RSSAll Entries Tagged With: "F&B"

Austria in lockdown: Hotels set to open just 12 days before Christmas

Austria’s tourism sector was plunged back into lockdown this week – for the fourth time since the pandemic began.

It’s the first country to take the drastic measure, despite spiralling COVID-19 infection rates across Europe. The hotels, restaurants, bars and cultural attractions forced to shut on Monday are unlikely to be able to reopen until 13 December – leaving just 12 days until Christmas.

From the traditional Christmas markets of Vienna, to the ski slopes of the Alps, there’s plenty of reasons why tourists flock to Austria over the festive season. Businesses were no doubt hoping the Yuletide spirit would work some magic on their finances, after a tough two years. So how are they faring now?

The luxury hotel still open for a lucky few

Inside Vienna’s historic Sacher Hotel, Christmas has already arrived. The lobby is decked out in its finery, though only a few fortunate business travellers are there to see it.

One told owner and managing director Matthias Winkler that “he feels like a king, because he has the whole building to himself”, which is quite something, given the hotel’s 152 luxury rooms.

Though he remains sanguine, Winkler says it was emotional to see an increase of guests coming to Austria – with visits approaching 70 per cent of 2019 levels – before his growing confidence was cut short by the lockdown announcement.

Practice makes perfect, however, and one thing Sacher Hotel has learnt over previous lockdowns is how to keep bringing its world-famous chocolate cake to the world.

Having observed that McDonald’s drive-thu was one of the few places open in the city last year, the concierge began selling ‘Sacher Torte’ on a little stand outside the hotel.

“We expected this to make a nice Instagram story but probably not more,” says Winkler.

“Completely wrong, people were loving it.”

This time they’re even doing home deliveries, with other Viennese specialities such as Wiener Schnitzel on the take-away menu. Some of the 16 to 18-year-old staff also had the idea to make Christmas sweets in the kitchens and sell them for charity.

“You would be surprised how much Christmas you would find,” Winkler says of the hotel’s interior.

With New Year also around the corner, they’re hoping to host a large number of guests for the renowned New Year’s Day Concert, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic just down the road. No one yet knows if it will go ahead.

A clear signal is needed from the government in the next few days, says Winkler, to stem the tide of cancellations in the city.

‘Another catastrophe’ for some businesses

Not all businesses are feeling so optimistic. One leading Viennese restaurant, whose owners did not want to be named, said “there is not much to say other than it is a catastrophe for our industry for the fourth time now.”

There’s an acknowledgement among others that while the lockdown is a blow to business, it shows that health is an important issue in Austria.

“This lockdown is epidemiologically necessary,” the Vienna Tourist Board tells Euronews Travel.

“At the same time, it means a frustrating situation for Vienna as a tourist destination, where efforts were made throughout the year to prepare for the important winter business by also taking all necessary measures according to scientific standards.

“The booking situation before Christmas this year was promising, the recovery tendencies were clearly visible.

“However, the increasing demand of the last months has proven that Vienna’s international attractiveness is unbroken. We hope that international travel will be possible again from 13 December.”


Asia tourism reopens with big-spending Chinese stuck at home

Asia’s gradual easing of international travel curbs is proving a welcome relief for the region’s hard-hit tourism operators slowly opening up to visitors from around the world – with one giant exception.

China, previously the world’s largest outbound tourism market, is keeping international air capacity at just 2% of pre-pandemic levels and has yet to relax tight travel restrictions as it sticks to zero tolerance for COVID-19.

That has left a $255 billion annual spending hole in the global tourism market for operators such as Thailand’s Laguna Phuket to try and fill.

Managing director Ravi Chandran says Laguna Phuket’s five resorts have shifted their marketing focus to Europe, the United States and United Arab Emirates to make up for the loss of Chinese visitors, who accounted for 25%-30% of its pre-COVID business.

“Up to today, we have not done significant marketing or promotion in China … because we don’t feel anything coming our way,” Chandran said.

The pandemic has cost Thailand an estimated $50 billion a year in tourism revenue and Chinese were above-average spenders based on tourism ministry data.

