THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN – The Sky Garden Brasserie

After fighting our way through airport-style security and ascending  a 36 storey lift, we arrived at the beautiful Sky Garden in the heart of the City. Although mid August, there was a heavy layer of cloud over London, but this didn’t tamper with the splendour of the 360 degree views of London with which we were met on arrival.

We had booked a table at the Darwin Brasserie for my 21st Birthday celebration, one of two eateries in the establishment, the other being the Fenchurch Restaurant which is considerably pricier and the more formal of the two. There is also a bar on the main level which is apparently frequented by city workers after hours. We arrived half an hour early for our 12.30 booking, which gave us ample time to wander around the beautiful two storey garden and take in the views from the balcony on the south facing side.

The décor of the Darwin Brasserie is modern and stylish, with a laid-back feel and a menu priced to match. For the location and the quality of the view from the table, the food is very reasonably priced. The attention to detail is extraordinary, a number of days before the event we called ahead to warn them of a member of our party who had difficulty eating certain things; to which they helpfully responded and made a special dish of the day.

The menu is simple but vibrant, offering starters ranging from Steak Tartare and Oysters to a deliciously simple Gazpacho and Tomato Salad. Depending on your tolerance to garlic, however, I would be careful ordering the Gazpacho! Recommended by the excellent and attentive staff, I had the Tuna Nicoise Salad for my main, which was perfectly presented and the fish exquisitely cooked. There was an array of other simple mains, including a perfectly textured Courgette and Basil Risotto and then some more hearty traditional options such as Fillet Steak and Fish and Chips (which we did not order but looked divine on neighbouring tables).

To satisfy the sweet toothed among the party there was a mouthwatering selection. I had the Crème Brûlée, which is a simple desert, but it was done to perfection with a hard exterior and deliciously creamy underlayer.

We had a fantastic day and the staff were attentive and friendly without being overbearing, especially to the older members of our party. With some of the best views available, and food to match, the Darwin Brasserie at the Sky Garden is a must in London!

More information on Sky Garden Brasserie here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, George Vaughan-Barratt.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN: Villissima!

The thought of interrupting one’s Provencal holiday with a visit to an exhibition about cities in a stuffy museum doesn’t sound at all agreeable. However Toulon’s Hotel des Arts is an oasis of cool and the current show, Villissima! is a pleasure from start to finish. Curator-philosopher Guillaume Monsaingeon follows up his highly acclaimed 2013 map art show, Mappamundi, with another thought-provoking exploration of geography and how humans transform it.

The exhibition does not take the predictable dystopian approach to urban living instead it attempts to celebrate people’s ingenuity and invention, the pragmatism displayed when we have to share very limited space and the curious cultural results of living together in this close proximity. That is not to say there is a lack of darkness – on entering, one immediately encounters Mathieu Pernot’s photographs of tower blocks frozen in mid-demolition, chilling images of modern buildings in their death throes.

The discrepancies of scale are examined by several artists, most notably in Tony Cragg’s faux minimalist ‘Three Modern Buildings’ made from simple stacks of salvaged breeze blocks, and Julia Montilla’s diminutive city of artfully folded medicine capsule packs.

The insectiness of people streaming down streets, tunnels and staircases is captured brilliantly in Alexey Titarenko’s slow exposure photographs that record the buildings as static but with the crowds as blurred tides washing over them. The complex geometric patterning of the metropolis is enjoyed in the work of many – for instance flatly in the graphic assemblages of Nigel Peake and expansively in the luminous plexiglass city of Bodys Isek Kingeles from the Congo.

Villissima! takes a refreshing new look at city life, proposing that we must accept it, not so much with the cool observational haughtiness of the flaneur but instead as a component in a huge and wondrous organic machine, forever reinventing itself and us at the same time.

Continues at Hotel des Arts, Toulon until 27th September. More information here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Chris Kenny.

