Public Broadcast SOS

The UK is in a grey coma. Manageable at any other time of the year, except in Summer. Oh, and Autumn, and well, I can think of many reputable countries who enjoy a sunny Winter. My Twitter feed is not helping the cause with Spring-love and Sakura-action sprouting from every corner of the northern hemisphere. It's time to take action. I suggest a public broadcast of Pantone 3005 C in all television stores... wait, do they still exist or has iPad killed the cinematic gold of a single-channel television wall on the high street or shopping mall where everyone can watch the end of the world happening on the news?... if they still exist, (irony aside) in cinemas, on a dedicated BBC channel and even the monitors that show your train is delayed: anything to get the country out of this coma. 

Lifesaving Pantone 3005 C

Share, tweet, pin, whatever. Fifty shades of grey was meant to be enjoyed in the privacy of your own home, not out in the open air.


Fitzroy & Bailey

Few towns can claim inspiration for one of the world’s most famous families of which they adopted its namesake. Windsor, the jewel of the Home Counties in South East England and home to the British Monarchy, welcomes more than seven million visitors each year to enjoy the historic town and surrounding Royal parks. I have featured my hometown on several occasions, reporting on culture and curiosity from within the castle walls and beyond. Like many of its residents, I take great pride in its global recognition, watching the influx of tourists from all corners of the world roam and snapshot our charming idyll on the periphery of London.
However all is not quite what it seems in arcadia. A missing link in Windsor’s taste buds for many years, I have always found the subject of food difficult to digest. Unfortunately tourism and day-trippers have left the town with a parade of high street food chains and below par cafés that no sooner stand to attention, close up shop and take their marching orders as well as their greasy creations with them. With two train stations serving the town to both London Paddington and Waterloo, thanks to Queen Victoria, and the M4 to shoot down to SW7 I am guilty of heading into the capital for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Unless I confine visiting friends to the walls of my kitchen with my own fine dining, I will literally make them walk for their lunch up the Long Walk to Leith’s at The Savill Garden – a hunger-inducing three miles to and back – for standard country walk grub or to The Two Brewers, a seventeenth-century Windsor-classic, full of character and British pub fare adjacent to the castle. Having only two options leaves me with somewhat of a dilemma. An extreme case of food snobbery I hear you ask? Perhaps, however I know good food and I certainly know Windsor deserves a lot better than the mass-produced menus charged at premiums that cater for tourists above local custom.
I was therefore understandably overexcited about culinary newcomers Fitzroy & Bailey. Anticipating the renovation of their High Street premises throughout the Autumn, ever since their attractive signage and shopfront were unveiled last November I have had the pleasure of getting to know owners, Lee and Kara, as they seduce the town with their daily window display of freshly made produce à la Juliette Binoche in Chocolat. A few minutes walk from the public entrance to the castle on one side and the Long Walk on the other, this café, deli and foodstore overlooks the Parish Church of St John the Baptist as well as the Guildhall designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The shop’s interior styling is an inviting, contemporary take on a country kitchen with a monochrome marble floor, brickwork tiling, wooden tops, dressers and multi-coloured utensils. There is an international flair amidst the Beanberry coffee aroma; Havana cigar boxes pack juicy fruit cake slices to go, Japanese writing is found on food placards and Asian ingredients share shelf space with Italian cooking staples.

