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All Aboard the Wes Anderson express – the film director’s reimagined carriage on the Orient Express sister train

Wes Anderson aboard his reimagined Cygnus carriage

As I sit at a white clothed table, take a sip of wine from a cut glass goblet and watch the countryside roll by through the train window, I feel as if I could be in a Wes Anderson film. Not just because trains are a recurring fixture in Anderson’s productions but because the carriage I’m travelling on has been revamped by the movie director himself. 

Paris-based Anderson dislikes flying and is a regular on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express so Belmond asked him to redesign a carriage on sister train, the British Pullman, which every year takes one of its vintage carriages out of service for a refresh, a spokeswoman for the luxury travel company tells me. 

The British Pullman loops through the English countryside

From the exterior, Cygnus (all the carriages have names rather than letters) looks the same as the rest of the coffee and cream coloured train waiting at London’s Victoria station. I had been greeted aboard that morning by a friendly, white-gloved steward and shown to my upholstered seat where canapes were waiting on the table and a flute of champagne swiftly poured.

“Are you a fan of Wes Anderson?” the steward asks. I reply that I am. But I am also an Agatha Christie and art deco fan and having been on the train a few times, including this very carriage, I’m curious to see the changes.

The walnut walls and overhead brass luggage racks have been kept intact to which Anderson has added his own touches. He’s brought in angular seating in place of the oversized upholstered armchairs; replaced the traditional, shaded lights with sleek art deco style lamps and the furnishings now all feature geometric prints.

Wes Anderson reimagined carriage with pink ceiling

What catches my eye the most though is the ceiling painted a divine pink. This sugary shade is one of the director’s signatures and it occurs to me that the green and pink colour scheme of the carriage is the same as showstopper pastry from Mendl’s bakery in The Grand Budapest Hotel as well as the main character’s costumes in Moonrise Kingdom.  

Since cygnus means swan, Anderson has played on the waterfowl theme from the marquetry on the walls to the shape of the champagne coolers in the private coupes – like all the British Pullman carriages Cygnus has two private compartments, seating up to four people, at either end. 

Tiny swan in the marquetry
Cygnus private compartment

Unlike the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the British Pullman has no sleeper cars, it is entirely made up of restaurant carriages and so offers day trips from London to various destinations in England and Wales. The inaugural journey for the revamped Cygnus was fittingly to the Welsh capital, Cardiff – Anderson’s middle name is Wales. Upcoming trips next year include Bath, Oxford and Blenheim Palace. I have chosen The Golden Age of Travel which involves a five course lunch onboard while looping through the Kent countryside.

From the tiny kitchen the chef and his team create impressive dishes including duck terrine, roast pumpkin soup, wild sea bass and pineapple upside down cake. The menu is served at a leisurely pace and perfectly timed to be spread out throughout the five hour journey. And all the staff are unfailingly personable and attentive.

Anderson has chosen the tableware for Cygnus, a modern bone china by Royal College of Art graduate, William Edwards who also works with hotels including the Four Seasons, Fairmont and Intercontinental. And the pattern itself – continuing the carriage’s green theme – was designed in collaboration with the owner of Cobblers Cove, Barbados.

Wes Anderson chose the William Edwards china

Like the VSOE, the Pullman is made up of salvaged vintage carriages from the 1920s and 30s. Cygnus was built as a “first class parlour” that was frequented by heads of state. During a break between the main course and cheese, I take a walk through to see some of the other cars. There’s Audrey where the marquetry depicts landscape scenes and Lucille where the inlays feature Greek urns. All the cars are filled with the sound of chatter and laughter. Belmond encourages passengers to dress up and most have which adds to the merriment.

Back in my seat the view turns to farmland with a smattering of oast houses with their distinctive cone shaped roofs that were traditionally used to dry hops. Further on, a glimpse of the sea and the beach huts at Whitstable signal that the train is looping back towards London.

We’re on coffee and chocolate truffles as we edge towards the capital. One last party comes to take a look at “the Wes Anderson carriage”. A train manager catches my eye as we hear the latest proclamations of “Oh wow!” With a smile he says: “Everyone is very jealous of you travelling in this carriage.”

For pricing and to book see: https://www.belmond.com/trains/europe/uk/belmond-british-pullman/

The Play’s the Thing – the Love In Between Hotels and Theatre

Secret Theatre at Felix, The Peninsula Hong kong

[UDPATE: The Peninsula Hong Kong is partnering with the Secret Theatre for The Great Gatsby Immersive Dining Experience at its Felix restaurant. Guests will be transported back to 1920s New York with a theatrical performance directed by Richard Crawford and an imaginative four-course dinner inspired by New York’s Roaring Twenties, crafted by Felix’s Chef de Cuisine Juan Gomez. From 21 October to 27 November 2021, every Thursday to Saturday only at 7pm. Bookings: https://gifts.peninsula.com/hongkong/events/all

And Sight Lines Entertainment is offering the chance to win a one night stay in a suite at Shangri-la Singapore, complimentary passes to play its new Murder at Old Changi Hospital, a virtual escape room murder mystery, and a sumptuous breakfast for two. To enter follow two simple steps:
1. Follow both @wahbananasg and @sightlinesco 
2. Share the post in your IGS and tag a friend and @wahbananasg so they can find your post

The giveaway ends Sunday 10 October 2021, 2359hrs Singapore time]

Raffles Hotel Singapore

Last night I went to Raffles again. I didn’t dream it, and thanks to the delayed Hong Kong – Singapore Travel Bubble I wasn’t actually there either, instead, I watched an interactive play set and filmed at the hotel by Singaporean theatre companies, Double Confirm Productions and Sight Lines Entertainment. 

The Curious Case of the Missing Peranakan Treasure, conceived, directed by and featuring Hossan Leong of Double Confirm and written by Jean Tay, was filmed entirely on location at Raffles with 360 degree virtual reality cameras. So I was able to virtually enter the familiar white façade, “check in” in the lobby and revisit the hotel’s bars, suites and courtyards while watching a mystery enfold through a cast of front of house staff and guest characters. 

Leong who has previously filmed one man performances at the Grand Hyatt and W hotels in Singapore says: “From 2020 there was not a lot of work for us in the arts so I decided not to sit around but to create something for actors and crew. I have always wanted to create a production with the beautiful Raffles as a backdrop and they were very supportive of my idea of having a ‘whodunnit’ set in the hotel.“

Hossan Leong (right) with Pavan J Singh on set at Raffles Singapore

Up until June 30th [2021] you can watch this entertaining tale online and attempt to solve the mystery yourself – there’s the prize of a real life stay at Raffles in the offing. Those lucky enough to be in Singapore can book a Daycation or Staycation package, watching the play on a tablet in their suite and then explore the hotel for clues (as well as being treated to Singapore Slings and satays). Alternatively, Virtual Play allows guests to buy a ticket from ticket agency SISTIC and watch from anywhere in the world.

“Raffles Singapore always had a connection with literary luminaries in our storied heritage with playwrights and authors being very much a part of who we are,” says managing director Christian Westbeld. Suites named after the likes of Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham attest to this and the former suite appears in the production. The hotel did have its own theatre, Jubilee Hall which opened in 1991, although this was transformed into a ballroom in the most recent refurbishment. Westbeld adds: “The virtual interactive play arose out of a business need to pivot, given the current pandemic.” 

Also in Singapore at Hotel Soloha in Chinatown surreal comedy meets murder mystery, The Bride Always Knocks Twice, was also born out of a need to adapt in the current climate. “Arts and tourism were some of the key industries impacted by the pandemic and this project really shows how creativity and cross-industry collaboration can lead to new possibilities,” says Kuo Jian Hong, artistic director of The Theatre Practice, behind the production which streamed in the first week of June.

The Theatre Practice’s Bride Always Knocks Twice


The fourth floor of the hotel, set in a converted row of shophouses, stood in as the mysterious house in The Bride Always Knocks Twice where seven women from different eras of Singaporean history co exist. Reflective of the Lion City the women variously spoke Mandarin, Indonesian, English, Cantonese and Malay with the multimedia platform allowing for sub titles in Chinese and English. 

Split over several nights, viewers watched the first act of the play then had the chance to interrogate the characters by submitting online questions which they answered live to camera. Originally it was intended that the audiences visit the hotel to hunt for clues in act three though due to the heightened measures this had to be changed into a virtual crime-scene investigation. In the final act the murderer was revealed but not before viewers had an opportunity to submit their theories with a chance to win a stay at Hotel Soloha.

Hotel Soloha

One of the first and still existing theatre and hotel synergies was The Savoy in London. The Savoy theatre actually opened before the legendary hotel which it sits adjacent to. Impressario Richard D’Oyly Carte opened the then state of the art venue in 1881 to stage the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. With the success of the comic operas he segued into hotels eight years later. Famous theatrical actors of the day flocked to stay at The Savoy including Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry.

While the venue is now owned by The Ambassador Theatre Group which operates several playhouses in London’s West End, there are regularly accommodation or F&B packages in conjunction with the hotel. A themed afternoon tea is currently being planned in homage to the just opened Pretty Woman The Musical, and starring actors often stay at the hotel.

Grand Hotel Timeo in Sicily also has a theatre adjacent, there’s even a secret entrance from the hotel into Teatro Antico. The well preserved amphitheatre was built by the Greeks in the third century for dramatic and musical performances, adapted by the Romans for gladiator games and now once again is used to stage the performing arts. 

La Scala, Milan

Other hotels are embracing opera and ballet as part of their guest offerings. In St Petersburg, Grand Hotel Europe patrons have access to the hotel’s private box at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. And in Milan, Hotel Principe di Savoia will arrange private guided tours of La Scala including behind the scenes access to backstage areas.

Before the pandemic Shangri La The Shard in London held Theatre in the Clouds, partnering with private theatre concept Revels in Hand to stage three actor plays for a small number of guests in one of its suites. Whether this returns remains to be seen but other hotel projects look to continue whatever twist happens next for the arts and hospitality industries. 

“We believe that arts and hospitality is the perfect marriage and with technology, we are able to not only entertain in-house guests but have international reach,” says Derrick Chew, artistic director of Sight Lines who adds the company is looking to collaborate with more hotels following its successful collaboration with Raffles. And Kuo does not rule out The Theatre Practice staging another hotel play saying: “Our works have never been constrained by genre or format, much less specific locations so never say never.”

Ode to Odette – “The Best Restaurant in Asia”

Odette -  Interiors 7
Odette restaurant, Singapore

[UPDATE: Odette has retained its position as The Best Restaurant in Asia as number 8 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list 2021. ]

Julien Royer, formerly head chef of the acclaimed Jaan, now has his own restaurant in the form of Odette, a bread roll’s throw away from his alma mater, within Singapore’s stunning new National Gallery. Odette is named in homage to Royer’s grandmother. And the family theme continues as the dreamy design is down to artist Dawn Ng – wife of the restaurant’s co owner, Wee Teng Wen of the Lo and Behold group – in conjunction with Universal Design Studio.

With its romantic, cream interiors, Odette is the White Swan to Lo and Behold stablemate, Black Swan nearby in the CBD. But back to the food. Royer is continuing to mix classical French with modern techniques in his new home. Some of his greatest hits from Jaan are on the menu: Mushroom “tea”; 55 mins Onsen Egg; Heirloom Beetroot Variation; and Hay Smoked Pigeon.

In it’s new incarnation though the Pigeon is served two ways: the breast cooked sous vide then grilled and the leg cooked for six hours. And the Onsen Eggs are smoked on a bed of pines – foraged by the chef’s father and sent over from France (another family link).

Odette - Chef Julien Royer.jpg
Julien Royer of Odette, Asia’s Best Restaurant 2019

Royer has also added some new creations such as the standouts Hokkaido Uni with Apple, Mussel and Caviar and Trout with Miso Glazed Kurobuta Pork. The welcome champagne trolley includes Chartogne-Taillet rose, Henri Giraud for Odette and Krug – said to be Royer’s favourite.

Desserts, by pastry chef Nicolas Vergnole, are also impressive including Confit Victoria Pineapple (below): toasted coconut ice cream, banana cake, passionfruit coulis, tapioca and Kaffir lime.

Odette - Confit Victoria Pineapple.jpg

This piece was originally published in 2016

Inside Harry and Meghan’s Luxury New York Bolthole: The Carlyle Hotel New York

The Carlyle entrance
The Carlyle, New York

Chopstix booked a three night stay at The Carlyle to celebrate a special occasion and the whole experience was superb. The hotel embodies wonderful Upper East Side New York glamour, just as we’d envisaged. A discreet entrance just off Madison Avenue leads to the small, elegant lobby decorated in Art Deco monochrome with splashes of golden velvet. While the hotel is exclusive we found the service friendly and attentive throughout. And everyone seems to be greeted with “nice to see you” whether it’s your first or hundredth visit.

Opened as a residential hotel (The Carlyle still includes apartments) in the 1920s it went on to become a favourite with presidents, royalty and celebrities. JFK infamously met with Marilyn Monroe here, allegedly smuggling the film star in via the kitchens; it was reputedly Princess Diana’s favourite hotel in New York , William and Kate stayed in the Royal Suite on their visit to the city and it’s where VIPs get ready for the Met Ball fashion extravaganza.

The Carlyle is being subtly refurbished by Tony Chi (the designer behind Rosewood hotel group owner, Henry Cheng’s Hong Kong home) in parts but cleverly all the classic features that make it special are still there including the famous Bemelmans Bar (where Harry and Meghan were spotted this week) and the elevator attendants. Our room was one of the recently refurbished ones and successfully blended classic with contemporary. There were some lovely touches such as Central Park murals and quirky rabbit objects reminiscent of the Bemelmans bar downstairs. The room wasn’t huge and the bathroom a bit tight but that’s usual for New York and the beautiful décor made up for it.

Bemelman Bar
Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, New York

We enjoyed fabulous breakfasts every morning in the chic Carlyle Restaurant. And dinner there was the icing on the cake of our stay. We were given the type of table we’d requested beforehand (a corner banquette) and the classic menu and slick service matched the stylish setting perfectly.

For exploring the Upper East Side the hotel’s location was also superb. We had the Met museums and Central Park right on our doorstep and of course the shops of Madison Ave. There are newer, trendier hotels in more fashionable parts of New York but for sheer class this is hard to beat.

The Carlyle currently has a Fall Limited Time Offer – book a reservation before September 30th 2021 and receive up to 30% off the best available rate – excluding the Presidential Suite.

If you can’t go to the Aman, then bring the Aman (or Mandarin, Ritz-Carlton or Sofitel) to you…

Almira Armstrong creative director and founder of Atelier Lumira

As I write this I am at Halcyon House in Carabita Beach, Australia. Not literally as global pandemic will not allow but figuratively as the hotel’s “signature scent” wafts from the lighted candle on my desk. Our sense of smell is a strong memory trigger numerous scientists have found. That appealing fragrance you notice when you arrive at a great hotel is not only an olfactory welcome, it can stay with you (hopefully in a positive way) for years after the trip. 

“A signature scent expresses a venue’s character, it’s an added dimension that becomes an emotive recall of memories of magical times,” says Azzi Glasser a perfume designer who has created scents for hotels including Rosewood Bangkok and Chiltern Firehouse in London.

Azzi Glasser, perfume designer

Increasingly hotels are commissioning perfumers to create custom room scents. Aman has recently launched three candles – Grounding, Purifying and Nourishing – to evoke its famous spas. “The Spa Candles deliver exquisite scents, making it possible to escape the frenzy of daily life and enjoy the serenity of Aman from the comfort of one’s home,” says the brand’s spokeswoman.

Aman Spa Candles

Soho House has a range of scented candles evoking its clubhouses around the world and taking you through the day. Sicilian Thyme “captures the essence of Italian breakfasts on the morning terrace at Soho House Rome”, Bergamot and Mandarin Zest is “inspired by mornings overlooking the terrace in Little Beach House Barcelona”, Rose Water is “an ode to the English rose” at Babington House’s walled garden, Tonka and Florum evokes “long lunches on the terrace at Soho Roc House in Mykonos”, Fig Verde “recalls evening strolls around the courtyard garden at Soho House Istanbul”, Patchouli is “inspired by fragrant evenings overlooking the Arabian Sea at Soho House Mumbai”, Pomelo is “reminiscent of sunset cocktails at our Miami House”, and Leather and Oud is “reminiscent of nightcaps at Soho House Hong Kong”.

Meanwhile the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong was long associated with Ginger Flower by Shanghai Tang but now has its own freesia and osmanthus fragrance. “We wanted to develop something original for the hotel that is only found here,” says head of group spa operations, Andrea Lomas.

Atelier Lumira in Sydney designs bespoke scents for boutique hotels across Australia and Antica Farmacista in Seattle crafts fragrances for The Ritz Carlton among others. They usually begin by checking in to the hotels for inspiration. As well as talking to the hotel owners and general managers, they take in everything: the location to the design, atmosphere, lighting, food, drink, music, art and books on the shelves. “We analyse each and every element and begin our process of creating a scent that embodies the spirit of the hotel,” says Shelley Callaghan creative director and co-founder of Antica Farmacista along with Susanne Pruitt.

