Some experiences pall under the burden of frequent repetition, some just get better and better. Repetition can bring consolation and comfort; it can reassure us to find and enjoy the consistency of certain places and tastes.
Le Petit Cafe is a tiny restaurant above a sandwich bar in Stafford Street, a tiny cut-through between Albemarle Street and Dover Street. They serve a short list of pasta dishes, a couple of salads and a dish of the day. Everything on this almost severe menu is neat and delicious. The pasta is fresh and always al dente. The Penne al Arrabiata is pretty much perfect, but for real decadence try the Escalope Milanese with Pasta Pomodoro. The crispy crust is crowned with a row of milky mozzarella slices alternating with sun-dried tomatoes. I wash this down with San Pellegrino lemonade diluted with sparkling mineral water. I have enjoyed this feast on a regular basis since Masterpiece moved with Mallett to our current offices in Dover Street. To enter you have to push your way along a narrow corridor past the queue of people waiting for sandwiches and mount the winding stairs to the first floor. This is a tiny haven of calm. There are only 6 tables and luckily they are rarely all occupied; sometimes you need to book but usually not. The fair-haired waitress who holds dominion over this area smiles sweetly and knows her regulars. She also avoids any superfluous communication - she does not chat or engage in witty banter. In this perfect reserve she is like the Asian girl who has cut my hair for more than 7 years without our exchanging names or biographies. Today I am lunching with Philip Hewat-Jaboor, the Masterpiece chairman, to review the vetting procedures and committee members. Though we are productive, the conversation ranges over many subjects and, for a brief moment, the sun shines and the room is bathed in sunlight, throwing strong shadows onto the tables and diners. It is one of those happy moments when the universe falls into order and everything is in its correct place. A happy repetition.
We said goodbye to Scholars House this week. This fine early nineteenth-century building, standing on Clapham High Street, has been home to Mallett's storage and van, alongside the Hatfields restoration business, since 2006. The building has been sold and everyone is moving out. New premises have been found nearby on a small business estate in Sidney Road. Aussie Man & Van have removed everything and the rooms are as they were when I first looked roun,d thinking about how it might work as a home for the Mallett workshops. So much has changed since then - even though it is only 7 years ago, it feels almost as if we live in a different world. The Managing Director Anna Cardinale has overseen an amazing, almost military, operation of bundling everything up and relocating. My role has been to organise a leaving party. I race round Booker, the supermarket for shopkeepers and caterers, and gather the basics of beer, wine, burgers and buns. We set up my gas barbecue in the romantically dilapidated Conservatory - and we're away. The rooms are so empty that some of the lads kick a ball about, all the while thinking about the furniture that was there but a few days earlier and enjoying the rebelliousness of playing football indoors. The party passes off gently and the melancholy of leaving pervades. All those habits that the various occupants have forged over time have now to be parceled up and packed away into the memory file. Change.
One of the most exciting projects coming up at Masterpiece is creating the second annual sculpture walk. This year we approached the Gallery Thomas Dane to curate a single-artist show of the work of Philip King. This remarkable man looks exactly as an artist should. His eyes are sharp and observant and his wild untamed grey eyebrows seem to underline his creativity. We are looking round Ranelagh Gardens, which lie beside the grounds where the Masterpiece structure takes residence. It is drizzling with rain with the occasional heavy patch. Tom from the gallery stoically walks round with us getting damper and damper. He and Philip are thinking about which works will go where; photocopied photographs of pieces become limp with rain as they are consulted and considered. The end result is far from limp however and I can see Philip's enthusiasm mounting as we briefly survey his life of work through these pictures of monumental and striking works in iron and painted iron. For a moment, we take shelter in the Soane pavilion which sits in the centre of the garden. There the in-pensioners have inscribed some of the bricks with their initials. The oldest one I spotted was dated 1877. This charming graffiti seems like an organic work of art especially when examined by this artist and dealer. After a couple of hours we repair for coffee at La Bottega in Lower Sloane Street. This little chain of coffee and sandwich shops has delivered a consistently great coffee for a few years now. Add to that delicious ricotta cannoli. Revival sweeps over us and we step back out into the day ready for battle.
I cycle off to meet my old friend Nick Chandor. He has been behind the clothes designer Paul Smith's new shop designs for ages and was my co-conspirator when Mallett and Paul Smith did a joint show of the work of photographer and furniture designer Willy Rizzo many years ago. We meet at 10 Greek St which is a small restaurant serving clean and simple British food with a minimum of fuss. I have wanted to eat here for ages but they don't take reservations in the evening and I hate queuing for food. We reminisced, and he told me about finally leaving Paul Smith and becoming a consultant to a number of different establishments. He has not changed at all except for giving up booze for a while. He has a pointy elfish grey beard, is 6ft 3in and has always and continues to sport trousers that are 6 inches too short. It is very fashionable, apparently. A friend of his once teased him that he was clearly buying his trousers in instalments! We spoke of a possible collaboration but our encounter was more about recovering a missed slice of life.
The week ended in the King's Road with James Harvey, who has been a great source of creative ideas over the last few years. He is constantly planning and plotting how to improve and develop his business; it is great to admire his verve and consider how many dealers' businesses would benefit from his level of energy. We had lunch at the Mona Lisa, a King's road legend. Tucked away in the council block of unappealing shops at Worlds End, it is a slice of another time and era. All types dine here, from two large and vociferous Poles enthusiastically tucking in to large steaks with a bottle of dark red wine, to a group of old ladies having tea and sandwiches. I had never been here and it was magical to step back into what felt like the swinging 60s.
The week had been about novelty, change and consistency, and the flow had been fairly evenly balanced, which felt about right.
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