© Joe Termini
The Surf Lodge, Montauk.
© Joe Termini
© Laurie Fletcher
Chef-hotelier Fergus Henderson
Legendary nose-to-tail genius Fergus Henderson of London’s St. John and St. John Bread and Wine quietly snuck into town last week with his wife, Margot (also a chef and the owner of the fabulous London café Rochelle Canteen. In between cooking lunch at Barbuto with Jonathan Waxman and helping Margot prepare a dinner at the Artist Space on Saturday night, Fergus and his partner Trevor Gulliver sat down with me at the Breslin to share details about their newest project, the St. John Hotel, which will open this September in London’s still-seedy Chinatown neighborhood. Here, a few teasers:
1. Even though there are only 15 rooms, Fergus assures there will be nothing boutiquey about the hotel. “It will be a not-too-shiny inn,” he says, “because really, we don’t do shiny. No piles of cushions or throws on the beds. Nothing too fancy. I’m calling it a miniature, grand urban hut.”
2. The hotel’s 70-cover restaurant will give Fergus his first real chance to experiment with breakfast. “I’m thinking deviled kidneys, blood sausage and cheeky buttery buns,” he says.
3. The restaurant will serve a very special afternoon tea and “elevenses” (the Brits’ midday snack). “I think everyone can use a glass of Madeira and a sweet cake at 11 a.m.” says Fergus.
4. He says that the ceiling of the bar will look like the belly of a blue whale. The bar will be open and serving food until 2 a.m. and will have a great mix of French wines, craft beers from Meantime Brewing and a nice selection of eaux-de-vie and digestifs.
I recently had a chance to check out Boston's superhip new Ames hotel. Though the hotel is located in the historic Ames farm-tool-company building, its interior is far from New England colonial kitsch. David Rockwell and the Morgans Hotel Group collaborated on the chic, smart design. In the lobby, there's the dramatic "Mirror Cloud" installation--a fragmented sculpture designed by artists Sophie Nielsen and Rolf Knudsen of London's Studio Roso; in the hotel's restaurant, Woodward, there's the Victorian-inspired "Cabinet of Curiosities" filled with bizarre sculptures. Chef Mark Goldberg's tavern-style farm-to-table menu has already earned Woodward a loyal local following. The perfect late-night pairing: His duck-confit flatbread topped with goat cheese and dried cranberries with a pint of crisp, cumin-and-cardamom-laced Woodward Ale, brewed exclusively for the restaurant by New Hampshire's Smuttynose brewery. The awesome hash selection on the breakfast menu--lobster-and-leek or mushroom-and-truffle--paired with eggs and a cup of La Colombe Coffee, may be the best breakfast secret in downtown Boston.
© Jen Murphy
Butcher-chic design at J.E.M. in Boston's South End.
I was in Boston for the weekend and while bakery hopping through the South End I stumbled upon a fantastic new design shop called J.E.M. The store has a very John Derian-esque feel to it with cool pieces like organic ceramic pots from Susan Raber Bray, and apothecary bottles and bar carts made from reclaimed steel. It felt like a quirkily curated curiosity shop-cum-museum.
J.E.M. has also started hosting in-store salons with artists and designers. South End artist Isabelle Abramson, who sells her gorgeous, delicate, doily-patterned porcelain bowls there, will be in-shop this Thursday.
The store also doubles as a showroom for owner/designer Jane Miller who is responsible for the awesome furnishings made from repurposed wood and metal. In addition to enormous chunky dining and coffee tables, there are clever pieces like a terrarium that Miller crafted from a broken table. My favorite piece was an enormous sign (pictured) salvaged from Faneuil Hall Marketplace that embraces Boston’s current butcher and beast obsession. Apparently it’s been confusing some South End shoppers. “We had an elderly couple come in and try to order lamb chops the other day,” the girl behind the counter told me. I can’t help but think a design-butcher shop would probably be a great new trend.
© The Butcher Shop
The Butcher Shop chef de cuisine Robert Grant.
