You may have noticed that we have been a bit quiet lately while we’ve been putting together our latest issue of Travel Dine Relax.
Since we launched the magazine in 2020, we’ve been overwhelmed by the feedback from our readers and we hope that our Spring issue doesn’t disappoint.
Jam packed full of ideas of where to visit, things to do and places to dine along with some inspiring interviews with two talented chefs, there’s something for everyone. So sit back and enjoy the journey.
Carla Puverel, took up her role as General Manager of Conrad Maldives Rangali Island at one of the hardest times for the hospitality industry. Carla continues to drive innovation using her outstanding experience within the industry, and we asked her what it takes to be in charge of this luxury, tropical oasis.
Firstly, congratulations on your recent appointment at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. It’s been a turbulent year but how have you and the team coped in such unprecedented times? Thank you, I am so proud of the wonderful team at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. We have all grown and developed so much over the last 18 months in very unprecedented times. We reopened the resort in late September 2020 and have grown from strength to strength as we have navigated the pandemic, the ever-changing goal posts, new restrictions, and guidelines, and we have had to continually evolve quickly to be where we are today. I have always tried to make sure that team members are continuously empowered and are given the opportunity to take ownership of tasks. Team members have adapted well to constant challenges, and all have seen this time as an opportunity for growth and change. Our guests have been wonderful during this difficult period and the experience for everyone has been very positive, despite much adaption and challenging times. Ultimately, communication and transparency are key within our teams, and empowering the team members is fundamental for me as a leader to see success. During these unprecedented times, it is has felt like we have been given a clean slate as we all navigate on how we continue to give personal, heartfelt hospitality, exceed our stakeholder’s expectations, and embrace all the ever-changing ways of life, particularly related to the hospitality industry. I feel in a very fortunate position being at the head of this iconic resort, which proudly boasts a solid history of long-standing relationships with both guests and team members. Overall, our team members all have the same goals, ethos, and drive to take the resort to the next level of personal service, combined with authentic Maldivian experiences and reassurance that all guests have peace of mind during their time with us.
With over 18 years within the hospitality industry, what have been your greatest achievements?
I am very blessed to be where I am today and am very grateful for all the experiences that I have had, all the lessons I have learnt, and the many more to come. It is a wonderful way to live, grow and work, being exposed to so many different cultures, and live in so many countries around the world. I appreciate the team the most and seeing them being inspired and develop is a huge achievement as we strive for improvement daily. The last 12 months has been a big achievement for all of us at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.
What drove you to a career within the hospitality sector and were there any people that inspired you?
I am passionate about travel, culture and history along with the ever-changing dynamics and constant growth and development of the hospitality industry. Hospitality evolves all the time, and you can never be stagnant or complacent! The diverse cultures and wonderful people I’ve met along my journey I have learnt so much and it’s encouraging to know there is still more is to come. I am inspired daily by the teams that I work with and the authentic experiences that are created for our guests. I have had many mentors along the way that I am still in touch with and reach out to often.
What key attributes does it take to be a great General Manager?
It is so important to be aligned with the vision and ethos of the company, stakeholders, and team. Alongside this, being a good listener, understanding diverse cultures, confidently processing information, and building the best team of people around you. I believe its key to have a good understanding of the country you are working in and build good relationships with the long-standing team members to gain their knowledge and understanding of both the country and property.
The role of a General Manager has evolved vastly over time, but they should have sound commercial knowledge, as well as driving results, making good and clear decision’s and being agile. The most important attribute is to have the support of the team, to empower people and ensure everyone is accountable and passionate about our product, our resort, and our guests, as it takes an entire team to drive the success of a resort, the stake holder’s goals and the guest’s experiences.
What does a typical day entail?
Every day is different on Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, and each day brings new stories, challenges, experiences, and often lots of laughter and lessons. We meet as a team in the early morning and plan the day, as we often have private events to plan and entertainment in the evening. Planning is key in operating a remote Island resort, and everyone plays a big role in this. We then welcome guests during breakfast and greet the early morning seaplane arrivals. Each day is filled with passion, and many personal conversations and meetings with guests, team members, and stakeholders. I am generally up before the sun rises and start the day with a morning run alongside some of the early risers on the team, which helps sets me up for the day.
Apart from COVID, what have been the biggest changes within the luxury travel industry in recent years?
I think one of the biggest changes has been seasonality in travel. As more people are starting to work remotely and children are continuing with online learning, the typical holiday seasons are shifting. Also, flexibility in travel is, and will continue to play a major role in the future. Guests require more flexibility in their bookings and can see the value that comes with long stay bookings. The length of stays in general have increased and will increase even further than it has already. Lastly, wellness and sustainable travel will be an even more important factor than it already is, and I think mindful and responsible tourism will play a big part in this.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is a unique, luxury destination, how does it differ from the hotels you have looked after before?
The Maldives is such a unique destination and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is a pioneer amongst the Maldives and its hotels. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is an island of many firsts for the destination, we were the very first hotel in the Maldives to have an over water villa, the first over water restaurant, the very first underwater restaurant in the world called Ithaa, the first resort with an underground wine cellar in The Maldives with over 3000 labels, and the very first 3 bedrooms over water and under water residence in the world, The MURAKA. Lastly, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island was also the first international brand resort in the Maldives and set the stage for many after.
The hospitality industry has had to be creative and often diversify over recent months. What have been the positives for you and the team during this time, and have there been any initiatives that you are particularly proud of?
The goal posts have certainly shifted in the last 18 months and will continue to do so as time goes on. We have had to be agile and evolve quickly to ensure we keep up with the pace of change and last-minute movements. The use of technology is far more present in the resort than before, and using technology to communicate with your guests and keeping a personal guest experience, is a fine line in luxury and personalised service. HiltonClean stay has played a big role in our success over the last year and will also continue to do so as it gives our guests and team members more peace of mind.
Wellness and experiences continue to be a focus for many travellers. How does the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island adapt to an ever demanding clientele?