Thailand hopes to receive 180,000 foreign tourists this year, a fraction of around 40 million it received in 2019, as it opened places beyond Phuket to tourists on Monday.

Many experts expect China to keep such stringent measures such as up to a three-week quarantine for those returning home until at least the second quarter of next year and possibly then open gradually on a country-by-country basis.

“Destinations have to identify new source markets and learn how to market and cater to different cultures,” Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Chief Executive Liz Ortiguera said, citing the Maldives as a rare example of a successful pivot during the pandemic.

The string of islands in the Indian Ocean promoted itself heavily at trade shows and attracted more Russian and Indian visitors to its luxury resorts and sparkling waters.

China had been its greatest source of tourists before the pandemic but the Maldives saw overall arrivals in the first nine months of 2021 fall just 12% versus the same period of 2019.

“When we realised that Chinese travellers weren’t coming to the Maldives any time soon, we switched our focus to other key markets including Russia,” said a spokesperson for COMO Hotels and Resorts, which has two Maldives resorts.


Travel data firm ForwardKeys estimates it will take until 2025 for Chinese outbound travel to recover to pre-pandemic levels. That will also force airlines to re-evaluate their routes given its data shows 38% of Chinese tourists took foreign carriers in 2019.

Even as Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia’s Bali gradually open up for international travellers, Thai Airways (THAI.BK) and Garuda Indonesia (GIAA.JK) are drastically shrinking their fleets as part of restructuring plans amid the absence of Chinese tourists.

When China does open its borders, industry surveys show a reluctance by many to travel internationally due to COVID-19 fears.

There has also been a boom in domestic holidays to Hainan Island which now offers duty free shopping in a threat to future visits to nearby destinations such as Hong Kong and South Korea.

“I honestly do not have much enthusiasm for international travel,” said at Kat Qi, 29, a researcher in Beijing who travelled to Southeast Asia and Britain before the pandemic. “A lot of places that I wanted to visit are in less developed countries with gorgeous natural scenery and they tend to be the least vaccinated countries.”

Her preference for natural scenery is also a trend emerging in surveys of Chinese travellers. Many are focused on the outdoors at a time when domestic camping holidays have become popular and tourism operators will need to adapt accordingly, experts say.

“The market will have changed so the Chinese people travelling in 2022 will be different from the Chinese travelling in 2019,” said Wolfgang Georg Arlt, CEO of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute. “I think the trends will go away from this shopping and rushing around.”

Large group tours that have also fallen out of favour on domestic trips could also be a thing of the past, to be replaced by independent travel and smaller customised tours with family and friends, said Sienna Parulis-Cook, director of marketing and communications at advisory firm Dragon Tail International.

“You might have organised travel and everything but it would be with a small group of people that you know, rather than 50 strangers on a tour bus,” she said.


Luxury Mayfair Restaurant to Sell Ultimate Food Gift

High-end London eatery Novikov, owned by Russian restaurateur Arkady Novikov, has begun retailing its own ultra-exclusive caviar.

The Mayfair restaurant has responded to soaring demand from its well-heeled clientele by making the sought-after delicacy available to purchase over the counter, in addition to appearing on the in-house menus.

Two versions of caviar will be for sale at Novikov. The first is Selected Caviar, commonly referred to as Russian sturgeon, and is sourced from the Baltic Sea river estuaries, east of Rostock in Germany.

The second, Hybrid Caviar is produced through the cross-breeding of two sturgeons, both found in the Amur River basin that straddles the border between north-eastern China and the Russian Far East.

Novikov’s caviar undergoes a stringent quality control process after being flown to London for inspection Out of a recent shipment of 100kg, only 17kg was deemed to be good enough.

The Hybrid Caviar currently sells at Novikov for £2,400 per kilogram. A 120g retail pack will be priced at £300

After opening its doors in 2011, Novikov quickly became one of London’s most prestigious restaurants. Its owner’s second London venture, Rextail, opened late last year.


Grinding Grain Makes the Best Bread

In a quest for healthier, tastier eating, many folks have returned to the art of baking bread. What they don’t realize is that they go to all that trouble to get good flavor with flour that may be a bit short on nutrients when compared with the wheat it’s been milled from. That’s right — depending on the type, flour can lose up to 45 percent of its nutrients through oxidation within the first 24 hours of milling, and 90 percent within the first three days.

