The Forte Family's London
Food & Drink, Culture
31 August 2021
M ayfair is a signal part of the world’s imagining of London—a neighbourhood as storied as it is dynamic. On its famous squares and more famous streets (think Bond, Mount, Dover), the most exclusive members’ clubs share block space with rollicking restaurant scenes representing the world’s exotic cuisines, and generations-old haberdashers trade next to cutting-edge European and Asian designers.
Rocco Forte Hotels headquarters happens to sit a stone’s throw away from all this, on Jermyn Street; no surprise, then, that the Forte family knows these streets well, along with those of the surrounding Zone 1 neighbourhoods. Here, Charles, Lydia and Irene Forte, along with their aunt, Rocco Forte Hotel’s Design Director Olga Polizzi, share their favourite haunts and hidden-gem addresses for culture, design, gastronomic pursuits and more.
“Sir John Soane’s Museum in Bloomsbury is a lovely place to pop into; I mean, no one can but like that museum. It’s small, easy and quick to see—a real collector’s house, and just full of interesting bits. We’re all always trying to copy the Soane thing to some degree, it has such a universal appeal.
“For a dose of total tranquillity near Bayswater Road, Martyrs Church inside Tyburn Convent is amazing. There’s such a sense of calm there, the nuns are silent, and inside you don’t hear a sound despite the fact it’s on such a noisy road. If I’ve had a bad day and I’m feeling a bit out of sorts, it’s such a good place to walk into and stay a while.
“Oswalds, Robin Birley’s restaurant and wine club on Albemarle Street,is wonderful—really glamorous. All the walls are Venetian glass, expressly made to fit round the columns. It’s a beautiful room, nice food, a very good atmosphere. Robin Birley is like his father, a consummate perfectionist, and that really shows in the atmosphere. It’s like with what he’s done at No 5 [Hertford Street]—if something isn’t perfect, he just throws it out and starts again.”
“I tend to like classic menswear with modern interpretations, and an element of fun, something tongue-in-cheek: Trunk Clothiers in Marylebone is great for that, as is Drakes, in the Savile Row. And New & Lingwood is the place to go if you want a really fruity, fun dressing gown. They actually have a shop in Windsor, where Eton is, which is kind of hilarious. I have shirts made at Anderson & Sheppard—Tony Brand, who runs the place, offers a really, really excellent service.
“For food, it’s Phat Phuc noodle bar in Chelsea. I love that place with a passion. It’s totally unpretentious but delicious; during the work-from-home era, I’d often head down there for a cheeky pho. China Tang is my favourite for Chinese food, and what people don’t know is that you can go at all hours; if I’m coming straight from the airport and I’ve got a hankering at 4 pm, that’s where I’ll go. And then if I’m doing something sort of east-central, like joining my mum at the London Symphony Orchestra—she’s a benefactor—we’ll go to the wonderful St John, for a bit of bone marrow and toast.”
“My wonderful friend, Lucinda Bellm, founded Lamb Arts in 2015 to promote emerging artists from Europe and Latin America. Her exhibitions are always cool and quirky, and you find 'affordable' pieces. They’ve just opened an exciting new gallery space on St. George Street, right in the heart of Mayfair. There’s a furniture and design gallery inside, called Benteler + Bellm, which has a curated selection of minimal and modern inspiration from the coolest interior designers.
“When people want a cosy and intimate place to eat delicious, unpretentious modern British cuisine, I send them to Kitty Fisher’s in Shepherds Market. It feels casual, in a good way, but you're always getting a top-rate experience.
“Since it opened at 5 Carlos place, I’ve loved Matches Townhouse. There’s one floor of boutique space, one for private shopping, one for events, one for livestreaming and the fifth for broadcasting. They do all sorts of programming, where customers can be there in person or watch the live stream along with doing some shopping. It's a really interesting hybrid between the digital and the physical—all about engagement first, commerce later.”
“I love Bar Termini in Soho for when you want just really good, authentic Italian cocktails, and for the best sushi and sashimi in London and a really cosy atmosphere, I love the sushi bar at 5 Hertford Street—it’s in a side room off the first floor, with just 15-20 seats and a very small but delicious menu.
“I know it’s a familiar address, but there’s always something surprising you didn’t know you needed until you see it—and then you absolutely need it!—at the Paul Smith concept store at 9 Albemarle Street. And the SJ Phillips second-floor gallery on Bruton Street is a dream for looking at exceptional antique and vintage jewels.
“And it’s a real hidden gem, but I love the Marshall Street Leisure Centre’s indoor swimming pool—a full 30 metres, long, with an original 1930s marble bottom and beautiful domed ceilings.”
China Tang and Phat Phuc, photos courtesy of ANM; Trunk Clothiers, photos courtesy of Trunk Clothiers; Lucinda Belm and Roberta Benteler, photo courtesy of LAMB Arts, taken by Billal Altright ; Sir John Soane Museum, photos by Gareth Gardner; 9 Albemarle street, photos courtesy of Paul Smith.