Halcyon House scented candles by Atelier Lumira

For Halcyon House, Almira Armstrong creative director and founder of Atelier Lumira says: “I wanted to capture the warmth and carefree nature of this destination. We did this by fusing sunburst citrus notes with warm spices and a signature floral heart of sheer neroli petals.”

In the case of Rosewood Bangkok, Glasser had her boots on the ground before the hotel was even completed. “I visited the site with my hard hat on and learnt about the heritage of the city itself and the materials that would make up the design,” the London based perfumer says. “I wanted to use the finest natural ingredients: the opulent top notes of elemi, rosewood and fresh water; the heart accord of vetivert, moss and amber; and the base notes of oud, cedarwood and labdanum adds a velvety warmth.”

Cheval Blanc Randheli

As Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives is owned by LVMH when it decided to launch a signature scent it naturally turned to the luxury group’s fellow houses. Guerlain and Christian Dior perfumes’ “head nose”, François Demachy, created Island Chic fragrance for the resort. “The idea was to try to translate this feeling of tranquility and beauty specific to the Maldives and to Randheli,” says Demachy. “For this I started with an aroma of black tea accented with the local spices cloves and cardamom and base notes of the marine aroma, seaweed.”

Demachy, the subject of new Netflix film, Nose, has also been enlisted by Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc to create a fragrance including in the form of a scented candle to commemorate the French hotel’s 150th anniversary.

Some hotel chains have a signature scent for all their properties to ensure a reassuringly familiar experience. Essence of Shangri-La – vanilla, sandalwood and musk with top notes of bergamot and ginger spiced tea – will greet you in any of Shangri-La’s lobbies around the world. “The scent is fresh and subtly Asian, to evoke serenity,” says director of marketing Mavis Ko. And Essence du Sofitel – a top note of fresh citrus, a middle note of white rose and base of white sandalwood – was designed by master perfumer Lucien Ferraro in Grasse to remind guests of “an afternoon in the South of France” which ever Sofitel they check in to.

Shelley Callaghan (right) and Susanne Pruitt, founders of Antica Farmacista

Others tailer the aroma for different locations. The Ritz-Carlton has personalised fragrances for some of its properties so a Ritz-Carlton in Miami, for example, will smell differently to the one in New York. The latter hotel is on 50 Central Park hence the name of its signature scent and its inspiration. “We used a botanical map of as well as specific destinations in the park to include quince, elderberry, floribunda rose, and Strawberry Fields.  We created a scent that essentially brings the outdoors in,” says Callaghan.

Where once a luxury hotel with a signature scent could be deemed risky, now it could be missing out without one. “Introducing scent into a hotel environment used to be considered risky, as hotel owners were afraid to offend guests,” says Callaghan. “That is no longer the mentality, we have found that our hotel partners rely on fragrance to help convey their message. In a sense, a hotel feels ‘naked’ without that fine fragrance element.”

Of course most of these scents are available for guests to buy in the form of candles, diffusers and sprays at the gift shop or on line. As Armstrong says, “Scent is such a powerful connector to memory so what better way to remember a wonderful vacation than by returning to the fragrance that surrounded you during your stay.” 

When Two Glamorous Worlds Collide: Fashion and Hotel Collaborations

The Essentials by Aman

Luxury hotels are collaborating with fashion designers on clothing ranges from one off limited editions to ongoing capsule collections or even creating their own brands.

Aman Resorts

Exclusive hotel brand Aman has launched a fashion collection inspired by its philosophy of creating sanctuaries in stunning locations and connecting guests to the spirit of a place. 

The Essentials by Aman, designed and made in Italy, comprises of active, swim, lounge, resort and knit wear plus accessories for men and women. The clean lines and subtle prints are inspired by Aman destinations while the colour palette is also drawn from Aman’s locations. Think warm terracotta for Amanjena, Marrakech; sea blue and deep green for the azure seas and olive groves of Amanzoe, Greece; and warm yellow for the desert landscapes of Amangiri, USA. 

The Essentials by Aman

“Creating The Essentials has allowed us to work with some exceptional artisans to select the very best materials,” says Kristina Romanova, director fo product development at Aman. “We hope our guests will see the expression of the Aman brand in each and every piece.”

The collection is exclusively available at Aman boutiques with the range slated to expand with the addition of leather accessories and fine jewellery this autumn.

Eden Rock-St Barths

Virgil Abloh’s Off-White x Eden Rock-St Barths

One of the world’s coolest clothing brands has collaborated with one of the most iconic hotels in Virgil Abloh’s Off-White x Eden Rock-St Barths. “Off-White are huge fans of the island and there was a mutual desire to introduce a unique collection for those staying at Eden Rock – St Barths,” says a spokesperson for the hotel. 

The capsule collection features nine products for men and women and only 30 pieces are made of each. The island’s beach atmosphere is the inspiration for the range with fabrics such as raffia and linen and a colour palette of beige and blues. The label is only available at the Eden Being boutique at Eden Rock.

W Hotels

“Fashion is a fundamental part of W Hotels’ DNA,” says Jacob de Boer Dorrego, director of brand management for W Hotels. “Whenever possible, our hotels continue to support local designers and also sustainable practices.” 

Currently W Suzhou is partnering with fashion label Juma on a capsule collection of jumpsuits and separates which uses fabrics made from the hotel’s recycled water bottles and is available for sale at the hotel’s store. And W Maldives is collaborating with Hong Kong menswear label Mazu Resortwear to create two exclusive swim shorts with each pair made out of 12 salvaged plastic bottles. 

Le Sirenuse  

Emporia Sirens

The exclusive Positano hotel has its own eponymous clothing line, rebranding as Emporio Sirenuse this year, designed by Carla Sersale (who runs Le Sirenuse with her husband) and her niece Viola Parrocchetti. The idea behind the resort brand is to pay homage to the artists and writers who’ve been drawn to the Amalfi Coast since the 19th century. As Viola says, “There’s more depth to the setting than the Vespa and a basket of lemons”. Instead classical cultures and romantic visions are depicted in the prints and embroideries of the sophisticated men’s and women’s wear. 

Three collections – resort, spring/summer and high summer – are designed a year and is sold in the boutique at Le Sirenuse Hotel as well as online and at high end retailers worldwide.

One & Only 

Jay Ahr’s bespoke Louis Vuitton designs for One & Only

One & Only Heritage by Jay Ahr is a limited edition collection of bespoke, vintage Louis Vuitton travel bags. Jay Ahr designer Jonathan Riss mastered the art of embroidery in Mumbai and specialises in customising pre owned, exclusive designer bags. His approach of incorporating local inspiration in the designs seems a perfect fit for a hotel company with worldwide locations. 

Riss embroiders each LV Keepall duffle bag with motifs inspired by the particular location and culture of each of the group’s ten resorts. Just two bags are designed for each hotel and as such they are only available for purchase from One & Only. 

Mandarin Oriental 

Orlebar Brown for Mandarin Oriental

Orlebar Brown, known for its tailored swim shorts, is no stranger to collaborations most recently for the Mandarin Oriental. The London label has designed versions of its mid length Bulldog style for the MO featuring striking photography of the Mandarin Orientals outdoor, coastal pool sides in Dubai, Miami, Canouan, Bodrum, Sanya and Lake Como. An additional style features the hotel group’s famous Fan logo in a geometric jacquard design and is available from the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.

Cheval Blanc Randheli 

Deluxe resort wear designer Nadine Arton has an on-going collaboration with Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives.

The designer specialises in glamorous kaftans and floaty dresses which are perfect for wafting around the exclusive LVMH owned island resort. Arton creates exclusive pieces for the hotel three to four times a year which are available at the resort’s chic Concept Store. The boutique also carries LVMH labels such as Fendi sunglasses and Hublot watches.

The Play’s The Thing – the Love In between Hotels and Theatre

Raffles Hotel Singapore

Last night I went to Raffles again. I didn’t dream it, and thanks to the delayed Hong Kong – Singapore Travel Bubble I wasn’t actually there either, instead, I watched an interactive play set and filmed at the hotel by Singaporean theatre companies, Double Confirm Productions and Sight Lines Entertainment. 

The Curious Case of the Missing Peranakan Treasure, conceived, directed by and featuring Hossan Leong of Double Confirm and written by Jean Tay, was filmed entirely on location at Raffles with 360 degree virtual reality cameras. So I was able to virtually enter the familiar white façade, “check in” in the lobby and revisit the hotel’s bars, suites and courtyards while watching a mystery enfold through a cast of front of house staff and guest characters. 

Leong who has previously filmed one man performances at the Grand Hyatt and W hotels in Singapore says: “From 2020 there was not a lot of work for us in the arts so I decided not to sit around but to create something for actors and crew. I have always wanted to create a production with the beautiful Raffles as a backdrop and they were very supportive of my idea of having a ‘whodunnit’ set in the hotel.“

Hossan Leong (right) with Pavan J Singh on set at Raffles Singapore

Up until June 30th you can watch this entertaining tale online and attempt to solve the mystery yourself – there’s the prize of a real life stay at Raffles in the offing. Those lucky enough to be in Singapore can book a Daycation or Staycation package, watching the play on a tablet in their suite and then explore the hotel for clues (as well as being treated to Singapore Slings and satays). Alternatively, Virtual Play allows guests to buy a ticket from ticket agency SISTIC and watch from anywhere in the world.

“Raffles Singapore always had a connection with literary luminaries in our storied heritage with playwrights and authors being very much a part of who we are,” says managing director Christian Westbeld. Suites named after the likes of Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham attest to this and the former suite appears in the production. The hotel did have its own theatre, Jubilee Hall which opened in 1991, although this was transformed into a ballroom in the most recent refurbishment. Westbeld adds: “The virtual interactive play arose out of a business need to pivot, given the current pandemic.” 

Also in Singapore at Hotel Soloha in Chinatown surreal comedy meets murder mystery, The Bride Always Knocks Twice, was also born out of a need to adapt in the current climate. “Arts and tourism were some of the key industries impacted by the pandemic and this project really shows how creativity and cross-industry collaboration can lead to new possibilities,” says Kuo Jian Hong, artistic director of The Theatre Practice, behind the production which streamed in the first week of June.

The Theatre Practice’s Bride Always Knocks Twice


The fourth floor of the hotel, set in a converted row of shophouses, stood in as the mysterious house in The Bride Always Knocks Twice where seven women from different eras of Singaporean history co exist. Reflective of the Lion City the women variously spoke Mandarin, Indonesian, English, Cantonese and Malay with the multimedia platform allowing for sub titles in Chinese and English. 

Split over several nights, viewers watched the first act of the play then had the chance to interrogate the characters by submitting online questions which they answered live to camera. Originally it was intended that the audiences visit the hotel to hunt for clues in act three though due to the heightened measures this had to be changed into a virtual crime-scene investigation. In the final act the murderer was revealed but not before viewers had an opportunity to submit their theories with a chance to win a stay at Hotel Soloha.

Hotel Soloha

One of the first and still existing theatre and hotel synergies was The Savoy in London. The Savoy theatre actually opened before the legendary hotel which it sits adjacent to. Impressario Richard D’Oyly Carte opened the then state of the art venue in 1881 to stage the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. With the success of the comic operas he segued into hotels eight years later. Famous theatrical actors of the day flocked to stay at The Savoy including Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry.

While the venue is now owned by The Ambassador Theatre Group which operates several playhouses in London’s West End, there are regularly accommodation or F&B packages in conjunction with the hotel. A themed afternoon tea is currently being planned in homage to the just opened Pretty Woman The Musical, and starring actors often stay at the hotel.

Grand Hotel Timeo in Sicily also has a theatre adjacent, there’s even a secret entrance from the hotel into Teatro Antico. The well preserved amphitheatre was built by the Greeks in the third century for dramatic and musical performances, adapted by the Romans for gladiator games and now once again is used to stage the performing arts. 

La Scala, Milan

Other hotels are embracing opera and ballet as part of their guest offerings. In St Petersburg, Grand Hotel Europe patrons have access to the hotel’s private box at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. And in Milan, Hotel Principe di Savoia will arrange private guided tours of La Scala including behind the scenes access to backstage areas.

Before the pandemic Shangri La The Shard in London held Theatre in the Clouds, partnering with private theatre concept Revels in Hand to stage three actor plays for a small number of guests in one of its suites. Whether this returns remains to be seen but other hotel projects look to continue whatever twist happens next for the arts and hospitality industries. 

“We believe that arts and hospitality is the perfect marriage and with technology, we are able to not only entertain in-house guests but have international reach,” says Derrick Chew, artistic director of Sight Lines who adds the company is looking to collaborate with more hotels following its successful collaboration with Raffles. And Kuo does not rule out The Theatre Practice staging another hotel play saying: “Our works have never been constrained by genre or format, much less specific locations so never say never.”

Happy 10th Anniversary William & Catherine

Catherine’s wedding band just seen beneath her engagement ring

On the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s tenth wedding anniversary on April 29th we look back at why the British royals wear Welsh gold wedding bands.

While celebrities tend to choose wedding bands adorned with diamonds to match the bling of their engagement rings, British royalty including the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex opt for something more understated. For nearly 100 years Britain’s senior royals have worn plain yellow gold wedding rings and this regal metal has derived from Wales – the rarest, most expensive in the world with Welsh gold bullion worth up to five times the spot price.

The custom started with the Queen Mother in 1923 when a nugget of pure gold from the Clogau St David’s mine in North Wales was gifted to the royal family, a piece of which was used to make the then Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon’s wedding ring for her marriage to the future King George V1. That same nugget was used to craft wedding bands for Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne and Princess Diana. 

Handily in the 1980s the Queen was gifted more gold from Wales. 36kg was presented by the Royal British Legion part of which was used to make Sarah, Duchess of York and, it’s thought, Sophie, Countess of Wessex’s wedding rings. And 1kg was gifted from Gwynfynydd mine in celebration of the Queen’s 60thbirthday. This is likely the source of Catherine and Meghan’s wedding rings.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex

Ahead of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s nuptials St James’s Palace made the statement; “The wedding ring that Catherine Middleton will wear will be made of Welsh gold. The gold was given to Prince William by The Queen shortly after the couple were engaged. It has been in the family’s possession for some years and has been in the care of the Royal Jewellers. There are no further details on which mine the gold was mined from.”

Sitting half hidden by her huge sapphire engagement ring, Catherine’s slim yellow gold wedding band was made by royal warrant holders Wartski. Fittingly the jeweller was founded in North Wales and has a store in St James’s, just around the corner from Prince William’s London home at the time.

Similarly at the time of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s marriage Kensington Palace made the statement; “Ms Markle’s ring has been fashioned from a piece of Welsh gold, gifted by Her Majesty The Queen.” The band was made by Cleave and Company which also holds royal warrants and is the jeweller Prince Harry chose to create his now wife’s engagement ring. A spokesperson for Cleave says they were asked to produce “a classic 18 ct gold wedding band” for the Duchess. The ring appears to be daintily slim, in keeping with Meghan’s apparent fondness for delicate jewellery.

Gold hasn’t been extracted in Wales since 1998 however Alba Mineral Resources who took over Clogau in 2018 plans to reopen the mine and has also submitted an application for exploratory digs on nearby land in Snowdonia. So there could be a new Welsh Gold Rush on the way which would ensure the royals’ wedding ring tradition continuing for some years yet.

Is a Woman’s Place in the Professional Kitchen?

Vicky Lau, Veuve Clicquot Asia's Best Female Chef 2015
Vicky Lau, Veuve Clicquot Asia’s Best Female Chef 2015

[UPDATE: Vicky Lau has become the first female chef in Asia to gain two Michelin stars with the announcement of the Michelin Guide Hong Kong and Macau 2021. Here’s a look back at when Chopstix interviewed Lau in 2015.]

Asia’s Best Female Chef 2015 is Vicky Lau of Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong. Lau becomes the third winner of the award and will be officially presented with it at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants ceremony at the Capella Hotel in Singapore on March 9th.

“The aim is to promote and celebrate female talent in an industry that remains very male dominated,” says William Drew, spokesman for the award, sponsored by Veuve Clicquot – a drinks brand associated with a strong, woman boss. “We would love to reach a position where this award becomes unnecessary but I think we are some way off that situation yet, unfortunately.”

“I do think it’s necessary to recognize female talents in the culinary industry which has traditionally been dominated by males,” Lau agrees. “There are only a few female chefs behind Hong Kong kitchens. This could be due to the fact that chefs aren’t valued for their craft or it could be because women are discouraged to pursue this career because of the physical conditions of working in a professional kitchen.”