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is always keeping guests demands front of mind, however due to the unrivalled location of the resort, being surrounded by the ocean and nature, these attributes lend themselves to guests enjoying spending time experiencing the beautiful natural surroundings. Our resort is situated in the South Ari Atoll and is located very close to whale sharks and manta rays, giving our guests that are divers and keen snorkelers a wonderful experience being able to see these magical creatures in their natural habitat.
We are also fortunate to have two beautiful spas located on the resort. The over water spa is more wellness centric with natural and organic products ISUN and the treatments focusing on wellness and mindfulness. The over water sunset yoga pavilion is a real treat for our guests, and we are in the process of developing an outdoor gym and fitness area with a range of TRX, weights, medicine balls, battle ropes, and a personal fitness trainer who can create bespoke workouts for guests.
With our infrastructure set across two islands which are joined together by a bridge, we can offer both family and couples who are on vacation, personal experiences and adventures. We are very innovative with our culinary team, and with twelve dining options this gives our guests far more choice and options during their stay.
We are constantly evolving our menus and offerings to our guests, and in 2021 we will be completing the final stage of our renovations, further elevating the guest experience such as refreshed water villas, revamped Atoll Market and new teens club, to name a few elements.
Who are the typical guests at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island?
The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island guests are never the same as they are from all over the world and are seasoned travellers, which is part of what makes the island so special. We are very fortunate that our guests are forthcoming and know what they want when they go on holiday. We also have a large percentage of loyal repeat guests that travel to the islands at least twice a year, which always makes them feel like they are coming back home.
What have been the most unusual requests?
We have had so many unusual and fun requests, which the team execute flawlessly and with such care and passion. We have had a couple get engaged in our world-renowned underwater restaurant Ithaa, where our divers were waiting underwater with a
“Will you marry me?” sign, and our team timed the popping of the champagne perfectly. The couple returned a few months later to celebrate their honeymoon in The MURAKA – our most showstopping villa.
What are your must-do tips for visitors to Conrad Maldives Rangali Island?
We have so many it’s hard to know where to start. There is nothing better than going snorkelling with the manta rays and whale sharks, it’s an experience you will never forget, and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is the perfect location for seeing them. Also, a sunset cruise sipping champagne and watching the dolphins frolic in the ocean, a private lunch on a deserted sandbank, a personal Maldivian cooking class, spa treatment in our beautiful over water spa, and a private chef cooked dinner on
the beach in the Quiet Zone, are a few to mention, but this list is endless.
If you could sum up the resort in just three words, what would they be?
Evolving barefoot luxury
Lastly, what can guests expect to experience over the winter sun season?
Perfect warm tropical weather, lots of fun entertainment, our newly enhanced kids and teen clubs, manta ray season in the lagoon and surrounding area, innovative cuisine with lots of local flair and inspiration, and many passionate team members looking forward to welcoming you.
Making a difference and supporting unique environments and wildlife are at the forefront for many travellers. Travel Dine Relax caught up with Emeline Bouchet, Resident Marine Biologist at Velaa Private Island to hear more about how this unique destination is playing an active part in supporting its local environment and educating visitors on the importance of conservation and ecosystems.
Tell us more about your role and what a typical day entails?
The most important part of my role is leading the Coral Restoration Project at Velaa, where we use the coral nursery technique, a two-stage process for coral propagation. This method had been chosen due to the shallowness of the lagoon and the structure of the natural reef. Firstly, corals are grown in a mid-water floating nursery, where they can increase in size substantially due to lack of predators and sedimentation, increased water flow, a good light source and removal of competitions, including algae. Once the corals have reached a healthy size, we then ‘transplant’ them back to the reef in the second stage whereby we glue them on the natural substrate using marine cement.
Throughout this process, my team and I regularly monitor the coral health and growth rates to track the progress of the programme and to quantify how much they grow throughout the nursery phase. We do this by looking at the percentage of healthy tissue and whether corals are bleaching or not. We also record if they are any disease and if corals are facing any predation or competition. With the help of this programme, the corals have then proven to more than triple in size within six to nine months.
Another part of my role as a marine biologist involves Sea Turtle and Manta ray conservation on the island. Velaa means Green Sea Turtle in Dhivehi, the native language, as several females nest on the island between March and August each year.
Coming on land to lay eggs drains the female of energy, we try to make the process less stressful by keeping our distance, avoiding pictures with flash and using red light in order to increase the nesting success rate at Velaa.
With so many travel destinations reliant on beautiful natural surroundings, such as the oceans and sea, how important is it that they play an active role in supporting the local ecosystem?
In the Maldives in particular, it’s very important that hotel developments and operations are respectful of the environment and even more important that they play an active role in supporting the local ecosystem through eco-friendly practices. At Velaa Private Island, we believe the support and protection of the natural environment all starts with education and allowing our guests to get involved in these activities first-hand. This is why we believe hosting regular workshops, covering issues such as plastic pollution and ocean conservation and allowing guests to shadow in-house coral biologists for the day, has been so successful in helping guests understand the root of the problem, before taking action themselves.
At Velaa, we also work in cooperation with the Oliver Ridley Project and Manta Trust, whereby anytime we have an encounter with manta rays or turtles on the house reef or a nearby island, we send information and images to the relevant organisations for identification.
The Maldives’ coral reefs experienced severe bleaching in recent years. What caused this, and how can conservation help repair the enormous loss to this precious ecosystem?
Global warming is the biggest threat to coral population in the Maldives – coral is highly sensitive to any environmental change and in particular temperature variations. Corals were recovering from the biggest bleaching event ever recorded in 1998 and were still fragile when a second natural phenomenon occurred in 2016 – El-Niño. The El-Niño effect caused sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean to rise above normal levels for an extended period of time, and this was made more extreme by global warming. The average coral cover lost during this bleaching event was 60% which, in turn, led to a decrease in terms of fish abundance and diversity. Coral is also threatened by anthropogenic activities, most notably pollution and overfishing.
Conservation can help repair this loss by nursing coral reefs back to full health and our Coral Regeneration Project at Velaa has been effective with an 80% success rate. Since 2016, we have planted over 7,000 nursery grown corals which now cover over 1000m² more of the house reef. We have also increased the diversity of corals on the reef by implementing mini rope nurseries which allow sensitive species to grow and increase their survival rate, such as Acropora branch corals.