Gypsy, Savoy Theatre

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The current revival of Gypsy is a vehicle for Imelda Staunton’s enormous talent and stage presence. The production started its life in Chichester last summer, and transferred into the Savoy Theatre, marking the first West End revival since the UK premiere in 1973. After reading all the rave reviews, I felt compelled to see the production. My mum managed to buy surprisingly reasonable stalls seats for £26 and with my sister we went for a girly night out to the theatre.

I was amazed to discover that Staunton has performed in every single show since April, that is eight times a week… and she fully intends to not miss a show before the run is up later this year. The piece is a study of parenthood and we watch as Rose (Staunton) desperately tries to achieve stardom for her two performing daughters. The girls transform from smiling kids trying to impress their “momma” to angry and frustrated young women trapped in a world they care little for. Does her suffocating mothering nurture or nauseate them?

Rose’s sidekick and love interest Herbie, played by Peter Davidson, is a sympathetic and convincing partner. Long suffering and kind, he bears the brunt of the backlash as he tries to love and support Rose and her family. Lara Pulver is a quietly striking older sister, with an alluringly lilting voice. The younger, bolder sister June certainly rises to the challenge of playing a typical ‘child stage star’. But really, everyone is chorus for the ebullient Imelda Staunton, who dominates the show from start to finish.

I enjoyed the quaint quirks of Jonathan Kent’s production, especially the transient sequence where the children performers turn to adults within one dance. The music is by Jule Styne with lyrics by the brilliant Stephen Sondheim, and I loved the opportunity to hear this theatrical partnership. Imelda Staunton is so powerful and inspiring on stage that everyone will leave feeling empowered by this leading lady.

Gypsy continues until 18 July, book tickets here.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MOTHER: Riverford Organics

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I don’t mind cooking after a long day at work but I do find it difficult to plan in advance and come up with menu ideas. My usual weekday suppers tended to revolve around pasta and other carb-laden meals which are quick to prepare from cupboard ingredients but not very waistline-friendly. A publicity e-mail about the Riverford Organics Recipe boxes caught my eye recently and in an effort to trim down for the summer I ordered a box. I had used Riverford for their veg boxes for several years so I knew the product quality could be relied upon. The produce in the box was beautifully packed in special protective layers, the cool bag keeping the fridge items cold for several hours. You won’t need anything else for your cooking apart from a little oil, salt and pepper which you would normally have in your storecupboard. Ingredients such as cider vinegar, star anise, garlic, nutmeg and other herbs and spices are carefully packed in tiny little plastic pots and each week’s recipe box is collected when your next one is delivered, so recycling is not a problem.
Boxes are called Quick, Vegetarian and Original and contain either two or three recipes, ranging in price from £29.95 to £39.95 for the two-person boxes. You can also buy boxes that feed four people. We find the two person box feeds three of us easily (we add extra meat as necessary). The 24 recipes we have tried so far have been fun and easy to cook and we have not had a dud yet. One of our favourite recipes was crispy tofu and noodle salad with sugar snaps, sesame and miso dressing.
I now look forward to cooking every weekend knowing that I don’t have to think of what to buy and cook and I’m adding to my culinary skills too.
Find out more about Riverford here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Mother, Franca Ryder-Smith.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN: Hot on the Highstreet Week 272

5 Men’s Shirts to Wear Into Autumn

For this week’s Hot on the Highstreet my stylish brother has selected men’s shirts at every price point to up your style as the summer weather slowly fades away.

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Under £30

Anyone who has talked to me for any longer than 5 minutes knows that I am a big fan of Uniqlo, which I love for its very reasonably priced, good-quality basics. This striped oxford shirt, available in 3 different colours, provides a little variation to their block coloured varieties and will look great by itself with a dark pair of jeans or under a casual blazer as it gets colder.

£19.90 Uniqlo here.

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Under £60

Change up your regular-collared white shirt for this granddad-collared variety from the Cos X Mr Porter capsule collection. It’ll make you stick out from the crowd without being too loud.

£59 Cos X Mr Porter here.

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Under £100

Brooks Brothers is a classic American brand with a long heritage in classic menswear with solid construction and high quality materials, designed to last. It’s the variation in stripe width and beautiful pastel colours that make this oxford shirt stand out for me. It’s from its Red Fleece line, which is designed with a slimmer, more modern cut.

