Tuesday, July 22, 2014

London Social Diary

Bing Tailer, Sharon Sondes, Ann "Daya" Baker, and Sharon's sister Maureen.
London Social Diary
By Sharon Sondes

Since I was five years old, I don't think I've missed more then a few Junes in London. As soon as school was out, my sister Maureen, our beloved English governess Ann "Daya" Baker, and I would board the SS America or the SS United States, which were the height of luxury at that time. And off we'd sail for a wonderful two months in London.
S.S. United States & S.S. America (foreground) side by side.
Nowadays, except for the brief interlude of the Concorde, most travel is a nightmare. At least planes have seats that can turn into beds, which I hoped would neutralize my terrible jet lag. It didn't.

When in London, we always stay with our best friend Persian beauty Kokoly Fallah, known the world over as Kooki. She kindly sent a car and driver to pick us up with a note not to do anything but come straight to her house. I have a tendency to disappear into the market, the chemist, Selfridges, and everywhere else and forget the time.
Sharon and Kooki.
After we arrived and caught up briefly, I had mentioned to Kooki that I'd like to try André Balaz's new place, the Chiltern Firehouse. Kooki (who goes everywhere) said, "don't fret, we already have reservations." OH!

Naomi Campbell heading to the Chiltern Firehouse. ©Wenn.com
I admire Balaz and think he's very smart and very talented. I especially enjoy Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. Supposedly, one can't book a table at the Firehouse until October unless you're a Biggie, a Somebody, or a Famous Star of film or stage. It was all so un-English, all that hype and velvet ropes and paparazzi. I had always enjoyed the nightclub Annabel's, Harry's Bar, Mark's Club, San Lorenzo, The Ivy, Nobu, and Robin Birley's newish 5 Hertford Street — very popular establishments without all the hype and hysteria.

Finally, we do get to that controversial little outpost of Hollywood, the Chiltern Firehouse. It's both a hotel and restaurant, but I'm not sure the hotel part is open yet. It seems that people either love it or hate it depending on how they're treated — which makes sense.

At this point it should be renamed Movie Star Central. It's sort of sad that they are getting almost all of the attention, and making the less famous customers, of which there are few allowed in, feel snubbed.

I say sad because the decor is very smart, the staff seems nice, and the Portuguese chef's Nuno Mendes' "specials," such as crab donuts and crunchy chicken skin (without the chicken) Caesar salad, deliciously different. I just hope CF lasts, and doesn't prove Lao Tzu's quote true, "The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long."

A few days later, Robin and Rupert Hambro
hosted a book party for Billy Rayner, author of the highly acclaimed two-volume set titled Notes and Sketches: The Travel Journals of William P. Rayner. Billy has probably had more book parties than any other author I know! And he deserves every one of them and many more.
Hosts Robin and Rupert Hambro.
He never moves from his perch, diligently signing every book. He must be ready to cast his hand in bronze! His elegant wife Kathy is a brilliant hostess in NYC, East Hampton and Palm Beach. I don't think Kathy has ever given a party she didn't love. This past year, though, to put all her best efforts in feting the person she loves most in the world must have been a thrilling experience for both. They are like one person enjoying and appreciating all the same things in life, and very proud of each other.
Billy signing away.
These volumes in lovely slipcases and nestling in a hard case — one on Billy's adventures in Africa, the second in India — are beautiful both outside and in. They've crossed the pond, and more people will fall in love with Billy's many years of travel and adventures. That's certainly what happened with the crowd at Robin and Rupert Hambro's drinks party. The extraordinarily handsome Hambros seem to have rounded up every "Yank" and "Brit" in London to their darling house on Ebury St.
Anyway, it was a fun party. The Rayners then invited everyone to dinner at a delicious Peruvian restaurant called Coya. Enjoying the spicy lamb and charcoal grilled Chilean sea bass were Alfred and Judy Taubman, Ann Nitze, Kimberly and Jonathan Moffat, George Farias, Earle and Carol Mack, David and Jill Gilmour, Ivana Lowell, Peter Duchin, and Christopher Mason at the piano, Dame Vivien Duffield, Hilary and Wilbur Ross, Kooki Fallah, Mario D'Urso, Bob Colacello, the Martin Grusses, and Ann Summers. Prince and Princess Michael of Kent were at drinks, but gave up dinner so they could spend more time with their son Freddie and his wife Sophie and their baby Maude, who were visiting from Los Angeles.
Our Royal Enclosure badges at Royal Ascot.
The next day, Geoffrey, Kooki and I went to a Royal Ascot "picnic" lunch held in Car Park No.1. It's a very amusing party, and in no way your ordinary picnic. It comprises tables and chairs set up under umbrella's and tents and features an opulent buffet accompanied by delicious wines, Champagne and a full bar. Also an excellent, attentive staff.

