Introducing the New Establishment

The eight new-ish hotels, restaurant sand clubs that have become instant society hotspots

The more things stay the same, the more they change. Among the chattering classes and their darling haunts, life takes place at two time signatures. The first is slow, considered, elegant, unhurried — like Debussy doing Tai-Chi on Xanax. This is the world of stalwart favourites and untopple-able giants — places like Hôtel du Cap in Antibes, Villa d’Este on Como, George in Mayfair, the Eagle in Gstaad, Badrutt’s in St Moritz, and the Hurlingham Club in its permanent 1952.

The second time-signature is more frantic, self-conscious, flighty and excitable. It is a hummingbird with a new podcast and good teeth. (Do hummingbirds have teeth? Perhaps we can explore that on the podcast.) This is the world of sceney new openings and name-dropping launches — a vicious, churning piranha pool where only the fittest survive and only the best can make good on the promise of their CGI 3D renders. Here, we look at eight new-ish spots that have achieved that rare exit velocity and established themselves in the society firmament almost instantly — for now, at least…

In St James’s: Maison François

When The Wolseley died last year (okay, it didn’t — but they now have handryers in the loos, so it did) the power-lunchers and professional-breakfasters needed somewhere to decant themselves to. And fast. Thank god for Maison François, then, a place where Jeremy King himself (he of Wolseley defenestration) is said to now lunch — the brasserie equivalent of the biblical laying on of hands, as I have claimed before.

In a high-ceilinged dining room modelled on Ricardo Bofill’s towering, mid-century forms, arch host Frank sashays among the cutters-and-thrusters of this discerning arts-and-finance gang with aplomb, humour, and one of the finest kitchens in town behind him. 

In the Cotswolds: The Club by Bamford

Okay, fine sure — it hasn’t opened yet. But you wouldn’t bet against the Club by Bamford becoming THE Oxfordshire-Gloucestershire spot du jour, with the increasingly ghastly Soho Farmhouse falling from favour and Carole Bamford, spiritual godmother to the Cotswold Set, pulling the strings.

Positioned as a sort of all-encompassing wellness, health and racquets spot, The Club by Bamford ticks off the current concerns of the long-weekending crowd beautifully, with all the sumptuous aesthetics and charm of Daylesford Organic, Bamford cosmetics et al. “It is smarter than anything of its kind in London”, an early source tells me. Set in a rolling orchard, it “completely up-ends the concept of a country house hotel spa by being a) tasteful and b)… well that’s about the only important thing,” they continue. Plus, it has two padel courts — how very 2023 of it.

Palm Heights, Cayman Islands

Palm Heights, Cayman Islands

On Grand Cayman: Palm Heights

Once upon a time, Cayman was a place for tax-dodger’s postboxes and golfing lawyers. It still is, actually — but now there’s a brilliant hotel here, too. On Seven Mile Beach, the most beautiful, golden-sanded stretch of the island’s coast, Palm Heights pokes out from the lush greenery with a dazzle of white-and-yellow parasols, arranged artfully above a ‘is that who I think it is?’ crowd. Often it is precisely who you think it is, in fact, but no-one cares and everyone is equal under the fluttering canopy of the lovely Tillie’s restaurant (now the centre of island social life) — a sort of inside-outside courtyard spot, whose white-painted trellises cascade with photogenic plants, where the linen flows like rum punch and everyone might just be your new best friend.

On Como: Villa Passalacqua

The lawns cascade like green cashmere towards the shimmering grey-blue-green waters of the lake. The parasols are like the ones they have in heaven, I’m told. The walls of the old villa, sat among the perfect little town of Moltrasio on Lake Como’s ‘Gold Coast’, are the colour of evening sunlight. The clay tennis court (a society must-have) is like marmalade. Winston Churchill stayed here when it was a private palazzo; so too did composer Bellini, who did some of his best noodling in its grounds. Nowadays, an utterly tasteful lot descends on Villa Passalacqua — Como’s 24-room boutique haven — in good linen and un-flashy discernment, and swan-dive in the pale pool and promenade around the rolling, shaded gardens, waiting until it’s high time for a negroni. 