£99 Brooks Brothers here.

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Under £160

Indigo is an incredibly versatile shade of blue and this Billy Reid patchwork shirt makes great use of it. This piece is tailor made for a blue tonal look, paired with jeans and a navy jacket. Alternatively, treat it as an over-shirt, worn over a basic white t-shirt.

£150 Billy Reid here.

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Over £160

If you are going to spend a lot of money on a shirt, why not make a statement. This stunning patterned shirt from Marni certainly does that and will elevate your entire look. When wearing bold patterns it is best to keep what you pair with it relatively simple to let the design stand out; a slim pair of dark trousers will do the job perfectly.

£310 Marni here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Gabriel Kenny-Ryder. See Gabriel’s photos here.

Agua Bathhouse and Spa, Mondrian Hotel

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Monday evenings are usually reserved for dance classes or relaxing at home. But a few weeks ago I spent a Monday evening at the Mondrian hotel spa and was utterly enamoured with this underground haven.

The new Mondrian hotel seems to tick every box: excellent location overlooking the river, contemporary and characterful bedrooms, luxury amenities and a destination bar with award-winning mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana. Initially the spa seems to be a bit of an afterthought, hidden on a quiet lower floor, but after experiencing the retreat I felt it was reason alone to visit this hotel.

Agua Bathhouse and Spa feels exclusive and boutique, with striking design, creative product choices and a carefully curated list of signature treatments. Every detail is fine tuned to make the spa experience faultless and memorable. After admiring the amusing ‘I Love My Muff’ products on offer in the reception I was shown through to the smart changing room area, fully stocked with my favourite Malin & Goetz products. A bowl of thick mud was waiting for me outside the luxurious steam room, and I gladly coated my body in the moisturising mask whilst breathing in the cleansing warm air.

Feeling thoroughly cleansed I went through for my Custom Mondrian massage. The room was simply designed and dimly lit, creating an uncluttered zen atmosphere. I was sandwiched between the softest sheets on the bed and asked about my preference of scent. This treatment uses the Soveral oils, which are blended individually for each customer to create the perfect aromatic oil for your needs. A mix of Lavender, Frankincense and Peppermint was used for me to give a relaxing and soothing effect. It was 50 minutes of bliss, and my brilliant therapist used a range of techniques to target difficult areas of tension in my body. As I left, i was handed a lovely little bottle of the oil to take away and use at home.

After the massage guests are taken through to the relaxation room, a spacious area with reclining beds, magazines and plenty of herbal teas. The staff here go above and beyond the norm to ensure the relaxation experience continues after your treatment. I was given a fluffy duvet, a lovely oriental pot of camomile tea and a hot water bottle… I could have fallen asleep for the night.

Whether you are visiting Agua Bathhouse and Spa for some much needed alone time, or with friends, there are a range of unique and effective options carefully designed to suit every occasion. Next time I visit I am keen to try the sunrise yoga, and for girly groups the mud parties sound unmissable.

More information and book a spa treatment here.

Mama Shelter Marseille

I spend a lot of time in the South of France, but the busy port town of Marseille has never really appealed to me, until this year. Eurostar have recently extended their service, so it is now just a five hour direct train journey from London, and with the arrival of many trendy new bars and shops it has become an exciting destination for young and hip travellers.

The Mama Shelter brand is fashionable and affordable, first opening in Paris in 2008 and opening this second outpost in Marseille in 2012. The chain now has six hotels, four in France, one in Istanbul and most recently a hotel in Los Angeles. It is the perfect option for thrifty, style-savvy nomads who appreciate modern interiors and technology-focussed amenities. The bedrooms are designed by Philippe Starck, a Parisian designer who impresses with his creative interiors in venues across France.

