Travel feature, Milan

Fondazione Prada - Bar Luce 3

Milan, though boasting a hefty reputation as a bastion of art and design in Europe, is often overlooked as a destination for a weekend break. The city is often claimed to be gritty and unpolished; but while Milan has a more industrial feel than some other Italian cities – which in itself is no bad thing – it proudly stands as the one of the most culturally fascinating cities in the azure isle.

Milan is a city of aesthetes. From the worlds of fashion (it’s a bonafide sartorial hub); design, in which it is an international pioneer, particularly for furniture; and art, where the city showcases a new generation of artists as well as revering the Italian masters such as Caravaggio and Verdi and global names displayed in the many excellent art galleries dotted around the city; Milan is a powerhouse when it comes to the art of making things look good.

Where to sleep

Senato Hotel Milano is a boutique hotel that has been making waves in the design world, being shortlisted for a Wallpaper* Best Urban Hotels award. Milan-based architect, Alessandro Bianchi, has overseen the whole hotel – from the structure to the furnishings – and created a bold but refined interior. Largely set in monochrome, offset with the use of warmer tones provided by brass, velvet and wood, the former five-story neo-classical private residence is the definition of chic – the ideal spot from which to explore Milan’s unparalleled style scenes.

The quiet garden, where guests can take breakfast, is typical of Milan’s hidden palazzos; while the unusual black marble square shallowly covered with water – a reference to the Naviglio Grande canal which once flowed through this stretch of the city before being confined to the south side of the city centre, which is home to tucked away artist studios.

A perfect bolthole for a city break, the rooms are pleasingly minimal, with crisp white sheets and walls contrasted against gold accents like the gingko biloba leaf lamp and thoughtfully-chosen furniture pieces in deep emerald.

What to see

From Senato Hotel, perched on the edge of the trendy Brera district, it’s a cinch to see some of the best cultural sites Milan offers. Your first stop should be the famous Triennale di Milano, a leisurely walk across town and into the picturesque Parco Sempione, adjacent to the 15th century Sforza Castle. The museum puts the spotlight on Italian and world design, such as the current pop-inspired exhibition studying design for children, running until February 2018, which features giant, cartoon sculptures that put adults back into the shoes of kids; alongside contemporary art from a variety of mediums.

Another must visit is Fondazione Prada, the architectural space-come-gallery that sees artists including Louise Bourgeois and Robert Gober redefine the Instagram-worthy gold townhouse, set in the centre of the former distillery, with thought-provoking installations. Running until January 2018 is an immersive and haunting virtual reality installation from four-time Academy Award-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Booking for big name exhibitions like this are necessary. Stop for coffee at the Wes Anderson-designed Bar Luce – the director’s whimsical pastiche on Milan’s traditional cafés.

Where to eat

As Milan is a city of aesthetes, it’s no surprise that the artistic approach to design extends further than the walls of its museums and galleries.

For a lunchtime bite with visual clout, book yourself into Spazio Milano, housed on the top floor of the Mercato del Duomo, opposite the stunning Milan Cathedral – the largest church in Italy and the third largest in the world. With views overlooking the intricate detailing of its many Gothic spires, Spazio is a striking spot to devour bowls of expertly-made pasta, prepared by trainees from three Michelin-starred chef Niko Romito’s cookery school. But the architectural eye-candy isn’t just outside; the sun-soaked white room, softened with rustic wooden tables and chairs and brought to life by a central ficus tree and hip Italians enjoying leisurely lunches is a joy in itself.

One of the most interesting marriages of food and design can be found at the restaurant Carlo e Camilla in Segheria, housed in a former sawmill in the city’s happening Navigli district. Headed up by chef Luca Pedata under the direction of Carlo Cracco, one of Milan’s most prominent cooks, the restaurant consists of communal tables in a stripped, industrial space, softened by the use of vintage plates, intelligent lighting and a buzzy, warm atmosphere. The very best seasonal ingredients and knowing winks to Italy’s culinary heritage dominate, with an adventurous menu offering diners a taste of modern Milan. The cocktail bar, housed in an open warehouse within the same complex, sees bartender Filippo Sisti mix forward-thinking drinks that make use of cooking techniques, to achieve concoctions you may or may not remember the next morning.

