When I’m not doing this, I’m usually writing about fashion. Sometimes it’s as frivolous as you might think. Louis Vuitton recently put up the prices on some of its bags by 25 per cent. Why? Because it can. Prada put its logo on a pair of classic Adidas Superstars last year with a price tag of £400. I’ve worn the original version of those trainers for about as long as I’ve had feet, for about 50 quid a throw. Their affordability and simplicity has always been their appeal.
But fashion is still important. It is culture, it has meaning. As I walked around Henley-on-Thames last week, for the first day of the Royal Regatta, I was transfixed by what people’s clothes signified. This year, for the first time, women were allowed to wear trousers inside the Stewards’ Enclosure. Katharine Hepburn probably never made it this far west along the Thames, and couldn’t have cared less. But hurrah for feminism. There were men in blazers and red trousers everywhere. It was The Wind in the Willows, with a local Wetherspoons. Most fascinating was the omnipresence of salmon-pink sweaters tied loosely over the shoulders, a 1980s look that is still at home today in the Angel on the Bridge, a pub that dates from 1728 but plays Swedish House Mafia on Spotify.
Henley is a time-warp mash-up of tribal shires tradition, tourists and taxi drivers ready to gouge you for the shortest of journeys – cash only.
Somewhere amid the Union flags and bunting is Crockers, a thoroughly modern restaurant with rooms that opened last year, as fresh as anywhere I’ve been recently. The only nod to the locality is a pre-dessert refresher of Pimm’s, reimagined as a super-fresh palate cleanser involving liquid-nitrogen clouds billowing from the open kitchen.
There are actually four Crockers in one: the Grill, a casual dining room with a specially commissioned robatayaki charcoal grill; the Thames chef’s table and the Gardiner chef’s table – two 16-seater counters serving modern British and pan-Asian food respectively; and the Quarters, one of the best sets of rooms attached to a restaurant in the country. Often these are an afterthought, squeezed into the corner of an old barn and acceptable for a night when you’ve had an epic wine pairing and can’t drive. But I’d stay in a room here for a week. Ali Hearn, the interior designer, has mixed industrial supersized lamps with concrete desks, leather upholstery and lovely bathroom fittings (slipper baths for all!) to create rooms in which to linger.