The hotel has 127 rooms, and start at just 79 euros a night. We were upgraded to room 311, a spacious deluxe room on the third floor of the hotel. The large bedroom was equipped with a 27″ iMac, including numerous services: TV, radio, Airplay, Skype, internet and free WiFi access. There was a minibar and a desk where you can play or work. The floor was a colourful patchwork but most other things were minimal and white. The huge bed was blissfully comfortable and had strategically located plugs for charging, and lights for reading in bed. The full length mirror had a kind message from Mama, ‘welcome, mama loves you’ and in the bathroom, ‘you look beautiful’. I also loved the other little details, amusing masks for in-room selfies and lovely toiletries made for Mama Shelter by absolution.

It was such an unexpected delight to discover that the stylish apple TV had a variety of free films. After an evening of gallivanting around town I was happy to collapse on the bouncy white bed and watch a comedy.

The restaurant is a popular haunt with guests and visitors, and always receives rave reviews for the lavish Sunday brunch.

I enjoyed exploring Marseille and Mama Shelter was the perfect place to stay for a our brief city break.

More information on Mama Shelter Marseille and book here.

Pet Friendly Hotels

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For those of you who can’t bear to travel without your pooches, here are a few exemplary luxury hotels who ensure your pets are pampered just as much as you are whilst on holiday.

Loews Regency Hotel, New York
Creature Comforts: Loews Regency Hotel is the choice of every pet lover. Put simply: Loews Loves Pets. As part of the Loews Loves Pets programme, your VIP (Very Important Pet) will be waited on hand and paw, travelling in first-class comfort at this pet-friendly hotel. On 26 August, Loews Regency is celebrating National Dog Day with a dedicated Yappy Hour (5-8pm) comprising a host of special offers and treats for furry friends and their owners.
Rates: Loews Loves Pets package, charging a one-time £32 per stay. Rooms are from £386 per night
Bookings: loewshotels.com/regency-hotel, 1-800-233-2356

The Little Nell, Aspen
Creature Comforts: Aspen is awash in four-legged friends. The hotel will pamper yours with their luxury pet amenities. They’ll eat epicurean treats and enjoy selections from their special organic pet menu. They’ll walk them, sit them and guide you to pet friendly trails. They’ll supply bowls and beds, and even a Puppy Jet Lag Kit to help them get used to the altitude in Aspen.
Rates: Petiquette Program, £64 one-time cleaning fee and an additional £16 per night. Rooms are from £434 per night
Bookings: stay@thelittlenell.com, +1 970-920-4600

Peninsula Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills
Creature Comforts: Four-legged guests are pampered with personalised towels, luxurious doggy beds and a specially-designed menu that offers treats such as the ‘Bow Wow Beef Burger’ and ‘Spot’s New York Strip’. If a guest doesn’t have time to walk their dog, one of the hotel’s white-uniformed Peninsula Pages will take the pooch for a stroll around the block. They often walk up to 10 dogs a day. The hotel takes the term “pet-friendly” to new heights of luxury, offering each four-footed guest a plush doggie bed, monogrammed towel and Fiji Water in a shiny bowl. Pet owners can treat their dogs to specialties from the “people food for dogs” menu, including dishes such as a “Bow-Wow Burger” and a “Tail of the Pup Hot Dog”.
Rates: Rooms are from £354 per night
Bookings: peninsula.com/beverlyhills, +1 310-551-2888

The Peninsula New York, New York
Creature Comforts: Fifth Avenue’s most fashionable address is delighted to welcome complimentary creature comforts, offering pet dogs only the finest when holidaying in New York. These include a welcome card and dog toy, personalised bottle of water, organic pet food, a Peninsula dog bed with two dog bowls and Peninsula dog leashes and bandanas.
Rates: Superior Rooms are from £381 per night
Bookings: peninsula.com/newyork, +1 212 956 2888

Viceroy New York, New York
Creature Comforts: Your favourite friend will be provided with a bed, food, water bowl and delicious dog treats at arrival. Upon request, the hotel is happy to make dog aromatherapy kits available for purchase.
Rates: One pet per room allowed (under 25 lbs), charged at £64 per room per night. Rooms are from £199 per night incl. taxes & fees. The pet charge is waived for guests staying in Junior Suites or above, from £275 per suite per night incl. taxes & fees.
Bookings: vny.reservations@viceroyhotelsandresorts.com, +1-855-647-1619

