I haven’t found a home for this article, so I thought I’d share it on my blog. Perhaps it will entice you to take a long weekend in New York’s Bowery district? If you do … please come back and tell us all about your adventure! Hubby and I have been desperate to run off for a weekend in NYC again, but I’ve already booked the grandparents in to babysit as part of my Winter Resolution, so I may be pushing my luck to expect two weekends sans children! One can always hope though …
NYC still an international melting pot
An unexpected, but lovely, lilting accent greets restaurant guests to New York City’s latest darling, Double Crown. French-born restaurant manager, Leslie Affre, first came to New York City on holiday in 2007 with her then-boyfriend Christopher Rendell, a sought-after international chef, and it hooked her hard.
“I really fell in love. I thought it was just so beautiful — the city’s mix of old and new. I remember that when we left, I just cried.” It took little prompting then for the couple to pack up their London-based life, where they were both working at the celebrated Mews of Mayfair restaurant, to help AvroKo Restaurant Group open their latest architectural and culinary sensation, Double Crown restaurant.
For Rendell, this is the fourth in a series of highly successful openings that have included The Grocer of Elgin and the Mews of Mayfair in London, as well as Public* in New York’s NoLIta neighbourhood. “You start with rubble – literally — then build a space, menu, and a fully functioning restaurant. It’s not the lack of sleep that attracts me, that’s for sure. But it’s satisfying to be part of a creation.” Double Crown’s key players, which include Rendell, its chef de cuisine, and Affre, its manager, worked around the clock to ensure a smooth launch less than one year ago, and it’s paid off with favourable reviews and consistently full tables.
Double Crown’s name plays upon its inspired concept of the British colonial empire’s presence in the East, including India, Singapore and China. The influence of eastern flavours upon British traditional fare results in a menu that includes Venison Wellington, Miso-glazed Bone Marrow, Pheasant and Licorice Pie, and Rendell’s favourite dish, Tandoori Foie Gras Torchon with Earl Grey. Reflecting this concept, the restaurant’s décor is eclectic – Indian soapstone screens, teak tables, red neon lights and ceiling fans turned by leather straps mange to be brilliantly intermingled.
Double Crown’s Reigning Couple
The combinations of Asian spice with British cuisine, and modern décor with eastern artifacts, aren’t the only unlikely pairings at this restaurant. Rendell and Affre, now newly weds, have created a cultural combination of their own. Rendell, a city-raised Australian who doesn’t speak a word of French and Affre, raised in a small French village outside of Cannes, are bound together in their love for the restaurant business.
Photo credit: Ellinor Stig
It is fitting then that the couple’s romantic sparks were first ignited over a great restaurant experience. “My parents had come to London to visit me,” Affre explains, “and we went to the Mews restaurant, where I worked as a manager, to celebrate my father’s birthday. Chris was head chef, and he prepared the most amazing meal for us. It was just so special. We’ve been together ever since.”
Affre’s interest in the restaurant business began when she started to follow the career of her brother Olivier, a chef in a 3-star Michelin restaurant in France. Now it has a firm hold on her: “You provide people with an experience – you make their night. For me, it is just so rich.” Rendell echoes this kind of deep engagement, saying he “just can’t imagine not being in the kitchen. It’s a part of me.”
Together, the couple makes their marriage work by coordinating their schedules so that they have a least one day off each week together, which isn’t always easy since Rendell’s role demands regular work weeks of 60-70 hours. On holidays, they often take advantage of the short flight-time to France and visit with Affre’s family and participate in celebrations, such as the recent Christening of Affre’s nephew, where Rendell was honoured as Godfather.
Bowery: Where Grunge and Glamour Intersect
Across the street from Double Crown stands the now-closed CBGB club, made infamous in the mid-1970s by featuring underground rock bands such The Ramones, Talking Heads and Patti Smith. The streets of this area, a small district in the southern portion of Manhattan called Bowery, were once lined with flop houses and strewn with the bodies of drug addicts and drunks. “Ten years ago, you wouldn’t walk alone here, but now there’s $7,000-a-month-lofts above our restaurant,” says Rendell.
If you visit the Bowery soon enough, you’ll be able to witness the intersection of its gritty history with its impending, gentrified future as New York City’s next SoHo. Although this sixteen-block stretch is now home to upscale hotels, restaurants and fashion boutiques, guided walking tours provide glimpses of its seedy edges and are an excellent way to learn about the area’s fascinating immigrant heritage and gang-land lore, as featured in Martin Scorsese’s film Gangs of New York. The nearby Lower East Side’s Tenement Museum also offers guided tours of apartments that recreate immigrant life in the 19th and 20th centuries.
After slumming around in the area’s past, you can visit the latest resident on Bowery, the New Museum, where some of the world’s most contemporary art is showcased. Designed by Tokyo-based architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, the museum opened in 2007 and treats weekend visitors to panoramic city views from its Sky Room. Families may also want to take advantage of the short walk to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, a five-floor marvel of age-specific exhibits on literature, science and arts.
*I know it will sound a bit crazy, but the bathroom at Public is so gorgeous that it almost rivals the amazing food!