The lunch was hosted by Russian magnate George Piskov (Chairman of the Board of Uniastrum Bank), his wife Tatiana, and Liz Brewer, party organizer Extraordinaire. Liz, who seems to be able TO DO IT ALL and make it look easy, is now in St. Moritz at the Palace Hotel teaching her famous Royal Etiquette and Classic British Etiquette Classes.
Liz Brewer at the Palace Hotel in St. Moritz.
Ascot these days can be as much about the inventive variety of hats as it is about the racing and the horses. Ladies can be seen in hats that range from the beautiful and flattering (Remember that wonderful scene with Audrey Hepburn looking gorgeous at Ascot in "My Fair Lady") to what can only be called "tongue in cheek" by wearers with a sense of humor and a flair for the unusual.
'Picnic' lunch in the No. 1 Car Park at Royal Ascot 2014.
Maria and David Hesketh with Judi Etzin.
Actress Helen Masters with Ben Duncan.
Ben Duncan, Lisa Tchenguiz, and Clive Leigh Collins.
Tatiana Piskov and Michael Whitelock.
Sasha Ratiu, Isabell Kristensen, and George and Tatiana Piskov. Inset: Isabell Kristensen' s hat at last year's luncheon. Heather Bird Tchenguiz with Liz Brewer's co-host George Piskov.
Geoffrey Thomas. Kooki with Geoffrey Thomas and Michelle Herbert.
We were especially excited by our lunch invitation the following day in the newly opened private dining room on the 5th floor of the grandstand. It's aptly named 'ON 5'. Our hosts, that adorable young couple Kamel (aka Kaz) and Chloe Alzarka, treated 62 of us to a delicious lunch presented by chef Tom Kerridge. He won two stars from Michelin after opening his gastropub, The Hand and Flowers, in the beautiful Georgian village of Marlow. I love pub food, and was lucky enough to once have Tom's signature dish — his take on a hog roast. Aside from the most delicious menu, what makes 'ON 5' such a treat and a winner is the spectacular view of the racetrack. Kaz, CEO of The Falcon Group, loves to entertain in special places such as Versailles, where he married Chloe.
A view from our table at 'ON 5'.
Nathalie Dauriac-Stoebe with Chloe and Kaz Alzarka, hosts of the 'On 5' lunch presented by two-star Michelin chef Tom Kerridge.
Lady Kilmorey. Isabell Kristensen with her son Martin Kristensen.
Nicholas Barham, Chloe Alzarka, Karen Carwin, and Kaz Alzarka.
Liz Brewer. TV presenter Donna Air.
Liz Brewer with the Royal Ascot Racing Club Manager Emma Banks.
Chloe Alzarka on the 'On 5' Balcony at Royal Ascot. Luna de Casanova and Lisa Tchenguiz.
The Royal Party arriving.
Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
When we visit London or any place where we have lots of good friends, we are entertained all of the time. I'm not complaining, but you never get to some of the neighborhood favorites or good solid restaurants that have lasted for years.

