THE WHOLE­SOME TA­BLE

Ded­i­cated to the prove­nance of their in­gre­di­ents and with a com­mit­ment to sus­tain­abil­ity, the art of eat­ing well is re­de­fined at these ho­tels

T.Dining by Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

The art of eat­ing well is de­fined at these ho­tels

SIX SENSES DOURO VAL­LEY

POR­TU­GAL

A few min­utes into our drive across the Douro Val­ley, we couldn’t re­sist rolling down the win­dows to take in the fresh breeze at this serene slice of north­ern Por­tu­gal. Hugged by the Douro River on one side and rolling ter­raced vine­yards on the other, the wind­ing road served as a red­car­pet wel­come to the old­est de­mar­cated wine re­gion in the world.

Por­tu­gal has seen a mas­sive tourism boom in re­cent years, so much so that crum­bling build­ings in both Lis­bon and Porto have been trans­formed into trendy ho­tels and restau­rants. While the Douro Val­ley is pop­u­lar—es­pe­cially for keen oenophiles—it has man­aged to re­tain a se­date char­ac­ter. Built struc­tures are few and far be­tween, a tri­umph of reg­u­la­tion that re­spect the area’s sta­tus as a UN­ESCO World Her­itage Site.

How­ever, even the staunch­est of purists would de­light in the 19th-cen­tury manor that now houses the Six Senses, which opened its doors in 2015. Perched on a hill, each of the 41 guest rooms, nine suites and seven vil­las make the most of their priv­i­leged po­si­tion, with strate­gi­cally placed win­dows that lov­ingly frame the sur­round­ing majesty. This is more than your av­er­age panoramic view—the be­guil­ing vine­yards and the rich bio­di­ver­sity of the Douro, which has 3,500 dif­fer­ent botan­i­cal species, in­form much of the ho­tel’s di­rec­tion.

As one might ex­pect, we be­gan at the wine li­brary, where we found bot­tles of all sorts—rare wines be­hind glass doors, bio­dy­namic picks lined up on an Eno­matic dis­penser and empty bot­tles clev­erly up­cy­cled as light­ing fix­tures. The som­me­lier gave us an over­view of Por­tuguese wines, high­light­ing the best of the coun­try’s 335 grape va­ri­etals, in­clud­ing the Touriga Franca, a no­ble grape from the Douro. Port is the star, but the ses­sion pro­vided a taste of the re­gion’s lesser-ex­plored whites and reds. Es­pe­cially mem­o­rable was the 10-year tawny port Fernão de Ma­gal­hães, ded­i­cated to Por­tuguese ex­plorer Fer­di­nand Mag­el­lan, who grew up in the Douro re­gion. The evening was pep­pered with such tid­bits of his­tory—a win­dow to the coun­try’s past as a naval power and a re­minder of its deep wine­mak­ing prow­ess and how we are only start­ing to savour it.

In Por­tu­gal, one can­not drink with­out food, and those with large appetites could the­o­ret­i­cally eat their way through the coun­try at Vale de Abraão, which serves re­gional dishes. In fact, din­ing is se­ri­ous busi­ness at the Six Senses and the main restau­rant is only one of seven places to en­joy a bite. Blessed with balmy spring weather, we had most of our meals at the lovely stone-paved ter­race; it was the prime spot to take in the mul­ti­coloured sun­sets while sip­ping one of the 700 wines on of­fer.

In keep­ing with the brand’s fo­cus on well-be­ing and sus­tain­abil­ity, large swathes of the Six Senses es­tate are de­voted to plants—a four-hectare wood­land is set aside for old-growth trees, while a work­ing or­ganic gar­den of vegeta­bles and herbs is lo­cated nearby the glis­ten­ing swim­ming pool. The lat­ter is the epit­ome of rus­tic chic, with or­derly plots teem­ing with chives and leeks, punc­tu­ated with a long wooden ta­ble sit­ting un­derneath a green canopy. Chef Luis Bor­lido and his team har­vest here daily, en­sur­ing a real farm-to-fork ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery guest.

Per­haps the most tan­gi­ble way to ex­pe­ri­ence their com­mit­ment to serv­ing lo­cal is at Ter­roir by Chef Ljubomir

Stanisic. This year-old ini­tia­tive fea­tures a well-thought-out menu, with sim­ple yet stun­ning dishes such as or­ganic gar­den toma­toes and a green, red and yel­low pep­per purée, made with pro­duce from the in-house gar­den. Not only does it of­fer a dis­tinct taste of the Douro, but it’s also an in­ge­nious bal­ance of well­ness and in­dul­gence—some­thing that’s usu­ally an oxy­moron, ex­cept for here.

