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Lamentable departures – good places that closed

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So far, on Wonderland City, we have listed 54 spots and profiled 22, all in London, that allow habitués of Golden Era elegance to quench their thirst or obtain nourishment while surrounded by quality architecture and sympathetic design.  Some of them are even affordable.

There may be easily another 20-30 such places, again just in London, that we have yet to cover simply because we only ever mention locations we have actually been to.  Something to look forward to, eh?

Anyone with a sense of elegance and occasion in their social life, we think, should be grateful for the quantity and quality of congenial hostelries in our topping Metropolis so we hope you smashing gerls and capital fellows out there won’t think us frightfully morbid if we remember some of the spots that we would have liked to have included in Wonderland City but have closed in very recent times.  Many of these departed enterprises floundered during the recent unpleasantness, while other simply ran out of steam (or a combination of both).  The good news, of course, is that new watering holes and nosheries of note are opening or being renovated to the standard to which our readers are accustomed.

Fera Claridge’s former paean to Art Deco excess-success

Fera at Claridge’s

Fera, closed in late 2018, having opened just in 2014, having replaced Gordon Ramsey’s eponymous restaurant there (2001-2013).  Fera’s foodie claim to fame was a devotion to seasonality, ‘natural’ and foraged ingredients and other things that were very fashionable in the early C21.  More interestingly, it had undergone a rather spiffing redesign with very strong Art Deco content in the lighting and detailing.  To date, despite a few rumours and semi-official announcements, nothing has replaced it.  This means that guests at Claridge’s that cannot bring themselves to hail a taxi or enter their limousine, are therefore tragically confined to the hotel’s gleaming foyer or the still very swell Fumoir Barles pauvres!

Victorian grandeur and graciousness fully captured at the former Gilbert Scott

The Gilbert Scott

In 2011, when Marcus Wareing, a very serious but far from dull chef, launched the Gilbert Scott in the gloriously renovated, Gothic Revival St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, he did say it would only be open for ten years…  ‘Tis a pity he did not change his mind, as the food was good (we are reliably told, having stupidly missed our chance) and the space boasted both a very fine bar and dining room.  Whereas the hotel’s larger bar has reopened, after some work, as the well-appointed ‘Booking Office 1869’, the former Gilbert Scott remains closed at the time of writing.  A darker story than a gothick novel.

Simpson’s in the Strand used to be the real thing; will it re-open?

Simpson’s in the Strand

We know that, despite some latter-day rescue attempts, Simpson’s, much like most of the Strand, had long struggled to regain its place as a focal point of London society, as it were.  Reading H V Morton’s description in his book of London scenes of 1940 shows how stark the change has been, notwithstanding the joys of the Savoy, the Courtald and, nearby the Aldwych, which thankfully remain.  However, it seems somehow wrong, even immoral that Simpson’s is, for the foreseeable future, not re-opening its storied portals.  Write outraged letters to your MP, we say.

Ralph’s was not exceedingly original, but we liked it and will miss it

Ralph’s Coffee & Bar

When it opened in 2017 as the first Ralph Lauren-branded hospitality venue in London, Ralph’s Coffee & Bar did not perhaps attract as much attention as it might have in a city less endowed with places that could come straight out of the pages of a Ralph Lauren fantasy (we mean advert!)  It was nicely run and, though Polo-priced, served up it s classic comfort fare with a bi of dash.  Regrettably, however, it stuck to the odd idea of keeping store hours, so that it was effectively closed in the evening.  It is now listed as permanently closed.  Luckily, around the outskirts of London, one can get one’s fix of polo and strong drink in places where the sport of kings is actually played (more about that soon…).

The Criterion before it became a panini place… What would Lady Edith think?!?

The Criterion

Strictly speaking, the building founded as The Criterion Restaurant in 1874 is still operating.  The vaulting, splendidly opulent ceilings and décor are still there.  After going through several unfortunate C21 incarnations, however, it now houses a place called Granaio (meaning ’granary’, in Italian), which bills itself “a rustic café-style concept” and which makes “of the traditional and regional Italian cuisine one of [their] core values”.  Leaving aside the hackneyed corporate-speak, and much as we revere Italian cuisine, there is nothing about the Criterion that suggests rusticity or homely cooking.  It is like casting Grace Kelly, wearing a 1950s Dior dress, as a scullery maid.  Frightfully unconvincing.

Other closures…

First of all, a number of rooms within multi-space businesses remain closed, largely due to lack of staff.  Among these we would count Kaspars at the Savoy and the little-known but very likeable drawing room at the Pelham Hotel.  We could also name Café Monico’s, Duddel’s, Milk & Honey (their silly policies could never entirely obscure their attractions) and several more.

The simple fact is that the Pandemic Period was utterly ghastly for the hospitality business.  Now that the clientele is allowed back, many patrons find themselves scrambling, not always successfully, for trained staff.  We spoke a couple of weeks ago to a very likeable front of house professional who was at his wit’s end.  The available employees, himself included, were so overworked that some were beginning to resign, further exacerbating the problem.  Something to consider, next time one visits a Wonderland City sort of place and perhaps the service is a tad less prompt than before…

But we shan’t end on a pessimistic note; not us!  Restaurateurs and publicans of the sort that inspires Wonderland City are a passionate, resilient lot.  Furthermore, all the main closures we mentioned above could be said to suffer from some tragic flaw, exceptional fatigue or exceptional circumstances.  The public’s appetite for elegant, special-occasion surroundings seems undimmed and, we think and hope, the interest in contributing to the atmosphere by dressing and behaving beautifully can also grow, as long as our wonderful readers keep setting an example.  See you all at the next caper.

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