“BONITO” - marinated katsuo / bonito dashi geleé / daikon roll / datterino tomato confit by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong
“BONITO” – marinated katsuo / bonito dashi geleé / daikon roll / datterino tomato confit by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong

The under representation of female chefs can be seen worldwide. Ten years ago when I joined the launch team of a food magazine in the UK, I was approached by a bright young woman who had trained with Jamie Oliver for the original brigade of his Fifteen restaurant in London. She wanted to write a feature on why there were so few female chefs.

My editor, female and a veteran of the food industry, told me the reason was that the hours were not conducive to having a family. There were also a few others: the young chef wrote of not just the anti social hours but the macho culture, lewd conversation, unflattering clothing and physical hard work resulting in varicose veins and scars.

This experience is echoed today by Peggy Chan, chef owner of Grassroots Pantry in Hong Kong. “Unfortunately, there’s only a very rare breed of women who are capable of making it through the hours, the screams, the heat and physical pain, the sexist comments, foul language and very often feeling belittled,” says Chan. “Not to mention the sacrifices involved especially when it comes to personal time for relationships: Friday night outings with girlfriends, starting a family etc.”

“AGED MANDARIN SEA BASS” - pan roasted suzuki sea bass / aged mandarin peel jam / lobster orange sauce/ fennel pollen / baby fennel by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong
“AGED MANDARIN SEA BASS” – pan roasted suzuki sea bass /
aged mandarin peel jam / lobster orange sauce/ fennel pollen / baby fennel by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong

It seems that in Asia, there are specific problems. “It’s tough enough in French kitchens, let alone working a wok over massive open flames in Asian kitchens,” says Chan. “Physically, it is much more demanding for an Asian woman much smaller in size to man and manage a male dominated brigade. And there are existing archetypes present in the psyches of Asian cultures (men as the head of the household).”

Vicky Lau also believes that traditional cooking techniques may play a part. “In Asia, perhaps more women choose to be in patisserie rather than cuisine due to the nature of the cuisine itself. For example, in a traditional Chinese kitchen the equipment can be quite weighty,” she says.

“There is no place for women in the professional Chinese Kitchen,” says Margaret Xu the owner of Yin Yang and one of the first female chefs in Hong Kong. “It’s a male dominated, chauvinistic crowd and there’s a lot of heavy duty labour – handling big woks and whole pigs. Some male kitchen kitchen staff tend to think physical strength means competence as a chef.”

“WRETH” lightly poached gillardeau oyster / chinese licorice root oxtail consummè / kimchi pickled daikon / sweetcorn kernels / braised wagyu beef tongue slice
“WRETH”
lightly poached gillardeau oyster / chinese licorice root oxtail consummè / kimchi pickled daikon / sweetcorn kernels / braised wagyu beef tongue slice

In the West names like Alice Waters, Angela Hartnett, Elena Arzak and April Bloomfield may be well known But can you name an equally prominent Asian female chef? Perhaps Duongporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava of Bo.lan in Bangkok who was the inaugural Asia’s Best Female Chef winner or Lanshu Chen of Le Mout in Taiwan who won last year.

Veuve Clicquot Asia's Best Female Chef 2014 Lanshu Chen at Le Mout, Taiwan
Veuve Clicquot Asia’s Best Female Chef 2014 Lanshu Chen at Le Mout, Taiwan

Ping Coombes, the Malaysian born winner of MasterChef UK 2014 says: “There weren’t really any well known female chefs when I was growing up as it really still is a very male dominated industry. In Asia, I feel women are still being viewed as the home cook. I always looked up to my mother when it came to cooking.” Similarly Chan says: “I grew up with a culinary certified mother who cooked massive feasts at home and always thought women were meant to cook at home, not in professional kitchens. The ratio of male to female at my culinary school was about 80:20.”

Both Vicky Lau and Lanshu Chen cite male mentors (Sebastien Lepinoy of Cepage in Hong Kong and Jean-Francois Piege at Hotel de Crillon in Paris respectively). Songvisava was a protégé of David Thompson at Nahm. Janice Wong, the two times Asia’s Best Pastry Chef, of 2am Dessert Bar in Singapore names Gunther Hubrechsen at Les Amis in Singapore who now has his own restaurant there, Gunther’s.

And Lau and Chen cite European and US fellow female chefs they admire –  Dominique Crenn at Atelier Crenn, San Francisco and Anne-Sophie Pic from Maison Pic, France – rather than Asian ones. (Although Lau also mentions her successor Chen).

Female chefs are all too often found in the “ghetto” of the pastry section. Peggy Chan says numerous instructors at catering college tried to convince her to take this route: “rather than tough it out in the male dominated hot kitchens. There was always a clear distinction, almost as though it’s an expectation for girls my size to take the more feminine, meticulous and less ‘intense’ path in order to be considered ‘a chef’. Former Asia’s Best Female Chef Lanshu Chen made a conscientious decision to move out of patisserie. Angela Hartnett’s advice to young female chefs?: “Don’t take the option of the pastry section.”

“ZEN GARDEN” - mignardises by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong
“ZEN GARDEN” – mignardises by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong

And if women aren’t making it to head chef, they aren’t getting the media coverage either. Jason Black, chef and media consultant says: “We sadly live in a world where we only champion the people at the top (be they male or female). If I had to ask you the name of the sous chefs at 99% of the restaurants in HK, you wouldn’t be able to answer.”

Black’s cookbook calendar sold for charity and featuring notable Asia based chefs sparked a controversy earlier this month, one of the reasons being the lack of female chefs featured. But he says the reason is pragmatic. “This project was done at my own cost and I was very lucky to secure Ermenegildo Zegna as a fashion partner this year. They only make a men’s range. Given that it is not a “best of” [chefs] publication, having an all male line-up publication worked.”

That said, Black says about the female chef imbalance: “I really believe classifying by gender is wrong. Everyone should be given equal opportunity to succeed. I think Grassroots Pantry is one of the best restaurants around and Ta Pantry is one of the best Private kitchens too. They are such because of the skills of the chefs behind them. That they are run by female chefs for me is a complete non-issue.”

Margaret Xu agrees: “I think a best female chef award is condescending by nature. The best chef is the best chef full stop.” But Black adds: “If championing our chefs based on their gender or ethnicity is a way of encouraging people to get into the industry then I guess it is ok.”

When I asked David Thompson if he thought there were any female Thai chefs to watch out for he said: “There are many young, up-and-coming Thai cooks [male and female] which is just fantastic. But I have my eye on Chef Nan Bunyasaranand who runs Little Beast in Bangkok.”

“FOIE GRAS TERRINE” duck foie gras terrine / spices & curry tuile / pommery mustard ice cream / blueberry sauce by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong
“FOIE GRAS TERRINE”
duck foie gras terrine / spices & curry tuile / pommery mustard ice cream / blueberry sauce by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong

And both Margaret Xu and Vicky Lau think the situation is changing. “I have been noticing some changes over the years with more female chefs making an impact in Hong Kong and the world’s best kitchens, especially in traditional Chinese kitchens with advances in technology and materials,” says Lau. “At my own kitchen at Tate, the kitchen staff has a female to male ratio of 3:1 – a happy coincidence but also perhaps a sign of the times.”

This piece was originally published in 2015

Where Last Christmas was Filmed in London

Last Christmas ice rink close up
Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding at Alexandra Palace ice rink Credit: UPI

Now showing on HBO, Last Christmas the movie Henry Golding’s new film co starring Emilia Clarke and Michelle Yeoh makes London look wonderful. Director Paul Feig is a huge fan of the British capital and says the film is a love letter to London. The movie was actually filmed last Christmas when all the city’s festive decorations were in place. A lot of scenes took place in the middle of the night for maximum light sparkling and minimum crowds. Here’s where you can find the most scenic locations.

Tom and Kate’s Meet Cute, Apple Market

Last Christmas meet cute
Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke at Apple Market Credit: UPI

Flakey Kate (Emilia Clarke) first spots suave Tom (Henry Golding) through the window of Yuletide Wonderful Christmas shop where she works in Covent Garden Piazza, owned by Michelle Yeoh’s character “Santa”. Alas the shop doesn’t actually exist. IRL the site is a covered walkway cutting through the neo classical buildings of the former fruit and vegetable market. On the plus side it’s flanked rather deliciously by Ladurée tea room and Godiva chocolatier. And you can visit the spot where the two meet outside Yuletide – underneath the blue metal arches in Apple Market where a certain incident involving “looking up” seemingly brings them together.

Meet Cute Part Two, Covent Garden

Last Christmas Brydge's Place
Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding in Brydges Place Credit: UPI

When Kate and Tom run into each other again it’s also in the Covent Garden area. Though it looks like a film set, this quaint lane is real life Cecil Court. Linking Charing Cross Road with St Martin’s Lane, the pedestrianised street is lined with independent stores selling books and artworks. “London’s narrowest alley” where Tom takes Kate as part of his magical mystery tour of London is real too. Keep a close eye out for Brydges Place next to the Coliseum theatre on St Martin’s Lane – the alley measures only 15 inches across. As for Tom’s “secret garden”, it’s The Phoenix Garden an urban retreat hidden away between Soho and Covent Garden (the entrance is on St Giles Passage).

Last Christmas secret garden
Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding in The Phoenix Garden

The two part company at a bus stop on Regent Street which has just turned 200 years old – well worth a visit to see the wonderful illuminated Angels flying above the length of the thoroughfare at this time of year. Tip: the scene was not actually filmed at real bus stop as it’s opposite Hamley’s toy emporium and outside Hackett where no stop exists.

St Mary’s, Marylebone

Emilia Clarke outside St Mary's
Emilia Clarke outside St Mary’s Credit: UPI

The gorgeous honey stoned building depicting the exterior of St Benedict’s homeless shelter in Last Christmas can be found in Marylebone, north of Oxford Street. While the photogenic Georgian columns, festooned with twinkling lights, provide a backdrop for several scenes featuring Tom and Kate, the ornate interior is the setting for the Christmas concert.

The Savoy Buildings

Last Christmas Simpons on the Strand
Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding outside Simpson’s in the Strand Credit: UPI

Kate’s calamitous audition takes place inside the Savoy Theatre, an Art Deco jewel tucked away next to The Savoy hotel’s main entrance on the Strand. It’s worth buying tickets to anything showing here just to see the interiors. Nearby is the spot on the river Thames where Tom gives Kate another pep talk, opposite The Savoy’s riverside entrance on the Embankment. The pair sit on the steps next to Cleopatra’s Needle, where the Thames bends at just the right angle to have the London Eye over on the South Bank appealingly illuminated in the background. Simpson’s, a restaurant owned by The Savoy, outside of which Kate and Tom sit with their skates on (see below) is back up on the Strand. There’s no bench outside Simpson’s but there is a bus stop should you wish to catch a double-decker like Kate.

Alexandra Palace

Last Christmas Alexandra Palace
Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding at Alexandra Palace ice rink Credit: UPI

While the ice rink where the couple have an illicit late night skate appears in the movie to be a short skip from the Embankment, you’ll need to visit far flung north London. Alexandra Palace is a vast Victorian era building known to locals as “Ally Pally” which houses a huge indoor ice rink among other venues. The rink is in a stunning high ceilinged space lined with French windows and it’s open all year round not just for Christmas.

Tom’s Flat, East London

Tom’s tiny, ultra neat flat is located on the corner of Brick Lane and Cheshire Street in East London. Brick Lane has long been famous for its curry houses and more recently for cafes, shops and street art. By coincidence Henry Golding actually used to live in a flat here, just around the corner from his character’s fictitious one. How’s that for a twist of fate.

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Raffles Singapore Staycation Flash Offer

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Raffles Hotel Singapore

[UPDATE: If you live in Singapore lucky you, you’re eligible for Scott Dunn’s staycation flash offer at Raffles. Priced exclusively at S$1,330nett for a two night stay between 1 October and 13 December 2020, enjoy complimentary breakfast for two at the Tiffin Room, the Raffles Heritage Evening dinner experience for two at The Grand Lobby, a specially curated trishaw ride around Raffles Singapore detailing the locations mentioned in A Life Intertwined: Reminiscences of an Accidental Raffles Historian and an autographed copy of the book by Mr Leslie Danker himself. This flash offer is valid for 24 hours (book by 16 September 2020) at http://www.scottdunn.com ]

Raffles hotel in Singapore has today reopened following a two and a half year, multi million dollar refurbishment. Here’s what to expect from the revamp by interior designer Champalimaud and architect Aedas.

The grand lobby has a fresher feel and a new, stunning take on a chandelier. Afternoon tea will now be served here rather than being side lined to the Tiffin Room (more on which later). The heavy wooden reception desk with pigeon holes behind has been replaced by a more inviting desk and chairs, more in keeping with luxury 21st century hotels.

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Grand Lobby at Raffles Hotel Singapore
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Reception at Raffles Hotel Singapore

Off the lobby, the Grill restaurant has been replaced by a new venture from chef Anne-Sophie Pic whose restaurant in France holds three Michelin stars.

The room is almost unrecognisable from the former Grill with softer tones and furnishings though the white columns and French windows overlooking the Palm Court remain.

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La Dame de Pic at Raffles hotel Singapore

It’s also gratifying to see that the alcove tables in the restaurant still in situ, albeit with a more modern edge. Statement lighting abounds here too.

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La Dame de Pic at Raffles Hotel Singapore

On the other side of the lobby the Tiffin Room, serving Northern Indian cuisine, has re opened. This too has been given a transformation with the addition of open shelving displaying tiffin boxes (naturally) and Chinese porcelain and again, statement light fittings. The new furniture with a nod to colonial style (dark wood and rattan) is said to be inspired by the hotel’s archives.

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Tiffin Room at Raffles Hotel Singapore

Elsewhere in the hotel, a new Alain Ducasse restaurant in the Bar and Billiard room and Yì by Jeremy Leung are due to open in September.

All the suites have been restored and look lighter while retaining a heritage feel. The separate parlour room has been retained in the Stateroom, Promenade, Courtyard, Palm Court and Personality suites – a good choice since it’s so synonymous with guest rooms at Raffles.

Updated technology and bathrooms also figure with Peranakan inspired tiles in the latter – in homage to the Chinese Malay settlers in Singapore.

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Courtyard Suite at Raffles Hotel Singapore
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Courtyard Suite Parlour at Raffles Hotel Singapore

To celebrate the opening Raffles is offering two special rate packages: Opening Package From now till 31 October 2019 guests may upgrade their stay for S$120 plus taxes per night including additional privileges of daily breakfast for two either in their suite, on the verandahs poolside or at Tiffin Room. They will also receive a $100 daily credit for spending at the Raffles Spa or at one of the restaurants. A commemorative Raffles heritage souvenir and guaranteed late checkout until 3.00pm is also included.   Staycation Package Available to residents of Singapore, this staycation offers a 50% reduction on an adjourning suite for families to stay together. The package includes daily semi buffet breakfast for two adults at Tiffin Room, where children can dine for free (for two children aged 12 and under), S$50 Raffles Spa Credit per adult per stay, Raffles Children Customised Programme, Complimentary souvenir for children from the Raffles Boutique, guaranteed late check out till 3pm, early check in at noon, subject to availability, 10% off Raffles merchandise at the Raffles Boutique. Adjourning suites are subjected to availability of interconnecting suites.   More details on offers are available at www.rafflessingapore.com and enquiries or reservations can be made via singapore@raffles.com  

A Train Trip to Remember

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Ian Lloyd

[UPDATE: Parts of this trip have changed since we took the journey but a visit to the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai and the Thailand Burma Railway Centre and Prisoners of War cemetery is still an option. It was the most moving part of experience.]

Cocktail hour can be a precarious business on board the Eastern & Oriental Express. There’s a risk of losing great splashes of your G&T overboard with every sway of the train. But standing on the open sided observation deck at sunset, passing by the verdant scenery of South East Asia, is worth any effort incurred. And of course being a passenger on a luxury train is really no effort at all.

Our journey had begun in Singapore where we spent the night at Raffles whose white shutters, balustrades and wrap around balconies outside; and dark wood, ceiling fans and antique furniture within took us back to a more gracious era. Perfect before boarding the E&O for a three-day journey through Malaysia and into Thailand, disembarking in Bangkok.

Pic: Shane Arnold

Now, 24 hours later, we are deep into the Malaysian countryside. And with darkness swallowing up the last of the view, it’s time to dress for dinner. The E&O is owned by the Orient-Express company [Update: now rebranded Belmond]and as such features exquisite marquetry and fabrics. Unlike the Venice Simplon train that runs through Europe, the carriages are not Art Deco originals. But what they lack in authenticity they make up for in modern comforts – ensuite bathrooms, the aforementioned observation deck and a reading room (home to a resident reflexologist and a fortune teller). There’s also the bonus of some pit stops along the way.

Eastern & Oriental

The first takes place just before dinner when we pull in to Kuala Lumpur station. It’s fun to walk up and down the platform in our finery, and see the pleasure on the commuters’ faces when they look at our gleaming train, but the best bit is to come. As we leave the station, tucking into our first course of goose liver wrapped in Chinese with pumpkin and coconut veloute, we spot the Petronas Towers sparkling in the darkness.

