Rosa Lewis, Queen of Cooks, Hotelier & Edwardian It Girl

Rosa Lewis, Queen of Cooks, Hotelier & Edwardian It Girl

How To Be The Consort of a Prince and Live Like The Duchess of Duke Street

If I was a Duchess or had squillions in a bank account at Coutts, I would live in an elegant 18th century apartment tucked away high above the rooftops, in one of the most historic and truly glamorous, secret villages in London – the area between Jermyn Street and Duke Street St James’s, just minutes from the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly. As Prince Charles is taken, and I am just a baby entrepreneur, the next best thing is to check into a luxe eyrie with a view in one of London’s best-kept Secrets – The Sustainable Luxury Cavendish Hotel, founded a remarkable woman, Rosa Lewis, the woman known as ‘The Duchess of Duke Street’ and the ‘Queen of Cooks’.

The Queen of Cooks

I’ve stayed in some exciting and truly one of a kind hotels, and yet it hard think of a swisher address than The Cavendish Hotel London. The hotel is situated at the heart of aristocratic London and became the place to stay at the dawn of the twentieth century thanks to one remarkable woman – Rosa Lewis who went from kitchen maid to ‘Queen of Cooks’ – creating a new style of lighter French cooking which won her the admiration and some say the devotion and patronage of The Prince of Wales – later Edward V11.

Prestat The Queen Mother's Favourite Chocolatier

Prestat The Queen Mother’s Favourite Chocolatier

The Story of Rosa Lewis, Queen of Cooks and the Real Duchess of Duke Street

Rosa’s remarkable life and career as a celebrated cook, hotelier and it girl of the Edwardian era became the inspiration for the hugely popular television drama of the seventies – The Duchess of Duke Street – with Gemma Jones playing the rather feisty, marvellous Rosa. As a child, I can remember being enthralled by the Edwardian corsetry, Rosa’s complicated love life and the rather glamorous, oversized porter’s chair that seemed to take centre stage in the everyday drama of a ritzy London hotel. To this day, I have always wanted one of my own.

Now the royal connection lives on. The current Prince of Wales lives just around the corner at St James’s – the palace built for Henry V111. It’s an area that has been at the very epicenter of royalty, the court, and London’s glitterati for more than five hundred years. My favourite department store, Fortnum and Mason, is celebrated as Prince Charles’s local grocer of choice, and sells delicious organic beef form the Prince’s own Highgrove herd.  Beyond the fascinating history and stellar location, I am intrigued and excited by the hotel’s bold leap into the 21st century with a mission to offer all the comfort and luxury of a contemporary four-star hotel with a passion for cutting edge sustainability and sustainably sourced food.

Christmas at The Cavendish

Christmas at The Cavendish London –

Horray! Who knew the Ethical Hedonist lifestyle was so in vogue. Now I can live like the Duchess of Duke Street too. The Cavendish has a lot to live up to. Will I want to move in like Richard Harris who famously lived at The Savoy Hotel, now another super duper sustainable hotel? Let’s find out.  It’s lunchtime on a Sunday when I arrive at the hotel, which has a buzzing, metropolitan atmosphere, teeming with international guests. The hotel staff comes across as genuinely attentive and kind, and I am thrilled to see a magnificent portrait of Rosa in full evening dress, still keeping an eagle eye on guests from a suitable vantage point.

A birdeye view of the London Eye and city Skyline

A Birdseye View of The London Eye and City Skyline

A Room With A View, The London Eye and Duchy Organic Biscuits

My room is on situated on the  15th floor, and the view is the star.  The London Eye twinkles on the skyline and I can see as far as Waterloo and the Houses of Parliament. There is something rather wonderful about being cocooned like a bird, high above a great city with the anticipation of every creature comfort. My room has quite a few – from the Bose sound system – to the White Company toiletries. (Though disappointingly, they are British but not organic). The décor is a pleasant marriage of opulence and restful restraint in a palette of dove greys and fire reds. Then my eyes come to rest on a generous supply of my favourite Duchy Organic shortbread and proper Clipper tea and suddenly going out and exploring my favourite fashion haunts doesn’t seem quite so tempting as staying in and padding around in a thick velvet robe and drinking tea!  So tea and browsing the thoughtful pile of glossy magazines wins hands down.

