Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I once stayed at Cliveden and had the most expensive sandwich in the world on a vintage longtail boat that sailed down the Thames River from Cliveden



This morning, in Manila living a Travelife, I posted a photo on Instagram and our Facebook fan page (which has over 275,000 fans, by the way) from my digital photo album, about a sandwich someone and I had ordered at Cliveden some years back, way before I officially had a Travelife but I was already living one.



A MOST DECADENT BUT ENJOYABLE LUNCH

It was the world's most expensive sandwich, which was perhaps why someone decided to order it. 

He also ordered along with it a bottle of Krug vintage champagne, for a picnic lunch on a private longtail boat that was going to take us down the Thames River from Cliveden



The entire exercise -- boat, sandwich and all -- was fabulously extravagant. But this someone was king of his world and it was a bull market almost everywhere in the developed world at that time. 

Plus, I wasn't the one making any of these decisions.

Anyway, when I posted this photo today, we received many messages from readers and friends asking about this most expensive sandwich in the world -- so I've decided to write just a little bit about it and about Cliveden.

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HISTORY IN THE HOUSE

Cliveden, by the way, is one of England's most glamorous country house hotels, and an especially historic one. It was once owned by the Duke of Westminister and then by William Astor.

It held the distinction of being the only private home Queen Victoria stayed in several times.


Queen Victoria reportedly loved Cliveden and was great friends with the owners, so she and her retinue would arrive by royal barge from Windsor Castle down the Thames

It's a 376-acre estate that's simply wonderful for taking long walks in, you see, and the main house is on a hill; but you can access the river by a ten minute walk down.

It also had a very good traditional British restaurant that had received two Michelin stars way back then, if I'm not mistaken. We ate here every night.

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POLITICAL HISTORY WAS MADE HERE

Cliveden also gained some notoriety as the venue for the John Profumo/ Christine Keeler spy scandal at the height of the Cold War

If you keep up with history, you'll know that this was the biggest scandal of its day, and it took place right in Cliveden's swimming pool and in a little cottage by the river.



PERFECTLY RUN HOTEL

At that time that we stayed at Cliveden for a week, just relaxing and puttering around the English countryside, Cliveden was run by the Von Essen Group, a German luxury hotel company and they operated it very well. 

It's been taken over by now by another hotel group and I haven't returned since.



However, when I stayed there, it was pricey but perfectly run in a very British way -- meaning very understated and no in-your-face service.

So it was a great favorite of international financiers and global high-fliers who would retreat here for de-stressing and to celebrate private events.

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THE PERFECT PLACE FOR A BAPTISMAL PARTY

In fact, at the time we were there, a wealthy French financier's entire family was taking over most of the hotel -- apparently they were flying in from all over Europe -- so that they could have the baptism of a baby in the beautiful golden room that once belonged to Madame de Pompadour.


Madame de Pompadour was mistress of French King Louis XV, and William Astor had purchased one of her favorite rooms in one of her homes in France in its entirety and transported to England, lock, stock and barrel.

At Cliveden, he painstakingly recreated Madame de Pompadour's favorite room exactly as it once was.

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IN PRAISE OF MADAME DE POMPADOUR

Madame de Pompadour has been much maligned over the centuries, by the way, as an ambitious courtesan who came from nowhere. 

However, I've long been fascinated by her and I've probably read every single biography on her by now. I can tell you that she was a woman way ahead of her time, and although Louis XV was king, he was a spoiled man who didn't at all deserve her, her affections or her talents.

I took a peek as the room was being prepared for one of the baptismal festivities by some florists and event planners, and it looked absolutely beautiful.


HAUNTED PASTS

Meanwhile, we had a beautiful suite on the second floor that was furnished almost to its original state. As the existing house was over 200 years old and this was probably one of the bedrooms of the owners, I was sure it had dozens of ghosts. 

Historic English hotels, in particular, are notorious for ghostly encounters and I'm certain Cliveden has its share -- although I've never heard stories about ghosts here, the way you hear about sightings in other famous hotels.


A BIT OF A SPLURGE

As I've already written, it was a very good time for the financial world, and the international markets were all at record highs so many people were flush with cash. 

Perhaps that was why in a fit of madness, just before checking out of Cliveden and flying from London back to Asia, this someone decided to hire the authentic antique longboat operated by Cliveden for a ride up and down the Thames for quite an astronomical amount.


It was the Suzy Ann, which was built in 1911, and it was simply beautiful.

Then, for lunch, which we'd decided to have on the boat, we ordered the famous Cliveden sandwich. I don't know if they still have it on the hotel's offerings now that Cliveden is under different management.


But back then, the famous Cliveden clubhouse sandwich was reportedly the most expensive sandwich in the world. The chartering of the boat wasn't exactly cheap; but it was the price of the sandwich that took my breath away.


A US$500 SANDWICH,
ONCE IN YOUR LIFE

I wasn't planning to place the price of this sandwich as it's rather crude to do so. But it's piqued so many people's interest and I didn't sign the credit card bill anyway, so I've decided to lay it all out.

Looking back at it now, I guess it's one of those things you feel you have to do at least once in your life. 

But, if I remember right, the sandwich (it was big so we halved it) cost over 200 pounds at a time when the British pound was at an all-time high -- it was close to 200 yen per pound.

So the sandwich roughly came out to US$500 and it was the early years of 2000 so US$500 was really a lot of money for a sandwich.

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THE BEST INGREDIENTS IN THE WORLD

It also took 36 hours to prepare because so many ingredients for the sandwich had to be specially ordered or prepared, and some were hand-carried especially from Harrod's foodshops and other specialty foodshops in Central London and the nearby countryside

On the appointed time and day of our cruise down the Thames, a car was waiting in the driveway of the hotel to take us on a very short drive down to the Thames where our longboat and skipper were waiting.


A few minutes after we arrived, a handsomely outfitted butler arrived and very formally handed the sandwich to the skipper. 

It was placed in a large wicker basket with starched linens, and accompanied by flowers. 

The butler also brought with him a bottle of champagne, as we had ordered a bottle to have with our record-breaking sandwich, of course.


Then we were off on our sail. 

The Thames is simply lovely -- so lovely, in fact, that one of the things on my bucket list is to charter a luxury houseboat to slowly sail it the entire way one day. Or actually, one week in summer.

And on that day, it was wonderful to be in such a quiet and yet comfortable boat. Then, somewhere midway, our skipper asked us: "Would you like to have your sandwich now?"

SANDWICH TIME

Yes, we did. 

With lots of flourish and formality, he reverently took out the packed sandwich, which had already been cut in half at our request, and placed it on two antique porcelain plates. We had these with the champagne.

INSIDE THE WORLD'S MOST EXPENSIVE SANDWICH

What's inside the world's most expensive sandwich, you may be asking.


I can't remember everything as it had at least 20 ingredients, including slices of the finest quality beeffoie gras, aged Parma ham, very special quail eggs from some pedigreed quail, handmade fresh mayonnaise, and organic vegetables from one of the British royal estates.

How did it taste? 

You would think that all the flavors would simply mesh together since there were over 20 ingredients in the sandwich. 

But actually, the sandwich tasted truly delicious, and it was particularly sublime having it with champagne on this beautiful boat that sailed past incredibly picturesque villages and houses.

Yes, that was truly living an eventful Travelife.

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WAS IT WORTH IT?

Now the million-dollar question: Was it worth US$500 in the early 2000s? 

It's easy for me to say yes as someone gallantly took me on this picnic to end all picnics. 

But I guess you just have to look at things philosophically: it's just one of those things you just have to do at least once in your never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.



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