“University” at The Four Seasons, Florence

Dec 07, 11 “University” at The Four Seasons, Florence

Posted by in Food and Wine, Hotels and Spas, Travel

I went to The Four Seasons University in Florence, Italy. How’s that for an alma mater? Seriously, I was invited to take part in what they term their “university” to learn more about The Four Seasons Resorts and Hotels and, in this particular session, showcasing the regional and artisanal food and wine on offer. With hotels scattered around the globe, the 2 day session was aimed at getting to know about The Four Seasons in Asia, Africa and Europe. The Four Seasons flew in General Managers from Budapest to Paris, Beirut to Doha and everywhere in between for us to chat with and find out more about what makes each hotel unique from a culinary and vinous point of view. What I found was that each one tailored the guests experience to the locale. From Paris to Prague, the hotels try to give the guests a luxury wine and dine experience while still maintaining links with the city they are in. For example, in Prague, they may be in an international hotel but offer plenty of local delicacies in their restaurants as well as offering international cuisine. Paris on the other hand, guests expect a gourmet experience and, dining in the George V’s 3-Michelin starred restaurant with a world class wine cellar, guests won’t be disappointed. The Florence Four Seasons is no different. A spectacular oasis in the middle of the city, set within a walled garden covering 11 acres, it took seven years to renovate the 15th century Palazzo Della Gherardesca and the adjacent convent. I loved the original mosaic floors in the Palazzo as well as the original frescos and paintings that have been restored to their former glory. It’s fantastic to be surrounded by such beauty. Florence pulled out all the stops for us to show off the best that the hotel and the region had to offer. The Florence property has the palazzo and a smaller building, il Conventino, on the other side of the garden. The first night, the...

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Bar 45 in Park Lane – cocktails and posh bar nosh

Dec 02, 11 Bar 45 in Park Lane – cocktails and posh bar nosh

Posted by in Hotels and Spas, Spirits, wine bars

I, for one, am very pleased with this trend of chic cocktail bars in London. For some reason, cocktail bars seem to have taken off in the finer hotels of London.  As cocktails originated in America, it’s not too surprising it’s in the luxury hotels (all those trans-Atlantic businesspeople) and it’s great to see them getting their fair dues on this side of the pond. I was invited to sample the wares of the new Bar 45, part of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant Cut, at the 45 Park Lane Hotel. As it’s Puck’s restaurant, the bar snack menu, called Rough Cuts, bears the influence of Puck’s Southern California stylings with Kobe beef sliders and tuna tartare “tacos”.  Both of which were fantastic, the cute little kobe sliders so full of beefy goodness and the tuna tartare had to be one of the silkiest tartares I’ve had in a long time. As for the cocktails, they have a varied choice, grouped under the spirit being used and with some fanciful ingredients. Ranging from jalapenos for the Dragon’s Fire tequila based cocktail to Japanese Umebosi plums for the Umami Cocktail. I didn’t order it as I wasn’t feeling very umami-ish that evening but perhaps next time. I did order Pepino’s Revenge which despite being made with tequila and lime bore no resemblance whatsoever to a margarita. It was probably the basil and Japanese cucumber that threw me off. I love basil and this was just such a yummy cocktail, I felt like I was swimming in basil, a good thing if you like basil. Of course, I ordered the obligatory Manhattan. I have to say, London’s cocktailers have vastly improved their Manhattan offerings and it’s rare that I have to send a Manhattan back nowadays. Bar 45’s was delish, made with Maker’s Mark and on the rocks, just the way I like it. The bar is not just cocktails, they also serve the wines from the restaurant list. The Head Sommelier Vanessa Cinti  is Italian but she...

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A Taste of Tuscany at the Four Seasons Park Lane

Nov 24, 11 A Taste of Tuscany at the Four Seasons Park Lane

Posted by in Food and Wine, Hotels and Spas, Italy

A “Taste of Tuscany”.  An invitation arrived in my inbox shortly after I came back from Florence, Italy to visit the Amaranto restaurant in the recently refurbished Four Seasons Hotel on Park Lane. I love Italy and Italian cuisine so this seemed right up my alley. Having been wined and dined in Florence, I was looking forward to what the Four Seasons Park Lane London had to offer. I was not disappointed as I rolled in one Saturday night. While waiting for my dining companion, I perused the cocktail list which featured artisanal bitters, botanicals and homemade infusions which the bar of the Amaranto uses for its imaginative concoctions.  The cocktails were all updated versions of classics with a special section dedicated to the Negroni with 6 different versions to choose from, I went with the Aromatic Negroni which featured Rabarbaro Zucca, Cinzano Orancio and pear grappa. Good and strong, just the way I like them. For entertainment, there was a 6 ft tall blonde female sax/jazz flute player floating around the bar. Dinner started with a traditional Ribollita, a Tuscan vegetable soup paired with a vermentino, the 2009 Occhio al Vento from Rocca delle Macie. All of the dishes were paired with this particular wineries offerings. Rocca delle Macie is set in the heart of Chianti Classico and is a family run business, founded by an Italian movie director in the early 1970’s. Vermentino is a variety I don’t get to drink often and I do enjoy it’s fresh and vibrant qualities. The next dish, the spicy “pici piccanti” was hand-rolled spaghetti served with garlic and walnuts. Very flavourful and spicy for an Italian dish, the spicy notes of the food were quenched by Vernacchia 2009 that was served along with it. Italian white wines do have those savoury and herbaceous flavours which make them great food wines. The pastas are homemade and Chef Davide DeGiovanni showed us the pastas when we toured the kitchen afterwards, one of which was the wild boar...