Fitzroy & Bailey neighbours The Guildhall in central Windsor
Last week, over a bowl of green curry chicken, I met with Lee and Kara to find out more about the Fitzroy & Bailey brand. First things first: the name. While Fitzroy and Bailey add a dash of pomp that so befits its location, it was inspired by The Shipping Forecast on BBC Radio – where Lee and Kara’s paths originally crossed - and named after Sir Admiral Fitzroy, founder of the Met Office in 1853 and the waters of Bailey above Scotland. Windsor may be approximately 50 miles away from the nearest shore, however Lee tells me she cannot live without listening to the daily broadcast – it’s necessity to the shipping industry is an aspect the owners wish to mirror as a port of call for all types of culinary requirements: something that has fast depleted on the British high street.
Lee hails from good culinary stock; armed with old family recipes from Asia and a fast-paced Hong Kong sensibility before working at Chiswick's Mortimer & Bennet deli as well as the Conran Group in London. Wanting to run a food emporium of her own, Lee and Kara set out to find a location. After exploring several areas and tasting their way through independent, chain and celebrity-endorsed foodstores, they understood something was missing in the Windsor market. We all agreed how the town was sadly somewhere ‘alright’ food was tolerated due to its default tourism and proximity to the capital. I described it as iceberg country – where iceberg lettuce decorates or fills out a plate, customary at preying tourist traps. More of an arugula, radicchio, spinach or anything-but-iceberg man myself, surprise surprise, I can certify Fitzroy & Bailey cater for snobs and everyone else who simply enjoy good quality, honest food. Lee enthusiastically explains her intentions of creating ‘a neighbourhood social hub’, feeding the community ‘just about anytime of the day’ and turning Windsor into a destination for food - the final string to its bow. 
With Kara’s Japanese influence into the mixing bowl, familiar offerings of artisanal scotch-eggs and pork pies feature alongside Japanese korroke croquettes (my new snack obsession), tonkatsu breaded pork and a very popular kimchi. Mornings begin with coconut pancakes filled with sweetcorn and toasted peanuts while watching the soldiers march by in Changing the Guard; a pulled pork and apple sauce sourdough toastie for lunch, through to an erbazzone spinach, pinenut and ricotta tart at dinner. Then there are hearty soups and a fresh array of sides that include artichokes, beetroots and grilled aubergine. Takeaway customers are also catered for with a selection of meat and vegetarian mains such as braised short ribs in red wine and doria baked rice with béchamel respectively. The owners continue to describe how the deli and foodstore will expand in time with an even greater offering of sweet and savory homemade options for busy families and business commuters.
Lunchtime gets the international treatment of hot and cold delicacies
The deli sources over thirty cheeses from around the country as well as from the Continent. The charcuterie stocks cured meats from the Pyrénées, Tuscany, Basque and Dorset and makes for a great partnership with delicious breads from De Gustibus as well as an in house soda loaf. The foodstore to the rear of the shop stocks everyday essentials for baking and cooking with a few specialty surprises such as Japanese mayonnaise. Look out for a new range of homemade pickles Kara is currently working on, favoured in Japan as an alternative seasoning.
Global food evenings launched earlier this year with weekly informal Saturday Ramen Nights and set menu tastings curated around exotic cultures such as a 'Rijsttafel' (Rice Table) that originates from Dutch colonial Indonesia. Monthly cooking classes are hosted by Kara to master the art of Japanese sushi, ramen, udon and oyakodon, popular with children, in a small and intimate setting where ingredients are simply taken from the shelves and all that is needed is an open mind and an empty stomach.

Passion and food have been uttered together so liberally in recent years, so much so the UK and Europe now find themselves deep in a meat scandal. The subject of food sourcing may have hit an iceberg however I have no doubt Fitzroy & Bailey will be avoiding any such icebergs - of the salad variety or otherwise - and are forecast for titanic success if, as are their intentions, the community support their genuine passion for seasonality, products with clear provenance and are willing to discover that Lee and Kara’s gusto for quality food will be to their gusto too.

Visit Fitzroy & Bailey seven days at week at 14 High Street, Windsor, Berkshire SL4 1LD. Find out more about their special nights, cooking classes and catering for home and office here.


