Luxury Hotels

Back to Brussels, and a hotel to be elevated to luxury level

The atrium at night

Some, when thinking of Brussels, immediately conjure up images of moules, frites and beer – or such cultural wonders as Grand Place (above). And Brussels is of course the headquarters of NATO, and of the EU. In case anyone thought otherwise, this last fact impedes rather than helps the luxury hotel sector. Per diems for all those bureaucrats are kept low by tax-payer vigilance, which means hotel rates are as little as a third of those in Paris, under two hours’ train-ride away.   The gal was visiting a doyenne, the 1990-vintage Radisson Blu Royal, which will, chrysalis-like, evolve into a Radisson Collection luxury hotel from April 2020. It will keep its magnificent seven-floor open atrium, illuminated in blue at night.

Gaston Gellens

Run by Brussels-born GM Gaston Gellens, who also heads Belgium for Radisson Hotel Group, the 282-room hotel attracts lots of groups, especially in the pharma sector. Others are lured to the hotel by its culinary reputation. The Michelin two-star Sea Grill, only reached via the hotel’s main atrium lobby, is leased out to Belgium’s renowned seafood chef, Yves Mattagne.  The restaurant is full every night (tip – if you want to eat there at short notice, go for lunch). We, fortunately, had a dinner reservation, and the combined theatre of play (=food) and production (=service) was 5/5 for a two-star, so much more thoughtfully empathetic than many a three-star.

Langoustine waiting to be flamed

I started with a glass of Rully – no vintage or winemaker divulged in this Maison Mattagne. Food-wise, after a couple of anonymous-but-delicious edible pointillist amuses, I began with burrata di Andria with wisps of onions, asparagus hairs, whole but tiny green peas and smoked oil. While eating, I watched presentation of the signature appetizer. Three langoustines arrived on a black stone and were blow-torched tableside. Watch the video below to see this dramatic happening. We went on to more special effects. A large silver-covered trolley was wheeled up, and opened to reveal a 50-cm long brick of salt.

Breakfast buffet still-life

Conversation around us, which had already momentarily paused for the blow-torching, then stopped, for the second time. A server cracked open the one-use salt to reveal a whole seabass, deftly portioned and served with assorted mushroom and a tray of olive oils of the world.  This theatre, by the way, gave way the following morning to another production, in the form of an extremely clever buffet breakfast. Seat yourself, at high communal tables or normal height settings for two or four. You can see everything, there are waffles if you want locale and a Miss Africa in a chic dark navy suit and Afro hairstyle, not a hint of whites, cooked a perfect omelette with 100% aplomb. And then, sadly, my driver awaited. SEE ROOM 721 AND THEN WATCH THE BLOW-TORCHING





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Luxury Hotels

The Pig casual-chic have got today’s luxury concept just right

View from room 12

It’s always a joy to return to a relaxed-luxury hotel, and, if asked, the gal might well say The Pig on the Beach in Studland, Dorset, is exactly what is required.  Year-round this place is packed but during summer it is a magnet for all ages. You can see the sea from the alluring but deliberately untended main garden, and to get to the beach is a mere ten minutes’ walk.  Once there, on South Beach, there are free-to-borrow (from Joe’s Café, thank you Joe) folding deck chairs, and plastic buckets and spades.  Make elaborate sandcastles while mum in her crocheted straw hat watches the tide come and go, looks out at the English Channel and thanks her lucky stars that she is not back home in Knightsbridge right now.

Walled garden

At their temporary home, namely the 23-room hotel, kids run like puppies around the lawns and gardens, a natural adventure playground. They play hide and seek amid the cover of dense foliage, they stare at the pigs in their fenced off fields, and they eat and drink magnificently. More and more of The Pigs, as a brand, are leading the way in sustainable eating.  Much of the produce is grown right here, in the Walled Garden lovingly tended by a team led by corporate gardener Olly Hutson, son of the CEO of The Pigs, Robin Hutson – whose wife Judy is interior designer, with the knack of, say, creating maximum and flexible seating for groupings in what is essentially an intimate bar, and also making what could be called a compact bedroom perfectly agreeable for two adults (see a video below, which shows such quirky items as the satirical Enid Blyton’s Five Go Gluten Free, the Roberts Radio, and lavender goat’s milk soap from Cyril’s Soap Shed).

Summer-time bistro

In summer, an outside bistro offers day-long casual eating. This is needed to cope with the 200-plus hungry people who are likely to turn up for lunch, at any hour. Long 20-seat wooden tables, equally long benches either side, accommodate many, but there are wood tables and chairs scattered all around. The main restaurant, however, is partly inside and partly in the adjacent conservatory. All restaurant tables are simple wood, some looking like former sleepers from rail tracks. China and cutlery are all one-offs, bought wherever at sales, and, whatever the tabletop, a finishing touch is the flowerpot filled with living herbs, carefully labelled, that adorns each table.  And people come here, again and again, for the food.  That night, I started with a coupe of Hambledon English sparkling, very agreeable and unsweet, and nibbles were The Pigs’ renowned Piggy Bits, including vodka-smoked BBQ pork belly.

Menu reverse

The entire menu, a green A4 card, is ’25 miles’ – its reverse shows provenance, and how far items have travelled.  I started with shaved garden courgette with crispy fava beans and polytunnel pepper dressing, went on to a truly magnificent Middle White tomahawk pork chop with garden greens and mustard cream sauce (this went superbly with The Pig Hut’s Michel Chapoutier red, a Grenache/Syrah – glasses are available in 3 sizes). It is not only lunches and dinners that are so memorable at this realistic-luxury hotel, by the way. At all The Pigs, the breakfast is essential. There are displays of add-ons for cereals, which include several granolas, all home-made: boil your own eggs, outstanding croissants of which Pierre Hermé would be proud, with full-cream butter that even Bordier could not better. Oh what food… SEE ROOM 12, AND THEN THE WALLED GARDEN

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Luxury Hotels

Simply Sunday – pair old with new in luxury hotels

Simply Sunday – oh says the gal, what a delight to find a classic hotel that had fallen on hard times but now, thanks to lots of love and attention, is restored to glory. This is the case of Brussels’ Steigenberger Wiltcher’s. In its immediate past, as the first-ever Conrad property, nurtured by Clem Barter, it was part of Virtuoso. Now, owned by AXA, leased to and managed by Deutsche Hospitality, it has resumed its place in that supreme network of the world’s top luxury advisors.

I was thrilled to see how German designers Bost Tassilo have brought back elements of Art Deco into the 267-room hotel (old city photos hang on walls in geometric mirrored frames). I also salute GM Michel Cottray for attracting local cognoscenti back to Sundays’ Champagne brunches, publicised via local radio. In addition, he has dared to turn the former gastronomic restaurant into a cigar lounge, exclusive to hotel guests and 60 local members. Now dine as we did, in Loui leather-and-wood bar, on real food – see my tartare – or, frankly, whatever you feel like. This is today’s luxury, and it makes business sense.

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