My Home from Home Eyrie on the 23rd Floor

My Home from Home Eyrie on the 23rd Floor

Try on Tzarina Hats in Fortnum and Mason

After a delightful hour or so, spent doing very little, I am ready to go and bask in my favourite haunts as a tourist first, and writer second. The brilliant thing about the Cavendish is that you can pretty much walk everywhere. It takes less than five minutes to leave my hotel room and whiz into  Fortnum and Mason, to try on millinery confections by the hatter to watch, Adrian Philip Howard.  Do I want to be a Russian Tzarina or a St Tropez Belle? Ah, decisions! From Fortnum’s I pop into Hatchards to hunt for Richard Burton’s autobiography and then I take a familiar, zigzag walk through Mayfair and Savile Row. I’m heading for buzzing, cool Carnaby Street to meet a fashion designer for lunch and graze on perfect organic spelt pizza and watch the world go by at my beloved café hangout, Flat Planet – a minute from Liberty, where I admire the inventive window displays.

A Window Display of Curious Jar at Liberty

A Window Display of Curious Jars at Liberty

Chinti and Parker Star Sweater in Liberty

After lunch, I make a beeline for Chinti and Parker’s adorable collection of stellar, sustainable knits in Liberty and wonder if I dare raid the EH piggy bank for the star sweater in the perfect shade of pea soup green with pink stars.

On the way back to The Cavendish I wander past Terence Donovan’s celebrated former studio on Bourdon Street and pop into Fenwick’s which has the best collection of handmade fascinators and Alice bands encrusted with feathers and Swarovski crystals by ethical New York hatter, Jennifer Ouellette.

Shoes for the Modern Dorothy

Shoes for the Modern Dorothy

Charlotte Olympia Heels and Dolce and Gabbana Celebrates the Cross

It’s quite late by the time I re-emerge on Bond Street and the boutiques have closed for the night.  So, I spend a delightful hour window shopping and taking reportage snaps of extraordinary, lovely things that catch my eye from Charlotte Olympia’s theatrical, Alice-in-wonderland Gilda heels to a clever mix of tweed and printed silks at Prada. I stare at the bust of an 18th-century general and then I arrive at Dolce and Gabbana’s homage to Catholic iconography. I don’t find this shocking. Fashion has been closer to religion than this. Perhaps it is because we are now a secular society that we find such a display uncomfortable? The duo’s bejeweled AW 13 collection is dazzling – a twinkling billet-doux for the skill and artistry of the artisan. The fashion maven in me thinks of it as a banquet of riches, and finds it thoroughly intoxicating. Oh, how I want the crucifix dress and the mosaic heels!

The Story is All Black and White at Chanel

The Story is All Black and White at Chanel

Jermyn Street is the Perfect Place for Cheese and English Tailoring

There is just time before supper to give the tourist shoals of Piccadilly the slip, and take a slow promenade along Jermyn Street back to The Cavendish.  I have visited this street many times as a journalist, rushing to an appointment. This time it is pleasant to stop and soak up a world of genteel, masculine refinement. A world where gentleman’s tailors and a quaint, world-class cheesemonger rub shoulders with fine shirt makers, high octane art galleries and intoxicating emporiums where the modern 18th-century dandy should feel perfectly at home.

What more could an Ethical Hedonist ask for?

Paxton and Whitfield Probably the Finest Cheesemonger in London

Paxton and Whitfield Probably the Finest Cheesemonger in London

There is just time for a quick return to my gorgeous eyrie, before dinner in the hotel’s restaurant – as I have to be back in my room to watch Downton Abbey!

I am also really looking forward to eating in one of Piccadilly’s best kept secrets – the romantic Petrichor Restaurant, where the chef is renowned for producing imaginative, rather pretty food that really champions Britain’s abundant local larder with seasonal stars from the fisherman, farmer and the very best small producers. Please go to the separate review of the Petrichor.

The Petrichor at the Cavendish Champions Local and Sustainable Food

The Petrichor at the Cavendish Champions Local and Sustainable Food

Dinner at Petrichor at The Cavendish

There have been many times when I have rushed passed The Cavendish’s entrance on Jermyn Street on my way to a meeting and yearned to cancel everything, seduced by the promise of a sustainable lunchtime feast of Wick’s Manor Pig Croquettes or Scottish scallops.