Volcanoes Safaris, Rwanda & Uganda
Creature Conservation: With only 480 mountain gorillas left in the Virungas, not only will visitors to the region experience seeing them in the wild, but more importantly, they will have the opportunity to help protect their furry ancestors. Experts in rare mountain gorilla safaris in Uganda and Rwanda and leaders in eco-tourism, Volcanoes Safaris – which consists of four eco-luxe lodges – contributes $100 from the cost of every safari directly to the Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust, a separate non-profit organisation which undertakes community and conservation activities.
Rates: 7 Day Safari rates start from £4,214 (US$6,329) per person, 5 Day Safari rates start from £3,176 (US$4,770) per person.
Bookings: salesug@volcanoessafaris.com

The Lounge, Soho

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You can do just about anything in Soho. A few weeks ago I went for a hair makeover at The Lounge, a cool contemporary salon hidden away just behind the district’s seediest sex shops. The salon was opened by celebrated hairdresser Joe Mills, who boldly opened his business in one of the less fashionable streets and made it into a destination. More recently he opened up a barber shop called Joe and Co. which has also garnered rave reviews. The Lounge is popular with creatives, celebrities and locals alike and there is always a buzz about the place.

After a long week at work I was delighted to turn up at the door on a Friday afternoon. I slumped into one of the comfortable leather seats and let the capable staff take charge of my pampering. The pared down decor seemed to help me clear my mind and really relax into the experience. Within moments a stack of gossip magazines were placed at my disposal and a chilled glass of fizz was handed to me. It was the perfect start to the weekend. Colour expert, Tiffany, was in charge of my new hair shade. She talked me through a few ideas and we settled on natural darker roots, with blonde singed ends and got to work immediately. Very importantly she checked the time I had available before starting on the elaborate process. She was wonderfully thoughtful and thorough. The products used by The Lounge are natural and organic wherever possible and this comes through in the final result which they ensure is always subtle and real-looking.

Then came my favourite part. A massage chair, my feet up and my hair washed with the most delicious products. The Lounge Soho uses the luxury Italian range of hair products, Davines. The collection has recently been rebranded with attractive minimalist packaging, and now it seems to be in every top salon in town. My hair was treated to an intensive moisturising mask then a fabulously indulgent scalp massage, which almost sent me to sleep. The hair routine was completed with a revitalising wash and condition.

After the colour was checked and approved, Georgie, set about my tresses with a hairdryer and tongs. She effectively created an insouciant, just-out-the-sea look – the type of hairstyle you can never re-create at home. She finished the style with the aptly-named ‘sea salt spray’ by luxury hair care brand by Kevin Murphy. I left the salon feeling totally glamorous having had a luxurious pampering afternoon but looking effortlessly chic, at least I thought so!

More information and book an appointment here.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 271

Earlier this week I visited Marseille for a weekend, and was delighted to find a few unique little shops that I wanted to tell you about. This southern French city is big and particularly popular with tourists during the summer months. The Eurostar has recently introduced a direct service from London and so I predict the destination will see a lot more British tourists in the coming years.

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Chez Lucas – this den of salvaged French vintage items is great fun to explore. From 1950s school maps to retro glassware, you will find everything you could need to make a perfectly old-fashioned French home. Prices are reasonable and the owner may even let you bargain him down.

Manufactures Françaises – this is a new boutique outpost of Maison Empereur, the popular French concept store in Marseille. The shop is found in Panier, the oldest district of the city and is instantly alluring from the street. This little treasure trove only opened in April stocking a range of traditional, design-focussed products including colognes, soaps, homeware, straw hats, smocks and old games.

Marseille shop

La Grande Savonnerie – The city of Marseille is famous for its soap, though only a few authentic shops remain.  La Grande Savonnerie is one of the best, and customers are able to personalise their bars of soap with their own message. Opt for the traditional flavour, Savon de Marseille made from olive oil and other natural ingredients.