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Mark Hind

In the bar car after dinner the gregarious pianist, Peter, keeps playing until the last guest goes to bed. On this occasion, not us – we are out stayed by a young couple from the UK. When we return to our State cabin it has been transformed into a bedroom, the sofa and lounge chair magically turned into twin beds.

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Mark Hind

“Did you sleep well?” enquires our steward, Sarawut, as he brings us breakfast in our cabin the next morning. When we sheepishly reply in the negative he is not that surprised. “Some people don’t on the first night, it’s like sleeping through an earthquake.” At 8.35am we pull into Butterworth station. All the passengers set off on the first of our excursions to the island of Penang, passing a sous chef wheeling a trolley filled with ice along the platform.

Georgetown, the capital, has UNESCO heritage status on account of its abundance of historical buildings. We are all now settled into trishaws as we are pedalled around the ancient streets. Had I known it was an unofficial race I may have chosen a younger cyclist – the task of pushing both me and my husband seems a little much for ours. But the leisurely pace means we get a good view of the beautiful buildings from old merchants houses to Chinese temples filled with red lanterns or bright pink firecrackers. We pass through Little India, China Town and the Street of Harmony (so called because it’s home to a church, a temple and a mosque) and make a promise to return for a longer stay.

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Ian Lloyd

Back on board it’s time for lunch. From his tiny galley kitchen chef Yannis Martineau has prepared a tom yam vichyssoise with quail followed by pan roasted seabass with Sichuan style vegetables. Yannis’ dishes are a perfect blend of East meets West with local ingredients and techniques incorporated with his French fine dining background. At Penang, he took the opportunity to stock up on spices which will we try tonight in a delicious beef medallion curry.

We gain an hour today, as we cross the border into Thailand. The scenery changes noticeably. Palm trees give way to paddy fields, small temples can be glimpsed through tree tops and in the distance we spot a huge golden Buddha statue.

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Ron Bambridge

From the observation deck we get an unbeatable taste of local life. We pass through rural stations where food stalls are set up along the platform. A couple of Buddhist monks in their distinctive orange robes chat on a bench. In one village the locals are sitting in a row of deckchairs having an evening foot rub. Children riding bicycles try to keep up with us. Everywhere, people stare or smile and wave – the train has an uplifting affect on everyone who sees it.

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Mark Hind

To celebrate our crossing into Thailand, a traditional Thai dancer is performing in the bar car this evening. There’s the usual merriment as the she entices guests up to join her. The trip is a convivial one: there’s something about a train journey that draws people together. Friendships are forged in the bar car, on the observation deck, over lunch and dinner. Our fellow passengers range from other couples to families with young children or teenagers, and several singles. There are honeymooners, Ruby wedding celebrators and at least one blossoming romance.

Our last day on board and the train manager announces that we are running slightly late but I think we are all secretly pleased to have some extra time on the train. When we pull into a stop right next to the River Kwai bridge we cause quite a stir. The tourists are intrigued and delighted by the train.

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Ian Lloyd

We leave them to their photography and embark on a gentle raft journey along the Kwai, floating under the notorious bridge as a local historian tells its story. Our tour continues to the Thailand Burma Railway Centre, a small but well run museum and the adjacent cemetery for Prisoners of War – a soothingly pretty spot. Everyone seems moved by this visit; it is undoubtedly one of the best experiences of the trip.

We re-board the train at the photogenic Kanchanaburi station for the last leg of the journey. As we draw closer to Bangkok the temples become bigger and more frequent. On the outskirts of the city, hard hatted construction workers wave at the train with the same enthusiasm as the school children in the countryside.

Soon we draw alongside canals – the city’s famous khlongs – and know we about to reach Hualamphong station. The frenetic station is a shock after the cosseting of our train trip but we are soon back to the comfort we have grown accustomed to when we check into the Mandarin Oriental. We are staying in the Author’s Wing, the original part of the hotel named after the likes of Somerset Maughan and Noel Coward who stayed here. At the heart of it is a gorgeous colonial style conservatory with rattan chairs, cream shutters and a Gone with the Wind staircase. It’s as fitting an end to our trip – although you can also take the train from Bangkok to Singapore, with an extra night onboard.

Inside the Authors’ Wing at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok

On our last evening in Bangkok we catch the wooden shuttle boat over the Chao Praya river to the hotel’s Sala Rim Naam restaurant. In the opulent setting of a Thai pavilion we feast on the set banquet menu including fried snow fish in red chilli sauce, roasted duck with tamarind and warm flour dumplings with coconut milk. All the while entertained by a traditional show.

Mandarin Oriental boats crossing the Chao Praya river

Tomorrow we will be leaving Thailand but alas the journey involves airports and planes not stations and luxury trains. If only travel was always as glamorous as the E&O.

For more details on trips aboard the Eastern & Oriental see http://www.belmond.com/eastern-and-oriental-express/

Start planning your trip to these Westworld 3 filming locations in Singapore

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[UDPATE Atlas has won been awarded Best Bar in Asia in The World’s 50 Best Bars 2020]

Westworld season three sees the storyline move outside of the Western theme park as the hosts seek to discover “the real world”. And what a world it is when the scenes are shot in SingaporeFor the city state looks magnificent on camera with its beguiling blend of steel and glass skyscrapers and lush tropical foliage. And especially at night as the Formula One coverage has long proven and Westworld 3 displays in lingering shots of the Marina Bay area, Raffles Place skyline and the twinkling Esplanade theatre roof. 

It’s this mix that caught the eye of Westworld co-creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan. “The goal from the beginning was to find the future. If you go out in the world the future is there, it’s in places like Singapore,” Nolan says in Westworld’s Behind the Scenes aftershow on HBO. 

“There’s nowhere that looks like Singapore. There is a shape to the skyline that no other city has. There is a beautiful curvature to it that is really unique and interesting,” Joy told media during filming. “[And] It’s the ways in which nature entangles with modernity here. Singapore has done this incredible job of integrating nature into the city.”

For the most part the Lion City is mainly masquerading as a futuristic Los Angeles though it gets a name check in episode four. “Another simulation? Well this one is a bit over the top,” snaps Thandie Newton at the Atlas Bar only to be told “No Maeve, it’s Singapore.”. 

While the cast Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright and Luke Hemsworth Instagramed themselves visiting the Botanical Gardens, Haw Par Villa and Sentosa’s Adventure Cove waterpark, here are some of the key locations in episode one and beyond.

Parkroyal Collection Pickering

Park Royal Westworld

In the opening scenes of series 3 we catch a glimpse of this hotel close to the CBD and Chinatown in a flashback shared with Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores (now a champagne quaffing killer in a little black dress and heels). Specifically the roof terrace with its distinctive bird cage cabanas and infinity pool. In a later episode the hotel’s exterior is shown in its full splendour, all curved lines and draped with greenery. Charlotte Hale (or whoever is inhabiting her body since she was killed at the end of series two) meets Dolores here for a martini. The interior shots of the bar and bedrooms are not the Parkroyal though – in reality these are pared back, Scandi chic. The cast and crew did however stay here during filming. Jeffrey Wright who plays Bernard posted an impressive picture of the hotel on Instagram with the caption “’Til next time, Singapore.” 

Marina One

Marina One Lasalle

Dolores arrives in LA by futuristic looking helicopter. The building she exits though, having landed on the roof, is in actual fact in Singapore. An aerial shot focuses on a courtyard garden surrounded by multi level, loop shaped walkways. And Dolores walks through the garden (complete with three storey waterfall) when she demands: “Find me something fast.” Although it looks as if it could have been created for a dystopian fantasy, this is the Green Heart at Marina One, an exclusive condo, office and retail complex between Marina Bay and the CBD. The garden was designed to provide shade for office workers, shoppers and now presumably tourists.

SOTA 

We are introduced to new character, Caleb, an ex soldier played by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, visiting his mother in hospital – in reality the School of the Arts (SOTA) – before leaving at the Stadium MRT station. Spectacular looking SOTA, made up of three towers connected by bridges and again dripping with foliage, is a high school dedicated to visual and performing arts. Its three performance spaces – the concert hall, the Drama Theatre and the more intimate Studio – are open to the public for performances.

Lasalle College of the Arts

Lasalle Westworld

Caleb seemingly attends a job interview at Lasalle’s McNally campus, noticeable for its striking multi faceted glass facade. Then in episode three Caleb and Dolores are filmed outside Lasalle following, not to give anything away, their first official introduction (but not first actual meeting which occurred in episode one’s unconventional meet cute). The college’s prominent Expression and Collaboration signs are strangely apt in the scene. 

Orchard Road

When Caleb takes a phone call about his job interview against a backdrop of brightly lit designer stores and neon illuminated steps at night it’s between Wisma Atria and Ion shopping centres on Orchard Road. Sensibly Caleb is there in the evening, the best time to visit rather than during the punishing sun of the day. Had Caleb nipped inside the Ion he probably would have skipped all the cookie cutter international stores and headed to the sub basement four levels underground and Food Opera with its hawker style stalls.

The Helix 

Taking another call, again at night, Caleb walks across the eye catching Helix bridge, the Singapore Flyer observation wheel just visible in the background. The pedestrian bridge links the Marina Centre waterfront with Marina Bay Sands and is so called as it’s constructed of a double Helix ie it apes the shape of a double stranded DNA molecule. At night The Helix looks particularly spectacular and futuristic as the neon LED lighting emphasises the parallel curved steel structure. 

Pulau Ubin

pulau ubin Westworld

At the close of episode one Bernard walks through a kampong before approaching a local fisherman at the jetty and asking him to take him to Westworld. The scenes were filmed on Pulau Ubin, an undeveloped island a 15 minute bum boat ride from Singapore’s Changi Point ferry terminal though a million miles away in other aspects. Pulau Ubin is a glimpse of how Singapore used to be, and a side that tourists rarely see. 

Atlas Bar

EK YAP
Creative Director
Photographer
www.ekyap.com
www.flickr.com/ekyap

Thandie Newton’s Maeve and Vincent Cassel playing new character Serac meet for a drink at the visually ravishing Atlas Bar. Maeve is still knocking back the sherry (“In the largest glass you’ve got”. Perhaps she’s heard about Singapore’s notoriously small pours) although gin and champagne are the house specialities.

“If you really wanted to impress me you’d have taken me to Paris,” she quips to Cassel. The line is doubly amusing as Atlas is a new build, designed in homage to the original Art Deco European brasseries. While it’s consistently voted one of Singapore’s favourite bars, it feels decidedly theme park-ish which makes it perfect for a Westworld location.

National Gallery Singapore

Rotunda-Dome-at-Supreme-Court-Terrace_1_Photo_credit_National_Gallery_Singapore

Dolores and Caleb’s visit to “the bank for a certain social set” takes place inside the National Gallery, the former Supreme Court and City Hall. The design, 19th century architecture mixed with modern additions of glass and steel, alone is worth a visit. Design and history tours take place daily during the week and twice a day at weekends. The pair’s banking transaction scene was shot in the Terrace, an event space in the Supreme Court Wing next to the Rotunda. You can actually go inside the dome as it’s a library (open Monday to Fridays except public holidays).

Visitors are also spoilt for choice for bars and restaurants here including rooftop Smoke and Mirrors where there’s a bird’s eye view of the curvaceous Singapore skyline beloved of Westworld’s creators.

Food Street

Chinatown’s Food Street is where we see Maeve meander under the red lanterns and past the roast meat and noodle stalls in episode four. (Though the beginning of the scene was actually shot over on Orchard Road with Maeve in front of Orchard Gateway and Peranakan Place). Following a multi million dollar revamp, the shophouse lined street with all weather roof is probably the most theme park-esque of all the Westworld 3 locations.

Indoor Indulgence from the Downton Abbey Creator: Belgravia

Belgravia Baby Monster
Belgravia – ITV and Epix

Belgravia the new lavish costume drama by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes based on his best selling novel of the same name is just the sort of television indulgence we need right now. The series showing on ITV and Epix features an ensemble cast of impressive British actors including Tamsin Greig, Philip Glenister, Alice Eve, Harriet Walker and Ella Purnell (“baby monster” in the Sweetbitter TV show). Fellowes’ story follows the upwardly mobile Trenchard family from the Duchess of Richmond’s legendary ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 to London’s grandest new neighbourhood, Belgravia, in the 1840s.

The Trenchards’ beautiful young daughter Sophia falls for the dashing Lord Bellasis, who is several rungs above her on the social ladder, in the heady days before Waterloo in Belgium. A few decades later the families become entwined again as they move to the newly fashionable Belgravia where old and new money live side by side though not necessarily in harmony. Here’s five things to know:

Belgravia Sophia and Bellasis
Belgravia – ITV and Epix

The story combines fictitious and real characters

Fellowes details the lives of the fictitious (newly wealthy) Trenchards and the (aristocratic) Brockenhursts interspersed with real historical figures including the aforementioned Duchess of Richmond, pioneering builder Thomas Cubitt who created the Belgravia area of London and the Duchess of Bedford who invented the concept of afternoon tea.

This exclusive enclave was created from scratch on swampland

The “spangled city for the rich” as Lady Brockenhurst describes it in the television series was developed in the 1820s. Ship’s carpenter turned master builder Thomas Cubitt designed the wedding cake style white stuccoed and porticoed town houses on the smart streets, crescents and garden squares. Behind were cobbled Mews to house the staff. “It was a total concept,” Fellowes told The Telegraph. “It was an attempt to build a society that was going to work. You build places for horses, carriages, upper servants. The interesting thing about Belgravia is that it was made up from scratch. If you dig through Belgravia, you don’t get to Georgian London, there’s just swamp. There’s not much in London that is equivalent.”

Belgravia cast
Belgravia – ITV and Epix

Filming actually took place in Edinburgh.

“It’s quite impossible to shoot in Belgravia,” the show’s producer Gareth Neame told History Extra website. “There’s no way you can shut down these parts of London and have horses and carriages going around for four days. So what we did was to go to the New Town of Edinburgh.”

Belgravia is owned by one family

Bordering Buckingham Palace, Knightsbridge and Hyde Park the land was, and still is, owned by the Grosvenors. The name Belgravia stems from the location of their country estate in Belgrave, north west England after which the centre piece square was called. Eaton Square is named the family’s seat, Eaton Hall. The current patriarch is 29 year old Hugh Grosvenor, 7th Duke of Westminster.

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Peggy Porschen, Belgravia

Belgravia has some of London’s chicest boutiques and cafes

While largely residential as well as being home to several embassies, shops and cafes have cropped up on picturesque Elizabeth Street. These include Beulah the sustainable designer label worn by the Duchess of Cambridge, Jo Loves by beauty guru Jo Malone and the much Instagramed Peggy Porschen bakery.

Self Isolate in Style

Timothy Oulton spaceship capsule

Timothy Oulton Studio

In Timothy Oulton’s spaceship capsule – based on the dimensions of real life Apollo 11 one. You’re welcome.

http://www.timothyoulton.com

 

What it’s like to sleep in the world’s most exclusive bed

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Bedroom in the Royal Suite at The Savoy, London

On World Sleep Day a look back at Chopstix’s stay in the Royal Suite at The Savoy:

When it comes to sleeping I’m definitely in the Princess and the Pea camp, I tend to toss and turn throughout the night rarely getting a restful 8 hours. So I was intrigued to check into the Royal Suite at The Savoy, London where an exclusive handcrafted bed has been installed promising a superlative sleep.Befitting the vast suite (it takes up the entire river side of the fifth floor) decorated in an elegant Edwardian style, the bed itself looks straight out of a fairytale. And the ornate four poster king with draped canopy has added advantages in a handmade box spring base, mattress and topper valued around SG$150,000.

The Savoy Royal Suite Sitting Room .jpg Sitting room in The Savoy’s Royal Suite

As with all the best mattresses The Savoy’s are made with horse tail between pocket springs. The one in the Royal Suite also features a hand tufted topper made by yarn specialist Tengri from rare fur – hand combed once a year from yaks roaming the Khangai mountains of Mongolia. Their hair is softer than cashmere with exceptional temperature regulating properties so perfect for aiding sleep.It’s the creation of prestigious British brand Savoir which has been hand making beds for the hotel for over 100 years. When Richard D’Oyly Carte opened The Savoy in 1889 he set new standards for luxury hotels in London. He couldn’t find a bed maker that met his exacting criteria so Savoir was formed to create beds for The Savoy.

The Savoy entrance.jpg The Savoy hotel London

My first impression is that the mattress is surprisingly firm. But it also has just enough flexibility and I don’t feel any points of undue pressure – it’s just right, as Goldilocks would say. I close my eyes with the intention of a 20 minute afternoon nap and I wake up over an hour later.The true test though comes after supper in the suite’s dining room overlooking the Thames (the view that Claude Monet painted) and impeccably served by morning coated butlers. While I still wake up several times in the night as is my wont I immediately fall back to sleep each time. Even more remarkably the back pain I’d been feeling the day before had disappeared.

