Luxury Hotels

What a Michelin star (or two) does to a luxury hotel

Beet and burrata salad

Beet and burrata salad

Getting a second Michelin star has made all the difference in the world to Srijith Gopinathan, above, Executive Chef of Taj Campton Place, San Francisco. When that hotel, originally built 1909, was re-opened in 1982 it was known for its food, thanks to its produce-mad GM, Bill Wilkinson, who brought in such chefs as George Marrone, Bradley Ogden and Charlie Trotter. Then, in 1993, Bill Wilkinson moved to the supply side: he bought the GreenLeaf farmers’ consortium, supplying not only Campton Place but all the other top luxury hotels in the area (Bill was such a lovely guy – the gal remembers a tasting of heirloom tomatoes that he organised specially, shortly before he died on July 19th, 2010, at the tragically early age of 68).

Salmon and endamame

Salmon and endamame

Now, once again, Campton Place Restaurant, in Taj Campton Place, has a shining star. Last October, Srijith Gopinathan, who had got his first Michelin star in 2013, had a telephone call from Michelin. He thought he was going to be demoted but no, he was up from one to two stars. He could not believe it, he told his GM, Ashrafi Matcheswala. She had actually risen up the hotelkeeping ladder through food and beverage – at one time she had headed that department for the massive Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, which meant overseeing room service, 11 restaurants, big hotel events and an average of a thousand outside-catered meals a day.

The hotel's entrance

The hotel’s entrance

She knows the value of an extra star. Being two-stars has increased the numbers of diners in Campton Place Restaurant by at least 20%, but it has not increased average spend as the hotel is determined to keep prices down – you can get a two-course lunch, for instance, for $39. There has been a big increase in tables booked by gourmets living in the Bay area, especially Indian-Americans in the tech world who are so proud of this new-wave Indian restaurant. And yes, it is new-wave. If you think of curry and chicken tikka masala, this is not for you. I started lunch with an exquisite beetroot and burrata salad, with slightest hints of different spices.

Union Square, August 2016

Union Square, August 2016

I went on to salmon and edamame, but look at the result, above right.   It looks gorgeous, it tasted gorgeous. How, I asked, did Srijith Gopinathan prepare for his extra star? He toured India, sussing out street food, but there was no sign of street food anywhere here. Will the luxury hotel now go for a third star? Ashrafi Matcheswala shakes her head in a somewhat ambiguous way, but she knows that will require spend, changing the restaurant décor. Never mind, San Francisco is into big projects at the moment. I was amazed to find the Union Square area a Big Dig, the Central Subway expected to open 2018 – somewhere underneath Taj Campton Place, at this time, two massive boring machines, Big Alma and Mom Chung, are hard at work.  NOW SEE A VIDEO OF TALENTED SRIJITH GOPINATHAN, BELOW

 

 

 

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Luxury Hotels

A re-branded San Francisco luxury hotel

Presidential bathtub

Presidential bathtub

The gal arrived at TripAdvisor’s top luxury hotel in San Francisco – and second in its all-level ratings – Loews Regency. It flew another flag until a year ago, but now there are prominent Loews signs outside, and within. It happened to be a Friday night, when there is a complimentary wine tasting, five to six precisely, on the Sky Deck, but tonight that was booked for a proposal, so the event was moved to 3808, the 2,000 sq ft Presidential Suite. What a lovely opportunity, to go out on its terrace to admire the view (above) and to check out its bathroom (left).

View from 4404

View from 4404

The view from 4404 was pretty spectacular too. At dusk the mist rolled in and before it was dark I felt as if in an all-white cocoon, the same kind of enclosed feeling that you get sometimes at Park Hyatt Shanghai. Here, it cleared soon after daybreak, and actually I was having such a good time enjoying my room, looking out at the city and doing some creative writing that I completely forgot about the weekly Sky Deck yoga, 75 minutes from nine each Saturday morning, with a green health smoothie thrown in for good luck. You can always tell if there is a fit GM when you see offerings like that. Sure enough Loris Menfi IS a fit GM.

Salad...

