From bu­colic farm es­capes to pol­ished wine re­treats, Kissa Cas­tañeda ex­plores three ho­tels of­fer­ing gen­uine—and lux­u­ri­ous—farm-to-ta­ble ex­pe­ri­ences worth the jour­ney

T. Dining by Singapore Tatler - - Contents -

Farm-to-ta­ble ex­pe­ri­ences have be­come a defin­ing fea­ture of ho­tels—we short­list three charm­ing coun­try­side es­capes


ALENTEJO, POR­TU­GAL The pop­u­lar­ity of Por­tu­gal as a travel des­ti­na­tion shows no signs of slow­ing, with in­ter­na­tional ar­rivals sur­pass­ing a record­break­ing 10 mil­lion in 2015, and ex­pected to grow to 11.6 mil­lion by the end of this year. Sun­seek­ers are lured by the end­less stretches of beau­ti­ful beaches, while cre­ative types are drawn to the his­tor­i­cal ar­chi­tec­ture and buzzing de­sign scene. Ev­ery­body, how­ever, comes with an ap­petite to dis­cover the coun­try’s di­vine food and wine.

Be­yond the port wine trails in the Douro Val­ley and the stylish restau­rants housed in azulejo-clad build­ings in Porto, there’s Alentejo—a vast coun­try­side re­gion that’s a ver­i­ta­ble culi­nary des­ti­na­tion. Tell lo­cals you’re head­ing there and they’ll con­grat­u­late you for un­cov­er­ing the “real Por­tu­gal”, and then go on to share their list of must-eats.

About a two-hour drive from Lis­bon, Alentejo of­ten draws com­par­isons to Provence and Tus­cany, but the land­scape and the feel­ing is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. It’s more pas­toral than posh, and de­void of any pre­ten­tion. The re­gion’s char­ac­ter shapes São Lourenço do Barrocal, an idyl­lic farm­scape re­treat in a small vil­lage be­tween the towns of Évora and Mon­saraz. The ho­tel takes up a small slice of the es­tate’s 780 hectares, care­fully tended to by the same fam­ily for more than 200 years; it con­tin­ues to op­er­ate as a work­ing farm to this day.

São Lourenço do Barrocal suc­ceeds in re­tain­ing its coun­try­side charm with­out suc­cumb­ing to rus­tic clichés. Time is the se­cret in­gre­di­ent—the con­ver­sion took owner José An­tónio Uva more than a decade to com­plete and the re­sult is Spar­tan-luxe at its best. The pared-back de­sign high­lights the soul of the cen­turies-old struc­ture—in­clud­ing the sig­na­ture vaulted ceil­ings—but they’ve also wel­comed ad­di­tions such as a spa and a win­ery, where award-win­ning oe­nol­o­gist Su­sana Este­ban works her magic.

While you may be tempted to spend a day do­ing ab­so­lutely noth­ing at the cot­tage, there’s much to be said for ex­plor­ing the es­tate on foot, bi­cy­cle or horse­back. Af­ter you’ve worked up an ap­petite, a feast show­cas­ing the best of Alentejo awaits. Start the morn­ing with a gen­er­ous spread of home­made bread with lo­cal jams and honey, fruits from the or­chard, and a se­lec­tion of cured Por­tuguese meats and cheeses. There’s a larger menu for din­ner, where tra­di­tional recipes get a mod­ern twist. From the oven­roasted oc­to­pus served with veg­eta­bles grown on­site to the acorn fed-pig grilled with fleur de sel and served with a tra­di­tional bread stew of to­mato, you’ll cer­tainly pine for these dishes long af­ter you check out.

FOOD DIS­COV­ERY: The beau­ti­fully cu­rated farm shop stocks São Lourenço do Barrocal’s sin­gle-es­tate wine and olive oil, both of which come in ex­quis­ite pack­ag­ing ready to im­press your guests back home.


PHUKET, THAILAND Think of Phuket and lux­u­ri­ous beach re­sorts with in­dul­gent spas and well­ness pro­grammes im­me­di­ately come to mind. A well-trod­den des­ti­na­tion, Thailand’s big­gest is­land has been wel­com­ing trav­ellers from all over the world since its devel­op­ment in the 1970s. When it comes to food, guests can eas­ily find a place to sat­isfy their crav­ings, even if it’s a ni­giri sushi set, a pi­atti of can­nel­loni or a su­per­food grain bowl.

