Rong Bao Zhai, calligraphy gallery in Beijing by Bao Bao Wan
19 Liulichang West Street, Xuanwu District, rongbaozhai.cn
Along one particular street in the historic area of Beijing close to the Forbidden City are dozens of tiny old shops, mostly selling antiques and classic Chinese pieces. My favorite is this gallery which is more than 300 years old and built in a traditional Chinese architectural style from back in the Qing Dynasty. Inside, though, it’s not fancy at all, but more like an old Chinese market that specializes in traditional china, vases, sculptures and artifacts: in particular pens and bamboo paper for calligraphy and block printing. The artisans who run it are real specialists: if you want to know about calligraphy and Chinese ink art, this is where you come. I used to visit with my mother and, when I was very young, my grandfather, both of whom love ink painting and calligraphy. Even now my mother still sends me to get paper for her. There are very specific types of varying thicknesses and styles: some bamboo, some rice, some layered, some that make the ink spread. You can find things here that cost very little or a Qing dynasty vase for hundreds of thousands. Not everything is displayed; real treasures only come out if the stallholders know that you understand what you’re going to see, once they’ve ascertained how much you know about old art forms.
I just love seeing these ancient crafts being kept alive, and people enjoying and appreciating them.
Your address: The St. Regis Beijing
Frank Smythson Ltd
stationery shop in London
by Katharina Flohr
40 New Bond Street, smythson.com
I love the refined and sophisticated smell of leather you get when you walk on to the lush carpets of this beautiful stationery and accessories shop on New Bond Street, a stone’s throw from where Frank Smythson opened his original store in 1887. It hits you the minute you walk in, as do the bright colors. Although the Smythson boutique sells practical things – diaries and notebooks, travel accessories and handbags, jewelery boxes and stationery – it doesn’t feel in any way practical; it feels fun. There’s a wonderful “notebook wall”, for instance, of leather-bound notebooks in a kaleidoscope of different shades, which I love because they bring such glamour and femininity into a woman’s working wardrobe. In my handbag you will find a Smythson iPad cover, glasses case, diary, make-up bag and address book. My favorite notebook right now is covered in gorgeous emerald-green croc leather with enamelled clasps. It’s also fun that you can have initials, witty messages and titles embossed on to books and gifts, such as “Blue sky thinking”, “Live, love, laugh”, “Queen bee” and “Make it happen”; they make everything feel more personal. I bought my daughter a red leather notebook when she was 12 years old and, on a trip to India, she filled it with wonderful memories, photographs and souvenirs and kept it as a treasured travel book. In our digital world, I think there’s something special about writing on old-fashioned paper; it’s the main reason I like the products so much.
Katharina Flohr is the creative director of Fabergé
Cantinetta dei Verrazzano, the traditional bakery in Florence
by Carolina Bucci
Via dei Tavolini, Florence, verrazzano.com
This old-fashioned bakery is right in the middle of Florence, but in a street so tiny that most people have no idea it’s there. It’s narrow and cobbled, off one of the main shopping streets, and hidden among the newspaper shops, the coffee shops, the ice-cream parlors. The only sign is one saying “Forno” over its stone and glass exterior. It belongs to the owners of a castle, the Castello di Verrazzano, in Chianti, which was once owned by Giovanni da Verrazzano, the explorer who discovered the bay of New York even before Christopher Columbus planted his flag there. It’s very simple and practical, but very charming, with lovely old photographs of the castle on the walls, and the original wood-burning oven in a corner. Some people come for the wine – they have a surprisingly good wine list. Others come for honey or olive oil, which is produced locally. I love their iced tea. I’ve been coming here since I was a child, with my father, and recognize most of the staff: the male waiters, and the women behind the counter, including a very feisty lady at the till, with whom you place your order and pay. The bread and pastries here are like nowhere else: very Florentine, home-made, and made with the best produce. My husband and I often take our children for lunch, and order pizza and focaccia cut into little squares. Sometimes the waiter will bring a board with Italian charcuterie – salami, prosciutto – and sweet bread made since the Middle Ages, which he drizzles with honey and then shaves orange peel on to. The combination is delicious: sweet, savory, bitter, and so Italian and ancient. It’s all simple, but true, which is how I like my food to be.
Your address: The St. Regis Florence
The River Café, waterside restaurant in Brooklyn
by Emily Mortimer
1 Water Street, Brooklyn, therivercafe.com
I love The River Café because it is like restaurants I was taken to by my father when I was a child. It’s one of those really proper, old-fashioned places where men have to wear a tie; where the waiters are career waiters, who wear proper suits and there’s a professional maître d’ and a piano player. It’s feels like part of another era, which is particularly refreshing in Brooklyn, where you now can’t move for artisanal restaurants, and places pretending to be old-fashioned, with wooden floors covered in sawdust and men with handlebar moustaches wearing butcher’s aprons. This is the antidote. It’s right on the waterfront, under the Brooklyn Bridge, in a kind of houseboat attached to the land. You have to go over a little bridge to get to it. Once you’re inside, you can look out over the water, and get the most incredible views of the Manhattan skyline. You can take a ferry or water taxi to get here from Wall Street. And because the waterfront near here has now been done up, and there is a beautiful park and a carousel, and playgrounds, if you’re with children, coming here becomes a real day out. The food’s not trendy: you can have good steak, or fresh fish, or delicious pasta with lobster, or really good brunch. And my children almost always order a chocolate dessert with a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge on it, which they then want to take home, because they don’t want to ruin it by eating it. My father [the English dramatist, screenwriter and author John Mortimer] used to say that there was nothing that couldn’t be solved by a glass of champagne in a restaurant with a nice linen cloth. This is that sort of place.
Your address: The St. Regis New York