So what’s a home baker to do for best flavor and nutrition? Grind your own grain fresh, of course. With a hand-powered mill you can grind the wheat (and other grains) needed for a pound-sized loaf of whole-wheat in less than 5 minutes — and you’ll burn a few calories in the process.

Where did the Nutrition go?

Of the 44 known nutrients essential for good health, only four are not found in wheat: vitamins A, B12 and C, and the mineral iodine. Commercial wheat milling to create white flour removes bran and germ, resulting in flour that is missing up to 80 percent of its nutrients. Manufacturers do enrich commercially made flour, but with only four nutrients. So what about the other 40? And the fiber?

Maybe you think all those nutrients would be destroyed in a 350-degree oven anyway, but not so, according to Sue Becker, founder and owner of BreadBeckers Inc. and former industrial food scientist. First, even though we bake bread at 350 degrees or hotter, bread is done when its internal temperature reaches 185 degrees. In a recent interview, Becker explains that the enzymes in the grains make the nutrients more bio-available when they are heated. Some nutritional value may be lost, but some is enhanced by this design. She also points out that the vitamin E found in whole wheat is not destroyed by cooking. Convinced? Let’s get started grinding grain at home.

The Equipment

Before you go shopping for wheat, you need a mill to grind it. Grain mills come in two types: the electric impact mill that bursts the grain open, and the burr mill, which rubs the grain between two wheels of stone or stainless steel. Neither type of mill is better than the other; you simply need to know how you’ll use it before buying. If all you want is whole-wheat flour, any mill on the market can deliver. But if you want to crack your grains for grits, mill oily grains, seeds or beans, a burr mill might prove more useful. Generally, burr mills are hand cranked. Don’t let that deter you, though. Many come with motor and bicycle kits. With a little do-it-yourself spirit, most folks can handle this adaptation with no problem. The advantage of the impact mill is speed. It can mill enough flour for a batch of muffins in less than a minute — but it produces only flour.

The Wheat

You don’t have to grow your own wheat to grind your own flour. If you want a local product, ask around at your local farm store to see if anyone knows a wheat grower in the area. If you can’t find a local farmer, check out the nearest bulk food supplier. I buy Wheat Montana wheat from a grocer that stocks bulk foods. A 50-pound bag costs $28 to $42 depending on the variety.

To make bread, or any kind of yeast dough, use a hard white spring wheat or hard red wheat. The red has a stronger flavor and darker color than the white. Some folks prefer stronger flavor in their daily loaf; but for something like pizza crust, where you want a milder flavor, use the white. Spring wheat has a higher protein content, which gives you a lighter loaf. To make pastries, cakes, pancakes, or any product using baking soda or baking powder, use soft white wheat. The hard wheat will work here, but the soft wheat will give your product a lighter texture.

You don’t have to mix store-bought white flour with your whole wheat. The secret to light, soft bread is to make it immediately after grinding your grain. If baking with whole wheat is new to you, and your bread is not light enough for your palate, try adding egg, honey or lecithin to your recipe. Some folks will start with a half-and-half recipe and slowly replace the white flour with whole grain until they are used to the flavor and texture of 100-percent whole wheat.

If you want to adapt a recipe you’re already comfortable with, just replace all flour products in it (flour, germ, gluten) with freshly ground flour. Measure the flour after milling, as you will get more than 1 cup of flour from 1 cup of wheat — how much more will depend on the variety and the coarseness of the grind. In my experience, whole wheat tends to be drier than white flour, so your dough will not be as sticky and you will probably not add as much in the kneading process. Baking times should be comparable.

If you want the health benefits of grinding your own grain, don’t be tempted to add gluten to your recipe. According to the Whole Grains Council (WGC), “If the grain has been processed, the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.” Becker says adding the additional gluten to the whole wheat upsets that balance that the WGC refers to, thus rendering the bread no longer “whole grain.”


