Food & Wine

Stirring up luxury hotels’ chefs is good, from time to time

Dining for four, in the chef's herb garden at The Peninsula Bangkok

Dining for four, in the chef’s herb garden at The Peninsula Bangkok

What do seasoned luxury travellers want from a hotel chef, asks the gal? They like dishes that are clean rather than messed around, made of ingredients they can identify. They may want organic, and of course as fresh as possible. They enjoy the occasional sense of fun, but not all the time. At Oberoi’s unique mountain hideaway, Wildflower Hall in Shimla, if a lunchtime picnic is suggested it may well be that chefs will cook for you, in a clearing, regardless of the weather – see the photo above. Dining outside, indeed, seems to stimulate the taste buds. At Soneva Fushi, in the Maldives, you can eat in the chef’s garden, as you can at many Six Senses hotels: at The Peninsula Bangkok there is a charming table for four set in the chef’s herb garden.

Meat specialist Vincent Wong, Jing'An Shangri-La, Shanghai

Meat specialist Vincent Wong, Jing’An Shangri-La, West Shanghai

It is great to have produce presented to you, before you choose your meal. Wolfgang Puck’s teams display meat cuts magnificently at CUT restaurants, say 45 Park Lane, London, and Beverly Wilshire Beverly Hills, a Four Seasons Hotel, Los Angeles (I see there is also a CUT going into the forthcoming Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown, the restaurant there designed by Jacques Garcia). At 1515 West, Chop House & Bar in Jing’An Shangri-La West Shanghai, beef master Vincent Wong explains how he gets his 45-day aged beef from Stanbroke Ranch, Queensland: at InterContinental Hong Kong’s STEAK HOUSE winebar + grill, Manager Franco Leung already knows which steak you want, from your visit a year ago.

Chef, Rib Room restaurant, London

Chef at work! Jumeirah Carlton Tower, London

But then your choice has to be cooked to perfection, whether it is meat or fish. There are some locals who head for Knightsbridge and The Rib Room at Jumeirah Carlton Tower, London, several times a week. Across town, at the junction of Regent Street with Piccadilly, Café Royal Hotel’s Armand Sablon showed how a simple fresh turbot could become heaven, with merely soy sauce butter to add taste. My favourite dish of all time, however, remains the fresh mushroom ragout – for which read lightly sautéed assorted wild mushrooms, with garlic and parsley – that Roland Mazère, at Le Centenaire in Les Eyzies, produced for Franck Duboeuf, Manou Massenez and a few other friends who had been eating far too much Rougié foie gras earlier in the day.

Dirk Haltenhof at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai

Dirk Haltenhof at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai

It would be so great if hotels put more chefs’ videos on YouTube: The Peninsula Tokyo is great at doing this, and following the earlier video of making the perfect omelette, they have now posted wok cooking – SEE THE VIDEO BELOW. In all respects, I mentioned earlier the occasional surprise. Dirk Haltenhof, the jolly Bavarian who now oversees all the food at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai, is one such creative culinarian; when he was working earlier at The Oberoi Dubai he was into molecular in a big way and he ‘performed’ such tricks as blowing coloured steam that were almost worthy of David Copperfield at Vegas. But the surprises that I, and I think most regular travellers who care for quality rather than quantity, do not like are endless chef’s compliments, amuses, treats or whatever you call them. Unordered pre-meal snacks and tasters, and half-dishes between courses, and pre-desserts and the like are fine for gourmands but not for real people, who want real food that makes them feel better, not stuffed. Thank goodness most luxury hotels do now listen.  NOW WATCH THIS VIDEO.