In Notting Hill: The Pelican-Straker’s Axis

Can a pub be a society haunt? How about a pub just down the road from a restaurant, with no real connection between the two beyond the spiritual and the beautifully cheek-boned? In Notting Hill — which, let’s be honest, had faded a good deal since its 1990s Rom-Com heyday — these two establishments and their Bon Chic, Bon Genre clientele have heralded a return to form. Head to the Pelican on a Thursday eve, on its lofty corner spot up towards the top of Portobello Road, and the bit by the bar is a sardine tin of tanned Euro leading men, ex-public schoolboys who have worked hard to lose the accent, and errant Parisians in all-navy-everything and Diptyque. (The food, like the deceptively-simple-sounding mince on toast, is also very good — and I like how every table comes topped with a jar of Colman’s by default.) And everyone seems to drink Guinness because they’re down to earth but discerning.

At Straker’s, meanwhile, half a mile away on the Golborne Road, the crowd is slightly more foodie but never boring with it. The food here is very, very, very good, but you knew that already (and even before Giles Coren declared the “the sweetbreads and pork… perfect” the other day.). In all, it seems to me that Chef-proprietor Thomas Straker is the sort of distillation of this part of Notting Hill right now: entrepreneurial, rakish, talented, well-connected — and popular beyond belief. 

In Mayfair: Maison Estelle

Does Mayfair need another private members club? Can its precious, finely-poised ecosystem even support one? They say art is the thing that no-one asked you to do. In that case, Maison Estelle is the member’s club no-one thought to ask for. But now it’s here, you realise what was missing. Never snooty, always personable, beautifully outfitted, a genuine buzz — what Soho House must have been like in the 1990s, perhaps, with the exacting eye of an old Mark Birley joint. It is almost painfully elegant and detailed, and a full list of the little things I love about it are prohibited by the word count. (Full disclosure: I’m a card-carrying member.) But suffice to say it is a swirl of heady scents, architectural handsomeness, and achingly lovely nods to more graceful eras. In short: an instant Mayfair classic.

In Manhattan: Casa Cruz

Juan Santa-Cruz has always been meticulous. You only need to see his suit collection (or to have visited his London spots) to know that. But as I walked into Casa Cruz’s new Upper East Side opening in September, I couldn’t quite believe the attention to detail, the finesse. A deep V of greeters, in exquisitely tailored lilac uniforms, stands to meet you in the perfectly symmetrical entrance hall of the glorious Beaux Arts townhouse. Higher up, through a whirlwind of mirrored spiral staircases and a riot of bluechip artwork, a succession of dining rooms, lounges and salons, each filled with interesting, handsome people, oscillate between the clubby and the impressive. 

At the very top, arguably the greatest roof terrace in Manhattan slinks about below billowing, broad-striped canopies, its central bar (a classic JSC touch) spilling out with crushed ice, large-format champagne, and the most coveted matchbox in town. The clientele is reliably fascinating too, largely thanks to the 100 international Founder Members that Juan pulled together (with the metric, above all, that they be fun and nice), and who have their very own private elevator and hidden floor.

In Chelsea: The Birley Bakery

Has there ever been a society baker before? The Birley Bakery, freshly opened on Chelsea Green, takes the first and only crown. Inside, the walls are covered in the flitting, gilded, ornate wallpaper that has become Robin Birley’s much-imitated calling card at 5 Hertford Street and Oswald’s. But the lovely setting, for the avalanche of yummy-mummys and King’s Road Trotters who have now descended on this place, is not really the point. Much more important is the museum-case full of gleaming, huge, puffy, dream-like pastries that you want to press your nose against on entry — each of which, thanks to Birley’s longtime executive pastry chef, Vincent Zanardi, is fabulous. It is allegedly a chance to get your paws on this stuff without need for a Hertford Street membership (or a blazer). But the clientele, who follow arch tastemaker Birley round in wide-eyed adulation, are just as rarefied and interesting as elsewhere in the empire. 

Read next: The power lunch is dead; long live the power lunch

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