Since I buy my wheat in 50-pound bags, I have to store it somewhere. If kept in an environment free of pests and moisture, wheat will keep indefinitely. In fact, legend holds that wheat kernels found in Egyptian pyramids have sprouted. When I bring my wheat home from the store, I pop the bag into the freezer for three or four days to kill any unwanted pests that may have made it home from wherever the bag has been. I then take it out and bring it up to room temperature — this may take a day — before transferring it into a food-grade, 5-gallon bucket, preferably one with a lid that screws off easily and has a rubber gasket to keep out any moisture. If you put the grain in the bucket right out of the freezer, it will produce moisture inside from the change in temperature. Likewise, if you choose to store your wheat in the freezer, you will need to bring it up to room temperature before milling.

Who can resist the smell of bread, fresh from the oven? Or whole-wheat pancakes heavy with home-churned butter and maple syrup? What about tortillas, soft and warm, right off the griddle? Someone once asked me how my whole-wheat bread turns out so light and soft. Now you know my secrets. And it’s not only healthier, it tastes better, too.


The Cronut Guy’s Top 10 Pastry Tools

As home cooks, we rely on our instincts, our knowledge, and our curiosities — but we also have to rely on our tools. Which is why we’re asking the experts about the essential tools we need to make our favorite foods attainable in our own kitchens.

Today: How does Dominique Ansel, whose new book is available for pre-order, make pastry creations that spark mass hysteria in New York City? He starts by stocking his kitchen with these 10 tools.

I always say that when it comes to baking, you need to buy a lot of toys. A dash of this and a pinch of that sounds romantic, but it’s a pastry chef’s nightmare. Real baking relies on precise science and an investment in a few tools that will dramatically improve the quality of your work. The more equipment you invest in, the less intimidating baking becomes. If you’re a passionate cook, don’t be scared to load up your kitchen with a proper baking section. You won’t regret it!

Here what you’ll need to get started:

1. Digital scale
There’s a strange stigma about buying a scale, but if you’re serious about baking, this is perhaps the one tool to invest in. Measurements are so much more accurate with a digital scale, and you don’t have to worry about how densely you packed your measuring cups and spoons. Scales are small, relatively cheap, easy to use, and much more efficient than a collection of cups and spoons.

2. Stand mixer
I’ve whipped creams and meringues with only a whisk and a sturdy forearm before, but after a while, it gets a bit painful. While you can make cookie batter with a bowl and a spatula, a stand mixer allows you to really dive into more serious recipes (and it saves you from a muscle ache).

3. Probe thermometer
Temperature makes a big difference the minute you start to work with sugar, as its texture changes so much depending on how much you heat it. Can you make a good meringue or caramel without a thermometer? Yes. But to consistently make a great one, this is one piece of equipment that’s worth it.

4. Chopsticks
A few years ago, I started realizing how convenient chopsticks are as tools for finishing desserts with those last few precise touches. They don’t look as fancy as a pair of tweezers, but you can also regularly replace them and you can use them while frying.

5. Vegetable peeler
You go through a lot of fruit when you’re baking — I remember peeling baskets of apples when I was an intern. At a certain point, a peeler is a good investment. For an added trick, you can use a peeler to lightly level off the sides of your tart shells to make them even.

6. Piping bag and tips
Piping can be intimidating when you’re embellishing a cake with fancy calligraphy. But piping isn’t just for decoration — it’s also for filling things. Plus, a piping bag allows you to work with one of my favorite doughs — pâte à choux — the eggy and light dough you find in éclairs and cream puffs.

7. Silicon mat
You work with a lot of tricky consistencies in baking. Not only does a silicon mat help sticky marshmallow or fragile mousse to set, but it also makes certain cake batters easier to unmold. It also keeps more delicate doughs moist and prevents them from drying out or over-baking. Of course, silicon mats also make washing the dishes a lot easier.

8. Dough scraper
This tool is for more than just scraping dough off the bottom of your mixing bowl. The curved side can serve as a scoop, and it is also useful for mixing lighter batters and meringues. Flip it over to the straight edge, and it can be used to spread batter evenly on a sheet pan before baking, to ice a cake, or to level off your tart filling so it’s clean and neat.

9. Microplane
You never realize how often you could use a microplane until you get one. In pastry, it’s crucial for zesting fruits and grating fresh spices.