The Maldives reefs contain a diverse range of marine life. How do they rely on the coral?
The Maldives is home to approximately 1,200 islands, each surrounded by coral reef – the predominant ecosystem found in the Maldives. Indeed, an estimated 25% of all marine life is reliant on healthy coral reefs in some part of their life cycle for food, shelter and breeding. These are some of the most complex and diverse reef systems in the world. Coral reefs provide habitat for a large variety of marine life with biodiversity ranging from planktonic organisms to sharks (black and white tip reef sharks, nurse sharks, seasonal manta rays, black spotted eagle rays and stingrays).
What are the future plans for the coral regeneration project at Velaa?
The aim of the project is not only to help regenerate the reef but to spread awareness in terms of the impact we have on the ocean. This has inspired our decision to start working with the local community to help educate them on the coral reef ecosystem and explain the importance of protecting it in the future within the local community. In 2019, Velaa welcomed an NGO, Manadhoo Zuvaanunge Gulhun, from a nearby island to learn about the project at Velaa, with the intention to inspire them to follow our method and protect their own house reefs. This year, we plan to work on sustainable methods to decrease plastic pollution with the aim of reducing the damages on marine life. Indeed, we would like to work with local schools and government to make changes durable in time and which could significantly improve marine life protection.
What three things can tourists do to help preserve the local ecosystem in the Maldives?
Guests of Velaa Private Island can help preserve the local ecosystem by taking part in the following:
Adopting coral – Our guests can attend an educational presentation about marine life and preserving the reef ecosystem, highlighting the importance of protection. After the presentation, guests can help the marine team attach and monitor corals on the rope themselves. Guided by the team, guests can put their own corals on the nursery by scuba diving or snorkelling. We then give to our guests a certificate of adoption and update them on the health of their adopted coral every semester, so that they can always remember the unique part they had to play in regenerating the reef ecosystem.
Become a marine biologist for the day – Guests are invited to shadow the coral biologists who live on the island, as they snorkel and/or scuba dive to collect valuable research.
Attend an education workshop – Guests can learn more about preserving the local ecosystem in the Maldives in our series of awareness-raising workshops which focus on topics such as shark population, sea turtle nesting and the effects of plastic pollution on local marine life. This is to inspire more people to get involved in ocean protection and conservation, with a view to spreading awareness and finding solutions to preserve the biodiversity which is drastically decreasing every year.
After visiting the Great Scotland Yard hotel we discuss plans, predictions, challenges and design and how general manager Sholto Smith uses his experience and love of travel to curate the perfect stay for hotel guests.
Firstly, great to see the Great Scotland Yard Hotel opening again. How did it feel to start welcoming back guests earlier this summer?
We looked forward to welcoming back Londoners and guests from further afield to experience the hotel, our extraordinary food and beverage venues and warm hospitality. Now that London has reopened, we must focus on promoting London as a safe destination to visit and showcasing the attractions and things to do that are perhaps less crowded, to change the perception of London in the eyes of visitors from near or far. The city is what you make of it and the London experience doesn’t always have to be “metropolitan”. For instance, it actually has great green spaces and beautiful walks, many of which are just on Great Scotland Yard’s doorstep.
It’s been a challenging year for anyone within the hospitality sector, but the ability to adapt has been inspirational. How has the Great Scotland Yard team evolved to cope with the pandemic? This past year has been an incredibly difficult year for hospitality as we found ourselves at the epicentre of the pandemic! We at Great Scotland Yard Hotel did manage to stay open throughout the most recent lockdown, even if at a limited capacity, and welcomed key workers and essential business travellers. This enabled us to keep as many team members as possible in employment during such a difficult and challenging time.
Taking a historic building and adapting it into a luxury hotel must have had its challenges. Were there any surprises along the way and how did the team incorporate and celebrate its past into the hotel we see today?
Great Scotland Yard is one of London’s most iconic addresses and is best known as the former headquarters of the Metropolitan Police. It also served as the London residence of the Scottish Royal Family, an army recruitment office, and The Ministry of Defence.
The hotel is housed in a magnificent 1820’s Grade II listed building with Edwardian & Victorian architecture. We were challenged to keep the soul of the building and to pay homage to its heritage. I feel we have created a space which invites guests to experience the history of the building through new eyes; a place where past and present merge; where history meets modern luxury.
Transforming the building into a luxury hotel keeps the legend alive and allows us to open its doors to the public and share this building’s colourful past with guests from all over the world. Tasteful nods to the building’s past can be found in the interiors. Every nook and cranny has been carefully curated. Key symbols are featured several times in the guestrooms, encouraging guests to unlock the building’s secret past: robe hooks and the handles of the nightstands and minibar are all key-shaped. The blue-veneered guestroom doors are a reference to the police, as are the carpets which integrate elements of badges and uniforms to create a unique modern pattern.
Design and art are a key part of the hotel. Tell us more about the artworks and collections guests can see around the hotel.
Great Scotland Yard’s distinctive art collection was curated by Sarah Percy-Davis of Hollandridge Group. Pieces were commissioned from 28 artists, including Nicola Green, Cornelia Parker, and Alastair Mackie to name a few. Unusually for a hotel, there are bespoke pieces in each bedroom, as well as the public areas. The collection is valued at over £1m.
The collection captures the building’s rich history, with pieces representing crime, detection, and the justice system. The feature piece of the collection is “Service” by Nicola Green, which is a representation of the history of the criminal justice system in the UK. The piece consists of 30 portraits, from notorious criminals, judges, lawyers and politicians, to police, literary figures, and monarchs.
Criminal justice is not just about catching and punishing offenders, but also redemption and reintegration. Our fascinating collection takes a multi-layered approach and reflects all aspects of the system. We work with The Koestler Trust, a charity which promotes the arts in prisons and encourages ex-offenders to use art as a means to rehabilitation.
Who are the types of guests that stay at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel?