Boston chef Barbara Lynch has paired the current butcher obsession with the growing CSA trend and is now running a very cool new meat CSA from her awesome South End restaurant, the Butcher Shop. CSA members can buy a pig or even a share of a flock of lambs. The first weekend of each month, Lynch's talented butchers break down an animal, say a 90-pound pig or a lamb from Vermont Family Farms, during a butchering demo, and participants go home with various cuts. Terrines, sausages, racks of lamb and ready-to-cook cuts are packaged and available for pick up by members the next two weekends of each month. Prices change month the month, but full shares cost around $190; half shares are around $95.
© Red Lion
Aer at the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai.
Thursday is the night to go out in Mumbai and I had India’s top fashion photographer, Farrokh Chothia (he shot the striking photos hanging in Vermillion restaurant, escorting me past the ropes of the city’s newest bars.
Farrokh met me at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, which will be reopened in its entirety this July, once the tower wings have been restored (they suffered damage in the 2008 terrorist attacks). The hotel’s legendary Harbour Bar (it became Mumbai’s first licensed bar when it opened in 1933) just reopened at the end of March with a great list of Prohibition-era cocktails that are theatrically mixed and poured, plus there's also an extensive selection of single malts and whiskeys.
After watching a night polo gam at Mahalaxmi raccourse, we checked out Tote on the Turf next door. Malini and Rahul Akerkar, the couple behind Indigo, opened this enormous new restaurant and bar last September. Up-and-coming architect Kapil Gupta is responsible for the space, which has 40-foot vaulted ceilings designed to look like tree branches. Its lineup of DJs and a smart drink list that includes the signature Tote Mary (a Bloody Mary with balsamic vinegar and crushed cucumbers) has made midtown suddenly cool.
For the best view of the city, we went to Aer, the posh new bar on the roof of the Four Seasons Hotel. Elsie Nanji is responsible for the futuristic design and great accents like Ross Lovegrove’s Love bench as well as chairs and stools from Driade’s Tokyo-Pop series.
After three supertrendy spots full of beautiful people, I was ready for something more laid-back. Farrokh took me to Blue Frog, an awesome live-music venue in an old warehouse in Lower Parel that’s been brilliantly redesigned. We ended our night there, rocking out to a Pearl Jam tribute band with some of Farrok's friends from Vogue India.
Spice Studios at the new Alila Diwa, Goa.
It’s been nearly five years since Goa, India’s dreamy, beachy west-coast state, has seen a new boutique hotel. Then, last December, Alila Diwa, a superluxe 114-room property in South Goa, opened its doors. When I’m in beach paradise, I’m hesitant to stay anywhere more than a few steps from the sand, but Alila Diwa’s location, overlooking a working rice paddy, was equally relaxing (Majorda Beach is just a quick bike or shuttle ride away). An infinity pool stretches out over the paddies, and I watched workers harvesting rice that I’d later eat at the hotel’s restaurant. For years, Martin’s Corner was the only option for an excellent authentic Goan meal in the area (its famous Goan sausage bread and sorpotel, a vinegary meat stew, draws India’s Bollywood celebs and cricket stars). But Alila Diwa, just down the road, is serving equally delicious Goan specialties in a gorgeous open kitchen. It also has a fantastic new cooking school called Spice Studios. Guests can accompany the chef on a 6:30 a.m. run to the fish market, then spend the morning in the kitchen learning to use a tandoor and preparing Goa’s signature fish curry.
© Taj Hotels
Varq's haute take on jalebis.
For our May travel issue, we polled chefs, sommeliers and food writers around the globe to come up with the 100 best new food and drink experiences on the planet. Varq restaurant in New Delhi made the cut, and it ended up being my most revelatory meal in India.
Chef Hemant Oberoi, the Taj hotel group's corporate chef and the visionary behind Varq, and his right-hand man at Varq, executive chef Ankit Sharma, have taken India's street foods and traditional regional dishes and modernized them by applying new techniques and introducing new ingredients, like scallops and foie gras--then serving those dishes on Thomas Keller–designed Limoges china in a very glamorous dining room.
