seemed as idyllic as you could hope for. Across the road, at Alberto’s – the best-known parrilla (grill) in town – dinner was served amid waves of deafening holiday excitement as Flintstone-large slabs of medium-rare bife de chorizo landed on tables accompanied by black pudding and bottles of delicious local red. I may love the most fancified suppers, with complex reductions, amuses-bouches and palate cleansers, but fundamentally, you can’t beat a great steak and a few bangers. And Alberto’s does it better than anywhere else in the world, with rustic aplomb, and for about a 10th of the price of a visit to Hawksmoor in London. Weeks later, I was still hankering after a return visit.

Bariloche’s other must-visit restaurant is Cassis, run by German émigré Ernesto Wolf and his chef wife, Mariana. While the view back at Alberto’s consists of the grill and some passing traffic, at Cassis you sip local Chandon on an elevated wooden platform overlooking moss-banked hills, a placid lake and canoeists cutting across the horizon through butterfly-like ripples. It’s dreamy – as is the romantic dining room, which serves a Patagonian lamb strudel that rates as the best use of any wool-clad creature of all time.

My journey across Patagonia came to an end at Llao Llao, a rambling 228-room Swiss cuckoo-clock of a hotel, with an astonishing aspect over a lake and snow-capped mountains. Río Hermoso may still beat it for its privacy and intimacy, but the sweeping views across the valley at Llao Llao are nothing short of amazing. They resemble an almost too-perfect painted Alpine backdrop, unreal and intense. Neck-deep in water, looking out from the infinity pool, it was easy to imagine that this was the absolute edge of the world. Then the sun disappeared, black clouds gathered as if conjured by sorcery, and great gusts of wind sent parasols hurtling over that edge and on to the lawn below.

It was a reminder that all of this isn’t laid on just to prettify Facebook photographs, or as accompaniment to an al fresco club salad. This is Patagonia: real, wild, beautiful and a humbling privilege to be a part of.

Travel Essential

Getting there

Mark C O’Flaherty travelled as a guest of Air France (0871 663 3777;, which flies daily from various UK airports  to Paris and on to Santiago and  Buenos Aires.

l Exsus (020-7337 9010; has a 10-night package taking in a similar route, from £2,450pp, including flights, transfers and board.

Visiting there

W Hotel, Isidora Goyenechea 3000 Las Condes, Santiago, Chile (00 56 2 770 0000; Doubles from US$249 (£155), room only.

Huilo Huilo, Km 55 Camino Internacional Panguipulli, Neltume, Región de Los Ríos, Chile (00 56 2 335 59 38; Doubles from US$144 (£90), with breakfast.

Río Hermoso, Ruta 63 km 67, Paraje Rio Hermoso, Parque Nacional Lanín, San Martín de los Andes, Argentina (00 54 2 972 410 485; Doubles from  US$320 (£200), with breakfast.

El Casco Art Hotel, Avenida Bustillo Km 11.5, Bariloche, Argentina (00 54 11 4815 6952; Doubles from US$208 (£130), with breakfast.

Llao Llao, Avenida Ezequiel Bustillo Km 25, Bariloche, Argentina (00 54 2944 448 530; Doubles from US$184 (£115), with breakfast.

Eating and drinking

El Boliche de Alberto, Av Bustillo Km 5,800, Bariloche, Argentina (00 54 29 44 462 285;

Cassis, Ruta 82, Lago Gutiérrez, Peñón de Arelauquen, Bariloche, Argentina (00 54 294 447 6167;

More information

For ferry info in Los Ríos see;;

New London restaurants: La Bodega Negra (Elle)

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , on June 28, 2012 by markcoflaherty

Despite every intention, I’ve never made it to Le Esquina, Serge Becker’s notorious SoHo Mexican restaurant, accessed via secret door and clipboard patrol. Like all such scenester spots, it’s no longer the impossible-to-book place it once was, so of course, I don’t want to go anymore. But then, his beyond-hot MK nightclub was the first place I ever went in New York, about 1000 years ago, so, kudos to me. Yay. La Bodega Negra is a Soho reinvention of SoHo’s La Esquina – right down to a more overt, no-reservations cantina around the corner. From the outside the main restaurant looks like a sex shop, albeit an unnervingly pristine one. Its neon is more Tim Noble and Sue Webster than the Old Compton Street of pornier days now past. Once you’ve made it inside, past two check-in desks, and a lady in a polka dot shorts-suit with feathered trilby, you’re in what might be the prettiest, buzziest basement in London.

It’s very dark, very sexy and very 2012. The décor is all vintage-looking estancia tiling, rough plaster, reclaimed shopfront letters, upturned pianos, taxidermy and curtained-off alcoves. Despite a few buttoned-down banker types and a single baseball cap sighting (with blazer and shirt too, people!), everyone looks like they “might be someone”. The bar staff have Alex James/Nuno Mendes flicks and the punters are rake-thin blondes throwing their heads back to pour another grapefruit margarita in. The music – a fastidiously hip mix of Carly Simon, Ice Cube and Depeche Mode covers by Johnny Cash – gets louder and louder and – “what’s that you say!?” – louder. As much as you might want to hate it, it’s quite fabulous. Becker knows his stuff. It’s such a great party, the food is perhaps a moot point.

After working my way through the menu, I’d say that this isn’t really somewhere you want to come for a full-on dinner, it’s somewhere to book and rock up to as late as possible, for a casual mix of nibbles, liquor and nightlife. As Mexican food goes, it’s not half bad. I bastardise the cuisine at home to decent, cosy, sludgy effect, but frankly, London’s Mexican restaurants – most notably Mercado in Stoke Newington – are uniformly crap. Only retro Greek seems like a less appealing option. This is a big step up, but is it really what you want for dinner? With a heavily policed two-hour table turning policy? At these prices? Yes and no. With a bit of maybe.

First, a word on those prices: A small plate of red snapper ceviche at £13.50 and a seabass in alternate green and red seasoning for £26 is spendy. With a few tacos, salads and bits and bobs, you’ll blow £50, or much more, with ease. This is London-small-plate-hazard-red-alert territory. But then, some of it’s very good. From the starter list, BBQ octopus is dark, tender and tasty, and a seared tuna starter near perfect. Grilled corn with cream would be better off the cob and with less herb on it. The steak tacos (£6.50 for two) were much-moreish but the chorizo version was so spiced that I needed an emergency glass of milk. A single tuna tostaditas was light, tasty and creamy, but a side of white beans with chorizo was anaemic and lacked seasoning. A plate of roasted vegetables looked dark, leaden and unappealing, with aggressive chunks of onion. It didn’t taste much better. The main problem at La Bodega Negra is that everything tastes curiously similar, and everyone at my table hankered for at least one thing a little lighter.

Come to La Bodega Negra for lashings of margarita-based cocktails and trays of tacos to soak them up, or have some ceviche and a main (the chicken paillard or slow roasted lamb for two are stand-outs). It’s such a shame about the two-hour turnaround, because this would be a great place to linger, revelling in the candlelit funk and glitz, running up a ridiculous bill on drinks and finger food. It’s such a fun room. But then, hey, at least you can book – and let’s face it, most London restaurateurs choose to insult you one of two ways these days: make you wait in the rain for a table or ask for you chip and PIN while your halfway through your pudding. And if the main restaurant at La Bodega Negra was “no reservations” there’d be a very weird, very long unlikely-looking queue outside of Soho’s most salubrious sex shop.