A Great Scotland Yard Hotel guest focus is on experiencing the city and engaging with its history, people, culture, and food. They wish to avoid the a-typical hotel experience, in search of a truly authentic individual experience, which celebrates exploration, creativity, and originality through storytelling and unique personalised experiences.
What can guests expect when they arrive at the hotel and how does the team create unique and memorable experiences?
Experience is everything, experience is the new luxury. We pride ourselves on offering a unique and quintessentially quirky twist on a British classic. The team strive to create bespoke experiences for each guest. Expect the Unexpected!
The luxury stay sector has seen a rise in pre COVID years. How have the expectations of guests changed during your career, and how does the Great Scotland Yard Hotel adapt to an ever-demanding audience?
The modern traveller can be less loyal and in pursuit of the undiscovered and the unexpected. Hospitality experiences are no longer on your terms, it’s about delivering a strong narrative that enthrals and rewards the guest and their choice to live life on their own terms. This hotel is a one-off in every sense; a reimagined 5-star hotel. A one-off building, a one-off experience, a one-off chance to change the face of hotels from the cookie-cutter experiences that have come to define the sector. The ultimate reward for those who are independent free spirits and seek a non-hotel experience.
You’ve been a member of the Hyatt Group family for over thirty years. What have been some of your biggest achievements so far?
I would have to say being given the opportunity to open hotels like this one – Great Scotland Yard Hotel! I mean, such a tremendous opportunity. If I were to say anything else on this subject, then it would be the fact that I have been able to grow with the company, travel the world while working with some amazing people, learning from some great leaders and making many friends along the way!
What or who inspired you to pursue a career within the hotel business?
Travel! I like to travel and to see and experience new things, that and enjoy great service! I am a bit of a stickler for things being done properly “The devil is in the detail!” This works on so many levels!
When you’re not overseeing the hotels day to day activities, how do you relax and what is your top holiday destination?
When I am not working I am more often than not in London! I just love London and all it has to offer! Be it great retail experiences, to window shopping! The art galleries collectively house some of the greatest artists of all time, both past and present! There is also the great architecture to take in to consideration too! The other arts world – the kind that takes place on a stage – also what I like to try to get to see as much of as possible! All world class and London is the centre of the universe when it comes to this!
In terms of my top holiday destination – I do not really have one! I am more a city person than resort, albeit that is not to say that I do not enjoy or relish times in the tropics! I certainly do!!
If you could have given your younger self any advice at the start of your career, what would it be, and why?
If I was to answer that question then it would make me look like I look back thinking if I could have done something different or differently, which is not something that I would do. I like to think that I have made the best of opportunities that have been presented to me and for that matter; the ones I have created I feel I have also made the most of those. I prefer to look forward and to what’s around the corner!
If I were to give advice then it would be to say that when opportunity knocks, open the door and take it! Also, it’s very good to listen and to observe!
The Hari is a stylish retreat in the heart of Belgravia which is designed for those seeking comfort and understated elegance. Bordering the areas of Chelsea, Kensington and Knightsbridge, Harrods is just moments away from and London’s leading attractions can also be found a short walk from the hotel, including Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and The Royal Albert Hall.
Heading up The Hari team is general manager, Andrew Coney. We asked Andrew about his experience within the industry and what makes The Hari a must visit destination.
You’ve been the General Manager of The Hari for over six years; what key attributes and characteristics do you think make you a successful GM?
When I consider why I came into this business it was because I enjoy being hospitable – not a complicated concept. Create a relaxed and enticing environment for your team and guests and it drives a successful business. It is dispiriting that so many operators focus so much on the bottom line and forget about the essence of what we are here to do which is providing consistently wonderful experiences. Empowerment of the team is key. They must be allowed to be spontaneous and creative in what they deliver.
The Hari has been described as a comfortable and elegant place to visit. How does the décor and design interpret this?
We worked together with international interior designer, Tara Bernard, who is a good friend of our CEO and Chairman Dr. Aron Harilela, to create a home-from-home feel to the hotel. As we are located among the residential streets of Belgravia, we wanted an atmosphere that was stylish and inviting. Our rooms each have natural grey tones and textures with hints of aubergine, burgundy or ivy to add warmth. On entering the hotel, guests are met by a large fireplace in an open loft-feel lobby housing a rolling programme of art installations. The lobby lounge features an eclectic library and cosy hideaway areas. The mezzanine level plays host to The Bar and leads to a stylish al fresco Garden Terrace, its Belgravia’s best kept secret.
Who’s the typical guest at The Hari?
The Hari’s typical guest is a discerning traveller, they are sophisticated, well-read and like to truly get under the skin of the city they are visiting. Always on the lookout for authentic opinions and unexpected travel tips, a guest at The Hari is eager to experience the more hidden and curious side of travel.
There’s been quite a success story with The Hari London’s TripAdvisor position in the last four years. What has contributed to this success, and do you have your eyes on the number 1 spot?
We would be lying if we said they weren’t! The team have worked incredibly hard to get to where we are, and I think it naturally comes down to our personalised service. We are always keeping an eye out on how to make a guest’s stay more memorable. We call opportunities like this our ‘Stories to Inspire’ with which everyone is encouraged to do something unique for a guest whether it be to reinforce something positive like an anniversary, or turnaround a negative experience and relieve stress. “Have you had a tough day? Let me send a glass of Champagne to your room” – that can work magic.
The Hari extended it’s offering with the opening of il Pampero in 2017. What can visitors expect to see on the menu?
At our neighbourhood restaurant, il Pampero, you can expect a traditional Italian menu complemented by an impressive wine and cocktail list – worth a visit alone for our signature Cacio e Pepe, which comes served tableside tossed in a giant wheel of Pecorino Romano. New this year, we will be launching a brunch offering at the weekend, offering typical brunch dishes with an Italian twist. Watch this space!
Was there one particular person who inspired you within your career, and how?
I could name numerous leaders and mentors who have guided me but my shout out is for a golf Greenkeeper. I managed a resort property that went through a dramatic case of Norovirus which took most of the hotel team out of action. This young man came to me and said he would work on the golf course in the day but could help in the restaurant in the evening. I asked him what experience he had, and he said none. That evening he spent the whole night reading about wine, our list and the service skills he needed. The next day he was charming all of our guests with his innocent and well-intentioned ambition to look after them and demonstrate the very best in teamwork and collaboration during crisis. I take his example as an inspiration to not be defeated and be ever determined to achieve the impossible.