Senato Hotel Milano, Via Senato 22

Triennale di Milano, Viale Alemagna 6

Fondazione Prada, Largo Isarco 2

Spazio Milano, Il Mercato del Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Carlo e Camilla in Segheria, Via Giuseppe Meda 24

 

As featured in Mayfair Times’ October 17 edition.

Q&A: Martyn Nail, executive chef, Claridge’s

Dolce Gabbana Xmas Tree, 2013, Claridges

As Mayfair institution Claridge’s launches its very first cookbook, we chat with executive chef Martyn Nail about capturing the hotel’s heritage while embracing the future – and why it was such a long time coming.

When did the idea for the book come about? 

M: It was probably three or four years ago. Meredith was a guest in the foyer and I was walking through. She asked if she could have a copy of my book. I said that we didn’t have one, and she said, “Well I’d love the recipe for your chicken pie.” I said that I would dig it out. Then she bumped into our general manager and mentioned the idea of a book. She connected with me and the subject went from there. We thought about it and put some things together – then various people were saying, ‘come on – where is it?’ So in the latter part of last year, we realised that we needed to stop talking about it and that there was quite a lot of work to do.

But where do you start when the hotel is 189 years old? Some of these things have been here forever – the chicken pie for instance. As I said as a little headnote in the book, a previous chef in the 1950s tried to take it off the menu, and he was told it was him or the chicken pie. It’s still here – it’s something that’s just stuck with the place. Some have become favourites, like the lobster risotto, and some are of the moment, like the dessert trolley.

In a way, the business of the hotel has gone like London has. It was a quiet little tea room; a busy restaurant – it’s always been a busy restaurant; but over the past 10 years its grown and grown and grown in popularity.

Why was this the time to bring out a cookbook for Claridge’s?

M: I think it was probably overdue. There are so many aspects to Claridge’s. It’s not just pictures of food; there are incredible details from around the hotel we wanted to capture. We were going to caption all these details, but actually, part of the fun is to say, ‘where is that?’ There’s so much detail and so much history… If walls could talk! We came across all these old menus for one-off events, which we printed in the book. It’s fantastic that, for one, they are still here; and second, that once you think about what was behind them, who went and why it was here, it tells you even more about how special Claridge’s is.

How did you decide which recipes made the cut?

M: It was a bit like picking your favourite child! The book is structured by the time of day, because the hotel is always open. It literally is 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You’ve got recipes for scrambled egg, some little recipes for biscuits – as after all, it would be lovely for someone to come in and say, “I’ve done those biscuits and they were exactly the same as you do them.” All the recipes were tested, which was really important, because the scale of our recipes didn’t work when we cut them down; we realised that actually, it’s not that simple. It was necessary. Then you go to things like our croissant recipe, some of the pastries – and they can be very layered, very laboursome. You go, ‘Looks lovely’ and move on. But in a way, when you come to one of the finest hotels in the world, I think that’s absolutely what you would expect. It has to be.

What are you favourite recipes or stories in the book?

M: The chicken pie is timeless. Lobster risotto is very popular – it’s lovely to see it framed in history. We do soufflés for events for 12 to 200 – no-one really does that, so we’ve got a soufflé in there because we do it so well. You’ve got to be pretty mad and confident to do that. We’ve also mentioned a few of our guests as well – families we welcome back, and now their children, their grandchildren and great grandchildren. They’re part of the place. One sadly passed away recently; he came here on his 5th birthday. He was with us earlier this year, and he was 97. What a life! To have been coming to Claridge’s for 92 years of your life. That is very special.

Who is this book for?

M: Of course, the first answer that came to my head was ‘everybody’ – it’s a must have! But I think it goes into so many different categories. Firstly it’s a cookbook; secondly, it’s Claridge’s – so it elevates it into another world. But it’s also about luxury, style, deco – and it’s also just a beautiful coffee table book.

When did you first get into food?

