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South Kensington Has Mass Appeal

Neil Sowerby finds there’s more to the area than museum visits

Written by . Published on February 25th 2013.

South Kensington Has Mass Appeal

In the second despatch of a three part series on London, travel editor Neil Sowerby celebrates Latin Mass, French food and Egerton House, a discreetly charming hotel, in South Kensington.

DON’T blame me for losing us a Pope. I say ”us” loosely since I am not of the Roman Catholic Faith. It just happened, by ecumenical serendipity, that I attended my first full Solemn Latin Mass the day before Benedict called it quits.

'Large frozen martini glass, small dash bottle of vermouth, an abundance of spirit from a bitingly chilled bottle of gin, slice of lemon, no stirring. High octane, silky perfection'

As a paid-up pagan, I felt curiously guilty in the aftermath and tweeted it, but the Oratory folk are now twitching the Twitter thread and reassuring me I’m always welcome back!

Brompton OratoryBrompton Oratory; below, its sumptuous Italianate interior

Brompton Oratory Interior

I mainly knew Brompton Oratory, Britain’s largest RC church after Westminster Abbey, from a lugubrious Nick Cave song of that name and the fact that KGB agents famously used it as a dead-letter box during the Cold War. Built in 1884 in Italianate Baroque style, it feels much more ancient, even the newly inserted Cardinal Newman Chapel.

Why finally visit then? Well, we were in the area. The attraction of the 11am Sunday Mass was the chance to hear some superb liturgical music and for my wife to prove she still knew the entire Latin text by heart (she did). Excluded from the Consecration of the Eucharist, I still loved the intense sense of community and was sorely tempted to reassemble for Vespers at 3.30pm. Another time – under a new Pontiff.

Racine %26#8211%3B Doorway To A World Of French Culinary DelightsRacine – doorway to French culinary delights; below, its classic bistro interior

Racine's Classic French Bistro Interior

Our own breaking of bread took place with lunch directly across Brompton Road at, miraculously, what is my favourite culinary bolthole in London. Racine, under chef patron Henry Harris, offers a showcase of French bistro classics from Soupe de Poissons and Lapin a la Moutarde to Cote de Boeuf with Bearnaise Sauce and a formidable Vanilla Glace with Valrhona Chocolate Sauce.

All in an appropriate dark-leather-and wood-with-mirrors setting beyond the front door’s heavy draft-excluding drape. Like entering a confessional almost with the sins still ahead of you. I remember dining solo there once and, while awaiting my lonely starter, being offered a choice of The Times or Le Figaro with my Kir Royale. Sheer class.

Hidden Gem %26#8211%3B Egerton HouseDiscreet gem – Egerton House

Class is the word that also sums up our South Ken hotel, which (there is a God) was less than 100 yards from Racine, tucked away discreetly in a side road. The formally dressed front desk greet you with a natural warmth. Low key luxury is the aim here. Checking in you, are offered a choice of eight different types of pillow. I was more interested in the two choices of martini – gin and vodka based – for which the cosy bar is famous.

Legendary Italian barman Antonio (pictured) decamped here from Dukes Hotel in St James’s, bringing with him a fund of stories and some well-honed cocktail expertise. It was Sunday, his day-off, so his oppo went through the martini ritual for us in surroundings that feel like a someone’s posh home.

Large frozen martini glass, small dash bottle of vermouth, an abundance of spirit from a bitingly chilled bottle of gin, slice of lemon, no stirring. Mine was high octane, silky perfection; the vodka version was equally heady.

Drawing Room At EgertonDrawing room at Egerton; below, our cosy loft suite

Our Cosy Loft Suite At Egerton House

The 33-room Egerton House, to 19th century townhouses knockd together, is part of the international Red Carnation group, which boasts six very special boutique hotels in London. I’ve previously stayed at The Milestone, near Kensington Palace and High Street. There Red Carnation mastermind Bea Tollman has unleashed a more spectacular design. Egerton, in contrast, veers on the chintzy side, though Bea’s Toulouse Lautrec lithographs, a Picasso and a Matisse do compensate for large oils of Victorian notables.

Vand AsuiteVand A Suite is decked out in Tudor style

The stand-out of the accommodation is the Tudor-themed V&A Suite with is own French windows opening out onto a Garden Terrace. Our top floor loft suite overlooked the sedate retreat of Egerton Gardens as a sudden swirl of snow arrived on the Monday and the chill news from Rome drifted in.

We debated whether to tackle a museum (I naturally like to say hi to Sowerby’s Whale in the Natural History  Museum). Instead we took the newspapers to the Anglesea Arms off Fulham Road at Selwood Terrace.

Charles Dickens and DH Lawrence were neighbours in the street (decades apart, alas) at No 9 and 11 respectively. It was at this time that Lawrence married his wife Frieda and began his global wanderings.

Anglesea Arms ExteriorAnglesea Arms; below, a Weimeraner chills out in the front bar

Weimaraner Stays Cool In The Anglesea Arms

Both authors frequented the local in what is still a quirky street, originally  called Sallad Lane because if its market gardens. Quirky, too, the Anglesea, with its countrified outdoor terrace. It offers food and has its share of Sloane Rangers ordering Chablis, but still has a proper pubby feel. Try the Adnams Broadside at under £4, which is good for London these days.

The message is: this most refined of London boroughs has much to divert a weekender. Egerton House is also five minutes way from another cosmopolitan religious destination – the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints, also known as The Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

Russian Orthodox Cathedral, KnightsbridgeRussian Orthodox Cathedral

This former Anglican parish church, modelled on a 11th century Veronese basilica, is at 67 Ennismore Gardens. It is part of the “Diocese of Sourozh” covering the British Isles. Its guiding light for many years was the charismatic Metropolitan Anthony, who died in 2003. He developed a flexible brand of Orthodoxy, where rules about headscarves and fasting were less strictly enforced (though big beards seem de rigueur). Services are in Slavonic and English  and you have to have a liking for incense.

Or you could always empty your wallet in Harrods nearby!

Harrods Food HallHarrods Food Hall – lots of great food at a price

Fact file

Getting there:
Neil Sowerby travelled on Virgin Trains, which runs up to 50 trains a day between Manchester and London. For details of services and fares, including special promotions, visit www.virgintrains.co.uk. For timetable information ring National Rail Enquiries 08457 48 49 50.

Staying there:
Egerton House Hotel, 17-19 Egerton Terrace, London, SW3 2BX. It’s part of the Red Carnation Group, whoch has properties in South Africa, Florida and Geneva – all upmarket, all totally distinctive. Egerton is dog-friendly,  has no restaurant, just basement dining rooms for breakfast. www.redcarnationhotels.com/egertonhousehotel/
Eating and drinking:
Racine, 239 Brompton Road, SW3 2EP (020 7584 4477, http://racine-restaurant.com).

Anglesea Arms, 15 Selwood Terrace, South Kensington, SW7 3QG (www.capitalpubcompany.com/our-pubs/the-anglesea-arms/).

What to visit (if you don’t fancy churches):
Lots of museums all within five minutes of Egerton House: V&A, Natural History Museum and Science Museum. In the other direction Harrods and Harvey Nichols head the Knightsbridge shopping options.

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Lord of the PiesApril 11th 2013.

What are the prices like at these places?

AnonymousApril 11th 2013.

Looks nice.

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