This cer­tainly holds true to­day, with many re­sorts of­fer­ing “in­ter­na­tional cuisine” along­side stan­dard Thai fare. In re­cent years, how­ever, the Phuket com­mu­nity has been ea­ger to ce­ment its culi­nary iden­tity and build on its legacy as a cul­tural cross­roads. To­gether, they’re re­dis­cov­er­ing lo­cal pro­duce and es­tab­lish­ing unique con­cepts, while also at­tract­ing the nec­es­sary tal­ent to trans­form in­gre­di­ents into mod­ern-day plates.

Nes­tled on the north­west­ern shore of the is­land, Trisara is one the stal­warts of lux­ury tourism in Phuket. Set in a se­cluded cove, the award-win­ning ho­tel is renowned for its serene ex­panse of beach, stylish suites with a sense of place and spa of­fer­ings, in­clud­ing the pi­o­neer­ing six-hands mas­sage. While the vil­las are fresh off a ren­o­va­tion, the big­gest trans­for­ma­tion has been to its culi­nary pro­gramme, which now es­pouses a farm-totable phi­los­o­phy.

At the ho­tel restau­rant Pru, guests can look for­ward to a ter­roir-driven din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence fea­tur­ing the riches of the An­daman re­gion, in­cor­po­rat­ing pro­duce sourced from the Royal Project, Thailand’s or­ganic farm­ing ini­tia­tive. This is an­chored by Pru Jampa— Trisara’s farm, a mere 20-minute drive from the prop­erty—which in­spires the restau­rant, both in name and in phi­los­o­phy. In­deed, Pru is an acro­nym for “plant, raise, and un­der­stand”. The farm re­mains a work in progress, as the team is still ex­per­i­ment­ing with plants that thrive best and is study­ing how to fur­ther de­velop var­i­ous ar­eas. It is, none­the­less, the soul of the restau­rant and an in­creas­ingly in­te­gral part of the re­sort.

This all trans­lates on the plate with the work of pro­gres­sive Dutch chef Jimmy Ophorst, who pas­sion­ately pur­sues lo­ca­vorism in Phuket. He also has a fas­ci­na­tion for “waste in­gre­di­ents”—es­sen­tially, hith­erto over­looked parts or un­pop­u­lar in­gre­di­ents, which he el­e­vates. This is most ev­i­dent in the vegetable cour­ses, such as the dish of cau­li­flower stem cooked in brown but­ter and served with bone mar­row cream, for­aged mush­rooms and sar­dine pow­der, as well a sub­lime car­rot dish (pic­tured right), cooked in the soil the veg­eta­bles came from, then served with fer­mented car­rot juice and cured egg yolk from the farm. “If it grows to­gether, it goes to­gether,” Ophorst ex­plains of the idea be­hind many of his cre­ations.

With chefs and restau­rants of this cal­i­bre grow­ing in in­flu­ence on the is­land, it’s clear that Phuket isn’t con­tent to play sec­ond fid­dle to Bangkok any­more, and is on the cusp of rein­vent­ing it­self as a gen­uine food des­ti­na­tion.

FOOD DIS­COV­ERY: Aside from Pru, Trisara also has a seafood restau­rant where “mama recipes” are aug­mented in terms of pre­ci­sion and pre­sen­ta­tion while re­tain­ing their au­then­tic char­ac­ter.; prurestau­


CAPE WINELANDS, SOUTH AFRICA While gen­eral knowl­edge dic­tates that you can’t please ev­ery­one, Cape Town—voted the World’s Best City for the past two con­sec­u­tive years at the Tele­graph Travel Awards—man­ages to do just that. Na­ture lovers can go hik­ing or surf­ing, his­tory buffs can pay a visit to Robben Is­land and the cul­ture cognoscenti can ex­plore the newly opened Zeitz Mu­seum of Contemporary Art Africa. And for food lovers? There’s plenty to fill your itinerary, from pe­rus­ing the city’s grow­ing ar­ti­sanal gin scene to din­ing at The Test Kitchen and La Colombe, the only South African restau­rants to crack the top 100 on the World’s 50 Best Restau­rants list.