We’ve seen one of the most unprecedented years in modern times, and its impact on the hospitality sector is undoubtedly disruptive. How do you see the hospitality sector post- COVID and how do you think hotels will operate differently to cope with these?
I am a strong believer that the hospitality industry will bounce back. For so much of this pandemic, people have had to put their life on hold and there are a lot of milestones and celebrations which have been missed. We’ve already seen a huge pick up in wedding enquiries as well as birthday and anniversary celebrations. People are so excited to socialise again and our industry is ready to welcome them. We don’t like to make a big song and dance about all our COVID procedures because for the most part high hygiene standards already featured in our day-to day practice and our guests who are visiting a five-star luxury hotel expect this to be the case.
How do you think people’s expectations of luxury hotels are changing?
Emphasis on sustainability is absolutely key moving forward and is only becoming more and more important. Luxury used to mean being able to provide a buffet sourcing premium ingredient from all over the world, but these days, luxury is much more focused on experiencing local culture and local cuisine. The next generation of travellers are incredibly eco-conscious and so they should be. It is up to us to continue and move forward with what they have started.
The importance of working as a team is a key part of your management style and something you encourage. How much does this factor play in running a successful hotel?
Do we all remember those dreadful words “That’s not my job”? I don’t believe anyone would ever say that at The Hari and the communal sense that we are all here for one another is our ethos. Encouraging work/life balance, taking time to know everyone’s background and story makes the workplace a secure place. I feel strongly that we are here to deliver excellence but also to have time to not take life too seriously.
You invest a lot of time in community-based projects and incentives. Tell us more about those that you are involved in.
We have long supported the local community and have run projects through lockdowns to provide assistance to our neighbourhood, from a mass production of meals for those who would have gone without, to jumping on our Hari bikes to deliver groceries. 2021 will also be about giving back and our charitable work will continue. We want to do even more and are working on projects to support the arts who are in as much of a crisis as us, through sponsoring graduate artists and supporting young live theatre.
If you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be?
A little mischief here and there is actually probably not such a bad thing at all…….
Top Tips for outstanding sushi from Chef Artyiasa, Sushi Master & Chef at Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi.
Sushi Master and Chef at Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi’s signature Japanese restaurant Kata, Chef Artyiasa (Art for short) has been perfecting the art of sushi making for over ten years. Thanks to his hard work and passion for the Japanese cuisine and culture, Art has travelled the world and worked for household names – including Nobu and Zuma – before going back to his motherland, Bali in 2014.
After working at Conrad Bali, he joined the team at Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi in 2020 and, in spite of the challenges dictated by the global health emergency, he managed to keep spirits high and continues to offer guests fresh and expertly crafted sushi, teppanyaki and omakase, served in the unrivalled oceanfront location of Kata.
Ahead of International Sushi Day (18th of June) Chef Art has revealed the secrets to this fascinating and delicate culinary art:
As a result of the pandemic and the on and off lockdowns, many people decided to get creative in the kitchen. What would be your top three tips for those willing to learn the art of sushi making?
1. Prep Up
It might be obvious, but the first tip I’d give to someone willing to approach sushi-making is to not overlook the preparation. By preparation, I mean all the steps that precede the ‘rolling phase’: make sure you have all the ingredients you need (don’t skip anything: even the smallest seed or littlest drop of sauce can make a big difference in the final result!). All the ingredients have to be prepped and sliced before you start making the sushi, as this will make that process less stressful and therefore more enjoyable.
2. Strive for Rice Perfection
It goes without saying that rice plays an important role in Japanese cuisine, and in sushi especially. For sushi, we use sticky rice, which is boiled rice tossed in sushi vinegar (made from rice vinegar, sugar and salt). The challenge with sticky rice is to create the perfect, most balanced flavour: not too sweet, not too sour and not too salty. Practice makes perfect so don’t get disheartened if it’s no perfect the first time.
3. Keep it Simple
Rolling sushi seems easy but it’s really a craft that needs a lot of exercise and patience. For starters, try and keep it simple both in terms of ingredients involved and kind of preparation. The hand-rolled Temaki is a good one to start with, and if you’re cooking with friends and family everyone is free to choose their own toppings.
What is your favourite locally-sourced ingredient to work with?
Reef fish is my favourite kind of fish to use for sushi and sashimi. It’s unrivalled, super fresh and delicious. I always say to the team at Kata: if the ingredients aren’t the freshest possible, don’t even start making sushi!
Do you think sushi is better off with wines, cocktails or sake? Does it depend on the fish?
Sushi is a light dish, therefore it marries nicely with white wines, as they’re lighter and less robust than red ones. It could also be eaten with fizz, maybe low dosage champagne, and Japanese beers. It’s not traditional in Japan to drink sake while having sushi, but this is an increasing trend worldwide and it’s amazing to see that more and more people are willing to learn more about sake.
Fairmont Maldives is a family-friendly luxury resort: do you offer a children-friendly sushi menu? Or do you suggest something different for the resort’s littlest guests?
Of course, we have some children-friendly options. I believe sushi is a very convivial food hence perfect to be shared at a family lunch or dinner. Some of the ingredients might be new for the kids’ tastebuds so we are very happy to make special arrangements and change ingredients upon request.
The 18th of June marks International Sushi Day. Have you planned anything special at the resort to celebrate this unique cuisine?
Yes, I’m thrilled to be spearheading sushi masterclasses on the occasion of International Sushi Day. We have also organised a special sushi and sake dinner at Kata that night.
You’ve worked at some of the most famous sushi restaurants around the globe. What did you bring with you to Fairmont Maldives? And what have you learned since?
In my past experience, I learned that motivation and passion are keys to success. There’s no shortcut or way around it. The kitchens, especially the ones of world-famous restaurants, can be stressful environments and one needs to be prepared to work hard and long hours. But if you’re driven by passion and you are determined to improve and reach your goals, it’s so much easier to face these challenges.