 

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Dining Room in the Royal Suite at The Savoy, London

 

Usually (and frustratingly) I’m not able to lie in, restless to get up by 7am, but here I found the opposite. The only thing that eventually tempts me out of bed is the thought of Omelette Arnold Bennett for breakfast: made with smoked haddock, hollandaise sauce and cheese, perfected for the writer while he stayed at The Savoy in 1920s. After a call to the butler I’m tucking into this moreish dish and taking in the marvellous London view. Did I feel I’d slept in a bed fit for a king or queen? A resounding yes.

https://www.thesavoylondon.com

[UPDATE: Savoir Beds is opening a store at the refurbished Raffles hotel in Singapore in August 2019.]

Savoir Beds Raffles Hotel Arcade #02-08, 328 North Bridge Road, Singapore 188719

Tel : +65 6261 2788

Singapore@savoirbeds.com

[This story was originally published in July 2019]

Au Revoir Rech Hong Kong

[UPDATE: InterContinental Hong Kong announces that its 1-MICHELIN Star Rech restaurant has closed as of today, March 12, 2020. The hotel will continue to work with Ducasse Paris on the development of a new restaurant concept to be launched following the hotel’s major renovation and consequent rebranding to Regent Hong Kong, with an anticipated reopening in 2022.]
Rech by Alain Ducasee Interconti HK.jpg

 

Legendary chef Alain Ducasse’s first foray into food was not a runaway success. As a child growing up in France he would watch his grandmother cooking and aged about 11 he decided to make a chocolate roulade himself. “My grandmother let me attempt this, although I was not up to the task,” Ducasse recalls. “Chocolate ended up everywhere and in the end the cake did not resemble a roulade at all!”

Luckily for the culinary world Ducasse was not put off by his early endeavour. Last month saw the opening of his 25th restaurant worldwide. He has chosen Asia for the first international outpost of Rech Alain Ducasse, a French seafood restaurant replacing his Spoon concept at the Intercontinental hotel in Hong Kong

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“I have a long relationship with Intercontinental Hong Kong so together we looked at the Hong Kong dining scene, local tastes and global travelers’ expectations and we agreed that the new restaurant should keep its French inspiration,” he says. “We decided that a fish restaurant with a Parisian history would be a great addition to the market.” (The storied Rech was created in Paris in 1925 by Adrien Rech and brought into the Ducasse fold ten years ago.) “And the location offers the best views of the harbour,” Ducasse adds with a nod to the seafood menu.

Alain Ducasse was one of the first world famous chefs to open a restaurant in Asia with the launch of Spoon at the Intercontinental Hong Kong in 2003. “The opening started a trend in Hong Kong with other internationally acclaimed chefs openings outposts there,” he says. “Over the past decade the city has seen a culinary boom with many interesting restaurants showcasing every type of cuisine imaginable.”

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Now head of a hospitality empire that spans restaurants, inns and colleges, Ducasse began training as a chef in France at 16. At the age of only 33, the 33 month old restaurant Le Louis XV which he helmed at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco became the first hotel restaurant to be awarded three Michelin Stars. Then in 1998 Ducasse became the first “six star chef” with three Michelin stars for Le Louis XV and three stars for Alain Ducasse in Paris. The latter has this year regained a position on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. In Hong Kong though, Spoon dropped a Michelin star in 2016 and lost it’s remaining star in the 2017 Guide – surely one of the driving forces behind the new Rech restaurant.

More Alain Ducasse restaurants are planned for Asia in the near future including Japan, adding to Beige and Benoit both in Tokyo, and an eatery in Macau is slated to open within the next two years. Ducasse Education, the educational arm of the Alain Ducasse empire, is also expanding including in Asia.

Alain Ducasse

 

The first franchise college opened in Manila, the Philippines in 2009 and at least two Ducasse Education Institutes will open in Shanghai and Hong Kong by 2019. In fact the chef and restaurateur cites his work in culinary education as his proudest achievement: “What is really important to me is to pass on what I have learned and am still learning, and to motivate the younger generation so they embrace this profession.”

Ducasse credits the great French chefs and pioneers of nouvelle cuisine Michel Guerard, Roger Verge and Alain Chapel along with celebrated pastry chef Gaston Lenotre as his biggest influences. It was through Roger Verge who a young Ducasse worked for at the renowned Moulin de Mougins that he encountered the flavours of Provencal cuisine which were to become an integral part of his own cooking.

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While he is no longer in the kitchen, Ducasse still creates the recipes for his restaurants with inspiration coming from mother nature. “I was born and raised on a farm and when I was growing up my grandmother cooked for the entire family using vegetables from the garden and poultry and eggs from the farm,” he says. “For me, nature comes before cooking. I get my inspiration from sourcing the very best ingredients and produce. I am very demanding with the quality and seasonality.”

This is much in evidence on the menu at Rech in Hong Kong. “Most of the fish is sourced in France from small, independent fisherman who are strongly involved in the protection of natural resources,” he says. “We will source some ingredients locally such as lobster and some of the vegetables.”

Specialities include four types of French oyster and pan seared sole from Brittany in France filleted table side. Camembert from the French region of Normandy and matured for 30 days is the only cheese served while desserts include Mr Rech, comprising hazelnut meringue, hazelnut ice cream and warm chocolate sauce made with Alain Ducasse’s own chocolate. Extra large eclairs designed for sharing are also on the menu – probably a far cry from the chef’s first chocolate creation back in his family’s farmhouse.

Pics by Pierre Monetta

https://hongkong-ic.intercontinental.com/en/dining/rech-by-alain-ducasse/

[This story was originally published in April 2017]

The only way to visit the Taj Mahal

Oberoi Amarvilas

 

 

 

If like the Trumps you’re planning a visit to the Taj Mahal, there’s only one way to do it in style and that’s by staying at the Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra.

Not only does this glamorous, film set of a resort have a bird’s eye view of the iconic monument from most of its rooms and terraces, it’s also the only hotel in Agra to have private access via golf buggy right up to the gates.

http://www.oberoihotels.com

Love Letters Straight from the Heart…

F&M biscuits 8027036_CO_C

Fortnum & Mason

 

To your beloved’s stomach. Chopstix is partial to a hand decorated iced cookie and these writing themed ones well, they take the biscuit. Today is the last day to order from Fortnum & Mason for Valentine’s Day deliveries.

Krug puts the Fun into Fungi

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Krug x mushroom dish at Jaan

[In homage to the Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi exhibition opening at Somerset House in London today, including edible tours and a pop up feast, Chopstix looks back at the Krug Mushroom experience in 2017.]

Krug has launched an exclusive champagne and mushroom tasting trail across top restaurants in Singapore as part of its latest single ingredient showcase. Chefs at five eateries in the city have created mushroom focused dishes designed to pair perfectly with Krug Grand Cuvee, a champagne blended from over 120 wines from more than 10 different years and aged for a further 15.

“We want to show the individual character of the champagne,” Moet Hennessy brand manager Lucie Pugnot says of the collaboration which sees Krug select one ingredient for chefs to work with. “The first year we chose the simple potato, then last year the humble egg. This year we chose the mushroom which is also familiar but multifaceted.”The beauty of this fascinating fungi is that it comes in many varieties, including the luxurious truffle, with some types only available in certain months. So the Krug mushroom dishes may evolve according to what produce is available on the day.

_DSC2890.JPG Chef Kirk Westaway at Jaan

“The mushrooms keep changing throughout the year and we are all about what’s in season in Europe, particularly in France and the UK,” says Kirk Westaway, head chef at Jaan. So while we sampled the very last morels of the season in his exquisite langoustine with Hollandaise sauce course, this month the dish will segue into grey and blue chanterelles. It’s part of a six course menu matched with three types of Krug champagne including the Grand Cuvee.

_DSC3139.JPG Krug x Mushroom dish at the Tippling Club

Similarly at Tippling Club, chef owner Ryan Clift has moved on to girolles sourced from a small farm near Lyon in France along with black truffles as part of a six course menu. “I like to lightly sautee the girolles in butter and add salt at the end,” he says. “Mushrooms should never be seasoned until the last minute – if you add salt at the beginning you draw out the moisture and lose the caramelisation.” A surprisingly delicious component on the plate is a cocks comb which has been confited and pan fried to crispy perfection.

_DSC3090.JPG Chef Ryan Clift at the Tippling Club

At the fine dining Song of India restaurant Manjunath Mural is presenting a platter for two people including a tandoori chargrilled portobello mushroom stuffed with Roquefort cheese and spiced with two types of cardamom, chilli and a tamarind foam, matched with a half bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee. “The cheese pairs well with the champagne and I think Indian spices also go very well with it,” says Mural and we have to agree.

_DSC3295.JPG Krug x Mushroom dish at Song of India

“We have a lot of very good mushrooms in Japan,” says Hashida Sushi’s Chef Hatch who is originally from Tokyo. “I chose the shitake because it is juicy and has good flavour.” The chef has cleverly transformed the four day fermented mushrooms into an ice cream served with tempura vegetables in a stunning mix of hot and cold on the same plate. The Shitake Ice Cream comes as part of an omasake menu and vegetables featured in the tempura will change according to produce available.

_DSC3262.JPG Krug x Mushroom dish at Hashida Sushi

At Atlas you can enjoy a glass or bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee with a gourmet snack befitting its gorgeous bar area. “As an Italian, when I was growing up mushrooms to me meant porcini,” says executive chef Daniele Sperindio. As such he has used porcinis to make a rice “bark” crisp and as the basis of a “Mont Blanc” paste topping along with blue foot mushrooms from France and Singaporean king oyster mushrooms. The result is a striking and richly flavourful canape.

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Krug x mushroom dish at Atlas bar

A version of this article was first published in August 2017

A Hotel for a Happy Year of the Rat

In celebration of the Year of the Rat we bring you the University Arms where copies of The Wind in Willows, the tale of Ratty, Mole and Badger written by Kenneth Grahame, are in every guest rooms and a recording of Alan Bennett reading the book is transmitted in the restaurant/bar loos…

University Arms exterior

University Arms, Cambridge, UK

What’s the story?

Cambridge’s oldest hotel, the University Arms which began life as a coaching inn in 1834, has reopened following a four year, £80m refurbishment. The original classical façade overlooking Parker’s Piece (a green space that was the scene of Queen Victoria’s coronation banquet) has been retained but the interiors have been rebuilt and an out of place 1960s extension has gone. In its place the new building is in keeping with the original style.

 

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University Arms, Cambridge lobby

It looks so authentic…

Architect John Simpson has worked on such grand projects as Buckingham and Kensington Palaces and a couple of Cambridge University colleges so knows a thing or two about classical refurbishments. His design for the University Arms includes a striking porte cochere – a columned, covered carriage entrance, for cars rather than horses these days and a grand lobby inside. It’s hard to believe the new addition to the hotel building hasn’t always been here.

What about the interiors?

They’re down to Martin Brudnizki, designer du jour (responsible for the new Annabel’s clubhouse in Mayfair and the refreshed Ivy in Covent Garden). Overall the feel is of a contemporary private members’ club: Farrow and Ball painted walls, reclaimed wooden floors, antique rugs, on trend ottomans and armchairs and sofas that beg to be sat on.

 

University Arms suite

A suite at the University Arms, Cambridge

What about the rooms?

They span cosy (19-22sq ft) to superior plus there are 12 suites named after Cambridge alumni including Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf and Stephen Hawking. All the bathrooms have black and white tiles, underfloor heating and DR Harris of St James’s products. Twenty six of them have (roll top, claw foot) baths as well as showers.

 

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Parker’s Tavern restaurant, University Arms

What’s the food like?

The hotel has cleverly recruited talented local (by way of London and Mustique) chef Tristan Welch. With the restaurant, Parker’s Tavern, taking inspiration from a college dining hall with stained glass windows and leather bench seating, the menu offers a modern take on traditional British fare using East Anglian produce including smoked trout, potted shrimp, a daily roast trolley and pie of the day. Don’t miss the Cambridge Burnt Cream pudding – a British take on Crème Brulee.

Is there a bar?

As the name suggests, Parker’s Tavern is split between a restaurant and a sizeable lounge bar where the members’ club atmosphere continues. The bar itself is lined with vintage style leather stools plus there are plenty of velvet sofas, a vast spirits list and strictly no beer on tap.

University Arms bar

Parker’s Tavern bar, University Arms

What about my fellow guests?

Visiting academics, students being treated by their parents, tourists from the US and China and tech people (Cambridge is becoming known as the Silicon Valley of the UK).

What is there to do?

The hotel is on the doorstep of the city centre so the historic colleges are a short stroll away – or take one of the hotel’s bicycles in signature light Cambridge blue. Tours as well as punts on the river Cam can be arranged. The hotel will even whip up a picnic for you. If you’re looking for the willow tree celebrated in Xu Zhimo’s poem, Second Farewell to Cambridge, it has recently been removed but a cutting has been planted nearby at the newly opened memorial garden in the poet’s alma mater King’s College.

 

University Arms library

The Library, University Arms

Anything else I should know?

Playing on the learned location the hotel has made books a feature. Rather than the usual untouched, artful collection the hotel’s guest sitting area, The Library, has a selection intended to actually read curated by the renowned Heywood Hill booksellers in London. Each of the suites includes literature by or about the namesake while the other bedrooms each has a copy of The Wind in the Willows, Porterhouse Blue and Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Verses.

What’s the bottom line?

Prices for rooms start at £205 for cosy rooms and £505 for suites.

The hotel is on Regent Street, Cambridge CB2 1AD Tel +44 1223 606066. http://www.universityarms.com

[A version of this piece was originally published in the South China Morning Post in 2018]

The King of Cakes for Twelth Night

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Marchesi 1824 panettone

The twelve days of Christmas culminates today, January 6th, on epiphany when there three kings arrived. We hope you have invested in the made to order, Marchesi 1824 (the “Prada patisserie”)’s crown shaped panettone which sets you back a princely £200.

Our Best and Worst Hotel stays of 2019

Two hotels in New York for this year’s pick. One a legendary grand dame undergoing a gentle nip and tuck that more than lived up to its reputation, the other a new, much hyped opening that failed to deliver.

 

The Best of Times: The Carlyle

 

The Carlyle entrance

The Carlyle, New York

 

We booked a three night stay at The Carlyle to celebrate a special occasion and the whole experience was superb. The hotel embodies wonderful Upper East Side New York glamour, just as we’d envisaged. A discreet entrance just off Madison Avenue leads to the small, elegant lobby decorated in Art Deco monochrome with splashes of golden velvet. While the hotel is exclusive we found the service friendly and attentive throughout. And everyone seems to be greeted with “nice to see you” whether it’s your first or hundredth visit.

The Carlyle is being subtly refurbished in parts but cleverly all the classic features that make it special are still there including the famous Bemelmans Bar and the elevator attendants. Our room was one of the recently refurbished ones and successfully blended classic with contemporary. There were some lovely touches such as Central Park murals and quirky rabbit objects reminiscent of the Bemelmans bar downstairs. The room wasn’t huge and the bathroom a bit tight but that’s usual for New York and the beautiful décor made up for it.

 

Bemelman Bar

Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, New York

We enjoyed fabulous breakfasts every morning in the chic Carlyle Restaurant. And dinner there was the icing on the cake of our stay. We were given the type of table we’d requested beforehand (a corner banquette) and the classic menu and slick service matched the stylish setting perfectly.

For exploring the Upper East Side the hotel’s location was also superb. We had the Met museums and Central Park right on our doorstep and of course the shops of Madison Ave. There are newer, trendier hotels in more fashionable parts of New York but for sheer class this is hard to beat.

 

The Worst of Times: TWA Hotel

 

Max Touhey - TWA 13

TWA hotel, JFK, New York. Credit: Max Touhey

 

When we heard the TWA Hotel opening was coinciding with a trip we had booked to the US, changing planes at JFK, we switched our onward flight so we could stay the night at the hotel. We wish we hadn’t.

The problems started when we looked at the website a few days before our arrival and noticed that the hotel’s only sit down restaurant was fully booked for the evening of our stay. We contacted the hotel direct to ask if they were keeping any tables back for hotel guests and were flatly told no by the Assistant Director of Front Office. He suggested we try the “grab and go” take away outlets in the lobby instead. As we’d been looking forward to an elegant dinner in a “Jean Georges Vongerichten” restaurant it was hardly the experience we hoped for. He also confirmed as per the website that the restaurant was fully booked for breakfast – something we have never encountered in a hotel before.

On top of that, we’d booked the hotel some three months ahead of time and had not been advised then to reserve a restaurant booking as we have with other hotels with popular eateries. When we pointed that out the Assistant Director replied: “reservations didn’t start being booked until mid April.” He did not respond when we questioned why we hadn’t been contacted at that point – still a month before arrival.