The city has long been on the map for wine en­thu­si­asts, largely be­cause of the Cape Winelands. With vine­yards span­ning nearly 100,000 acres, the Western Cape pro­duces some of the world’s most unique bot­tles— in­clud­ing pino­tage, a va­ri­etal unique to South Africa—at in­cred­i­ble value. One of the most charm­ing des­ti­na­tions is Fran­schhoek, a small town sur­rounded by dra­matic moun­tain ranges, lush cen­turies-old vines and al­lur­ing Cape Dutch ar­chi­tec­ture. The name means “French cor­ner”, re­fer­ring to the area’s past as a set­tle­ment for Huguenots, and to this day chan­nels a dis­tinctly French am­bi­ence.

With 52 wine farms and 48 restau­rants serv­ing a pop­u­la­tion of 25,000 in the greater val­ley, Fran­schhoek is in­deed a gour­mand’s par­adise. Lead­ing the charge is Leeu Es­tates, a stun­ning lux­ury ho­tel and win­ery set on a sprawl­ing prop­erty. The 17-room ho­tel makes the most of the oth­er­worldly sur­rounds by keep­ing a ver­dant theme through­out. There’s an herb- and vegetable-pick­ing gar­den— where the ho­tel’s restau­rant sources its daily pro­duce—as well as the serene “bokkie” gar­den that’s per­fect for strolls; both were

cre­ated by es­teemed gar­den de­signer Franch­esca Wat­son.

Un­like other win­ery ho­tels, Leeu Es­tates is more so­phis­ti­cated than rus­tic, but it re­tains the gen­uine warmth that you’d find at fam­ily-run wine farms. A per­sonal pas­sion project of founder Analjit Singh, its pol­ished, un­der­stated de­sign speaks of his de­sire to put the cap­ti­vat­ing scenery and wealth of culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ences front and cen­tre. The neu­tral-hued in­te­ri­ors also form an ideal foil for his bold col­lec­tion of art, pep­pered through­out the prop­erty, in­clud­ing mes­meris­ing out­door sculp­tures.

Hands down, the high­light of stay­ing at Leeu Es­tates is the di­rect ac­cess to Mullineux & Leeu Fam­ily Wines. A joint ven­ture be­tween Singh and wine­mak­ing duo Chris and An­drea Mullineux, wines by the award-win­ning la­bel have achieved top rat­ings from the re­spected Plat­ter’s South African Wine Guide and was named Win­ery of the Year twice, while An­drea was voted Wine­maker of the Year in 2016 by Us-based mag­a­zine Wine En­thu­si­ast. The ca­pa­ble staff at the wine stu­dio elo­quently share the beauty of their hand­crafted wine, but should you want to learn more at your own pace, you’ll be able to sam­ple it in any es­tab­lish­ment that’s part of the Leeu Col­lec­tion fam­ily. FOOD DIS­COV­ERY: Culi­nary ex­cel­lence is at the heart of Leeu Col­lec­tion, and their sister restau­rants in town merit a visit. There’s the ca­sual craft beer mi­cro­brew­ery Tuk Tuk, a ven­ture in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Cape Brew­ing Com­pany team, and the ex­quis­ite Indian restau­rant Marigold, which marks a first in Fran­schhoek. leeu­col­lec­ leeu-es­tates


The ex­pan­sive es­tate is thriv­ing with an­cient holm oaks, olive groves and vine­yards; there’s also a vegetable gar­den and an or­chard. To this day, it con­tin­ues to op­er­ate as a work­ing farm


The Sig­na­ture Villa (op­po­site) fea­tures el­e­gant, ra­di­ant in­te­ri­ors post-ren­o­va­tion. The ho­tel also es­tab­lished a farm, Pru Jampa, which will of­fer pic­nics, cooking classes and more ac­tiv­i­ties in 2018


Ex­plore the man­i­cured Four Quar­ter vine­yards, thriv­ing with sauvi­gnon blanc plants—a project headed by renowned viti­cul­tur­ist Rosa Kruger and es­tate man­ager Wes­ley du Plessis

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