Here at Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi, I brought all the knowledge I earned in the last ten years of studying the art and details of Japanese cuisine. I joined Fairmont less than one year ago but I’ve learned so much since. We had to navigate the new rules due to the pandemic and find alternative ways to connect with our guests. I have learned to use and appreciate local ingredients, for instance tropical fruit a different kinds of fish, and integrate them into my creations. I love to work at Fairmont because is such an established luxury hotel brand, and my goal is to make Kata Japanese a renowned foodie hotspot in the Maldives.
The resort champions sustainability on every level. How does this apply to Kata, and the way fish is sourced for the menus served across the resort?
I’m really happy to work in the Maldives, and especially at a resort that puts sustainability at its core and respects the planet. We really offer a sea-to-table menu, we get the product from the local fishermen who use ancient and sustainable techniques to catch it. I’ve never seen more healthy and fresh fish than here at Fairmont. We use so many varieties of local fish, that guests can virtually eat different things for the entire length of their stay. White grouper, Red snapper, Octopus, Sea urchin, Seabream, Keimedai (small fish) and Tuna are just some of the fish guests can find in the menu.
Tell us about your role at Brimstone Hotel & Spa? I am the Director of Sales and Marketing and part of the Management Team for the Langdale Estate. We work to maintain and develop Brimstone’s high standards and guest offerings as well as oversee the running of the whole Langdale Estate. Outside of this, I am also a Non-Executive Director of Cumbria Tourism and also on the Visitor Economy Sector Panel for Local Enterprise Partnership. Both of these roles give me a holistic view of the Lake District tourism industry and helps to inform my work at Brimstone.
What is the size of the team at Brimstone Hotel & Spa? At Brimstone we have 16 full and part-time hosts who look after our guests during their stay – they do everything from lighting the fires in the bedroom to station pick-ups and are on hand to provide guests with whatever they need.
Who is the type of traveller that comes to Brimstone Hotel & Spa? – Brimstone guests are predominantly leisure travellers who are wanting a short, luxurious break. We find that many guests often stay to celebrate special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries and the like. We also host a very small number of high-end corporate meetings and events.
What does Brimstone Hotel & Spa offer visitors and what sets it apart from other hotels? We offer guests a personal yet luxurious stay in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. We have guests that want to have a luxury stay whilst enjoying the outdoors and guests who want a luxury stay without wanting to go outdoors – we provide both offerings to an extremely high standard.
How has Brimstone Hotel & Spa dealt with the rise of visitors looking to escape the pressures of modern life? – Brimstone has always been about providing our guests with luxury, relaxation and enjoyment. However, as I touched on above, the ways in which our guests work to improve their wellbeing is very individual – for some, it is going out on a mountain bike on the fells whilst they are here, for others it is pottering over to the spa to spend their day. We have worked to ensure that our guests have a way of relaxing that suits them which is why we have our spa, our Arcteryx Bootroom, our reading room and our hosts who can help guests organise and advise on whatever it is guest’s fancy doing whilst they are staying with us. We are always looking at ways we can develop our offerings further, for example, we have recently introduced a Mindfulness Map which is a free map with suggestions of mindful activities in the area for guests; everything from open water swimming to having a drink at the pub. We never want to be prescriptive – our aim is that our guests leave us feeling more relaxed and recharged than when they arrived and ensure that there are ways that cater to everyone.
For those looking for a more active break, what does Brimstone Hotel & Spa provide or recommend locally? – We have lots of ways to make a visit to Brimstone more active. As I mentioned with relaxation, being active means different things to different people but however guests choose to be active, we can help, be that walking to and from the pub for dinner to organising a trip around more extreme adventures such as the Fred Whitton cycle race.
For those that want to go out and walk on the fells, we have our very own Arcteryx Boot Room which provides guests with complimentary, top of the range Arcteryx walking kit (everything from walking boots to coats to Ordnance Survey Maps) to ensure they are ready to take on the rather variable Lake District elements!
All of our hosts are local and very knowledgeable about the local area, so guests are encouraged to ask the hosts about any adventure advice or recommendations. We have lots of links with local partners so our hosts can organise everything from paddleboarding to ghyll scrambling.
We also have a partnership with BikeTreks and can organise guided mountain bike trips which is great for the more adventurous type. We offer special BikeTreks weekends during the summer at our sister hotel, Langdale Hotel, which have been popular.
How important is interior design when creating the right atmosphere at Brimstone Hotel & Spa? – The interior design has been fundamental in creating the right atmosphere across the suites, the more communal spaces and the spa and continues to be very important. We have worked hard to create an experience that is enjoyable and relaxing whilst also being that little bit more luxurious than what you’d have at home.
We never stand still when it comes to any part of the hotel, but particularly the interior design. Although the hotel is only five years old, we are doing full soft refurb this year which will update and refresh our rooms to bring in more elements of relaxation and luxury – watch this space!
Who designed the suites and what were the key elements you wanted to include to give them their identity? – We have a collection of 16 luxury suites and rooms which were designed by Greyline Design. We wanted the rooms to be tranquil, relaxing yet opulent. To deliver on this, the design of the suites are cool and stylish with cues taken from the Lakeland landscape – all without compromising on quality or comfort.
What’s your favourite part of the hotel, and why? – My favourite part of the hotel is the service – it is second to none. The people here make the stay for our guests. They are friendly, helpful and will always go the extra mile. Sounds simple but it does make every stay that bit more personal.
In terms of the actual facilities, I love our Mezzanine Suites due to the scale of them. These suites have a large seating and bathroom area downstairs with a log burning stove and a folding glass wall onto the balcony whilst upstairs there is the mezzanine, gallery bedroom. They are quite amazing.
Our Reading Room is also a favourite and is the first place I go after I’ve been out on my mountain bike for a beer, a few nibbles, and to put my feet up!
Have you got any tips on how visitors can make the most of their stay and the local area? – I would always encourage guests to get active and breathe in some of the wonderful fresh air during their stay with us, in whatever format that might be. Being active and exploring allows you to have experiences you wouldn’t normally have on a day to day basis. You’ll discover things like beautiful views, paths off the beaten track and even great pubs that you otherwise wouldn’t have known about.