The hotel was easy enough to get to when we landed at JFK and the architecture is truly stunning so we still hoped to enjoy our stay. However we were surprised to be told when we tried to check in at 3pm that the room wasn’t ready and that check in wasn’t until 4pm. It seems puzzling to have such a late, inflexible check in at an airport hotel when guests are arriving at all times. After an early start and a transatlantic flight the last thing we wanted to do was hang about for the room.

When we eventually checked in the room (we had booked a Deluxe King with a Heritage View) was very attractively designed. Small, but we expected that in New York. But the lack of wardrobe and the fact that my husband could barely walk around one side of the bed was an issue. There was no room for chargers on the bedside tables either. The floor to ceiling windows gave us a great view of the stunning Saarinen building but it also meant we were completely on show to everyone inside that building.

We tried to find the much publicised roof top swimming pool and bar but were told that they weren’t yet open. This too was disappointing as pictures of the roof top had been heavily promoted as part of the hotel’s appeal.

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Sunken Lounge, TWA hotel. Credit: Max Touhey

On the plus side the Sunken Lounge was fun for a cocktail (at Manhattan prices). Plates of olives ($10) and cheese ($20) were not enough for dinner and nearing 8pm we were hungry so went in search of the “grab and go” only to find most of the stalls closed. We managed to buy some gyro from the Halal Guys just minutes before they too closed. No offence to the Halal Guys (they were the only reason we had sustenance that night –there’s no room service) but a donor kebab was not what we had envisaged after our martinis. On returning to our room we found the television didn’t work.

In the morning we checked out first thing and headed to the airside of Terminal in search of breakfast, we’d had enough of the TWA experience. To add insult to injury when we looked at our bill we had been charged $10 plus tax (note this is payable per room per night) “facility fee”. This purportedly covered “free” wi fi “complimentary” access to the fitness centre and luggage storage on arrival/departure. Leaving the wi fi aside, we have never before been charged for fitness centre access (which incidentally we didn’t use plus the pool wasn’t open) or luggage storage in any hotel.

The following week we needed to travel through JFK again and then on to Upstate New York. It would have been ideal to check into the TWA hotel and then travel upstate the following morning. Based on our experience we chose not to – instead we took a cab to Manhattan to stay the night.

We Wish you a Merry Beary Christmas

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Polo Ralph Lauren bear sweater in sequin tux with champagne

And a Happy New Year!

 

Aman set to Become Even Bigger in Japan

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How Aman Niseko on Mt Moiwa, Japan will look

Just when we thought Aman in Japan couldn’t get any better, the luxury hotel brand has announced plans to open a fourth property in the country.

Aman Niseko will be a retreat situated on the high slopes of Mt Moiwa on an untouched nature reserve in Hokkaido’s Niseko region.

The Niseko region is known for abundant snowfall and long ski runs. The resort will be all season and the mild weather in the summer months make the area appealing for hiking, mountain biking and river rafting.

 

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An Aman Niseko Villa

 

Again designed by Kerry Hill Architects the resort will be made up of just 30 guest rooms and an extensive spa.

 

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Aman Niseko Entrance Reception

The Aman Spa will feature single and double treatment suites, pre-treatment lounges, relaxation pods and extensive thermal spa areas, including saunas, Watsu treatment chamber, cold plunge pools, steam rooms, hammam, experience showers and onsen.

An indoor lap pool and an aqua fitness pool will overlook an outdoor terrace with forest and mountain views.

You’ll have to wait until 2023 to check in though.

 

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Aman Niseko Spa Swimming Pool

For more details visit http://www.aman.com/niseko

 

 

This Christmas you can follow in Henry Golding’s footsteps across London

Last Christmas ice rink close up

Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding at Alexandra Palace ice rink Credit: UPI

Critics may have been divided about Last Christmas the movie (for the record, Chopstix loved it) but one thing they agreed on about Henry Golding’s new film co starring Emilia Clarke and Michelle Yeoh is that it makes London look wonderful. Director Paul Feig is a huge fan of the British capital and says the film is a love letter to London. The movie was actually filmed last Christmas when all the city’s festive decorations were in place. A lot of scenes took place in the middle of the night for maximum light sparkling and minimum crowds. Here’s where you can find the most scenic locations.

Tom and Kate’s Meet Cute, Apple Market

Last Christmas meet cute

Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke at Apple Market Credit: UPI

Flakey Kate (Emilia Clarke) first spots suave Tom (Henry Golding) through the window of Yuletide Wonderful Christmas shop where she works in Covent Garden Piazza, owned by Michelle Yeoh’s character “Santa”. Alas the shop doesn’t actually exist. IRL the site is a covered walkway cutting through the neo classical buildings of the former fruit and vegetable market. On the plus side it’s flanked rather deliciously by Ladurée tea room and Godiva chocolatier. And you can visit the spot where the two meet outside Yuletide – underneath the blue metal arches in Apple Market where a certain incident involving “looking up” seemingly brings them together.

Meet Cute Part Two, Covent Garden

Last Christmas Brydge's Place

Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding in Brydges Place Credit: UPI

When Kate and Tom run into each other again it’s also in the Covent Garden area. Though it looks like a film set, this quaint lane is real life Cecil Court. Linking Charing Cross Road with St Martin’s Lane, the pedestrianised street is lined with independent stores selling books and artworks. “London’s narrowest alley” where Tom takes Kate as part of his magical mystery tour of London is real too. Keep a close eye out for Brydges Place next to the Coliseum theatre on St Martin’s Lane – the alley measures only 15 inches across. As for Tom’s “secret garden”, it’s The Phoenix Garden an urban retreat hidden away between Soho and Covent Garden (the entrance is on St Giles Passage).

Last Christmas secret garden

Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding in The Phoenix Garden

The two part company at a bus stop on Regent Street which has just turned 200 years old – well worth a visit to see the wonderful illuminated Angels flying above the length of the thoroughfare at this time of year. Tip: the scene was not actually filmed at real bus stop as it’s opposite Hamley’s toy emporium and outside Hackett where no stop exists.

St Mary’s, Marylebone

Emilia Clarke outside St Mary's

Emilia Clarke outside St Mary’s Credit: UPI

The gorgeous honey stoned building depicting the exterior of St Benedict’s homeless shelter in Last Christmas can be found in Marylebone, north of Oxford Street. While the photogenic Georgian columns, festooned with twinkling lights, provide a backdrop for several scenes featuring Tom and Kate, the ornate interior is the setting for the Christmas concert.

The Savoy Buildings

Last Christmas Simpons on the Strand

Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding outside Simpson’s in the Strand Credit: UPI

Kate’s calamitous audition takes place inside the Savoy Theatre, an Art Deco jewel tucked away next to The Savoy hotel’s main entrance on the Strand. It’s worth buying tickets to anything showing here just to see the interiors. Nearby is the spot on the river Thames where Tom gives Kate another pep talk, opposite The Savoy’s riverside entrance on the Embankment. The pair sit on the steps next to Cleopatra’s Needle, where the Thames bends at just the right angle to have the London Eye over on the South Bank appealingly illuminated in the background. Simpson’s, a restaurant owned by The Savoy, outside of which Kate and Tom sit with their skates on (see below) is back up on the Strand. There’s no bench outside Simpson’s but there is a bus stop should you wish to catch a double-decker like Kate.

Alexandra Palace

Last Christmas Alexandra Palace

Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding at Alexandra Palace ice rink Credit: UPI

While the ice rink where the couple have an illicit late night skate appears in the movie to be a short skip from the Embankment, you’ll need to visit far flung north London. Alexandra Palace is a vast Victorian era building known to locals as “Ally Pally” which houses a huge indoor ice rink among other venues. The rink is in a stunning high ceilinged space lined with French windows and it’s open all year round not just for Christmas.

Tom’s Flat, East London

Tom’s tiny, ultra neat flat is located on the corner of Brick Lane and Cheshire Street in East London. Brick Lane has long been famous for its curry houses and more recently for cafes, shops and street art. By coincidence Henry Golding actually used to live in a flat here, just around the corner from his character’s fictitious one. How’s that for a twist of fate.

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Dreaming of a White Christmas?

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You may want to settle for this Chanel evening bag, inspired by a ski resort cable car (snow not included).

Price upon request. www.chanel.com/en_GB/fashion/p/hdb/as1200b01616/as1200b0161610601/evening-bag-resin-diamante-silvertone-metal-white.html

 

Christmas Countdown: The Nutcracker

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Francesca Hayward in The Nutcracker ROH Tristram Kenton

The Royal Ballet is giving The Nutcracker a miss this year so if you’re missing your Christmas fix you may want to catch a Live Cinema screening at a cinema near you between today (December 9th 2019) and January 16th 2020.

This performance, recorded live at the Royal Opera House, London in 2016, features the exquisite Francesca Hayward as Clara and Alexander Campbell as Hans-Peter with the ever entertaining Gary Avis as Drosselmeyer.

Francesca is soon to be seen playing Victoria the White Cat in Cats the movie. Also look out for her in the movie Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words screening in selected cinemas.

http://www.roh.org.uk/showings/the-nutcracker-recorded-2019

 

The Story Behind Tatler’s “Status Symbol Turkey”

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Paul Kelly and his Kelly Bronze turkeys

Upper crust British magazine Tatler has included Kelly Bronze turkeys on its list of Christmas status symbols. This coveted breed of bird has been celebrated by top chefs including Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Michael Roux JR, so what makes them so tasty?

Kelly Bronze turkeys spend 70 per cent of their time out of doors. It’s a beautiful bright day when Chopstix visited the Essex farm (Kelly Bronze’s are now also bred in the US, in on a farm in Virginia) and the turkeys are scampering through the trees. They have acres of woodland to run around and masses of nettles to snack on. “They love nettles, they eat them like crazy,” says renowned turkey breeder Paul Kelly, second generation owner of Kelly Bronze turkeys.

Until they are 12 weeks old the birds are kept indoors. As we walk towards the large barn an excited chirruping emanates. “You can tell how everything is from the noise,” says Paul, opening the barn doors to reveal hundreds of chicks bobbing about among bales of straw. “No noise is a bad sign. Squawking is a bad sign. You want to hear a nice chirp.”

Another good sign is how the turkeys may vary in weight year to year. “The more naturally you grow the bird, the more it can be affected by the elements,” says Paul. “In a mild autumn the turkeys are lighter, if it’s cold they eat more.”

It’s hard to imagine that in the 1980s the Kelly family farm run by Paul’s parents faced a tricky future despite breeding award winning turkeys. But then in 1990 Delia Smith visited and was so impressed with the turkey she bought there that she referred to it by name in her Christmas book. The business has never looked back.

 

Christmas Countdown: Adorable Baubles

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Mice in teacups Cox & Cox

 

Sledging polar bears, skiing mice, fluffy alpacas…. Cox and Cox has nailed it with the cute animal tree decorations. Here are some of the most adorable to cheer your day. You’re welcome.

 

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Alpaca tree decoration Cox & Cox

 

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Mouse on a swing tree decoration Cox & Cox

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Sledging Polar Bear tree decoration Cox & Cox

Mouse ladder

Mice climbing ladder tree decoration Cox & Cox

Ski mouse

Skiing mouse tree decoration Cox & Cox

http://www.coxandcox.com

 

Christmas Countdown: Advent Calendars

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Fortnum & Mason Wooden House Advent Calendar

 

Advent calendar opening begins tomorrow, December 1st, and while there’s been a lot of hype this year about ultra luxury versions but Chopstix’s favourite remains the traditional wooden one by Fortnum & Mason. The Wooden House is based on Fortnum’s flagship store on Picadilly, London and you can keep it year after year, filling the little windows with new sweets. There’s just time to pop into the new Fortnum & Mason store  in Hong Kong to snap one up.

http://www.fortnumandmason.com

Fortnum's Hong Kong

Fortnum & Mason Hong Kong

 

 

Christmas Countdown: Gifts

 

Net a Porter jewellery box

Jessica McCormack jewellery  box for Net-a-Porter

For the woman who has everything: an exquisite jewellery box *complete with jewellery selection* for £280,800.00.

Jessica McCormack has designed this treasure for Net-a-Porter. Turn the tassled key of the orientalesque wooden box to reveal velvet lined trays decorated with Alice in Wonderland inspired, hand stitched designs.

The Botanical Heirloom box also includes eight rings, four pairs of earrings, four necklaces and a diamond charm. And the lucky recipient will have the chance to visit Jessica McCormack’s London boutique to finalise personalised touches with the designer herself.

You may want to add to your Wishlist…

For more details visit http://www.net-a-porter.com/gb/en/product/1228309?resType=single&keywords=jewellery%20box&enableAjaxRequest=false

 

6 Christmas markets to visit in Europe

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas with the traditional European markets opening from mid November. The chalet style wooden stalls selling gifts and edible goodies, perhaps with the addition of ice skating rinks and carol singers, put the magic into the festive season. Here’s Chopstix pick of the best.

Prague Christmas market - credit Prague Tourism

Prague Christmas market credit: Prague Tourism

Prague, Czech Republic

Held, appropriately enough, in Wenceslas Square as well as the Old Town Square, a fairytale backdrop for the stalls selling local handicrafts such as Christmas decorations, carved wooden toys and glasswork. Treats included trdelniks (a distinctive looking dough rolled around a stick then grilled and coated with sugar), barbecued sausages and hot honey wine as well as Czech beer. A highlight is the nativity scene in the Old Town Square featuring live animals where children can stroke sheep and a donkey.

November 30th 2019 – January 6th 2020

Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg is known for making gingerbread so you can literally smell Christmas when you visit here (along with roasted almonds, gluhwein and rum punch). Possibly the most famous of all the markets, the Christkindlesmarkt here has been going since the 16th century and now spills throughout the charming medieval streets selling arts and crafts from the region. Take a ride around the market on a horse drawn, bright yellow stagecoach. Nuremberg is also well known for its bratwurst so you can sustain yourself with grilled sausages served with sauerkraut or potato salad or both.

November 29th  – December 24th 2019

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels Plaisirs d'Hiver - Winterpret - Winter Wonders_EDAN0296_© visit.brussels - Eric Danhier

Brussels Christmas market © visit.brussels – Eric Danhier

Belgium’s biggest Christmas market covers various squares throughout the city centre with some 200 stalls as part of its Winter Wonders festival. It also features a giant Christmas tree and sound and light show at the stunning Grand Place, an ice skating rink at Place de la Monnaie and traditional fairground rides such as a carousel and huge ferris wheel as well as choirs singing at the Black Tower. There’s plenty of Belgian grastronomy to sample too including warming waffles and hot chocolate of course.

November 29th 2019 – January 5th 2020

Vienna, Austria

Elegant Vienna has Christmas market stalls sprawling throughout its pretty squares with the biggest and most colourful outside the town hall (Rathausplatz). As well as Christmas gifts and decorations to buy expect sweet treats such as pastries and doughnuts, roasted chestnuts and confectionary to feast on and plenty of hot punch as you listen to the carol singers. In the adjacent park the trees are draped with lights and a 3,000 metre squared ice rink is in place. For the little ones there’s a reindeer train and sleigh rides.

Dates vary for each market, the Rathausplatz is November 15th – December 26th 2019 and the ice rink is open until January 6th 2020 (closed December 31st.)

Copenhagen, Denmark

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Copenhagen Tivoli Gardens Christmas market Anders B ggild

Copenhagen is another city that goes large on the festive period and is home to several Christmas markets. The best is considered to be at Tivoli Gardens, not hard to imagine when you consider this picture perfect Victoriana amusement park which is lit up after dark inspired both Hans Christian Andersen and Walt Disney. As well as the usual rides expect countless fairy lights, snow covered trees, and Santa’s reindeer. Better still, among the decorated wooden huts, there are Scandi-chic gifts to buy plus honey cake and mulled wine.

November 16th – December 22nd 2019

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg in the Alsace bills itself as “the capital of Christmas” and has the oldest Christmas market in France. Held over several locations including beneath the striking cathedral, it goes all out with over 300 stalls, a huge Christmas tree and shows and concerts. The area is also known for vin chaud and Bredele cake – biscuits that are traditionally baked at Christmas. They come in different shapes and flavours such as almond, orange or cinnamon and are given as gifts or even used to as tree decorations.

22nd Nov – December 30th (closed December 25th) 2019

A version of this story was originally published in the Robb Report Singapore

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Top Rugby Shirts

The Rugby World Cup 2019 held in Japan has sparked a trend for rugby shirts. Here’s Chopstix’s pick of the top three.

Polo Ralph Lauren rugby

Polo Ralph Lauren

All the Polo Ralph Lauren “rugby shirts of the world” featuring a cute kicker bear are great. Here’s the USA one. From $119.99 (reduced from $168).

 

Hackett Wales rugby shirt

Hackett

Hackett’s “home nations” vintage style shirts are lovely including this striking red Wales jersey (£135).