M: I grew up in Winchester, Hampshire. My grandmother was a great cook. They had an association with Highclere Castle, and their grandparents were from that area and they helped out there; so they were sort of in service. My father just threw that out a while ago when Downton Abbey was on! But I would sit on the draining board and peel plums – probably eat two and stone one. She would make roast chicken; lemon meringue pie; rice pudding with the skin on top. And I just enjoyed it. I thought I’d be a vet, but I wasn’t going to do years of ‘all that’. So then I went to catering college. It was enjoying it early on – falling in a bowl of cake mix and enjoying it on that domestic level that got me hooked.

Claridge’s: The Cookbook is published by Mitchell Beazley.

As featured in Mayfair Times’ October 17 edition.

The growing Chinese market in London

Bond Street

The landscape of luxury in Mayfair and the West End is continually shifting. The area is seeing communities from across the globe visit and often settle in London to capitalise on the city’s reputation as one of the best luxury destinations in the world; as of last year, London was the most sought-after city for luxury brands looking to open retail stores. It is the Chinese market that displays most vigour for London’s luxury market.

Kyle Monk, head of insight at the New West End Company (NWEC) – the organisation that supports and protects the West End’s business contingent – says that the Chinese market has been leading the way for some time. “We saw at first a trickle, then a torrent of Chinese tourists all over the world. It became apparent very quickly that they had a taste for luxury goods,” recalls Monk. “A lot of retailers globally – whether in Mayfair or Paris – saw this influx of Chinese tourists. We have a view of the top ten nationalities by spend, throughout Europe. China has been at the top for quite a while.”

There are numerous reasons as to why. Chinese travellers are ready to splurge on luxury brand names and visits to European flagship stores – but it is not only the super-rich that are looking to spend; the burgeoning middle classes are increasingly taking their money into Europe, and snapping up labels that may lend a sense of status, particularly in a country that understands the significance of top quality, globally recognised brands. China’s luxury taxes and issues with counterfeit goods also drive Chinese nationals to spend their money outside of their country.

The problem has been that London has experienced consistently lower numbers of Chinese visitors than cities like Paris.

Seeing the disparity between Chinese visitor numbers and spend in European stores compared to London, the NWEC, alongside Global Blue, Walpole, MacArthur Glen and London First, founded the UK China Visa Alliance (UKCVA) in 2012. Tourism bodies stated that the key barrier to Chinese visitors coming to the UK was the visa application system, which required Chinese nationals to apply for a separate visa to visit the UK, as the UK is not part of the Schengen area. Many Chinese travellers undertake multi-country European tours, and many of the tour operators were simply leaving the UK out, due to the convoluted visa application process. Simply put, the UK government was shooting itself in the foot when it came to capitalising on Chinese interest. In 2014, the UN World Tourism Association highlighted the Chinese as being the world’s highest spenders, but the UK was effectively minimising the number of visitors from the country.

The UKCVA campaigned, putting across to government the importance of loosening the system. “We said to government that they were trying to solve the wrong problem. They were tinkering at the edges – making the forms slightly easier and things like that,” says Paul Barnes, campaign manager for the UKCVA. “They were making marginal changes to the system that would only bring marginal changes to the numbers. We want significant changes to the numbers.”

The solution was to create a one-stop shop, where Chinese nationals could apply for a Schengen and UK visa at the same place and time. Initiatives have now been implemented; it was announced that if you fill in a Schengen form, the government would accept that as a UK form, which halves the paperwork. The government also introduced a visa application centre sharing pilot with Belgium, which meant that Chinese nationals could go to the Belgian or British Embassy and apply for a Schengen visa, and get a UK visa simultaneously. The pilot has been extended to all British Embassies, consulates and visa application centres around China, and the UKCVA is now pushing the government to approach nations that attract significant numbers of Chinese tourists – France, Germany and Italy.

Perhaps most importantly, the UKCVA is pressuring government to increase the length of the visitor visa for Chinese nationals. It is hoped that a 10-year multiple entry visa will be introduced, but in the interim, a two-year visa comes as standard for those applying.

In 2012, when the campaign started, there were some 200,000 UK visas issued to Chinese nationals. Now, numbers approach half a million. It is clear that these initiatives are allowing for an increase in Chinese tourists, looking to experience London’s unique history – and, of course, to shop.

