Vignettes of Old Marylebone: No 6. A Taste of India

commons voluptuary

When I hobble up to Sainsbury’s for a Simply Ham sandwich on sliced white, I am entranced by the leisurely Arab diners on the terrasses of the glorious restaurants of the Edgware Road. They look so effortlessly graceful and elegant on their cushioned benches and basket chairs, with all the time in the world for good food, ruminative chat and an inhalation of perfumed narghil smoke. Some of these establishments have the charming addition of caged exotic birds beside the tables, chirping, singing and chatting along with the clientele: another therapeutic aid to relaxation.

Portman Village has always been a pioneering centre of exotic dining ever since the Romans marched down Watling Street to where Marble Arch now stands, with their barrels of oysters and pots of garam. Around 1810, as England was consolidating her Indian Empire, the Hindoostanee Coffee House opened just north of Les Senteurs at 34 George Street: it’s now renumbered as 102 if you want to make a little pilgrimage. The owner was the enterprising Sake Din Mahomet newly arrived from Patna ( famous for its fine rice), and for a couple of years he kicked up a great stir with his provision of hookahs, sumptuous seating arrangements and native delicacies. English adventures in India had led to a curry mania at home during the Napoleonic period: remember Becky Sharp choking half to death on a chili at Joss Sedley’s over-spiced dinner in “Vanity Fair”?

On the corner of Duke Street, in the now vanished Edward Street, was Parmentier’s: this was not the Parmentier who pushed the potato as health for all, but a namesake who sounds as though he kept the most magical confectionery in the world for the beau monde and Royal Family. Preserves and conserves both “wet and dry”, ice creams and superior macaroons (just like Laduree) all piled on the health problems which Mr Din Mahomet then alleviated while wearing his other professional hat of “shampooing and vapour surgeon” to two Kings and the Quality.

I suppose we at LES SENTEURS might also consider ourselves as vapour surgeons of a sort – and our collection of gourmand perfumes are second to none. Come by and sample the Indian Raj tea party as interpeted in Parfum d’Empire’s “Fougere Bengale”: truly in Portman Village there is nothing new under the sun!

Vignettes of Old Marylebone 2: The Land of Smiles

wikimedia richard tauber

I went out for a little walk at lunchtime, feeling a need for air after a morning at the keyboard. I came out of Seymour Place and crossed the Edgware Road into Connaught Square which has fascinated me ever since the Blairs moved in a few years back. It feels strangely remote from all the hustle and noise only seconds away, very leafy with tall shadowy trees and an appealing air of old-fashioned leisure and calm. There was a cheerful bobby on duty on Tony and Cherie’s step, beaming and friendly like a walk-on from “Mary Poppins”. It’s a tranquil homely place. My headache lifted after one circuit and I strolled on past the Duke of Kendal pub, which prompted memories of Ehrengard Melusine, the first Duchess and domineering mistress of King George 1st. She was tall, scraggy, scrawny and grasping: irreverent Londoners called her The Maypole, appreciating the piquant contrast with her enormous rival The Elephant, otherwise known as the Countess of Darlington.

An old friend hailed me from a cafe terrace in Connaught Street which was nice (fancy her recognising me after all these years), and I walked back via West Park where I was entranced to find a Blue Plaque informing me that the Austrian tenor Richard Tauber had spent the last year of his life in Flat 297, a long way from his birthplace in Linz and the final stage of his sad exile from Hitler’s outrages. I’ve always loved Tauber, especially when he belts out “You Are My Heart’s Delight” and “Das Lied ist Aus” . At his last performance, weeks before his death, he sang full pelt on only one lung. Decades later his old Berlin co-star Marlene Dietrich would pay him tribute during her London concerts. One of his early hits was that wonderful song about the lilacs “Wenn die Weisse Flieder Wieder Bluhn”. And that reminds me: we have a delicious white lilac perfume for you at the shop – Frederic Malle’s ineffable EN PASSANT, the breath of white lilac buds on a pale green breeze.

And so back to the Edgware road and the wonderful aroma of shisha pipes billowing along the pavements in a warm perfumed cloud: strawberry, mint, rose and amber. On the corner of Seymour Place was the final treat: our local ironmongers, with a fine new window display of various rat-traps in “traditional style” . I had to smile and thought wistfully of Beatrix Potter and the terrifying Samuel Whiskers. What a wonderful refreshing walk, packed with interest, and all in under 30 minutes. Marylebone really is a village, or rather a series of them: all enchanting and pulsating with life.