Interior Confidence

Winter may have decided to overstay its welcome, however in a corner of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, a furniture showroom is in full bloom, bursting with kaleidoscopic colour. Last weekend I travelled to the market town that was once the chair making capital of the world and epicentre of British furniture making throughout the nineteenth-century to visit Out of the Dark, a charitable social enterprise that recycles, restores and redecorates salvaged furniture.
Founded by Jay and Jade Blades in 2010 as an extension to their already successful charitable programme Street Dreams, Out of the Dark is a practical resource for disadvantaged and disengaged young people in the local community to engage with skills training and business within a creative environment. I had discovered the enterprise on Twitter last year and after following their work online I was very excited to finally see it with my own eyes. 
Few traces of High Wycombe’s furniture past exist today with only a handful of workshops still in production on the Abercromby Works industrial estate where Out of the Dark is based. In contrast to their dark wood counterparts, the bright white showroom at Out of the Dark HQ stages a euphoric collection of mid-century pieces - from Avalon, Mackintosh and Bucks-based firms Ercol, G-Plan and Parker Knoll – that have been either donated or salvaged. 
Colour-comrades will be in their element amongst the colour blocking aesthetic the enterprise has adopted in a zany Georgian palette of duck egg blue and arsenic green paired with canary yellow and fuchsia that accent as well as readdress the craft of forgotten furniture in an unashamed era of finite flat packs. For one-off warriors, the only duplicates you will find here are furniture sets and even then, legs of chairs or tables will be given their individual stroke of colour. My personal favourites were candelabras made from wooden lamp stands, ideal for eco-friendly romantics, and when clustered together make quite the grand statement.
In the equally colourful workshop below, Jay kindly gave me a tour of the different workstations where his young apprentices learn and master a range of skills from wood planing to Danish cord weaving and even caning; the lost art of rattan vine decoration which is currently being taught by a ninety-one-year-old local caner. Dashing from wall to wall to show me the library of books and how-to manuals it was clear to see from Jay’s own enthusiasm why the current group of young people, aged between fourteen to eighteen-years-old, are so actively involved in something which they do in their free time between school or being out on the streets. He continued to explain why colour blocking was favoured above more on-trend styles such as vintage or shabby chic; the latter being easily achieved with a lick of paint and a lacklustre sand down, while the former demands commitment and crisp execution – sanding, stripping then multiple coats of paint followed by several layers of varnish – to produce the smooth finish of concentrated colour. 
On a psychological level this process encourages confidence and commands respect; the respect the piece of furniture as commodity deserves by the apprentice as well as the respect earned by the apprentice through achievement. Working on three to four pieces at a time, they will see each piece through from beginning to end and witness its journey upstairs in the showroom to when it is bought and taken away to a new home. I don’t know any better feeling of satisfaction than that.  
Emily, one of the more experienced young people, was not alien to satisfaction. The G-Plan chest of drawers she was currently working on was one in a long line of memorable achievements she modestly described. Having worked at Out of the Dark since she was fourteen-years-old, Emily explained how she had known nothing about furniture before and now finds herself giving once-overs to friends’ living rooms. Considering a career as a tattoo artist, Emily is a testament to Out of the Dark’s disciplinary formula that subsequently fosters new directions for the enterprise to explore. She recently launched an initiative to incorporate hand-drawn elements inspired by her interest in tattoo art on the furniture and invited other female graffiti artists to work on panels on larger pieces to create both unique and functional works of art.

It was a pleasure meeting Emily, Jay, Jade and everyone at Out of the Dark over the weekend. Exploring the workshop brought me back to my art school days and the invincibility of knowing when you have a good thing going - only, I was much less confident with colour. Riding the waves of upcycling and sustainability as well as the resurgence of personal expression in the home that was documented by celebrated British artist Grayson Perry last year (The Grayson Perry Effect, July 2012), Out of the Dark not only appeals to young design-conscious customers but also to those who remember these classic pieces from conception. A group from the Women’s Institute in Bourne End who preceded my visit exemplified this very concept of nostalgic clientele who have not lost their desire for personality in their home amid a commercial market that offers very little to discerning seniors other than mahogany and magnolia. 
While it may not be to the taste of design purists, with several private commissions in the workshop awaiting only restoration, makeovers are not the only thing the enterprise is about. In as much as Jay and Jade nurture the inner and outer confidence of young people who don an overall with growing pride and give new life to design classics, Out of the Dark entices customers to rediscover their confidence and potential for minor or major doses of eccentricity within the four walls of their own home through colour, style or a spruce up, and all for a great cause. 
Ever in demand from exhibiting fairs nationwide to the pages of The Financial Times How To Spend It luxury supplement magazine, it seems this kind of confidence is contagious.
Londoners can find the Out of the Dark team running a workshop during Fabrications London later this month and in the West County, at the exhibition Furniture as Art in Bath between 25th April - 4th May.

The showroom is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays 10am - 5pm or by appointment – visit Out of the Dark for contact details and pricing.

Out of the Dark
Abercromby Works
Oakridge Road
High Wycombe
HP11 2PF