Brands are becoming keenly aware of the growing Chinese market, and the impact its spend can have on their economies – as are the landlords in shopping hotspots such as Bond Street, Regent Street and Oxford Street. As brands become savvier about London’s standing as a destination for Chinese visitors with cash to splash, so the demand from brands to open retail units here increases. “The luxury brands know that the Chinese visitors are high spenders; the more we can demonstrate that we are getting a good number of Chinese people coming, it adds to the attraction of London as a place to open your flagship store, or to expand,” says Barnes. “Brands are looking for the best place to invest, and part of the mix from London’s attraction is a growing and healthy number of high spending Chinese visitors.” The fact that there are numerous likeminded brands in a relatively small area also attracts brands, as well as Chinese customers. “The more luxury brands that you have in one area, the more attractive it is to visit”, says Tony Gaziano of bespoke and benchmade shoemaker Gaziano & Girling. “When they come, they don’t want to look at one tailor or shoemaker – they want to look at multiples. It’s the variety and multitude of businesses that is bringing Chinese consumers in, not just one.”

Marie Hickey, Savills, says that it is the brands themselves, rather than the developers and landlords, that are targeting these areas for their interest from Chinese visitors. “I think there has definitely been an increase in what I call ultra-luxury brands on Bond Street in particular, and that’s generated a bit of an overflow into some of the neighbouring pitches like Dover Street and Albemarle Street, and also Mount Street,” she explains. “But it’s not so much a case of the developers and investors actively doing this; if anything, the change in that retail profile in Mayfair has actually been driven by the brands themselves, and the fact that they want to be in London and Mayfair, because they know it’s a massive market that has got an increasing appeal to quite a wide range of high spending visitors.” Kyle Monk at NWEC says that he has recognised “a shift towards luxury across the West End” – though he says it is not just luxury brands that see the benefit of Chinese tourism. “Much like the Middle East, the Chinese are still very much a luxury consumer, but you’ll see just as many Middle Eastern shoppers in Primark these days as you will anywhere else.”

There is seemingly no end to the growth of London’s luxury industry. Barnes explains that if visitor number can continue to increase, the UK, and particularly the luxury economy, will benefit. “At the moment, one per cent of the Chinese population take an overseas holiday a year. In the UK, it’s about 30 to 35 per cent. Just imagine if and when China gets to the same level as the UK. 35 per cent of 1.4 billion… if we’re getting nearly half a million Chinese visitors when only one per cent travels, then if it doubles to two per cent travelling, then we will get a million visitors. The market is potentially huge.” Monk agrees. “I don’t see the Chinese going away as a segment. Some come and go – Russia went from being the second most valuable to dropping out of the top 20. Tourism from that country dried up completely. But I think our relationship is strong with China; I can only see them becoming more important in the coming years.”

As featured in Mayfair Times’ October 17 edition.

Review: Pure Salt, Mallorca

12-Pure Salt Port Adriano Terrazas G&T 2

The sun-drenched island of Mallorca is the largest of the ever-popular Balearic archipelago. Along with Ibiza and Menorca, the second and third largest islands in the region, Mallorca has developed a reputation as a destination for partygoers getting sozzled on cheap sangria.

While there are certain strips on the island that attract those looking for a wild time, that reputation is rapidly being shaken off, thanks to the jaw-dropping natural beauty, cultural happenings and growing local food and drink culture that Mallorca offers to those willing to get off the beaten track.

One of the first hotel brands to look to a more discerning clientele is Pure Salt, which operates two adult-only, five-star luxury hotels on the island. Pure Salt Garonda, set on the beachfront of Playa de Palma, is a jewel on this stretch of coastline, offering respite from the beach which sees sun seekers flock to its sandy shore. This property is tailor made for visitors wishing to make the most of Mallorca’s gently undulating coastline, with electric bikes available for guests of all abilities to ride. The most picturesque way to take in the glistening azure Mediterranean, rugged, mountainous landscapes and bustling cafes and bars is to engage the small engine and let the bike do the hard work, cruising along the coast while making the odd pit stop to sample a glass of Mallorca’s surprisingly special wines.

