Beyond its culinary appeal, a meal at a restaurant must carry the meaning of hospitality as it is conveyed by the chef and maître d’hôtel to each patron. Some experiences are so filled with personalized attention that one feels pampered in an exclusive way.
A spectacular meal at La Grenouillère, Montreuil-sur-Mer, France
The setting of a restaurant is a very important element in the success of a meal. So when the location is such a theater of experiences both visual and gustatory, the act of coming to the table stirs all the senses. At La Grenouillère, Chef Alexandre Gauthier worked with the architect Patrick Bouchain to design a system that would sweep patrons away on a breathtaking experience. To begin with, the bustling kitchen fully opens onto the dining room, which is itself edged by the surrounding natural environment. The leather-covered tables perfectly coordinate with the aprons worn by the servers, fully engaged in their duties. At the center of the room, a flame flickers throughout the meal, which ends with a spoonful of honey scooped out of a beehive. Such a repast becomes the picture of life itself.
Like an initiatory rite at Mirazur, Menton, France
Stepping into a restaurant – faced with the inexplicably thrilling promise of a succulent meal – is always exciting. Chef Mauro Colagreco designed the reception of Le Mirazur as way to prepare for the experience. Rather than entering through the door, guests are invited to step down into the garden for an immersion in the chef’s world. Here, they have the opportunity to immerse themselves in one of the five gardens through a tour before dining. Colagreco a bit more about himself by bringing patrons behind the scenes, where the alchemy of each dish is performed, into nature as his source of inspiration.
Endless flavors at Pujol, Mexico City, Mexico
Some dishes are simple, almost basic; and yet they leave an indelible impression on the palate. A knowing combination of flavors and evocation that only a great chef is able to convey. The Mexican chef Enrique Olvera has been serving the same mole to every guest of the Pujol restaurant every day for 2,400 days. This sauce – immediately identifiable with Mexican cuisine – has become a dish in itself, and it has literally been simmering since the first day he arrived. Each day, Olvera builds his Mole Madre up again using the one from the day before, adding ingredients according to the seasons, bringing slight variations to the recipe of this perpetual favorite. And so the specific taste of one day’s mole is imprinted in the memories of that day’s patrons, the expression of a culinary act directly performed for them.
Sharing wine at Borgo San Felice, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Italy
Wine is the spouse of a good meal, and the sommelier seeks a happy marriage: a wine that is at its best in the presence of the food served. Such pairing is even more exhilarating when the wine is produced just a few steps away from the table. And when the wine guides the food, the experience takes on a whole new dimension. At the heart of Chianti, Borgo San Felice features an exceptional vineyard that produces, among others, the unique Pugnitello, made from the grape variety of the same name. Its flavors lead Chef Juan Quintero to pair it with lamb. He freely takes another inverted gourmet approach with a savory version of the famous Tuscan dessert panforte with foie gras and dried fruits, accompanied by vinsanto. This sweet wine, exclusively produced in Tuscany, is usually served with dessert.
Aesthetic declarations at Gôra Kadan, Hakone, Japan
A restaurant can be more than just a place where people come to dine. Some are true destinations where a meal becomes one step in a more global concept of hospitality. For centuries, the Japanese culture has established truly timeless reception codes that turn mealtime into a tailored experience. When you arrive at Ryokan Gôra Kadan, not far from Mount Fuji, you become the center of attention. Throughout your stay, a personal attendant in a traditional kimono attends to your every need, whether to prepare your sleeping pad on the tatami or to serve a kaiseki meal in the living area of your room. Arranged in dishes, bowls and platters of a rare refinement, the delicately flavored foods suddenly become the components of an experience entirely guided by an unbelievably punctilious aesthetic sense.
Brunch with the elephants à Esiweni Lodge, Ladysmith, South Africa
Sophie Vaillant and Ludovic Caron are the masters of the French Esiweni Lodge, a Relais & Châteaux establishment at the heart of the Nambiti Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Just after we return from a morning safari, they invite us to get back in the 4x4. A few minutes down the track, we arrive at the edge of a softly cascading river. Surprise! Directly below us, under a large tree, stands a table beautifully set with a tablecloth, porcelain and silverware, and laid with a gourmet buffet. As we take in this magical setting, a herd of elephants suddenly appears. The ranger, Pemba, watches their every movement with a vigilant eye, ready to pack up if need be. Our unexpected guests make this a memorable brunch, with the children’s wide-eyed gazes and smiles the ultimate reward.