LAKE HOUSE

DAYLES­FORD, AUS­TRALIA

A thick cloud of mist hung over the lake, a mes­meris­ing sight framed by an ar­ray of ma­ture trees on the fore­ground. The miz­zling rain added a ro­man­tic flour­ish to a set­ting that looked straight out of a post­card, but as we were soon to dis­cover, Lake House is a pic­ture of cosy per­fec­tion come rain or shine.

The gloomy weather made for a good ex­cuse to in­dulge in the art of do­ing noth­ing, and the Wolf-Tasker fam­ily, who own and run the Lake House, cer­tainly knew how to cre­ate a back­drop ripe for slow­ing down. Ar­riv­ing at The Re­treat, the ho­tel’s most lux­u­ri­ous pri­vate ac­com­mo­da­tion, the stan­dard bowl of pol­ished fruit and generic wel­come bub­bly were no­tice­ably ab­sent. In their place were hand-picked fruit, a bas­ket of freshly-baked sour­dough, and an en­tire fridge stocked with fresh juice and Aus­tralian wines. The el­e­gant in­te­ri­ors, dec­o­rated with paint­ings of pa­tri­arch and artist Al­lan Wolf-Tasker, cre­ate an ap­peal­ing lived-in qual­ity that en­cour­age you to curl up with a book in your py­ja­mas. That was pre­cisely what was on our agenda given that ev­ery­thing we needed to stay in and feel at home was in place.

A work in progress, as the own­ers hus­band-and-wife Alla and Al­lan de­scribe it, the Lake House, feels more like an el­e­gant coun­try home than a ho­tel, tes­ta­ment to the warmth of the fam­ily who built this charm­ing prop­erty in stages. It wouldn’t be hy­per­bole to say that they put Dayles­ford, a spa town just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, on the culi­nary trav­eller’s map. When they ar­rived in the Eight­ies, it was far from the gour­mand’s paradise it is to­day—a jour­ney that Alla de­tails in her lat­est tome, Three Decades On: Lake House and Dayles­ford.

The trans­for­ma­tion has a lot to do with Alla her­self, a be­spec­ta­cled, larger-than-life char­ac­ter and cel­e­brated Aus­tralian chef who pi­o­neered a pivot to re­gional din­ing and who is a strong ad­vo­cate for sus­tain­able farm­ing in the re­gion.

The restau­rant has been the long­est fea­ture of the Lake House, a prop­erty part of the Lux­ury Lodges of Aus­tralia port­fo­lio, re­mains its beat­ing heart. It con­tin­ues Alla’s vi­sion of cham­pi­oning lo­cal and sea­sonal cui­sine, some­thing that seems de rigeur to­day but was ex­tra­or­di­nary when she be­gan cook­ing over 30 years ago. Larissa Wolf-Tasker, daugh­ter of the pro­pri­etors, talked to us about the re­cent mush­room har­vest and what else we might ex­pect for din­ner that evening. From a ca­sual dis­cus­sion on the menu, the con­ver­sa­tion drifted to our per­sonal trav­els and mu­tual love for dogs. Pleas­ant, gen­uine en­coun­ters such as this were a con­stant over the course of our stay, an­other re­minder of per­sonal touches that set Lake House apart.

Con­trary to the room’s homely flavour, the multi-awarded restau­rant prof­fers a more so­phis­ti­cated am­bi­ence. The guid­ing ethos of sea­son­al­ity and the use of lo­cal pro­duce was ev­i­dent in ev­ery dish, which also in­cluded a sprin­kling of in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ences. The win­ter tast­ing menu be­gan with a Kan­ga­roo flaxseed sand­wich with Trewhella farm moun­tain pep­per and pro­gressed to the much-awaited dish of For­est Mush­rooms, a med­ley of earth­i­ness that beau­ti­fully en­cap­su­lated the sea­son. An­other high­light was the fork-ten­der bal­lo­tine of Milk­ing Yard Farm chicken, which was ac­com­pa­nied by win­ter salsa verde, black bar­ley and jus gras. Com­fort­ing, fa­mil­iar and thor­oughly el­e­vated—it pretty much sums up Lake House on a plate.