As the pressures of modern life continue to grow, do you think staycations will grow in popularity? – Yes, I do think staycations will grow in popularity. Mental health, mindfulness and self-care are all areas of wellbeing that are becoming increasingly popular, and people are becoming much more aware of the importance of taking some time out. I don’t think that is going to change any time soon – people seem to be more inclined to spend money on experiences to help with their wellbeing than ever before.
I also think staycations are likely to grow because people are becoming more conscious about their impact on the environment. Staycations are a good way of reducing the carbon output produced from a holiday as it (usually) doesn’t involve air travel.
After joining the Quinta do Lago team earlier in the year, we caught up with Gareth Billington to hear what made him decide to take on his new role as Group Executive Chef.
Nestled within the Algarve with the privacy and security of the Ria Formosa nature reserve, the Mediterranean resort provides a treat for visitors looking for excellent cuisine along with sporting breaks within a boutique hotel setting.
Firstly, congratulations on your appointment at Quinta do Lago. How did this role come about? Quinta Do Lago has very professional and talented employees. I was asked to come here to give my cuisine knowledge to assist the Food & Beverage department. Also, to train and mentor young professionals in the kitchens.
You have worked in some fantastic places around the world, what drew you to your current base in Portugal? I have worked at exclusive and high-class establishments, and Quinta Do Lago was the natural progression.
What can visitors expect to experience when visiting Quinta do Lago? As soon as you arrive, you see the magnificent landscape, perfectly nurtured. Then enjoy the welcome from our fantastic staff, enjoy carefully selected beverages and gastronomic delights all served in beautiful surroundings.
Sustainability is an increasing element within the hospitality sector. How do you reflect this in your menu and produce? We get as much produce as we can for our menus, from Quinta Do Lago Farm or local suppliers. This is to help reduce our carbon footprint and assist local family businesses. We check that our suppliers have the same policy, as ourselves on increasing sustainability awareness and practices.
You recently invested time by training 60 budding chefs, who inspired you during your career? All the people I´ve worked with have inspired me.
When you are not cooking for visitors, what is your turn to dish? Pan-fried Halibut with tomato and red onion salad, simple and tasty !
If you had to sum up your culinary style in fours words, what would they be? Fresh, Flavour, Texture, Memorable
You may have seen our recent feature on Sorakami, the new Sake subscription service that offers the latest craft Sakes.
We wanted to find out more on how founder Robin Sola discovered his love for Sake and what made him decide to turn it into a business and why Sake could be your next favourite tipple.
Tell us about your background and how you discovered Sake?
My name is Robin Sola, and I am the founder of Sorakami. I was born and raised in France. My background is a little unusual. After a slight colour-blindness condition put an end to my airline pilot career, I moved to Tokyo, Japan, to study economics at University. There, my friends took me on a tour of a small Sake brewery near Kyoto, and it is where I discovered the true face of Sake. I’ve always been into my wines, but I realised I knew nothing about Japanese Sake. It was a real eye-opening moment for me, but also the beginning of a long love story. That’s when I started educating myself about the drink to the point where I became a certified International Sake Sommelier or “kikisake-shi” in Japanese.
How did your idea for Sorakami take shape?
I moved to the UK for work in 2015, and I quickly started missing Japanese food and especially Sake. I’ve found it hard to find shops stocking good bottles, especially outside London, and selecting a good Sake online wasn’t straightforward either. Sake can be very difficult to approach and understand. For example, most labels are still written in Japanese (although they are absolutely gorgeous, in my opinion).
That’s how Sorakami came about. I wanted to make premium Japanese Sake simple, fun and available to anyone in the UK. Every month, we deliver to your door a sommelier-curated bottle with tasting notes as well as our magazine to explore the exciting new world of Sake.
What is the difference between a mass-produced and craft Sake?
While Sake has a history of over 1,000 years, the premium Sake that we love today is a relatively new thing, only about 50 years old. This is due to the recent development in brewing techniques and technology. Non-premium Sake (Table Sake) actually makes around 80% of the entire Sake market. Here at Sorakami, we focus on the other 20%.
The two main factors that determine the grade of Sake (i.e. premium or not premium) are:
Polishing Ratio: How much of the rice grain is milled away before the brewing process. The rice must be polished to remove the undesirable outer layer that would create off flavours. The more polished, the more premium and expensive the Sake becomes.
The Brewers: The most critical contribution to the quality, style and flavour of a Sake is the savoir-faire of the “toji”, master brewer. Sake is much more complicated to make than wine. Grapes will ferment the right way without much intervention. However, in Sake making, the rice must be polished, saccharified with koji and then enter the complex and unique process of multiple parallel fermentation. A great team under great leadership is a must to make premium Sake.
Can you give us your top tips on how to sample Sake?
Just like wine, there is a lot of different Sake out there. I would recommend you try as many different kinds as possible so that you can find your favourite.
Here is a general guide to help you start. Use it next time you are at a Japanese restaurant or Sake shop.
Order “junmai” Sake if you are looking for a full-bodied and rich Sake. Junmai Sakes are also excellent warm, perfect for winter! Order “ginjo” Sake for a more aromatic and refreshing drinking experience. Finally, you can try the ultra-premium category of Sake called “daiginjo”. Flavour and aroma profiles tend to be fuller than with ginjos, and exceptional labels display both complexity and finesse.
Ginjo and daiginjo types are better enjoyed chilled in a white wine glass.
What are the biggest misconceptions that people have when it comes to Sake?
In my opinion, the four biggest misconceptions are.
1 – Sake is a strong spirit – Wrong! Sake is a fermented beverage with an average ABV of 15%. We could actually say that Sake is made like a beer (almost) but drunk like a wine.
2 – Sake is drunk in a small cup and warm – Wrong! The premium and more aromatic ginjo and daiginjo types are better enjoyed chilled in a wine glass.