Salad…

Despite having two children under six, and a train commute from and back to her home, she starts every day with a workout in her private gym. Good for you, Loris, I thought as I did my own work-out, in the hotel’s 24/7 Technogym (any hotel that has a good gym, with great equipment in full working order, and new disposable headsets, and fresh fruit, fully deserves to go up the TripAdvisor ladder). Loris Menfi spent years with Ritz-Carlton and she credits the legendary Ed Staros, at Ritz-Carlton Naples FL, as one of her mentors. She understands little touches. Toiletries are Julien Farel, and clearly marked as anti-ageing. If you plan a return visit, they will store your clothes. If you are a cocktail fan, mixologist David Rowe suggests such unique concepts as Bourbon in a bottle, namely a small, re-usable bottle holding his-make Manhattan, Bulleit Rye with apricot and ginger, which he pours, in front of you, into a tumbler containing a single outsize ice cube.

.. and ribeye

.. and ribeye

Stay at this luxury hotel if you like stunning views and thoughtful service, (they offered me all three decent newspapers, namely the Financial Times, New York Times AND Wall Street Journal, without my asking). Breakfast coffee was divine (Peet’s, of course) and there were paper cups to take some away. Stay here if you have four legs, as the room service menu includes chicken and peas for Barker and fresh fish for Miaow. Stay here if you are fit and healthy, for all the above reasons, plus such great smoothies, any time, as a green mixology, with apple, celery, cucumber, ginger, kale and lemon.   And, I thought, stay here too for a great location, for financial business and retail. I want to come back. NOW SEE THE VIDEO BELOW

 

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Luxury Hotels

Differentiation in a luxury hotel

Room service menu ...

Room service menu …

How does one luxury hotel stand out from another? The gal is continually amazed at unique qualities in any property that really does make it to the top. Take Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco and its room service menu, shown to the left. This is a glorious A4-sized production: open the full-colour cover one side and you get menu items, turn it through 180-degrees and you open up to a full-colour essay, with illustrations, of the art of Nicole Markoff, with details of such works as her 20 by 48-inch diptych on brushed aluminium, Watershed. You find out that the San Francisco-based artist dabbled for a time in her own fashion brand, Nicacelly, but that is now in archive mode, for which read she has given up on fashion.

.. and the result

.. and the result

The 277-room hotel switched to these art menus about a year ago, and the artist changes with the seasons. Apparently having such menus does not increase either the number of orders, or the size and value of them, but the concept certainly fascinated me, and encouraged me to order dinner. It was a really happy experience, as you can see from the right: delivery was in 20 minutes, I liked the stylish checked cloth, and the really ample amount of spinach. I looked again at the menu. It includes breakfast packages, to go, and dishes for little kids (Happy Camper, with silver-dollar pancakes) and for teens (say a small beef tenderloin with mash or rice, and broccolino or carrots). The all-ages, all-night menu suggests a Kobe beef burger which shows that there is someone around at 2 a.m. who knows how to cook.

Doug Housley

Doug Housley

Doug Housley the GM here for the last seven years, is constantly upgrading. The hotel had sensational art from its very start, in October 2001, but enhancements include not only the room service menus but also his own welcome cards, as shown above (does he colour them himself?). The hotel’s integral wellness facility has been upgraded – it is now an Equinox, much more professional than before. Three years ago the hotel revamped its main dining, leading off the lobby on the fifth floor of the building, which opens directly off Market. The re-done bar and restaurant, designed by AvroKO, are called MKT, accordingly.

A healthy Housley breakfast

A healthy Housley breakfast

As Doug Housley says, it is tons better for a luxury hotel to have a really great bar than a really great restaurant. Come late afternoon, especially weekdays, MKT Bar is such a post-work hang-out for regulars in the financial district around that it spills over into the lobby proper, and there is a buzz of noise. A really great bar, even if it offers food like this one, also channels business to the restaurant, especially if one is easily reached from the other. But even at breakfast, when the bar is empty, MKT, the restaurant, is regular start-the-day hangout for scions of banks and private equity. Many around us chose healthy berries and steel-cut oats, as did Doug Housley. No, do not ask me what I ate. NOW SEE A VIDEO OF MY ROOM, BELOW

 

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