Food & Wine

A luxury Boston hotel turns its restaurant into a wow success

GM Alain Neguoalua provides a big welcome

GM Alain Neguoelua provides a big welcome

There is something lovely about coming back to a luxury hotel, says the gal. You know where the elevators are, you know where the gym is, you know how to work the light switches and the shower, and people on front desk smile and say welcome back.

That is what happens, certainly, at Mandarin Oriental Boston, which is run by a consummate hotel operator, Negueloua. Note that noun, by the way. This is a hotelier who wants to run a hotel, one hotel, and he thankfully has no aspirations to give it all up to go into a head office, or a regional office. He loves challenges, and one of the biggest he has had since arriving here in 2012 is the restaurant.

Adam Tihany's design is like the inside of a wine barrel

Adam Tihany’s design is like the inside of a wine barrel

The 148-room hotel opened in 2008 with an all-day dining place that was not that attractive to either hotel guests or to locals (or, to that matter, to the people living in the 40 condominiums and 35 apartments above the eight-floor hotel). The restaurant was ground floor, with 100 feet of frontage along busy Boylston Street – as well as a street entrance, big French windows open on to it, and there is pavement seating summer-long. It should have worked but he knew it could do better.   The owners, who in those days were Ireland’s Anglo-Irish Bank, were prepared to spend, and create what is now Bar Boulud, open from 6.30 every morning.

Daniel Boulud

Daniel Boulud

Adam Tihany has produced a restaurant that, to me, is only rivalled by the diner in Four Seasons IFC in Dubai (that is the one with three car fronts sticking high up out of one wall). Here, Adam Tihany has covered some walls with ends of real wine boxes, the wood panels branded with household-name French premiers crus. And he has lined much of the vast area with a canopy, on sturdy ceiling-high legs, of wood beams curved as if by a cooper. Sit in a booth, or at a detached table, and you feel as if you are dining in a wine barrel – sit outside, on the pavement, and you look into that barrel. Of course it is a French barrel, one suspects. This is, after all, a French brasserie, complete with Edith Piaf singing softly, at breakfast.

Displays in Bar Boulud

Displays in Bar Boulud

At lunch and dinner, charcuterie is a feature, made here by resident charcutier Tristan Crépin, taught by Daniel Boulud’s long time charcuterie great, Gilles Vérot (who came here last week for a couple of charcuterie dinners – and no, he did not finish with pâté soufflé). I had the good luck of dining with Alain Negueloua shortly before, and we started with a small-size charcuterie tasting board, and then we both went on to steak frites, from Brandt Farm in Brawley CA, which feeds its cattle on alfaalfa mixed with corn. What with sides of marvellously-green spinach, and mushroom fricassée, and a glass of a Negueloua favourite, Les Cassagnes de La Nerthe Côtes-du-Rhône Villages 2013, it was indeed a French brasserie experience, in a very special luxury hotel.