10. Torch
In the past, people would assume you only use a torch for making crème brûlée, but a torch can be a very handy tool for adding caramelized crunch to a variety of treats. Sprinkle sugar onto fruits and torch them briefly. Or use a torch to brown meringues and — my favorite — to toast up marshmallows. It can also help you quickly heat up the sides of your mold to make unmolding easier.


The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts Celebrates Spice with Chefs from around the World in New Assouline Book, Epicurean Journeys

The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts Celebrates Spice with Chefs from around the World in New Assouline Book, Epicurean Journeys

The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts Celebrates Spice with Chefs from around the World in New Assouline Book, Epicurean Journeys

Starwood Luxury Collection

The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts, part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Inc. (NYSE:HOT), unveils its latest collaboration with Assouline: Epicurean Journeys, a hardcover collection of original recipes by renowned chefs, including: Chef Jose Andres, Geoffrey Zakarian, Stephanie Le Quellec, Daniele Turco, Manjit Gill and more. Available for Holiday 2014, the limited edition book will retail with set of five exclusive spices created by Lior Lev Sercarz, owner of La Boîte in New York City, and inspired by the brand’s destinations around the world.

“Like The Luxury Collection, spice blending is all about storytelling; so I was thrilled to create a collection of custom spices that bring treasured travel memories to life for global travelers, without having to leave the kitchen,” says Lior Lev Sercarz. “Each of the blends is inspired by the explorers that played a pivotal role in the history of the spice trade – transporting new flavors to curious palates and paving the way for travelers to dream of faraway places.”

The five spice blends, developed exclusively for Epicurean Journeys, celebrate travel and are inspired by great global explorers of the past, including: ‘Marco’, a blend inspired by Marco Polo’s voyage through the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean; ‘Magellan’, a blend inspired by the varied curries of Asia and the explorer who first opened these flavors up to the western world; ‘Colombo,’ a tribute to one of world history’s most fortuitous accidents, a versatile blend of fragrant wild herbs including oregano, and thyme, with red chilis, to conjure the marinated meats and the stews and sauces of the region; ‘Vasco’ celebrates Vasco da Gama’s monumental voyage which opened the wealth of India, bringing together allspice, Ginger, and cinnamon, marrying sweet and savory in intricate and mysterious ways; and ‘Veneti’ is a tribute to Venice, the crossroads of the Eastern spice trade, blending the high-quality gray salt harvested around Europe with the orange citrus of the south and the heat of the Basque Espelette pepper.

“The Luxury Collection has always celebrated exceptional culinary experiences as a way to transport travellers and bring a location to life,” says Paul James, Global Brand Leader, The Luxury Collection, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts and W Hotels Worldwide. “We are excited to introduce Epicurean Journeys to our guests, who we know have an insatiable appetite to travel, explore and discover.”

In addition to vibrant recipes from The Luxury Collection’s acclaimed roster of chefs, Epicurean Journeys is punctuated by passages from a group of high-profile global explorers, including revered food critic Ruth Reichl, who opines on the flavors that define her home city of New York; Elettra Wiedemann, who shares her most memorable meal from an unforgettable trip to Peru with her husband; acclaimed author and model, Sophie Dahl, who shares her love of Indonesian cuisine; Helena Christensen, who recollects her love affair with Italian food; and acclaimed singer and songwriter, Jamie Cullum, who explains the way two of his passions – music and food – intersect in London.

With inspiring recipes, culinary tips, and captivating stories, The Luxury Collection’s Epicurean Journeys brings to life the brand’s Mantra, “Life is a collection of experiences. Let us be your guide. Exclusively offered at Assouline boutiques around the world and, Epicurean Journeys will retail for usd $150 beginning in October 2014.


New, Culinary-Themed Hotel Opens

In the past, the Tampa Bay region hasn’t been high on a foodie’s travel bucket list.

Sure, there are some tasty Cuban sandwiches in Tampa and fresh grouper in restaurants along the Gulf of Mexico.

But cutting-edge culinary trends haven’t surfaced here – until now.

