Itin­er­ary

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 Singapore Tatler - - Content -

Ded­i­cated to the prove­nance of in­gre­di­ents and sus­tain­abil­ity, these re­sorts of­fer ex­pe­ri­ences that reimag­ine what it means to eat well

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 red-car­pet 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 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 well­be­ing and sus­tain­abil­ity, large swathes of the

Six Senses es­tate are de­voted to plants—a four-hectare wood­land is set aside for old­growth 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 dis­cover 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 a serv­ing of or­ganic gar­den toma­toes with 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

AUS­TRALIA

A thick cloud of mist hung over the lake, a mes­meris­ing sight framed by an ar­ray of ma­ture trees in the fore­ground. The miz­zling rain added a ro­man­tic flour­ish to a set­ting that looked straight out of a post­card and their web­site, 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 know 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 or­ganic juice and Aus­tralian wines. The el­e­gant in­te­ri­ors, dec­o­rated with paint­ings of the pa­tri­arch and artist Al­lan Wolf-tasker, cre­ate an ap­peal­ing lived-in qual­ity that en­cour­ages 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 ’80s, 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 served as a pow­er­ful ad­vo­cate for sus­tain­able farm­ing.

The restau­rant has been the longest­stand­ing facet of the Lake House, a prop­erty part of the Lux­ury Lodges of Aus­tralia port­fo­lio, and re­mains its beat­ing heart. It con­tin­ues Alla’s vi­sion of cham­pi­oning lo­cal and sea­sonal cui­sine, some­thing that may seem de rigeur to­day, but was ex­tra­or­di­nary when she be­gan cook­ing more than 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 our mu­tual love for dogs. Pleas­ant, gen­uine en­coun­ters such as this were a con­stant over the course of our stay, an­other re­minder of the 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 were 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 muchawaited 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 the 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 T-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 yel­lowfin 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 mar­vel­ling 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 south­west cor­ner of the prop­erty, framed by a bi­jou stream lined with man­grove trees, is a sliver of ed­i­ble Eden where a che­quer­board of red rice pad­dies is out­lined by a small or­ganic gar­den that bris­tles with okra, brin­jal, cas­sava, bot­tle gourds, chill­ies, dragon fruit and ba­nanas.

This 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 leaf-

thatched kitchen made of straw, clay and packed earth. In­side, a small army of whites­mocked chefs busy them­selves pre­par­ing the Har­vest Ta­ble, 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 egg­plant 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 caramelised co­conut and mango driz­zled with am­ber jag­gery syrup.

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

Ross San­ders, 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 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.

DON’T MISS: A leisurely sun­set cruise down the Douro River, best en­joyed with a flight of port wines. The ho­tel can also ar­range an in-depth wine tast­ing at the re­gion’s best quin­tas. Most no­table is Quinta Vale De Maria, a bou­tique fam­ily win­ery helmed by Cris­tiano van Zeller, who is part of the revered col­lec­tive of wine­mak­ers nick­named the “Douro Boys”.

DON’T MISS: The serene set­ting of Lake House is ideal for il dolce far niente, but there’s plenty to dis­cover in­side and beyond the prop­erty. Bring the com­pli­men­tary wa­ter bot­tle along should you de­cide to walk or cy­cle around the vicin­ity; you’ll need it to try the highly min­er­alised wa­ters of Dayles­ford. Af­ter a bit of ac­tiv­ity, a treat­ment at Salus Spa is just what you de­serve.

DON’T MISS: Track down Eddy, Anantara’s nat­u­ral­ist and hor­ti­cul­tur­ist for a na­ture walk through the grounds, in­clud­ing the sea tur­tle con­ser­va­tion project. The range of flora and fauna, some of them en­dan­gered, is be­wil­der­ing, rang­ing from the ex­tremely rare Oc­to­pus Bush (there are less than eight recorded bushes in Sri Lanka and one is at Anantara) to the Brah­miny kite, the crested por­cu­pine and the black-headed ori­ole.

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