3 – Sake gives you horrible hangovers – Wrong! Just like any other alcohol, top-shelf bottles are the way to go for a hangover-free next day morning. Sake is a very natural product and contains no sulphites, preservatives or other added chemicals, which makes it easy for our body to process it.
4 – You should only have Sake with Japenese food – Wrong again! One of the unique attributes of the drink is that it is full of umami. For those who do not know what umami is, it is the fifth basic taste or savoury taste (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami). Because of that umami component, Sake matches beautifully with dishes such as seafood salads, olives, caviar but also cheese-heavy pizzas and burgers! While wine matches with food, Sake amplify the flavour of food.
Is Sake the new Gin?
The world of Sake is vast, sophisticated, and with a rich history of its own. I believe Sake belongs in its very own category alongside wine, beer and spirits. We are only just starting to appreciate its beauty here in the UK. As we increasingly do so, Sake will naturally take its very own special place in our fridge and cellar right next to gin.
What is your favourite Sake of the moment??
It is an incredibly difficult question to answer with so many delicious Sake out there! Still, in my opinion, the “OKA” ginjo from the Dewazakura Brewery is an excellent Sake for people new to the drink. It is a delicate and floral Sake with a touch of pear and melon. It is absolutely gorgeous when served well chilled. Go grab a bottle on our website and see for yourself!
Abigail Tan-Giroud starts off our Travel Dine Relax features focusing on the people behind the places we love to visit and explore. We ask what it is that inspires hospitality leaders and the influences that provide guest experiences unique to their hotels.
What drew you to work within the hotel industry and who has inspired you during your career?
I have loved the hotel industry from a young age, from being fascinated with how a room goes from empty to occupied and clean to dirty to clean again, to how teams interact and how an experience can be moulded, and all the creativity behind the daily life of a hotel. This is all very exciting to me and what drew me to join the industry. The teams I have worked with have inspired me during my career. Through positive and negative experiences, I have drawn inspiration from acts of kindness, resilience, creativity, teaching me something new, using all these moments to strive for improvement.
Being a driving force behind establishing the St Giles collection must have brought many challenges and rewards, what have been the key highs and challenges you have had to overcome?
The key highs so far have been attempting to change and influence a company internal culture and slowly seeing it happen, as well as creating an external culture that resonates well with our guest. While rewarding, fostering change also bring its own challenges as change is rarely welcomed in the early stages. Other challenges have include making difficult decisions to part ways with colleagues
If you could give anyone entering into the hospitality industry any advice whatwould it be?
I’d say one of the most important advice is don’t be afraid to fail as with failure and hardship comes learning. Experiencing the process of failing and then having to pick up the pieces and try again, is what will make you strong and resilient.
How do you create a guest experience in each of your sites that reflects its location, local culture and individuality?
Here at St Giles Hotels, Each property is uniquely designed to reflect and connect with its locality to give our guest a sense of the local experience. This might be reflected in the lobby design – such as our Central London property – St Giles London, which welcomes guests with four bespoke art pieces by renowned London street Artist – Pegasus. The St Giles London Icons collection features Amy Winehouse, David Bowie, Naomi Campbell as well as the artist’s interpretation of Queen Elizabeth. – or it might be small touches such as the mini-bar selections – at The Tuscany – St Giles Signature hotel in New York , guests enjoy a taste of local with curated selection of healthy, guilt-free items from New York and surrounding areas
Do you have a favorite place that has driven you to recreate your guest experiences?
I take inspiration and ideas from many of our Asian properties, see how we can make them culturally relevant in our other locations to try and enhance every guest experience. I always try to see how we can bring luxury experiences through all our properties, mimicking my childhood experiences at the Shangri-La Rasa Sayang in Penang, to a more recent trip to the Amanpulo in the Philippines.
If you are not working what are your favourite travel, dining and relaxation pursuits?
Eating is definitely high on the list! I have a Ducati Scrambler motorcycle that I am completely in love with and enjoy taking out for little rides. I have also recently started getting more interested in gardening, so am becoming a garden centre person! I have a mini collection of guitars which I love to pick up and make some gentle noise with now and again. When the weather is good and time permits, I try to continue pursuit of flight and freedom in a helicopter. My closest friends and family are the most important things, so I try to spend as much time with them as possible when I have a break from travelling, so you may find me most Saturdays in the kitchen, preparing a large dinner for them and baking. My favourite restaurants to go to in London are the ones by Chef Jason Atherton, particularly the Social Eating House. In New York, my favourite haunt is Lolo’s Seafood shack in Harlem.
What’s next for the St Giles collection and where do you see St Giles in the next 2 years?
What’s next is the evolution of brand St Giles Hotels. We are in the process of defining the brand and guest experience for our 3 and 4 star portfolios to further established what it means to Stay Your Way with St Giles Hotel Group. In addition, we are enhancing our guest experience with the launch of our loyalty programme and amplifying personalized service with Inspired Joy – our guest initiative empowering our staff to surprise and delight our guests with unexpected moments of inspired service.
What are the challenges for the hotel industry today?
Our industry is ever evolving and hence faces many challenges, but I believe if we always keep the guest central – at the core at every decision or initiative -and remember that the human connection is a very important element in the guest’s experience, we as an industry can move beyond all challenges
When you are a hotel guest what are your ‘must haves’ and ‘must packs’?
I’m quite a non-demanding hotel guest, My ‘must packs’ are my own toiletries
Have you a favourite destination or holiday experience?
Though I have many favourite destinations, my number one is the island of Penang (in Malaysia) which is where I am from, Penang is a feast for all the senses – from the food, which is a delicious fusion of the Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures of Malaysia to the architecture (historical and modern) and the vibrant street art – world famous and very playful, inspiring joy as you travel around the island as well as the famous street ironworks that show such intricate details – Penang is always with me in my heart, and I am always excited when i return to explore and discover new and old favourite experiences
What can guests expect when they visit one of the St Giles hotels?
Our guests can expect a fulfilling and inspiring St Giles Experience. Each St Giles property welcomes guests to a warm and friendly atmosphere, creating a sense of family, a home away from home and enhances the guest’s experience of the city with a central, convenient location and great value.