The Epicurean Hotel, a $35 million, 137-room hotel, opened on Tuesday. The entire concept revolves around food: There’s an 80-seat restaurant, patisserie, culinary theater, wine store, rooftop bar and cooking classes in a theater that looks like it’s a Food Network set. While a vacation centered around food is nothing new in Napa wine country, rustic Vermont or romantic Tuscany, it’s a fresh idea in Florida.

Guests have personal pantries in their rooms stocked with gourmet goodies, including chocolate and sea salt caramels, prosciutto, goat cheese and bottles of wine — including a handout that explains which wines go best with each snack.

The decor is also food-themed. Paintings of fruit grace the walls, cookbooks line bookshelves in the lobby and pillows on the hotel beds depict utensils. An 8-foot-high knife and fork rest in a corner and in a hallway, two vertical, living herb gardens are a lush addition.

Even the hotel’s employees, who have dubbed themselves “Epicureans,” feel like they have a culinary responsibility.

“They are lovers of food and wine and will curate the experience for our guests,” said Joe Collier, president of Mainsail Lodging and Development Group.

The Tampa-based Mainsail partnered with the owner of the city’s best-known restaurant — Bern’s Steak House — to develop the boutique Epicurean hotel. Bern’s is across the street from The Epicurean, and Collier said that he expects guests to eat at the restaurant, drink at the hotel’s bar, sleep at the hotel, then enjoy other food-related activities the following day.

Bern’s, which was opened in Tampa in 1956 by Bern Laxer and is now owned by his son, David Laxer, boasts one of the largest wine lists of any restaurant in the world. TV chef Rachel Ray named it the best steak house in the U.S., and Wine Spectator Magazine has given it a “Grand Award” each year since 1981.

The restaurant’s expertise in wine will be shared across the street in the hotel, where a wine and spirits store is nestled on the first floor. It’s next to the culinary theater, which already has a calendar of events ranging from “The Universe of Krug Champagne” to “Tea and Chocolate Pairing.”

“Education and culinary growth have always been a big part of my family,” said Laxer.

Classes aren’t only for hotel guests, and neither is the rooftop bar, with its views of downtown Tampa.

During Tuesday’s opening party, the city’s movers and shakers sipped champagne and cheered when The Epicurean’s executive chef Chad Johnson sautéed a slab of steak on the culinary theater’s Viking stovetop. (The hotel restaurant also has a second, massive Viking stove, which cost $175,000).

Meanwhile, throughout the hotel, workers busily placed flatscreen TVs in rooms, wheeled pallets of doors into the spa and unwrapped chaise lounges on a patio deck. Only about 35 rooms were open as of Tuesday, but Norwood Smith, Mainsail’s vice president of sales and marketing, said more rooms are coming on line every day. The hotel is booked solid for New Year’s Eve, he said.

The hotel is part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection, and has a ballroom and space for weddings or business meetings. Room prices range from $200-$300 a night.

The spa and patisserie will be open by mid-January, and a lavish grand opening party with celebrity chef Norman Van Aiken is scheduled for Jan. 17-19.


Epicurean Hotel Opens As Legacy to Bern’s Steak House Founder

To celebrate the opening of the food- and wine-inspired Epicurean Hotel, officials swapped the traditional ribbon cutting for a “steak-cutting ceremony” using an aged strip steak cooked by the executive chef in the new culinary classroom.

It was a fitting tribute to the late Bern Laxer, founder of the famed Bern’s Steak House across the street whose legacy made the hotel possible.

The Epicurean Hotel opens today at 1207 S Howard Ave., a partnership between the steak house and Tampa-based Mainsail Lodging and Development Group. Nearly a decade in the making, the 137-room hotel has a restaurant, rooftop bar, wine store, pastry shop, culinary classroom, banquet room, pool and spa.

Hotel employees, investors and public officials gathered Tuesday to tour the four-story Epicurean and attend a staff pep rally with Plant High School marching band members banging pots and pans to rousing applause.

“All I can say is ‘Wow,’ ” said Bern’s Steak House owner David Laxer, whose father started the restaurant in 1956. “To see this come to fruition is amazing.”

The hotel caters to foodies seeking a unique gastronomic experience in the heart of Tampa’s historic Hyde Park.

“Our tagline for this hotel is to awaken appetites unknown,” said general manager Tom Haines.