Our dinner hosts (top to bottom): Sir Ian Lowson and Lady Tana Alexander; Ambassador John Loeb and his wife Sharon; Jennifer Loxton Peacock (with SS).
Thanks to Kathrine Palmer and author Peter Watson, we rediscovered Bellamys, which is named after the club in Evelyn Waugh's "Sword of Honour." It's wonderful, partly because it's managed by some of the old Annabel's staff.

Another delicious brasserie is Le Columbier where we were taken by Sir Ian and Tanya Lowson. It has such a cheerful ambiance that when we weren't busy eating ... we were laughing.

My cousin Ambassador John Loeb, and his wife Sharon took us to the private club 5 Hertford St., which you already know all about. It's somewhat new compared to the above, a lot of fun, and where you run into absolutely everyone.

Going there only proved my point that there were more Americans in town then ever. I ran into Bettina Zilkha, Beverley Camhe, and Elizabeth Esteve, to name a few.

Jennifer Loxton Peacock, Lady Tana Alexander and her husband Paul Focke entertained us at their beautiful homes. At Tana and Paul's I met Sir Jonathan Guinness, who was in Margaret Thatcher's Think Tank, has an exceptional library, and is an expert on paintings and the authenticity of them.

I kept hearing one of my smartest and best friends, the late Judy Green, instructing me to "Listen!! You already know what you know, but you don't know what he knows!" So listen, I did!

Also at Jennifer's, the aunt of George Osborne (Chancellor of the Exchequer) had included one of my most amusing pals from the 1970s, Backgammon champion and raconteur Lewis Deyong. He wrote the entertaining "Playboy's Book of Backgammon."

Kooki took us to her favorite Italian restaurant, Lucio, which is my favorite now, too. It's cosy and yummy and has some of the most delicious pasta dishes I've ever tasted.
Kathrine Palmer and SS. Kathrine was also one of our dinner hosts.
Some other highlights of this year's visit was a pre-Wimbledon brunch at the Hurlingham Club. I wouldn't have believed such a beautiful place existed until we drove down Kings Road, took a left through two gates, and entered 42 acres of private club grounds, polo fields, grass tennis courts, croquet courts, lovely fountains and gardens. The amazing thing is that all of this beauty is smack in the middle of London, and has been ever since 1869.
The Main Clubhouse at Hurlingham.
The Lake at Hurlingham.
After a gorgeous lunch and afternoon exploring the grounds of Hurlingham, we had to move on. It was Geoffrey's birthday, and that evening we celebrated it with Kooki and a mixture of pals at 5 Hertford St. The ubiquitous Bob Colacello was at a long table, and the only other person I could see was Pepe Fanjul. He and Emilia gave Bob a really nice book party in Palm Beach this March celebrating the reprint of "Holy Terror." Originally published in 1990, Bob rewrote the introduction. He was also the Editor of Andy Warhol's Interview through some of the '70s and '80s when I was a contributing editor.
SS and Andy in the '70s.
Andy used to work out in my home gym with my instructor and me. My late ex husband Henry (The 5th earl Sondes) would already be downing his 5th Sharpener and banging on the door, threatening to yank Andy's wig off. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Andy and me. We would just howl with laughter at the silliness of it all. I have fond memories of those times with Andy, but that's a whole other column.

Back to Geoffrey's Birthday and books. I ran into an old pal Cheever Hardwick, who has a very witty book coming out in mid October called "The Labrador Theory." It's illustrated with the brilliant cartoons of Alasdair Hilleary.  

Cheever describes the book as "a simplistic treatise for women who wish to maintain a marriage or relationship with someone of the male sex after the initial bloom has gone off the rose."

Geoffrey loved his cake (a four-layer white cake with apricot jam, raspberry jam and marzipan icing — such a treat with vanilla, mango, and banana ice cream), all the gossip, and was thrilled by his birthday in general.

Now It's time to say Toodle-loo to Kooki, London, and her beyond adorable baby grandsons who visit her every day.
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