 

Kent and Curwen England rugby shirt

Kent and Curwen

Kent and Curwen has a range of vintage, England style shirts such as this embroidered number (£135).

Chopstix Loves…

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Sofia footstool, £595, Soho Home

This delectable velvet footstool by Soho Home reminds us quite fittingly of a pumpkin.

Seen in Soho Houses around the world, the Sofia footstool is now available to buy as part of the House Favourites range:

www.sohohome.com

 

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Bear

The Rugby World Cup 2019 semi finals kick off in Japan tomorrow: England v New Zealand on Saturday followed by Wales v South Africa on Sunday. Make sure you don’t miss kick off with one of these cute Kicker Bear watches by Polo Ralph Lauren ($1,850). Sorry Springboks fans there doesn’t seem to be an SA version, or perhaps you’ve bought them already.

http://www.ralphlauren.com/men-accessories-watches?prefn1=brand&prefv1=Polo%20Ralph%20Lauren&webcat=men%7Caccessories%7CWatches%20%26%20Straps

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Countdown to Aman Kyoto

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Living Pavillion at Aman Kyoto

[UPDATE Aman Kyoto remains open throughout the Covid 19 pandemic. Amanemu reopened June 1st 2020, Aman Tokyo is slated to reopen July 1st 2020.]

Aman’s third hotel in Japan is on course to open on November 1st 2019.

Aman Kyoto, designed by Kerry Hill Architects who also designed Aman Tokyo and Amanemu, is set within 29 hectares of forest and three hectares of exquisite gardens. Stone pathways and steps meander through the garden leading to upper platforms bordered with yama momiji maples and kitayama-sugi (Japanese cedar).

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Exterior of Living Pavillion at Aman Kyoto

At the heart of the resort is the Living Pavillion opening up onto a terrace overlooking the gardens. The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, to guests and non residents with advance booking.

Executive Chef Kentaro Torri will serve home cooked Kyoto style cuisine as well as innovative Western chef using local, seasonal produce, many sourced from the hotel’s garden.

Taka-an is the resort’s Japanese restaurant. Here, seasonal, local produce will be prepared and served with meticulous precision in keeping with the Japanese art of hospitality.

TAKA-AN Restaurant, Aman Kyoto Taka-An restaurant at Aman Kyoto

TAKA-AN Restaurant, Aman Kyoto
TAKA-AN Restaurant, Aman Kyoto

Aman has 26 guest rooms housed in six stand alone pavilions designed as contemporary versions of traditional Japanese ryokans. The rooms have floor to ceiling windows showcasing the spectacular surroundings and come with tatami mats covering the floors. Large bath tubs in each guest room have been crafted from the native hinoki cypress wood.

Two presidential suites, the Washigamine and Takagamine Pavillions, are set within the most secluded and highest part of the property with expansive views. Both pavillions have two bedrooms, living area, dining room, kitchen and tatami room.

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Living room in Suite at Aman Kyoto

The bucolic grounds at Aman Kyoto provide a serene setting for the spa. The natural spring water that flows underneath the resort provides traditional onsen bathing facilities at the spa with both an indoor and outdoor hot water spring.

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Outdoor onsen at Aman Kyoto

For more information and bookings visit http://www.aman.com/resorts/aman-kyoto

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Bear with us for the Rugby World Cup in Japan

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Cheer on your team at the Rugby World Cup 2019 in this adorable Ralph Lauren Polo Bear rugby shirt. Take your pick from the host nation Japan, Australia, England, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, USA and Wales.

http://www.ralphlauren.co.uk/en/men/inspiration/rugby-shirts-of-the-world/10508?webcat=men%7Cfeatures%7CRugby%20Shirts%20of%20the%20World

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Aman Tokyo’s Spooky Afternoon Tea returns for Halloween

Aman Tokyo halloween tea

Aman Tokyo has again launched its annual Halloween Afternoon Tea in The Lounge. The savouries and sweets include ghost shaped macaroons, bat and witches hat cookies, spider web candy and a chocolate “bomb” with a surprise inside.

Available from now until October 31st 2019, 11.30am – 5pm.

¥4,600 (plus consumption tax and service charge)

For reservations call +81-3-5224-3339 or click here to reserve a table online

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What to do in Tokyo when you’re not watching rugby

Me and my “chocolate sundae”

 

I’m standing at a kitchen sink in Tokyo shaping a sheet of submerged plastic into a “lettuce”. Fake food samples are a familiar sight in the windows of restaurants in Japan. They entice customers into the eateries and simplify menu ordering for foreigners. And I’m learning to make them – thanks to The Peninsula hotel’s Fun With Faux Food academy programme.

There are some 200 food sample factories in Japan but Yamato is one of the few making small batches by hand. Second generation owner, Mr Yuichi Ito, was born in Gujyo-Hachiman in the Gifu prefecture, birthplace of the food sample industry in the 1940s, and still known as “wax food town”.

The windows of his workshop are packed with incredibly realistic replicas of sushi, yakitori, grilled fish and Western dishes. Originally they were made from wax but now they are more durable PVC that won’t melt in restaurant windows.

I’m feeling intimidated but my teachers, Yuichi, his son Ryo and their assistant, Aomi Chino, couldn’t be more welcoming with beaming their smiles.

We start with tempura – or more precisely its side serving of lettuce. Ryo had made it look so easy: a scoop of white liquid lowered gently into the warm water then spread into an oblong with the spoon, three scoops of green liquid gently lined along three sides. The oblong I’ve made is not as uniformed as Ryo’s so I fear my lettuce is going to be a giant monstrosity unlike Ryo’s neat baby one.

Then the fun begins. I’m told to dip my hands into the water and pull the plastic downwards. Remarkably, a definite lettuce texture and colour emerges. Suddenly I’m directed to scoop the sides of the oblong together. It’s all quite frantic and I keep scooping away. Then something miraculous happens: a lettuce shape appears. “Cute!” says Ryo.

The experience reminds me of the retro British TV show, The Generation Game, where hapless contestants attempt to make something after a talented pro has demonstrated. They usually failed woefully much to the hilarity of the audience but with the Itos at hand there’s no chance of any disasters here.

On to the tempura. A plastic “shrimp” and “pumpkin” are waiting on the table, it’s my job to make the batter. Having watched Ryo’s demo I drip yellow liquid into the warm water in a zig zag to make a Jackson Pollock like pattern. Then I repeat in reverse, careful to get the height right: not too high or low. The resulting bubbled matter definitely resembles batter. I’m getting into this.

The Fun of Faux Food Hands-on Plastic and Wax Modelling (1)-2

Next is ramen. I could have made curry or pizza but have chosen Japanese dishes. Frankly I’m nervous about attempting this one, eying the realistic example next to me. But it’s more straightforward than I imagined.

I’m instructed to pick up a batch of “noodles” and place them, vertically, in a bowl of warm water then wrap them centrifugally. Easy peasy I think, but there’s more to come. I’m told to pick up three strands at a time, form a circle with them in the air, followed by a figure of eight then place them in another bowl. It’s fiddly and I’m painfully slow but I find it strangely relaxing.

Task eventually completed I pour a golden gelatin over the whole lot to form the broth. I’m pretty pleased with this but Ryo has spotted several air bubbles so patiently flicks a cigarette lighter over each one until they’re dispersed. Meanwhile, I soak some ready made, plastic spring onions, meat, spinach and bamboo shoots and, to use the technical term, knock-them-about-a-bit to look more realistic. Then I place them, artfully I think, on the top of broth. Et voila, ramen!

As a finale there’s an ice cream sundae to make but first my Peninsula guide, who’s driven me here in the hotel mini and is translating, proffers a packed lunch; great timing as I’m strangely ravenous due to the tempura and ramen making.

Sundaes are made with silicon so the tops – the “whipped cream” – are surprisingly bendy. I choose chocolate ice cream so Aomi adds a brown dye to the silicon in a piping bag. Home bakers will come into their own here for I’m to pipe the mixture, circular wise, into a glass to create a chocolate and vanilla swirl. Then for the tricky bit: piping the whipped cream topping. The results are impressive but I must admit to getting a lot of help from Ryo.

The chocolate in the chocolate sundae

The chocolate in the chocolate sundae

The “whipped cream” topping

Yuichi presents a tray jammed with hand made, plastic accoutrements: wafers, cookies, strawberries and cherries. It’s refreshingly fun to choose from, thinking about the different heights for the design and then placing them strategically. I must admit to being tempted to tuck into my creation. I go back to the Peninsula and order a real chocolate sundae at Peter.

http://www.peninsula.com/Tokyo

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What is it about Les Amis? Now elevated to 3 stars in the Michelin Guide Singapore

For the first time, Singapore gets two Three-MICHELIN-starred restaurants

Les Amis’ Sebastien Lepinoy (left) with Michelin’s Gwendal Poullennec and Julien Royer, Odette

[UPDATE: Les Amis which was awarded two Michelin stars in the inaugural Singapore guide 2016 has tonight been elevated to three stars in the 2019 guide. For the first time Singapore has two three Michelin starred restaurants with Odette also being elevated. Here’s a look at the restaurant with a rich pedigree of talent.]

French born head chef Sebastien Lepinoy and award winning pastry chef Cheryl Koh joined Les Amis in Singapore after sister restaurant Cepage closed in Hong Kong in 2013.  Both restaurants share the same enticing formula of sophisticated food and slick service mixed with an unstuffy atmosphere; a recipe that has made Les Amis as popular with food writers in the region as it is with regular customers.

Lepinoy, who was head chef at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Hong Kong prior to Cepage, and Koh are the latest in a glittering alumni that includes Ignatius Chan owner of renowned restaurant Iggy’s. Les Amis was at the forefront of the French fine dining scene in Singapore when it opened in 1994.

Award winning sommelier Chan and chef Justin Quek, who’d worked his way around several classical French restaurants in France and the UK, were the brains behind the concept. With Chan’s experience, the restaurant became known for fine wines (it still has one of most extensive wine lists in Asia with some 2000 labels) as well as Quek’s cuisine.

Justin Quek

Justin Quek at Sky on 57

“Ignatius and I drove the operation for 10 years,” says Quek who now runs his own restaurant Sky on 57 at Marina Bay Sands where he cleverly combines classic French cooking with a Chinese influence. “We were the first stand-alone fine dining, French restaurant with a great wine list in Singapore.”

Quek says what he gleaned most from his time at Les Amis was wine knowledge and how to pair wine with food. “I tasted a lot of great wines in those ten years,” he says. “I remember the first new year’s eve menu with truffles, caviar and lobster on the menu paired with Krug champagne, Chevalier Montachet by Domaine Leflaive, Chateau Latour, Chateau Yquem…”

Quek became friends with many of the guests who came to the restaurant, often bringing their own rarefied bottles with them, and still returns to dine there with them.

iggys-interiors-3-high-res

Iggy’s

Both Chan and Quek left and sold their shares at the end of 2003. Chan set up the now famous Iggy’s while Quek opened a restaurant in Taipei. Following his departure, Gunther Hubrechsen took over as head chef and continued Les Amis’ reputation for exemplary fine French food. After over five years Hubrechsen too left to set up his own establishment, Gunther’s, in Singapore. Gunther’s is another fine dining experience, this time in a converted shophouse, and much loved by business people, tai tais and romantic couples alike.

Gunther's interior

Asia’s Best Pastry Chef 2013 & 2014, Janice Wong, worked a 6 month stage under Hubrechsen at Les Amis following her training at the Cordon Bleu in Paris. Wong, who now owns the acclaimed 2am Dessert Bar in Singapore, says: “Working with chef Gunther on the line was my most memorable experience of working at Les Amis. From him I learnt about the balance of flavors and right pairings of different ingredients in each dish.

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Janice Wong

“What I’ve taken with me to the 2am Dessert Bar is the importance of team spirit in the kitchen and that a choice of fresh produce and ingredients is key to a good dish.”

Sebastien Lepinoy’s appointment marks the end of an 18 month search since head chef of nearly four years, Armin Leitgeb, left in May 2012. Under Leitgeb (who has since moved back to Austria and is currently working on a new restaurant project), Les Amis joined the exclusive Le Grandes Table Du Monde. The honour is usually reserved for Michelin star winners but since Les Amis has none as the Michelin Guide does not operate in Singapore [it’s due to launch late 2016] the feat is even more impressive.

Pastry chef Daniel Texter, who previously worked at Noma, left a few months after Leitgeb (to helm Adrian Zumbo’s new bakery in Melbourne). So Leproy has brought over Cepage’s Cheryl Koh, a Singaporean who began her career at Raffles Hotel.

Since joining in September [2013] Lepinoy has put his own stamp on the menu introducing Japanese influences. “In Singapore, Japanese cuisine is well received,” he says. “So I decided to use familiar Japanese ingredients and a lot of my dishes are Japanese-inspired.” These include angel hair pasta with lobster, crispy Sakura ebi and a touch of parmesan; pan seared Hokkaido scallops with teriyaki sauce, pan seared foie gras and French River eel accompanied by citrus fruits and dashi broth; and Daikon veloute with black truffle.

The ethos of the restaurant will remain the same though: “Les Amis means “The Friends” so we exist to create a warm and welcoming environment without the pompous façade that the fine dining image commonly portrays,” say Lepinoy.

Raymond Lim, Les Amis’ spokesman puts the restaurant’s longevity and success down to consistency. “The core experience which we want to deliver is the same – food that is tasty and not cerebral with a pared down, friendly approach to service,” he says.

[A version of this article originally ran in November 2013]

Odette, Asia’s Best Restaurant, elevated to three Michelin stars

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Odette’s Julien Royer (between Gwendal Poullennec and the Michelin man)

 

[UPDATE: Odette has been elevated to three Michelin stars in the Singapore Michelin Guide 2019. Earlier this year the restaurant was announced number one on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list 2019.]

Julien Royer, formerly head chef of the acclaimed Jaan, now has his own restaurant in the form of Odette, a bread roll’s throw away from his alma mater, within Singapore’s stunning new National Gallery. Odette is named in homage to Royer’s grandmother. And the family theme continues as the dreamy design is down to artist Dawn Ng – wife of the restaurant’s co owner, Wee Teng Wen of the Lo and Behold group – in conjunction with Universal Design Studio.

 

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Odette restaurant, Singapore

 

With its romantic, cream interiors, Odette is the White Swan to Lo and Behold stablemate, Black Swan nearby in the CBD. But back to the food. Royer is continuing to mix classical French with modern techniques in his new home. Some of his greatest hits from Jaan are on the menu: Mushroom “tea”; 55 mins Onsen Egg; Heirloom Beetroot Variation; and Hay Smoked Pigeon.

In it’s new incarnation though the Pigeon is served two ways: the breast cooked sous vide then grilled and the leg cooked for six hours. And the Onsen Eggs are smoked on a bed of pines – foraged by the chef’s father and sent over from France (another family link).

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Julien Royer of Odette, Asia’s Best Restaurant 2019

Royer has also added some new creations such as the standouts Hokkaido Uni with Apple, Mussel and Caviar and Trout with Miso Glazed Kurobuta Pork. The welcome champagne trolley includes Chartogne-Taillet rose, Henri Giraud for Odette and Krug – said to be Royer’s favourite.

Desserts, by pastry chef Nicolas Vergnole, are also impressive including Confit Victoria Pineapple (below): toasted coconut ice cream, banana cake, passionfruit coulis, tapioca and Kaffir lime.

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This piece was originally published in 2016

Where to stay when you’re visiting Downton

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The Old Swan

[UPDATE: IRL the village of Downton is actually filmed at Brampton, Oxfordshire. Our pick of where to stay if you want to visit is the Old Swan in nearby Minster Lovell. The hotel will arrange a guided tour of Brampton.]

The Old Swan, Minster Lovell

Imagine the ideal country inn and you’ll picture The Old Swan. Exposed beams and brick, flagstone floors, log fires, cosy nooks, inviting bar… this is a wonderful weekend retreat in the Cotswolds countryside.

When it comes to eating, choose between the more formal restaurant with vaulted ceiling and rich wool tapestries or the pub like but equally appealing dining room.

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Old Swan

Settle down by the fire for a nightcap (the snug is for residents only) before climbing the wooden stairs to one of the most comfortable beds you’ve ever slept in.

Bring your hiking boots as there are walks aplenty almost from the front door.

http://www.oldswan.co.uk

You can now stay in Rachel Chu and Nick Young’s suite at Raffles Singapore

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Nick and Rachel in the presidential suite at Raffles Singapore

When the film Crazy Rich Asians was released last year the spotlight was as much on Singapore as the ensemble cast. Understandably there was a surge of interest in the locations featured (some of which were in Malaysia, masquerading as Singapore). One of the best was Raffles hotel the grandest hotel in town where of course Nick Young “the Prince Harry of Asia” took his girlfriend Rachel Chu to stay.

Their scenes were shot in the Drawing Room above the lobby and the Sarkies Suite, one of the hotel’s two presidential suites named after the original owners and where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stayed.