ANAN­TARA PEACE HAVEN TANGALLE RE­SORT

SRI LANKA

Like a shadow out of the past, Ranji the fish­er­man rounded the bend of the stream in his small, wooden cata­ma­ran—its blue tim­ber frame faded and cracked from count­less days in the sun and In­dian Ocean. With slow, me­thod­i­cal strokes, he dipped his oar in and out of the sun-dap­pled wa­ter, com­ing even­tu­ally to a gen­tle glid­ing stop by the edge of the stream where we waited.

He stood, el­e­gantly dap­per in a white tee-shirt and blue sarong, and clasped his hands in the tra­di­tional Sri Lankan greet­ing. “Ayubowan.” Our chef clam­bered down the dirt slope to in­spect the flat wo­ven straw bas­ket sit­ting on the bow. Filled with the day’s catch, sun­light glinted off the scales of mul­let and sar­dines, while gleam­ing cala­mari slipped be­neath a baby yel­low fin tuna and sil­very mack­erel.

“What would you like for lunch?” the chef asked. Later, we would re­flect that in a world so in­tent on rush­ing head­long into to­mor­row, there was some­thing to be said for a mo­ment when one is forced to pause and se­ri­ously con­sider such a quo­tid­ian ques­tion. What would you like for lunch?

The great­est sur­prise was that we weren’t mar­veling at our good for­tune in some re­mote Sri Lankan fish­ing vil­lage. In­stead, the set­ting was the Anan­tara Peace Haven, a green-clad 152-room five-star re­sort that’s framed by the wild surfed coast­line of Tangalle, a three-and-a-half hour drive south of the cap­i­tal, Colombo.

Here, on the south-west cor­ner of the prop­erty, framed by a bi­jou stream lined with man­grove trees, is a sliver of ed­i­ble Eden where a checker­board of red rice pad­dies is out­lined by a small or­ganic gar­den that fairly

bris­tles with okra, brin­jal, cas­sava, bot­tle­gourds, chill­ies, drag­on­fruits and ba­nanas.

The gar­den sup­plies around a quar­ter of the re­sort’s in­gre­di­ents, but for a lit­eral farm-totable ex­pe­ri­ence, guests can book a be­spoke, sea­sonal lunch in the ad­ja­cent two-storey tree­house din­ing room built of cin­na­mon tim­ber. A few steps away is a co­conut leafthatched kitchen made of straw, clay and packed earth. In­side, a small army of whites­mocked chefs bus­ied them­selves pre­par­ing the Har­vest Ta­ble, the Anan­tara’s an­swer to an es­capist lunch con­ceived of pro­duce pulled straight from the earth an hour ear­lier.

And if the set­ting was rus­tic, the pre­sen­ta­tion and prepa­ra­tion of each dish was de­cid­edly city-slick—sliv­ers of beet­root paired with baby corn and a buf­falo curd and mus­tard dress­ing; grilled aubergine and shards of snake gourd draped in a co­rian­der-lime vi­nai­grette; per­fectly grilled fish; an ochre-hued pump­kin curry and red rice pi­laf; and, to fin­ish, a rolled pan­cake stuffed with cara­malised co­conut and mango driz­zled with am­ber jag­gery syrup.

It was, hands-down, the most mem­o­rable meal of the year. The cause was aided by, we de­cided, a cer­tain bu­colic thrill about watch­ing the world go by—specif­i­cally, of blue­feath­ered ducks wad­dling through rice fields, and spot­ted doves coo­ing in the branches— all while sip­ping 2017 Yalumba or­ganic chardon­nay.

Ross Sanders, the Anan­tara’s gen­eral man­ager, is justly proud of the Har­vest Ta­ble, an ex­pe­ri­ence that could so eas­ily slip into kitsch were it not for the gen­uine work­ing farm, along­side the com­mit­ment to good food in a sus­tain­able, eco-friendly set­ting. “It’s is about cook­ing the fresh­est or­ganic pro­duce in the heart of the re­sort’s farm­land,” he says sim­ply. “And that’s what it’s all about— dis­cov­er­ing that hy­per­local spirit of peo­ple, tra­di­tions, cui­sine and place that can­not be repli­cated else­where.” We’re sold.

PRETTY IN POR­TU­GAL The Six Senses Douro Val­ley is a feast for the eyes, from the azulejo-clad walls to the con­tem­po­rary de­tail­ing through­out the ho­tel

MIST OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES The idyl­lic sur­round­ings of the Lake House in Dayles­ford is a gour­mand’s paradise

ED­I­BLE EDEN Or­ganic pro­duce is grown on the grounds of Anan­tara Peace Haven Tangalle Re­sort, where guests en­joy a lit­eral farm-totable ex­pe­ri­ence

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