Mainsail president Joe Collier described what he hopes will become a typical guest’s stay: Eat dinner at Bern’s, grab a nightcap at the hotel’s rooftop bar, go biking along nearby Bayshore Boulevard, eat breakfast in the restaurant, get a massage in the spa, take a cooking class, then rest at the pool.

The $35 million project is the first built-from-scratch hotel in the United States to join Marriott International’s Autograph Collection. But you won’t see a Marriott logo anywhere in the hotel. Most items were custom designed for the Epicurean, from the wine-cork wreath at the front desk to decorative bed pillows showing a spoon, fork and knife. It’s quaintly urban, with the din of cars passing on the bordering Lee Roy Selmon Expressway audible from the pool.

Central to the hotel is the Epicurean Theatre, a 40-seat culinary classroom with amphitheater-style seating and a kitchen for food presentations, cooking classes and iron chef competitions. Classes starting in February will cover everything from the History of the Cocktail to Sustainable Winemaking and Seafood.

Chad Johnson, a 2012 James Beard Best Chef South Region semifinalist, heads up Elevage, an 80-seat restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pastry chef Kim Yelvington was tapped to run Chocolate Pi, a patisserie opening next month.

Room prices range from $200 to $300 a night and New Year’s Eve is already sold out.

Laxer first floated the idea of a boutique hotel in 2003 as a complement to Bern’s Steak House and its adjacent sister restaurant, SideBern’s. The project met resistance from neighboring residents concerned about adding traffic to busy Howard Avenue but eventually was approved.

The hotel was slated to open in 2008 but was shelved when the real estate market crashed and Laxer was unable to secure financing. Plans were revived and tweaked as the economy improved, and Mainsail Lodging joined as a partner.

Officials said Tuesday that the final result was better than earlier concepts, which included a hotel with fewer rooms but also private townhouses. The hotel is better integrated with the neighborhood and the exterior is more attractive, said Bob McDonaugh, the city of Tampa’s administrator of economic opportunity.

Vicki Pollyea, president of the Bayshore Gardens Neighborhood Association, said she was disappointed the project didn’t come back for another city review when it was resurrected and revised. The current 137 rooms are considerably more than the 86 once planned and the rooftop bar, banquet room and other amenities will generate even more traffic and parking snarls.

“I think it’s an asset and something the community really wants, but I really wish that the neighborhoods had had the opportunity to be more involved,” said Pollyea, noting that her association was not invited to Tuesday’s grand opening event.

Still, she was hopeful officials would address concerns once the hotel was up and running and fully operational.

As an extension of the Epicurean, Laxer said he planned to spruce up the blah exterior of Bern’s Steak House with landscaping and other improvements this summer. He also might upgrade — but not replace — the iconic Bern’s Steak House sign.

He said his father, who died in 2002, would have liked a hotel devoted to the pursuit of culinary excellence.

“I don’t know if he would have built the hotel because he was so focused on the steakhouse, but he loved improving his knowledge and discovering new things,” Laxer said.


Good Food, Hospitality Pulls in Clients at Sweden’s Kurdish Restaurants

Good service, and good, clean food at affordable prices at Kurdish restaurants in Sweden attract thousands of satisfied clients a month, according to official figures.

Little things, like paying your bill after eating – instead of the Swedish custom of paying first and receiving a ticket for your meal at the lower-end restaurants – add to the reasons why Swedes, Kurds, Arabs, Persians and other lovers of dishes like Kebab and Qozi flock to Kurdish eateries.

“The service is the reason why we come here,” said a Kurdish patron at Stockholm’s Safin restaurant. “I order Qozi when I am very hungry, and kebab when I am not.”

Sarsang, Kurdistan, Safin, Nawroz, Kirkuk and Nergiz are among the better know restaurants in Stockholm.

“Just like custom dictates in Kurdistan, you eat first and then pay,” said Ahmed, a Kurdish patron of a restaurant. “In addition to the good service there is also a homey atmosphere,” he told Rudaw.

“Hot tea, oven bread and greasy Kebabs taste excellent in this cold and foreignness,” said Ahmed, as he tucked into some Kebab.

In Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city which has a large Kurdish population, restaurant-goers say the etiquette and standards are somewhat different.

“Cheating is more common here,” said Ahmed Hama Rahim, a chef at a Gothenburg restaurant. “There is dine and dash by some customers,” he noted.

Many Kurds who reside abroad complain about the restaurants in Gothenburg and London for not keeping up with European sanitary standards. In Stockholm, Cologne and Berlin, the restaurants are better and more considerate of the standards, they say.

“We abide by state standards one hundred percent,” the owner and chef of the Kurdistan Restaurant in Stockholm told Rudaw. “The rules have become more rigid and you cannot avoid them; also abiding by the rules is beneficial for us,” he added.

He said the restaurant serves more than 300 customers every day, considered a large number in a city like Stockholm.

According to data by the Stockholm Tax Agency, a sample of 10 Kurdish restaurants showed they served 20,000 customers a month, who together spend around two million Swedish Kronas (around $300,000).

Khabat Bestani, who works at the employment center in Stockholm, said that Kurdish restaurants employ some 1,000 people, “and this is a good number for a city of two million residents like Stockholm. This shows the success of the businesses.”

But like other businesses, there is a darker side to restaurant ownership.

A source from the Stockholm Tax Agency said that restaurants commonly either report less income in order to avoid taxes, or employ undocumented immigrants who are overworked and underpaid, without the knowledge of the government.

Fatima Baghdadi, an Arab customer in one of the Kurdish restaurants in Stockholm, said, “I come here because the Kurdish food is clean, healthy and cheap.”

Yelena, eating Kurdish food with her Swedish spouse, also likes the food. “Kurdish cuisine is very tasty, but has too many calories,” she complained.


Irish Hospitality Coming to Falls

A little taste of Ireland is coming to Niagara Falls Monday.

Closed since Sept. 30, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, hotel bars in the city will reopen as Doc Magilligan’s Restaurant and Irish Pub.

And what a transformation it has been.

A bar since 1965, The Croft Lounge, where countless couples have either met or have gone on dates, will be hardly noticeable for those familiar with the old space.

“They gutted the whole restaurant,” said Leo O’Toole, general manager of Doc’s, which opens to the public Monday morning next to the Best Western Plus Cairn Croft Hotel on Lundy’s Lane.

“The bookshelves, the panels on the walls and the full bar were all made in Ireland, shipped over in three containers and then installed and put together in here, including all the furniture. All the paraphernalia you see on the walls, every chair you see, every couch you see, the fabric (is) authentic Irish fabric.”

O’Toole, who is from Dublin and has 27 years of experience in the restaurant and pub business, said the 5,500-square-foot space has the genuine authenticity of an Irish restaurant.

“There’s a famous saying in Ireland, when you’re in an Irish pub, you’re at your grandmother’s because you get spoiled,” he said.

“We’re trying to give you an Irish experience, not only from our menu point of view, but also our select beverages and our hospitality.”

Much like the popular TV show Cheers, O’Toole said he wants his staff and customers to know each others’ names.

“We want to be a regular establishment and not an occasional establishment. We want the customers to say, ‘We’re coming here tonight we’d like to sit in Samantha’s section because we know she’s going to take care of us.’”

The venue is still owned by the Cade family, which also owns the attached hotel.

Doc Magilligan, the pub’s namesake, was a great-great -grandfather to Maureen Magilligan Cade, who is married to Fred Cade.

The old story goes that the good doctor was admired for his nurturing care when he made his rounds, and he was just as popular when buying yet another round for the lads. Thoroughly professional, but still the life of the party, the beloved doctor was considered to be the real deal.

The full food and drink menu will have a distinctly Irish feel to it.

Along with popular alcoholic beverages Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks and Kilkenny, as well as Irish cider Magners, traditional Irish and British food will include shepherd’s pie, steak-and-mushroom pie and what will likely be Doc’s signature dish, an Irish pancake traditionally called a boxie.

O’Toole said the restaurant, which will be opened seven days a week, will also feature local brews, Niagara wines and several high-definition TVs showing all sporting events.

There will be live entertainment on Thursdays and a DJ on Fridays and Saturdays.