At the time of the film release the hotel was part for a major refurbishment but has now reopened. The Presidential Suites, like the rest of the hotel, have been refreshed by interior designer Champalimaud.

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Entrance to Presidential Suite, Raffles Singapore redesigned by Champalimaud

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Bedroom in Presidential Suite Raffles Singapore redesigned by Champalimaud

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Presidential Suite at Raffles redesigned by Champalimaud

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Bathroom of Presidential Suite, Raffles Singapore redesigned by Champalimaud

Also in the film when Nick’s mother visits him at in presidential suite they stand on the private verandah overlooking the Palm Court.

 

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Terrace of the Raffles’ Presidential Suite

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Palm Court at Raffles Singapore showing Sarkies Suite terrace

The suite costs upwards of £5,000 per night plus 17 per cent taxes. Opening rate packages are available until October 31st 2019.

http://www.raffles.com/singapore/

Malaysia Airlines

Wine Not? What it’s like to stay at Les Sources de Caudalie vinotherapy spa near Bordeaux

 

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Les Source de Caudelie

[UPDATE: From today until September 30th the InterContinental is serving a Grape Antioxidant Afternoon Tea in conjunction with Caudalie. Here’s the story behind the vinotherapy brand.]

The waitress is so shocked she can hardly contain herself: I’m not having wine with my lunch? After a few seconds of stunned silence, she adds with further disbelief: “And I suppose you’re not having pudding either?”

Okay, so I’m in France, where not partaking in the finer things in life is practically sacrilegous, but I am in a health spa. Then again, this is the world’s only vinotherapy centre and it is dedicated to beauty treatments derived from grapes. Denial is definitely not on the agenda here – as well as a cellar of 13,000 wines, there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant and a cigar room. You’re even encouraged to join a wine-tasting session at the nearby chateau.

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Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

 

The name of this unique spa is Les Sources de Caudalie, and beauticians at the centre, 15 minutes’ drive from Bordeaux, believe that as well as imbibing a couple of glasses of wine a day, we should be bathed and massaged in it, too. The theory is that the humble grape pip is highly effective at countering skin damage caused by free radicals (smoking, pollution and sunlight).

Which is why, later that afternoon, I find myself lying on a plastic sheet being slathered with wine and honey. The sheet is wrapped around me, then covered with what looks like a thermal blanket and I’m left to doze in a gloopy cocoon for 20 minutes. Not only is this bacchanalian-sounding process strangely relaxing, it is meant to render me lithe, toned and youthful to boot.

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Les Source de Caudelie hotel

 

First Look at the New Look Raffles Singapore

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Raffles Hotel Singapore

Raffles hotel in Singapore has today reopened following a two and a half year, multi million dollar refurbishment. Here’s what to expect from the revamp by interior designer Champalimaud and architect Aedas.

The grand lobby has a fresher feel and a new, stunning take on a chandelier. Afternoon tea will now be served here rather than being side lined to the Tiffin Room (more on which later). The heavy wooden reception desk with pigeon holes behind has been replaced by a more inviting desk and chairs, more in keeping with luxury 21st century hotels.

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Grand Lobby at Raffles Hotel Singapore

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Reception at Raffles Hotel Singapore

 

Off the lobby, the Grill restaurant has been replaced by a new venture from chef Anne-Sophie Pic whose restaurant in France holds three Michelin stars.

The room is almost unrecognisable from the former Grill with softer tones and furnishings though the white columns and French windows overlooking the Palm Court remain.

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La Dame de Pic at Raffles hotel Singapore

It’s also gratifying to see that the alcove tables in the restaurant still in situ, albeit with a more modern edge. Statement lighting abounds here too.

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La Dame de Pic at Raffles Hotel Singapore

On the other side of the lobby the Tiffin Room, serving Northern Indian cuisine, has re opened. This too has been given a transformation with the addition of open shelving displaying tiffin boxes (naturally) and Chinese porcelain and again, statement light fittings. The new furniture with a nod to colonial style (dark wood and rattan) is said to be inspired by the hotel’s archives.

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Tiffin Room at Raffles Hotel Singapore

Elsewhere in the hotel, a new Alain Ducasse restaurant in the Bar and Billiard room and Yì by Jeremy Leung are due to open in September.

All the suites have been restored and look lighter while retaining a heritage feel. The separate parlour room has been retained in the Stateroom, Promenade, Courtyard, Palm Court and Personality suites – a good choice since it’s so synonymous with guest rooms at Raffles.

Updated technology and bathrooms also figure with Peranakan inspired tiles in the latter – in homage to the Chinese Malay settlers in Singapore.

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Courtyard Suite at Raffles Hotel Singapore

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Courtyard Suite Parlour at Raffles Hotel Singapore

To celebrate the opening Raffles is offering two special rate packages:

Opening Package
From now till 31 October 2019 guests may upgrade their stay for S$120 plus taxes
per night including additional privileges of daily breakfast for two either in their suite, on the verandahs poolside or at Tiffin Room. They will also receive a $100 daily
credit for spending at the Raffles Spa or at one of the restaurants. A commemorative Raffles heritage souvenir and guaranteed late checkout until 3.00pm is also included.
Staycation Package
Available to residents of Singapore, this staycation offers a 50% reduction
on an adjourning suite for families to stay together. The package includes daily semi
buffet breakfast for two adults at Tiffin Room, where children can dine for free (for
two children aged 12 and under), S$50 Raffles Spa Credit per adult per stay, Raffles Children Customised Programme, Complimentary souvenir for children from the Raffles Boutique, guaranteed late check out till 3pm, early check in at noon, subject to availability, 10% off Raffles merchandise at the Raffles Boutique. Adjourning suites are subjected to availability of interconnecting suites.
More details on offers are available at www.rafflessingapore.com and enquiries
or reservations can be made via singapore@raffles.com

Inspired by Beecham House? Check into this Jaipur palace to soothe your withdrawal symptoms

Entrance to Rajmahal Palace

Sujan Rajmahal Palace

[UPDATE: Beecham House the lavish costume drama set in Delhi was IRL filmed in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Here’s Chopstix top pick of where to stay in the Pink City.]

In the middle of negotiating the hectic roads of Jaipur our driver suddenly swings the car into a discreet driveway. We pass through a turreted “elephant gate” painted a pretty pale pink and follow the graveled route flanked by verdant gardens before pulling up outside a palace painted in the same sugary shade as the regal entranceway. Jaipur was painted pink for the visit of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, but while the Rajasthan capital is more terracotta toned, this is a delightful, millennial pink.

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Smiling and smartly dressed men each wearing a distinctive candy coloured turban wait to welcome us. We are greeted – rather fittingly for The Pink City – with a glass of rose sparkling wine. So far, so Jaipur perhaps but inside is a complete surprise. Sujan Rajmahal Palace, now a luxury boutique hotel, may be approaching 300 years old but it has been interior decorated in a refreshingly contemporary way. Each of the public spaces is adorned with fantastically striking, custom made wallpaper from bright pinks and turquoise blues to sultry Art Deco chinoiserie and Indian inspired designs. The chandeliers, antiques and paintings remind you however that you are staying in a royal residence.

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As palaces go Rajmahal is on the petite side rather than a mammoth mausoleum with just 14 guest rooms – it was commissioned by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II for his wife. Society interior designer Adil Ahmad, recently commissioned to spruce the place up, has achieved a sumptuous cosiness that feels like a private home albeit a very grand one.

Jaipur’s royal family still own Rajmahal (it is run by Sujan the renowned company behind luxury tented camps throughout Rajasthan), the queen mother’s Thunderbird takes pride of place in the entranceway and the princess has an office in the grounds though they reside in the far larger City Palace in old Jaipur (the hotel can arrange a private tour of this palace as well as secure you a set in the royal box at the polo).

While still a royal residence, Rajmahal played host to the likes of Queen Elizabeth the second, the Prince and Princess of Wales and Jackie Kennedy as the framed black and white photographs and the names of the suites attest. Beautiful carpets gifted by another distinguished visitor, the Shah of Iran, hang on the walls as the Maharini magnanimously wanted everyone to enjoy them. The family’s love of “the sport of kings” is also reflected in The Polo Bar, lined with trophies and photographs.

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Our Palace Room is reached via a stunning marble staircase and curved corridor and like all the guest rooms and suites lies discreetly behind mirrored doors which adds to the feeling of a private home. Inside our host tells me “A Maharini does not make her own coffee,” before explaining that there are no facilities for hot beverages in the room: “You ring and we will bring you coffee.”

Another special touch is that afternoon tea is served to hotel guests every day between 4pm and 6pm. You may have it wherever you wish but an especially charming spot is on the manicured lawn under a series of charming open sided tents (pink hued of course).

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A pleasant surprise for the (relatively) diminutive size of the hotel is that there are three dining rooms, each more strikingly designed than the other: the grand Orient Occident is open for dinner while the cool mint Colonnade and 51 Shades of Pink (decorated as the name suggests) restaurants both serve breakfast and lunch. All offer the same menu of Indian and Western dishes, we stuck resolutely to the former which is excellent.

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We also tried one of the Sujan Rajmahal Palace’s private dining experiences one evening, dining in one of the aforementioned tents on the lawn. At night the scene is enticingly lit by lanterns and makes for a very pretty venue.Once you’ve ticked off sightseeing inside the old walled city and the Amber Fort; and shopped ‘til you’ve dropped in the bazaars and boutiques, Rajmahal Palace provides a whimsical oasis. We spend our days exploring in the early mornings, after breakfasting on fresh juice and stuffed parathas, and retreating to Rajmahal in the heat of the afternoon.

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The hotel has the bonus of a large, glamorous looking swimming pool surrounded by inviting sun loungers.  The designer has had fun here too with a shady terrace complete with mirrors and modern chandeliers which looks spectacular at dusk.

And a note for shopping fans: there’s a branch of the revered New Delhi based Kashmir Loom at Rajmahal so you can stock up on the best cashmere shawls without leaving the grounds.

www.sujanluxury.com

[This post was originally posted in September 2016]

Etihad - India Banners

What it’s like to Sleep in the World’s Most Luxurious Bed

 

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The bed at The Savoy’s Royal Suite

[UPDATE: Savoir Beds is opening a store at the refurbished Raffles hotel in Singapore in August 2019.]

When it comes to sleeping I’m definitely in the Princess and the Pea camp, I tend to toss and turn throughout the night rarely getting a restful 8 hours. So I was intrigued to check into the Royal Suite at The Savoy, London where an exclusive handcrafted bed has been installed promising a superlative sleep.

Befitting the vast suite (it takes up the entire river side of the fifth floor) decorated in an elegant Edwardian style, the bed itself looks straight out of a fairytale. And the ornate four poster king with draped canopy has added advantages in a handmade box spring base, mattress and topper valued around SG$150,000.

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Sitting room in The Savoy’s Royal Suite

As with all the best mattresses The Savoy’s are made with horse tail between pocket springs. The one in the Royal Suite also features a hand tufted topper made by yarn specialist Tengri from rare fur – hand combed once a year from yaks roaming the Khangai mountains of Mongolia. Their hair is softer than cashmere with exceptional temperature regulating properties so perfect for aiding sleep.

It’s the creation of prestigious British brand Savoir which has been hand making beds for the hotel for over 100 years. When Richard D’Oyly Carte opened The Savoy in 1889 he set new standards for luxury hotels in London. He couldn’t find a bed maker that met his exacting criteria so Savoir was formed to create beds for The Savoy.

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The Savoy hotel London

My first impression is that the mattress is surprisingly firm. But it also has just enough flexibility and I don’t feel any points of undue pressure – it’s just right, as Goldilocks would say. I close my eyes with the intention of a 20 minute afternoon nap and I wake up over an hour later.

The true test though comes after supper in the suite’s dining room overlooking the Thames (the view that Claude Monet painted) and impeccably served by morning coated butlers. While I still wake up several times in the night as is my wont I immediately fall back to sleep each time. Even more remarkably the back pain I’d been feeling the day before had disappeared.

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Dining Room in the Royal Suite at The Savoy

Usually (and frustratingly) I’m not able to lie in, restless to get up by 7am, but here I found the opposite. The only thing that eventually tempts me out of bed is the thought of Omelette Arnold Bennett for breakfast: made with smoked haddock, hollandaise sauce and cheese, perfected for the writer while he stayed at The Savoy in 1920s. After a call to the butler I’m tucking into this moreish dish and taking in the marvellous London view. Did I feel I’d slept in a bed fit for a king or queen? A resounding yes.

https://www.thesavoylondon.com

Savoir Beds Raffles Hotel Arcade #02-08, 328 North Bridge Road, Singapore 188719

Tel : +65 6261 2788

The Orient Express Revisited

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[UPDATE Journeys on the VSOE are now on hold until March 2021.]

Now synonymous with Agatha Christie and that infamous journey, the original Euro Night train number 469, monikered the more romantic sounding “Express d’Orient”, made its inaugural journey from Paris bound for Constantinople in October 1883. The train which Christie caught, and placed her fictional sleuth Hercule Poirot onboard, however was the Simplon Orient-Express – one of several luxury sleeper trains that cropped up as an offshoot linking the port town of Calais in northern France with Istanbul (previously Constantinople) and ran through the 1920s and 30s.

Luxury trains fell out of favour with the advent of the second world war and airplane travel. Then American businessman James B Sherwood bought a few antique carriages at auction in Monte Carlo in 1977 which seemingly sparked a quest for him to seek out more vintage carriages. After finding them variously abandoned in sidings and people’s gardens across Europe, used as pigeon transporters and in one case a brothel, they were lovingly restored to their Art Deco splendour and launched as the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in 1982.

One of the carriages bought by Sherwood at auction in Monaco was sleeping car 3425. It is the oldest of the sleeping cars on the VSOE having been built in 1926 and was marooned in a snow drift 60 miles from Istanbul for 10 days in 1929 (allegedly sparking the idea for a certain murder mystery).

And the Venice Simplon-Orient Express (a mouthful but now the official name for legal reasons) is in the spotlight once again with the release of the new Kenneth Branagh film Murder on the Orient Express starring Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfieffer and Penelope Cruz. So what’s it like to travel onboard? You’ll be greeted aboard by your be-capped and white gloved personal cabin steward who’ll take care of you for your entire trip. Firstly by showing you to your cosy cabin where your luggage will already be waiting.

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The twin cabins come with bunk beds – probably the most deluxe ones you’ve encountered with an upholstered ladder. During the day time there’s no sign of your sleeping arrangements but when you return from dinner your cabin steward will have cleverly transformed your sofa into cosy beds with crisp sheets and fine blankets. After breakfast perhaps while you’re taking a stroll the length of the train, your steward will whisk away the beds and your cabin will once again become a sitting area. In true authentic fashion, each cabin has a concealed washbasin while loos are found at the end of each carriage.

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As well as the famous sleeping cars the train is made up of three dining cars and a bar car complete with grand piano and resident pianist. Each carriage features polished wood, beautiful marquetry, plush fabrics and antique details.

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The VSOE operates on continental Europe – contrary to popular belief the it does not travel to the UK. Rather, the train is embarked or disembarked at Calais and the journey to or from London is completed through the Euro tunnel and the Belmond British Pullman train once in Britain.

While the most popular route is to and from Venice, just once a year the VSOE makes a five night journey between Paris and Istanbul. The exclusive journey follows the route of the inaugural 1883 train journey stopping in Prague, Budapest and Bucharest along the way.

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While the Venice journeys have a feel of celebration the journey to Istanbul is about adventure, says general  manager Pascal Deyrolle. The six day journey from Paris Gare de l’Est station follows in the footsteps of the original train route in 1883. As the VSOE journeys towards the edge of Europe passengers stop for overnight stays at hotels in Budapest in Hungary and Bucharest in Romania with the rest of the nights spent onboard.

After crossing the Danube from Romania into Bulgaria the train arrives in Varna, a beach resort town with a surprisingly grand station building with a wonderful Art Nouveau roof. You’ll spot the Black Sea and then smell the scent of the ocean in the air when you disembark, just as the original passengers experienced. On the early routes, passengers would disembark at Varna and cross the Black Sea by ferry before picking up another train.

Crossing the border from Bulgaria to Turkey, the train stops and all the passengers alight to have their passports stamped in person at the customs booth. Pascal admits to being worried about how passengers would react but has found that they think it’s fun and enjoy chatting to their fellow passengers on the platform as well as the passersby who gather to look at the train. “It’s a social element on the platform. It’s absolutely my favourite aspect of the trip,” says Pascal.

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VSOE

Guests are encouraged to dress up onboard so cocktails and dinner is particularly fun with everyone in Art Deco inspired frocks and Black Tie. The bar car can be a bit of a crush with guests crowding in between the two dinner sittings but a Champagne Bar has been created within one of the dining cars. Most importantly, like all the best bars it doesn’t close until the last guest has gone to bed.

https://www.belmond.com/trains/europe/venice-simplon-orient-express/

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