Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Stephen Bayley

London’s design doyen on sockless revelry and savouring weekday lunches

Stephen Bayley

Image: Brijesh Patel

October 04 2010
Stephen Bayley

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As it is now seriously October, I must return to wearing socks. It’s my habit to abandon them for six months or so following the end of March. The reason? I think socks are inelegant, very likely unhygienic and positively anaphrodisiac. Besides, I enjoy not having to think about them. I only ever wear dark blue or black and in the fumble of dawn’s half light they can be confused. There is no worse way to start a day than to find when it is too late to change that one foot is black and the other blue. It happens. One of the many curses of winter.

Last night was noteworthy. People talk about the Saatchi party and the Elton John Oscar bash. I know better. This was the 50th birthday of a friend and the 16th of her stepdaughter. The friend has the very best name I know: Lori Zimring de Mori Lowe. Her husband is Jason Lowe who was found by my wife about 20 years ago very nattily dressed in bleu du travail and painting a house in our road. He was the sort of housepainter who had a lovely classic Citroën Traction Avant and a terrific photography portfolio. He is now one of the world’s best known food photographers and since one of the books he has done was Henry Dimbleby’s Naturally Fast Food the party was held in the Ludgate Circus branch of Leon.

Guest list was food aristocracy. Lori’s books include Beaneaters and Bread Soup, to my mind the best account of Tuscan cooking. Her son came from California for the night which made me feel a bit provincial. And Jason extended his repertoire of ambitious mass-catering. After their wedding a few years ago (a Jewish-Buddhist ceremony by a torrent in the Pre-Alps) there was paella for 200, cooked with a shovel. (This was replicated earlier this year for my daughter's birthday.) Last night, Jason’s portfolio did the cooking… for 150. The genial Jeremy Lee of Blueprint Café made crab soup. The grumpy Simon Hopkinson did an Armenian mutton pilaf. The Wright Brothers shucked three varieties of oysters as only The Wright Brothers can and there was a fabulous fattoush according to Anissa Helou.

The superbly dissipated Calabrian band who performed so memorably at the Lowe wedding in Provence was unavailable, but splendidly substituted by three men with two instruments I could not identify and a squeezebox. My favourite guest was Jason Lowe’s father, a rascally New Zealand commercial pilot who now lives in the Cantal. Rufus Lowe was Aer Lingus’ first 747 captain: he confirmed the delightful story that every year the Archbishop of Dublin blesses the fleet with holy water.

Last week was my 29th wedding anniversary and the 31st anniversary of my first book. So next week might not be quite so auspicious. A Lucio Fontana private view. A talk for Boris at The British Library on what makes a city great. Doing the captions for my next book, Ugly – the aesthetics of everything. A little light work on an itinerary of unknown Venice for a Venice in Peril tour for the day before the Marathon.

Best of all, two lunches at Polpo, Soho’s energetic take on a Venetian bacaro. Polpo is helpfully around the corner from my office, but I still think in real-world terms it’s London’s best restaurant. I hardly ever choose to go anywhere else. It has friendly and chaotic staff, relaxed but hyper-competent management, no fuss, paper menus on the table and a menu where you want to order everything. Apart from certain calamities of delivery, it is in all important ways faultless. And starters begin at £1. If How To Spend It followers need more inspiration, there is ham hock terrine with mustard eggs for £6. I am thinking of it now. Best enjoyed without socks.

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