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The Yeatman

Nov 22, 11 The Yeatman

Posted by in Hotels and Spas, Portugal

The very first thing you notice when you walk into the The Yeatman is not the statue of Bacchus that dominates the lobby but rather, it’s what Bacchus faces that takes your breath away. The view that stretches in front of you of the entire hillside of the city of Oporto is amazing any time of day or night. The Yeatman is perched on a hillside on the Gaia side of the river. Oporto is divided into two by the river, with the Gaia side being where all the port lodges are located, the grapes are grown in the Douro Valley but the wine is aged in the long buildings of Gaia. It’s also where one finds The Yeatman overlooking the red tiled roofs of the lodges. The Yeatman came about to fill the need for a luxury hotel in the city of Oporto. During my visit, I had a chance to chat with Adrian Bridges, CEO of the hotel, and he told me he wanted to create a luxury hotel that was worthy of the city of Oporto and the history of port. Adrian was involved in all aspects of the hotel, from the colour of the curtains to the mattress maker. Adrian and his wife personally slept on all 6 potential mattresses for the hotel before finally plumping for the eventual winner. Among the amenities are a luxury spa where you can while away the day amongst vine influenced decor. I loved the staircase which encircled the interior of a giant wooden vat. After my massage, I relaxed on an enclosed sundeck with of course, that panoramic view of Oporto. The hotel’s theme is wine and the Wine Director, Beatriz Machado, is all about wine experiences. She personally chose and tasted all of the wines on the wine list, sourcing what she feels are stellar examples of Portuguese wine making. Although Portugal is famous for it’s Port, the dry wines that are being produced are spectacular. The hotel hosts a wine dinner...

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Bespoke Cheese & Wine tasting at the Andaz Liverpool St

Oct 31, 11 Bespoke Cheese & Wine tasting at the Andaz Liverpool St

Posted by in Food and Wine, Hotels and Spas

Hidden amongst the hustle and bustle of Liverpool St is the Andaz Hotel. I love the fact that the hotel is situated on the original site of the Bethlehem or “Bedlam”, as it became known in the local vernacular, mental institution. The hospital is long gone but it does make me wonder what sort of crazy goings-on could be playing out behind the stone facade even today. The Andaz was opened in 2007 and the hotel’s mission is to deliver a unique experience incorporating the local personality into the hotel. As the Andaz is located very near the tragically hip and trendy Shoreditch, the place has some rather interesting art work and decor. Having said all that though, I do love walking into the desk-less lobby. The hotel has 5 restaurants and bars from which to choose from and I was invited to try out the Bespoke wine and cheese tastings that they do in the 1901 restaurant. The restaurant also offers cheese and canape or cheese and small plates matchings with wine. First off the space is dominated by a long bar that runs down the centre of the room. It ends with tasting table at the end, surrounded by the wine racks and cheese cupboards. There are over 700 wines to choose from and the best of British cheeses for your bespoke experience. I asked the sommelier, Joris Beijn, to pick out the of wines to go with my British cheeses and a few small plates that we also ordered. Joris chose some fantastic wines to pair, an arneis from Piedmont, by Michele Chiarlo was a surprising start but I do enjoy those savoury Italian whites and this cracker of a wine ticked all the boxes, green apple, grapefruit, hints of lemon pie on an elegant body of wine. Great match with the harder cheeses. There was also a 2000 1er Cru St Aubin on offer as well as the 2006 Rubicon from Meerlust which was great with the very juicy and...

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Seafood and wine workshops at the Andaz Hotel

Oct 10, 11 Seafood and wine workshops at the Andaz Hotel

Posted by in Food and Wine, Hotels and Spas

7am on a Saturday morning is not the usual start time for events I attend, 7pm is more like it, but since Billingsgate market is only open early mornings, I had no choice but to be up at the crack of dawn to get down to the market for the new series the “Andaz Liverpool Street Seafood Workshops” in conjunction with Head Chef Martin Scholz of Catch Restaurant (part of the Andaz Hotel) is launching during the London Restaurant Festival. Catch’s Head Chef, Martin Scholz met us at the Billingsgate market and gave us a tour round, meeting suppliers, showing us the different species of fish the market sells and showing us how to select seafood as well as shop sustainably. The market was winding down but the time we got there (8am) but Saturday the market is open to regular punters and there was still plenty of people around and fish to buy. I’d never been to such a big fish market and it was eye-opening to see fish as something other than fillets. Frankly, they are not the cuddliest animals around. After our tour we headed back to the Andaz Hotel for our seafood cookery class in the Andaz Studio, a private dining room/workspace where we would be helping out Chef Martin and his assistant chef, Gavin. The space is great as it has an open plan kitchen at one end where guests can either watch the chefs at work or roll up their sleeves and pitch in. We got to slicing and dicing the ingredients for our lunch. Chef Martin was great, funny and friendly but a consummate professional at the same time. Cooking with the chef was not only fun but also educational as Martin had lots of little hints and tips. It took a few hours to get lunch ready but it was well worth the wait. A light and delectable bouillabaise to start, arctic cod with chorizo risotto and olive tapenade stuffed squid for the main followed by...

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