After a leisurely cycle to and from Palma’s famous Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral, The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, or La Seu, unwind in the chic O Spa, which offers a wide range of treatments including massages and facials, as well as wet rooms, heated pool and jacuzzi and top-of-the-line fitness equipment. With all the activity, satisfy your appetite with dinner at Restaurant Garonda, which offers Mediterranean-inspired fine dining on a chic terrace overlooking the sea.

For an altogether quieter experience, head for the steep hillside spot of Calvià. Perched above the famous Philippe Starke-designed Port Adriano marina, Pure Salt Port Adriano offers an unparalleled location to experience Mallorca’s stunning surroundings. With the superb sea views, the rooms are contemporary but characterful, with loose themes such as Renaissance art dictating the décor. For the most relaxing time, opt for a swim up suite, where guests can slide from their own private terrace straight into their own stretch of private pool – perfect for sipping on cocktails as the sun goes down over the bay.

Nearby sights include the charming region of Binissalem, home to the family-run Finca Biniagual, one of Mallorca’s finest wine estates. Set in spectacular manicured gardens, the miniscule village of Biniagual is practically dedicated to the production of a small selection of naturally-made fine wines, with typical Mallorcan grape varieties harvested from the 33.7-hectare vineyard by hand and taken directly to the on-site winery. The estate also produces some of the finest olive oil available in the Mediterranean; Mallorca itself enjoys a long history of olive oil production, thanks to conquering Arabs that planted the first olive trees in the 13th century.

If the wine tasting has piqued your appetite, try chef Diego Vázquez’s Asian-influenced, Mediterranean dishes at Restaurant Adriana, before post-dinner cocktails accompanied by Balearic beats courtesy of some of the island’s best blissed out DJs.

If your head isn’t too heavy the morning after, start the day with a challenging yet relaxing spot of paddle-boarding. This region of Mallorca is one of the finest paddle-boarding locations in Europe, even hosting legs on the Paddle Surf Euro Tour – and is a scenic way to enjoy the quiet, turquoise bay before wandering along the marina and admiring the blindingly white superyachts reflecting the insistent sun. If water sports aren’t your thing, try your hand at golf; known as one of the best places for the sport, Pure Salt Port Adriano offers golf simulator sessions run by a former ranked professional golfer, before testing your training at one of the 13 nearby courses, which offer striking views of the island.

Rates start from £112 per double room per night at Pure Salt Garonda and from £245 at Pure Salt Port Adriano. For more information on Pure Salt, or to book a stay, visit www.puresalt.com. 

Monarch operates year-round flights to Mallorca from London Gatwick and London Luton with fares, including taxes, starting from £39 one way and £68 return. For further information or to book Monarch flights or Monarch Holidays, visit www.monarch.co.uk

As featured in Mayfair Times’ September 17 edition.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chef

For nearly 10 years, The Connaught has been London’s go-to destination for contemporary French gastronomy, with the three Michelin-starred restaurant overseen by Hélène Darroze taking pride of place at Mayfair’s chicest hotel. That reputation is to be solidified with the arrival of another revered French chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

The Connaught - Jean Georges Vongerichten001b

Those old enough to remember Mayfair’s mid-90s dining scene will remember the opening of Vong at The Berkeley, which Vongerichten opened to acclaim after years in Asia and the United States; particularly knowledgeable foodies might also recall 90 Park Lane at The Grosvenor House Hotel, which Vongerichten helped garner a Michelin star in 1985.

But since 2003, and the closure of Vong, Vongerichten has been seldom seen on London’s food scene – instead building a bevy of culinary hotspots across the pond, in his adopted home of New York City.

Vongerichten’s career began at the three-starred Auberge de l’Ill in his home region of Alsace, when his parents took him for his 18th birthday. The as-yet undecided young man asked for a job, immediately taken with the atmosphere in the bustling restaurant. “I didn’t know you could make a living out of food. The service, the ballet of the waiters, the look of the place – and the food…” recalls Vongerichten. “It was the ultimate place. That was it for me.” Vongerichten stayed at the restaurant, training under Paul Haeberlin for three years, quickly moving on from his pot-washing position to each station in the hallowed kitchen.

