Most people determine where they’re going before they decide on the hotel. But there exists a rare breed of hotel – the destination hotel, the most exciting of which are often carefully guarded cult secrets among savvy travellers.
For my wife and I, travel invariably revolves around gustatory experiences – we will literally go anywhere for a great meal. Luckily, some of the best places to eat in the Asia Pacific also happen to be housed in some pretty sexy digs. I love visiting these B&Bs – all the better if there’s lunch and dinner thrown in. The lazy gourmand in me certainly relishes being able to roll from dining table to bed, and vice versa.
The most exciting cult destination dining hotel of the moment has to be the Royal Mail Hotel. Situated at the foot of the Grampians Ranges in Victoria, Australia, this member of the Mr & Mrs Smith collection of swish boutique hotels (www.mrandmrssmith.com) houses Dan Hunter, formerly head chef of the two Michelin-starred Mugaritz in San Sebastián, Spain. In just three years, his exquisite menus have turned the hotel into a bona fide foodie pilgrimage site that’s been cited as Australia’s answer to Ferran Adria’s highly acclaimed El Bulli in Barcelona (98 Parker Street [Glenelg Highway], Dunkeld, Victoria 3294, Australia; Tel: +61 3 5577 2241; www.royalmail.com.au).
Another Aussie hotel foodies love checking into is The Prince in Melbourne. Its signature restaurant, Circa, is considered one of the very best in the city, if not the country. Helmed by Matthew Wilkinson, this chic modern Australian dining institution has earned two Chef’s Hats, the antipodean equivalent of the Michelin star (2 Acland Street, St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria 3182, Australia; Tel: +61 9536 1111; www.theprince.com.au; www.circa.com.au).
One of my favourite places for both pigging and chilling out in Asia is the quaint Bon Ton Restaurant & Resort in Langkawi, Malaysia. This small boutique Smith hotel, set up on a former coconut plantation by Australian restaurateur Narelle McMurtrie, consists of eight lovingly restored, individually decorated 100-year-old stilted Malay villas. The resort’s restaurant, Nam, is possibly the best in Langkawi, with simple but beautifully prepared food and flavours drawing inspiration from both East and West. Its signature Nyonya Platter is deservingly raved about, and draws vacationers back time after time (Pantai Cenang, 07000 Langkawi, Malaysia; Tel: + 60 4955 1688; www.bontonresort.com.my).
Of course, there’s no real way to talk about travel and food without mentioning Japan. For a really unique gourmet experience, check into one of the small but super luxurious inns or ryokans that dot the country. For the Japanese, the high-end ryokan experience is a one-night affair of relaxing in the hotel, followed by taking a walk around town and enjoying a traditional onsen (hot spring) bath, topped with a lavish multi-course meal showcasing the local seasonal produce. My personal favourite is the gorgeously built Hinanoza on the edge of Lake Akan in Hokkaido. Each of the 25 posh rooms has its own private, outdoor hot spring tub, while a fabulous gazebo off the lobby offers great views and a hot spring footbath. The food at the hotel’s Hina Restaurant is truly sublime. Course after course of the freshest local produce will send you into food paradise, which, after all, really isn’t all that far from the truth here (2-8-1, Akanko Onsen, Akan-cho, Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan; Tel: +81 154 67 3050; www.hinanoza.com).
Aun Koh muses about all things food on popular food blog www.chubbyhubby.net.