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JAPAN – 10

Well, says Girlahead on this, her weekly food-fun missive, be adventurous. Take breakfast. Four Seasons Kyoto has onsen eggs as a choice – see above. Two soft-poached eggs have been slowly cooked at 60° so the yolks are still runny. As is typical in Japan, by the way, the yolks are the colour of marigolds, said to be because the hens are fed on seaweed. Here the eggs are served with spinach in a light cheese sauce and chicken jus and the result is pretty yummy. The effect is definitely enhanced by the fact that Girlahead is eating outside, looking across the koi-filled lake to lush undergrowth, about ten metres away.  A 15m-tall multi-layer grey stone sculpture protrudes from the greenery. Afterwards Girlahead will take a walk around the lake, to a multi-purpose pavilion the other side.

Inside, in Emba Kyoto Chophouse, the hotel’s breakfast buffet, by the way, is splendid – see a video on Youtube. Of course it has plenty of salads. Japanese must, it seems, have salad with whatever else they are eating. And green juice is definitely in.

Girlahead also dined outside on Emba Kyoto Chophouse’s terrace. Wood tables have cut-out slats, just enough not to cause the possibility that the Sambonet cutlery might fall through. There were table-set lights by evening. Mills were wood and metal Peugeot, china Narumi, glasses Spiegelau. A glass of Dolce & Gabbana Rose 2022 Donnafugata went magnificently with a long strip of bluefin tuna tartare, handcut chutoro (medium-fat tuna), kiukau flowers, avocado, yuzu pepper. After this came a dry-aged 30 day sirloin from Kagoshima, in southernmost Kyushu, charcoal grilled over cherry wood and served with sides of steamed spinach, truffle fries. This went magnificently with a strong Aussie red, Bishop by Ben Claetzer Barossa Valley Shiraz 2021.

An extra delight of this meal was when Girlahead, sitting with hotel GM Fanny Guibouret, was being visited by a geisha. See below.

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Luxury Hotels

JAPAN – 9

OH the view from suite 301 of Four Seasons Kyoto – see above. Look out through all-wall windows, across the koi-filled lake at the lush walkway that leads to an all-purpose lake-side pavilion. On the way divert to take 20 steps up to a wishing temple, with pens and slates ready to write wishes.

Now Malaysian owned, the 123-room hotel – which also has 57 residences – was formerly Kyoto’s maternity hospital. Suite 301 is conveniently a short walk from the spacious lobby. Take an elevator down to the lowest level to the indoor pool, spa and magnificent Matrix gym (interesting wood floors and admirable supply of apples and bananas, not removed overnight as in so many 24/7 gyms). From the lobby, it is 30 steps, or an elevator, down to Emba all day restaurant and the garden walk.

Japanese gardens rely on greenery, stone, trees and water. Flowers are not essential, though there were a few pale blue flowers as peripheries to some tops of plant extensions. Back in the lobby there were three gigantic – 75cm across – putty-coloured flowers, clay sculptures. The lobby’s pièce de resistance must be, however, the full-size Hermès rickshaw. That’s right. Apparently this is the only rickshaw Hermès has ever made and it is chained to the floor to prevent any enthusiast literally running away with it. The lobby also has the ultimate open-plan library: there are some, ceiling-high, walls but, wherever, facing in or facing out, there are stacks of books on every aspect of Kyoto imaginable. Its past and present. Architecture. What you want is here.

You certainly know you are here, in Japan. Look, below, at a corner of the dining-area seating in suite 301. Such a brilliant iea to put fruit on the sofa back. It reminds the returning guest how revered each piece of fruit is. Gosh, there are so many stories to be told, here at Four Seasons Kyoto. Last words are reserved for the extraordinary GM, Fanny Guibouret. Brought up in Noumea – her parents were both hoteliers – she fell in love with Japan when she was 12. She taught herself the language, partly by speaking with Japanese tourists. Through hotel school, she spent years with Hyatt and joined Four Seasons in 2023. She manages the hotel, and her family (husband and four children) and she makes her own, exquisite, jewellery.

Staying at Four Seasons Kyoto, even if for one night, is a delightful introduction to a lifetime of stories.

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Luxury Hotels

JAPAN – 8

Life indeed looks rosy for the CEOs of the 40 member brands of Global Hotel Alliance, GHA, who are meeting 18-21 June 2024 at Tokyo’s conjoined Bellustar Pan Pacific and The Groove Parkroyal hotel, in the Kabukicho Tower, Tokyo. Organised by GHA CEO Chris Hartley and his Dubai-based team, the programme was well thought-out, enlightening, and fun.

One message that came over clearly was the effect of loyalty. At the end of the awards announcement at the gala at Kanda Myojin shrine, various people were recognised by Chris Hartley, above.

Who got the awards? Best brand performance, with a staggering 96% score, was Wharf, with Kempinski runner-up. Most improved brand performance was Outrigger, best new brand was The Set Collection. New hotel award went to Capella Sydney, best green hotel was Hotel Corvinus Kempinski, Budapest. Ultravel Collection’s hotel of the year was Lungarno Collection’s Portrait Suites Milano. GHA Discovery hotel of the year went to Anantara Dubai The Palm. Corinthia won most impressive use of the GHA app and website. NH gave most recognition to other GHA members and Wharf topped customer satisfaction.

The hospitality throughout was notable. Welcomes in bedrooms of Bellustar, a Pan Pacific Hotel, included exquisite seats and beverages, all carefully labelled. The first night was an informal dine-around in Bellustar’s 45th floor venues, and a highlight was a bottle of Opus One, which sadly just was not big enough.

The awards gala was completely catered by one of Japan’s favourite foreign chefs, Jerome Quilbeuf.All suitably paired, and dishes all plates. A tomato and watermelon gazpacho was followed by Nagasaki kue grouper, then braised cheek of Kobe wagyu and finally the chef’s justly famous burnt Basque cheesecake. Entertainment included a hyperkinetic young-male drum session – below – and a display of sword slashing.

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