Launching his career at such an acclaimed restaurant gave the aspiring chef a solid start – learning his trade with the best in the business. Appointments at L’Oasis, under Paul Bocuse and Master Chef Louis Outhier; and the only two-starred restaurant in Germany at the time, Aubergine in Munich, alongside Eckhart Witzigmann. “I never wrote a letter for a job; it was just a phone call and I was there months after.”

After honing his craft in Provence and Munich, Vongerichten received a call from Outhier, who told him that he had landed a gig at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. He wanted Vongerichten to be his chef. “In Alsace, we use a lot of spices: cardamom, cinnamon, cloves – particularly in pastries. I had learnt about all the colonies, that all the spices were coming from Asia. It was my dream to go to Asia one day and follow the spice trail.

“But I was scared. I had never been a sous chef before. I’d never run a kitchen. I was 23. Chef Outhier called me every day for three months, and sooner or later, I said I would give it a shot.”

It was while in Bangkok that Vongerichten began to formulate his own style of cooking. “I’d been cooking for seven years in a professional kitchen, but it was still not my food. I was cooking Outhier’s food. But often, I couldn’t find things like apples. So I started to work with things that I could find – I was doing foie gras with mango. It allowed me to develop something new.” The two years he spent in Bangkok were formative in what would become his general cooking ethos. “I learnt everything about Thai food. I wanted to know everything about this cooking. I began incorporating Thai ingredients into our dishes too.”

Vongerichten went on to open a number of restaurants alongside Louis Outhier; first Singapore, then Hong Kong, Japan, Geneva, Portugal and at The Grosvenor House Hotel: Vongerichten’s “first step inside Mayfair”.

But the chef was yet to settle. After six months in Boston, Massachusetts, Vongerichten was sent to New York, to open Lafayette at the Drake hotel. “New York is always a city you want to visit. At the time – 1986 – there was not much going on. The food culture was very behind. There wasn’t a farmer’s market; everything was imported from California or Paris. After five years in Asia, the only place I felt comfortable was Chinatown. It had the only open market with fruit and vegetables.”

Vongerichten began buying his produce in the Chinese district of the city – which immediately saw the chef developing pan-Asian and French cuisines. He credits this as being the beginning of his personal style, a style he developed over the next five years at Lafayette. “I was supposed to be in New York for one year. I never left.”

Soon, he had opened his own restaurant, JoJo’s, with regular Lafayette diner Phil Suarez. The pair have worked together ever since. “He charmed me to death,” says Suarez. “We’re more than friends. We’re tied together at the heart. Never lovers, always friends!” Vongerichten obviously cherishes this working relationship. “I gave him a business plan. He said, ‘How much do you need?’ I said around $250,000. He wrote me a cheque right there. No lawyer, nothing. We shook hands. We’ve never had a fight in 32 years. It’s been a good journey with Phil.” The original Vong followed in 1992. “It was perfect. It was a hit right away.”

So much so, that Vongerichten and Suarez brought the concept to The Berkeley. “It was the perfect move for us to come to London, because London was already used to spicy food. The Asian culture was already here. It was even better received here than in New York.”

His new restaurant in The Connaught marks a change for the chef, as it is his first spot to offer four meals: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. “I like the challenge,” he says. Vongerichten is aware of his market – particularly having a presence in a hotel. “We have complex dishes for somebody that really wants to try our flavours and our food; and we also have a Simply Cooked section, because a lot of people might want a grilled Dover sole, langoustine or salmon.” For Vongerichten, it’s all about traceability these days. “Today’s food is all about ingredients and sourcing. Being sustainable and organic. That’s the big issue today.”

For now, Vongerichten has no specific plans to increase his presence in London, like in New York. “They offer you this corner to cook; how can you say no? It’s impossible,” says the chef. “I’m just taking it all as it comes. It’s about being consistent, being good in six months and in two years.”

The Connaught, Carlos Place

As featured in Mayfair Times’ September 17 edition.