Ganderi kebab, minced chicken marinated with spices, gets deep-fried on a sugarcane stick so that it looks like a corn dog and served in a shot glass with amchur chutney in the bottom. Atta raan, perhaps the most theatrical dish on the menu, is a supertender leg of lamb that has been marinated in mace, cardamom and red chile and baked in a saffron-dough shell. I adored his refined take on the street snacks that I'd been dubiously eating the past week. I'd become addicted to jalebi, a sticky, sugar-high-inducing sweet that looks like a mini funnel cake and has the electric orange color of Cheetos. On the street they are fried in enormous cast-iron pans, fished out of sizzling pools of oil and eaten piping hot. At Varq, they are perfectly shaped spirals of warm, crunchy dough, more yellow than orange (the result of less-sugary syrup), decorated with silver leaf and lined up side by side with a pistachio yogurt for dipping.
When I later met up with Oberoi, I asked him why I can't find that kind of Indian restaurant in New York City. He let me in on a little secret: He's planning a stand-alone Varq in NYC for the near future.
© Taj Hotels.
Nadesar Palace, Varanasi.
I became fascinated with Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the planet and one of the world’s top pilgrimage sites, after reading Geoff Dwyer’s slightly mad book Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. The city, off the River Ganges, is a chaos of cars, rickshaws, motorbikes, cattle and people bathing on the ghats, while just up the river, a burning body is being sent to rest in the same waters. It was the third stop on the Maharajas Express Celestial India itinerary and after a sunrise boat ride along the ghats, a rickshaw ride through the markets and a shopping binge on the city’s famed Banarasi silk saris, I was desperately ready for an escape from the city’s bedlam.
I found it at the new Nadesar Palace, set on 40 acres of mango orchards and jasmine fields. Originally built by the East India Company to house its officers, then turned into the Maharaja’s palace, it is now a 10-room Taj Hotel with marble bathrooms, four-poster beds draped with Schiaparelli pink netting and original art from the Maharaja’s collections. I spent the afternoon with chef Sanjeev Chopra, who took me on a horse-drawn carriage ride past his organic garden before taking me into the kitchen. Chopra has created a fascinating menu totally focused on local cuisine: He spent months visiting the villages, lanes, elite houses and royal kitchen of Varanasi to learn the ancient royal cooking techniques and find lost recipes. He then asked housewives, royal cooks and maharajs from Dharamshals to visit the Nadesar kitchen to cook and train his team. I ate my way across castes, sampling matar ki puri (green peas stuffed in a deep-fried wheat pancake) from the royal kitchen and the ubiquitous street sweet gulab jamun, cottage cheese dumplings soaked in sugary syrup. It was one of the most satisfying, and definitely the most enlightening, meal of my trip.
© Maharajas Express
India's most luxe train, the Maharajas Express.
I spent the last three weeks eating my way across India. This week, I’ll be posting updates on my most exciting experiences. I kicked off my trip on what is being touted as India’s most luxurious train, the Maharajas Express. The 82-passenger train has four-, six- and seven-night itineraries; I was aboard the inaugural Celestial India journey from Calcutta to Delhi. How luxe could a train possibly be? I had my own butler and private room with Wi-Fi, a flat-screen TV and a bathtub. I even had enough room to do yoga (though yoga on a moving train proved quite a challenge). At night, passengers shared their day’s adventures over Indian wines, excellent mojitos and great Indian chaat in the bar car before moving on to dinner in one of the two glamorous dining cars with white linen tablecloths and custom gold flatware and plates. Each night, the chef created a different three-course menu, offering both Continental dishes (foie gras and mushroom ravioli) and regional Indian ones (laal gosht, a classic, spicy Rajasthani lamb preparation with Kashmiri chiles).
The itinerary: stops at iconic sites, like the Taj Mahal in Agra, and off-the-beaten-path spots, like the forts of Gwalior and small villages around Khajuraho. True luxury, at least for me, is getting an insider's perspective on the ground. The Maharajas team created fantastic, immersive adventures in each city, such as the visit to the Bodhi Tree at sunset, as well as, upon my request, a street-food tour with a local through Varanasi’s alleys, so I could taste a just-made lassi and kachori (a fried ball stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas).
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