Why did I wait so long?

There are times when I am happy to eat rustic food, so long as it is very good rustic food in a pub or café. But I do loathe the idea that organic and local food can’t be uptown and sophisticated. This is just nonsense. If I’m going out for a special supper, I want it all – provenance, taste, theatre on the plate and good, unobtrusive service.

A Commitment to Sourcing the Best Sustainable Ingredients

Nitan Padwal, the head chef at Petrichor certainly seems to give a great deal of thought and time to sourcing seasonal British ingredients. The menu states that the restaurant is ‘committed to sustainability and targets 100% sustainable sourcing of ingredients with a commitment to support local British farms and producers’.

The wine list has been chosen with great care, with many gems chosen for low food miles or artisan production. After consulting the very friendly sommelier, I choose a glass of Chapel Down Brut rose, which has delicious notes of strawberries and cream with a hint of perfumed, delicate elderflowers.

Creamy South Coast Smoked Mackerel Salad with Edible Flowers

Creamy South Coast Smoked Mackerel Salad with Edible Flowers

With a cosy table looking out over the elegant gentleman’s emporia of Jermyn Street, I marvel at my first course of  – Alder smoked mackerel, which comes with citrus cream, confit of beetroot, fennel meringue and edible flowers.

The food on my plate resembles a beautifully tended garden arranged by the Faerie Queen herself; it looks exquisite and I am loathed to spoil such artistry, such attention to detail.  The mackerel tastes extraordinary good. I haven’t tasted mackerel this good since I queued for Steve Hatt’s home smoked mackerel on the Essex Road in Islington.  The richness is perfectly balanced by pleasant, zingy hits of citrus, cooling fennel, tart, earthy beetroot and the curious but delightful edition of baby meringue.

A Main Course of Suffolk Chicken Roulade with Braised Baby Gem Lettuce

A Main Course of Suffolk Chicken Roulade with Braised Baby Gem Lettuce

My main course of Suffolk Chicken Roulade is equally pleasing. The chicken comes in melt in the mouth, herb-infused, bite-size slices of bliss. This is comfort food I could graze on forever. The gravy is transformed into something rather special by the edition of luxurious truffle oil. While the braised baby gem provides sweetness, contrast, and crunch.

Pudding is pure fun. I simply can’t resist a palate cleansing sorbet with the surprise addition of popping candy. This classical dessert is well executed and I rather like the strange effect of the candy continuing to pop and fizz on my tongue long after I have savoured the last, heavenly mouthful of sorbet and candy.

Petrichor is open to residents and non-residents for lunch and dinner. I will be back. What a great discovery! This is a perfect place for a quiet romantic dinner. While it does lack atmosphere, it is the great British ingredients are the stars rather than a superstar chef, a great deal of hype and a sky-high bill to match. Though Nitan Padwal is a sustainable comet in my eyes.

Price for a meal for two with wine  ££

Delicious eggs from Haines Farm

Delicious eggs from Haines Farm

The Best Local and Sustainable Breakfast in Piccadilly

As a swansong to my stay at The Cavendish, I must tell you about breakfast.

My least favourite meal in most so-called luxury hotels is breakfast. Too often it is a crushing disappointment. An afterthought of over processed, industrial, sugary, grey junk food, ordered up by a computer in centralized purchasing.  I am glad to report that The Cavendish breakfast was a delight in every way, with lots of choices. I started with two perfect, soft-boiled eggs that came from Haines farm. How nice to know where my eggs come from!  I was able to follow this with a bowl of delicious Doves farm cereal, proper artisan bread and the chef’s own thick cut, golden marmalade.

Never underestimate the power of a jar of homemade marmalade to please and delight a guest. That’s the memory that will linger and make me long to return, along with the view, the extraordinary mackerel, the Duchy biscuits, and the effortless ease and opportunity to live like a Duchess on Duke Street.

Alison Jane Reid

The Cavendish has some brilliant Winter Short Break Offers. Please mention that you read about The Cavendish on Ethical Hedonist Magazine!

For more Info or to book your stay  at The Cavendish London –  

Alison Jane stayed at the Cavendish Hotel London for a one-night press visit.

The perfect West End bolt-hole for the theatre, galleries and investing in quintessential British brands.

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