I got to observe them wining and dining at posh pop-up outposts of London's Le Caprice Restaurant, Harry's Bar, and Mount Street Deli. My attendance at the show went beyond cultural anthropology. My beau, Eric Silver, is a decorative arts specialist and director at Lillian Nassau LLC, a New York gallery that was exhibiting at Masterpiece London for the first time. When I first met Eric a few years ago, I wondered why no one ever talked about the food or drink at the many shows we went to—shows that went on all day, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. Then I realized that even if the crowd was eyeing bronze and tole antheniennes, not vacuum pumps, the food was like any other trade show: a tuna sandwich here, a bag of chips there, Frisbee-sized chocolate chip cookies and over-brewed coffee everywhere—the carbed and the caffeinated brought to you by corporate caterers.
So bravo to the organizers of London's Masterpiece show, who know that a plate of octopus carpaccio and a chilled Bellini go a long way toward soothing the savage collector and easing the pain of writing a check for that £50,000+ Egyptian-style Parure or the £1-million yellow diamond pin circa 1938. And if carpaccio (fittingly, named after a Venetian painter) and steak tartare sound like kind of fancy fare for, well, an art fair, let's discuss the guest list.
HRH Prince Harry visited Masterpiece. So did a group of Saudi Arabian princesses, sporting megawatt jeweled cuffs under their long black sleeves. Dame Vivienne Westwood and Sir Elton John popped in. Princess Alexandra, the designated royal, swanned in one evening at a preview for what is a charity event. A recent Annie Leibovitz portrait of Queen Elizabeth was on exhibition. Oprah Winfrey, our own queen, was there, too. So to say that we all ate royally would not be an overstatement.
(Small but delicious sidebar: what was Princess Alexandra really admiring when she stopped in at an English company that specializes in estate jewelry? Surely not another pearl and diamond tiara! Eric solved this mystery—luckily, Lillian Nassau was directly across the way—when he noticed a large Toblerone bar perched in their gallery's vitrine, smack in front of the aristocratic rings and bling. Eric was dumbstruck as he watched the gallery's elegant owners quietly hand her this Heathrow Airport gift-shop size chocolate bar as a little memento.)
After spending hours walking the cavernous (but lushly carpeted) aisles and building up an appetite, temptation on a grand scale, for me, wasn't the 1733 Stradivari Violin. It was the thick, juicy rib eye steak with crispy chips and a velvet béarnaise sauce for £30 on the menu at Le Caprice, one of the three restaurants operated by Caprice Holdings, the event and catering company that ran the show's food. People did talk about food at this show. And it was delicious. And with a £4-million Ferrari almost directly across from a £15,000 bottle of Louis XIII Cognac, it all just screamed "recession—what recession?". So bring it on, Caprice Holdings!