While I have travelled regularly for work and play over the years, I have not eaten very regularly at hotels. There is something I find defeatist about room service, and disconcerting about hotel restaurants.
That is certainly not to say that I don’t understand the reasons for both. Room service is important if you are working almost non-stop and on a tight schedule. It can also be convenient when you’ve been out and about touring all day and just need a quiet night in. There are some incredible hotel restaurants around the world, but in Australia, I find they are some of the most overpriced and bland places to eat going around.
When I think about hotel restaurant experiences in Australia I cringe. I struggle to think of one that is on my list to try, and I have tried very few. Est in Sydney is probably the best example of an exceptional larger city hotel restaurant I can think of, but is in a very boutique hotel. It does what the best examples overseas do – completely separate the restaurant from the hotel and as a result, it has many more outside patrons dining than hotel guests.
Overseas it is different. Many of the most cutting edge restaurants, and greatest chefs, have come from hotels. Hotel dining rooms are revered in many cities. Dinner at Le Maurice in Paris is one of the most incredible nights I’ve spent eating and drinking. It was so good the next time we were in Paris we stayed there – that is a distinct reversal of roles when the restaurant actually attracts the guest to stay there on the next visit!
There are cities where most of the best restaurants are in hotels. We are going back to Hong Kong later this year and it seems the most authoritative restaurant guides favour hotel dining. Other cities in Asia are similar in this perspective.
We could also learn a great deal from the lobby bars from The States. Places like the Ace Hotel in New York, or the Roosevelt in Hollywood, have the same charm and charisma of the best cocktail bars. Again, I struggle to think of a hotel that I’ve met up with friends for a cocktail, in Australia.
I was eating this club sandwich in my room at the Hyatt in Perth thinking about these experiences. Here is a sandwich, that while varied to some degree, owes much to hotels for its existence in culinary folklore. It is simple, effective, and delicious most times you order it whether here, in Bali, in Brazil, or Boston.
Same with the Waldorf Salad. All those years ago when a chef came up with apple, celery and walnuts in a salad, it transferred into popular culture without the internet. Travellers coming through the hotel picked it up, took it home, and made it their own. It makes you think how quickly food trends are, and will continue, to move globally. If it seems to you, like it does to me, that there have been several food trends in recent months and years, the question is whether there will be more or less classic dishes in ten years time.