The Ranch at Rock Creek
Philipsburg, Montana, US
Nestled into a valley around 20 miles from anything – and you will learn why Montana is called the Big Sky State – this is an exceptional place. Breakfast is a hearty affair – it needs to be to fuel the day’s activities – although true cowboys might stick to the thickcut bacon options rather than the fluffy lemon ricotta pancakes.
The Newt in Somerset
Bruton, Somerset, UK
A new hotel/spa/garden venture from Karen Roos, former editor of Elle Decoration South Africa. They don’t take lunch reservations at the restaurant but you can always stroll the gardens while you wait, not least as they are the source of around 80% of your meal. ‘Local’ and ‘sustainable’ have rarely been more accurately tagged.
There are few countries with contrasts as extreme as Japan. When it’s busy, it’s neon-lit, manic, Day-Glo 24/7 until ruthless efficiency or time travel creates additional hours and an extra day per week. When it’s calm – the myriad temples, the glorious countryside – it’s as peaceful as can be.
Hoshinoya Kyoto is a little of the latter on the edge of the former. While Kyoto is considerably less intense than its successor/anagram Tokyo, it’s still a fairly typical, bustling Japanese city. Even so, Hoshinoya is a proper little oasis of authentic calm and one so efficient, the soothing process begins 20 minutes before you get there – because Hoshinoya is accessible only by boat. Actually, that’s a bit of marketing spin and you can drive, but sometimes you just have to play the game, turn up at the boat stand and let them chug you gently along to the jetty, where you’ll be met by one person for every passenger and efficiently checked into your quiet, authentic Japanese room, complete with those opaque paper screens, exquisitely simple furniture, a futon and a wooden bath tub.
As it happens, this semi-monastic, oh-so-Zen living space is somewhat at odds with what awaits you in the dining room. Chef Ichiro Kubota has a deep eye for tradition, a devotion to the local and seasonal, but with a knowledge of Western ingredients and flavours that surprises and adds a somewhat playful air on occasion: a sensation often all too rare in Japan. Dinner is served in the kaiseki manner, a multiple course meal that celebrates a different style of cooking and/or a particular ingredient at each course, building to a final savoury course of rice and pickled vegetables, and followed by fruit and dessert.
It’s a decidedly reverential way of eating, which is no bad thing given the “away from it all” theme of this issue’s reviews, and in chef Kubota’s hands, it borders on the spiritual. Dishes pass in a blur of remarkable ingredients – river clams, mugwort, baby octopus, lily root – and picture-perfect presentation. It’s a series of tiny, exquisite mouthfuls that accumulates into something greater than the sum of its parts – although the parts are also truly remarkable. There are few culinary experiences to compare.