From contemporary Mexican cuisine to hearty traditional Sardinian fare to sublime tasting menus in Panama, here we share our five favourite hotels for food lovers.
Hotel Xcaret Mexico, Mayan Riviera, Mexico
By Johanna Read, TravelEater.net
Beach hotels aren’t well known for their food. Sure, there’s delicious fresh fruit, perhaps some expertly-grilled fish and certain dishes you’re happy to eat, but gastronomy is not something you’d typically find. Hotel Xcaret Mexico is one of those rare beach hotels that does food well.
Their flagship restaurant, Ha’ — meaning water in Mayan — is headed by the first chef in Mexico to receive a Michelin star. Carlos Gaytan has created an innovative and delicious tasting menu of contemporary Mexican cuisine that will make you feel like you’re dining in London, New York or Chicago (where Gaytan’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Mexique, is). Befitting its name, Ha’ is a restaurant where water plays a heavy role in its decor. The building is surrounded by a moat, you walk over water when entering the restaurant and there’s a giant column of swirling blue separating the bar from the dining area.
I was at the grand opening of Hotel Xcaret in December 2017 and Chef Gaytan was there to show us how to make the lime sorbet in his elaborate tasting menu, which he rapidly whipped over a bed of dry ice. His tasting menu included pescado mole verde, ceviche, a steak and a squash blossom quesadilla. The dessert was a trompe l’oeil delight of pannacotta.
The other ten restaurants at Hotel Xcaret are also far above the quality you’d expect at a Mexican or Caribbean beach resort. There are several international restaurants and several serving Mexican cuisine. All delicious. I enjoyed incredible lamb popsicles, tuna ceviche, several dishes with passionfruit and more.
Luxury Hotel Xcaret (pronounced “shca-ret” but you can get away with the easier “esh-ka-ret”) is about an hour from Cancun near Playa del Carmen. Guests can enjoy a Caribbean beach as well as a beach on a flat freshwater lagoon, fed by the canals and cenote rivers that twist through the property (borrow a paddleboard or kayak and explore them!). Hotel rates include admission to several eco-archeological parks in the area, including popular Xcaret and Xplor parks, as well as tours to nearby Mayan ruins.
Cap Maison, Saint Lucia
By Lucy Dodsworth, On the Luce
The relaxed, sandy islands of the Caribbean might not be the most obvious destination for foodies, but Cap Maison hotel in Saint Lucia is trying to change that. With the help of Welsh Rastafarian chef Craig Jones, they’re taking the tasty produce you find on the island and giving it a high-end twist. Think fresh fish and delicate sauces, all beautifully presented.
As well as the hotel’s signature Cliff at Cap clifftop restaurant, they also offer some delicious experiences for food lovers – from a market tour and private class with the chef, to Creole cookery with a local family at their home and a deli wine-matching dinner in the cellars. The hotel has the best-stocked wine cellar on the island, as well as blending their own cask-aged rum – don’t miss trying it mixed with mango in the Cask Elixir cocktail.
The Table Bay, Cape Town
By Johanna Read, TravelEater.net
Sitting next to the wharf in Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the five-star Table Bay Hotel is known as the best address in the city and as Nelson Mandela’s favourite Cape Town hotel. In fact, South Africa’s first democratically-elected president officially opened the hotel in 1997.
At 21-years-old, The Table Bay is sophisticated and elegant, but still had a friendly attitude and some modern flair, especially in its dining which favours a farm-to-fork approach. On Executive Chef Jocelyn Myers-Adam’s seasonal menus you’ll find classics, South African specialities, and au courant dishes like a beef carpaccio marinated in beetroot, orange and coffee. Ingredients are sourced locally and sustainably whenever possible, and all their seafood is from green lists. Want to learn more? Take the Table Bay Foraging Tour and learn how the hotel’s chefs look for local herbs and plants and how they use them in their dishes (try any dish offered with hibiscus blooms, which give a fabulous citrusy-cranberry flavour).
One of the best parts of staying at The Table Bay is their incredible breakfast buffet, known as the best in the city. In the bright Atlantic room with views of the bay and Table Mountain, find savoury and sweet dishes, including an excellent Asian selection, accompanied by a large variety of fresh juices and espresso-based coffees. I was thrilled to find an abundance of my absolute favourite — passionfruit. Not only could I eat the intensely-flavoured pulp fresh on the half-shell, but someone in the kitchen had gone to the trouble of preparing bowls of the crunchy seeds in their sweet-tart jelly pulp. I piled a somewhat-embarrassing number of spoonfuls onto my freshly-made waffle and didn’t have to have the evidence of the passion fruit peels sitting beside me. Bliss.
Dining at The Table Bay Hotel is also available at the Pool Bar, the Union Bar, the Camissa Brasserie, and in The Lounge, which also serves a formal afternoon tea. If you’re interested in wine, have a private tasting in the Wine Room. And of course, there’s room service if you’re not keen to leave your gorgeously-appointed room with views out over the beauty of Cape Town.
Su Gololgone, Sardinia, Italy
By Kathryn Burrington, Travel With Kat
Hidden in a valley in the heart of Sardinia’s Barbagia mountains, seemingly a million miles away from the bling of Costa Smeralda, lies a holiday retreat so lovely that Madonna once hired the whole hotel for a week.
Overflowing with local character and rustic chic, Su Gologone tumbles down the hillside in such a laid-back manner that you can’t help but feel immediately at home here, without a care in the world. Whitewashed walls, local textiles, quirky pottery, hammocks and hidden patios abound.
And it is here, in the most magical of settings with a backdrop of the mountains, I enjoyed my first Sardinian feast. With fresh produce from the hotel’s garden, succulent local slow-cooked meats, homemade breads, pastas, cheeses and cured meats, a seemingly endless array of dishes came out one after the other. I imagined the table buckling under the weight (and threw all thoughts of my weight straight out the window). The highlight was the most sublime spit-roasted suckling pig, cooked on an open fire in the restaurant, flavoured with herbs from the marquis, most notably myrtle. An excellent local Carignano ruby red wine was the perfect accompaniment.
When the couple on the table next to mine mentioned that their friends in Rome regularly visit Sardinia, just to dine at Su Gologone, it didn’t surprise me. That evening I fell asleep still grinning with the flavours of Sardinia on my lips.
The Bristol Panama, Panama City
By Johanna Read, TravelEater.net
Panamanian cuisine isn’t as well-known outside of Panama as it should be. For now, you’ll need to travel to Panama to explore the ultimate fusion cuisine and the local ingredients that make it even more delicious. The Bristol Panama, Panama City’s original luxury boutique hotel, is the ideal place to stay to start your culinary journey in Panama.
Paralleling its melting pot culture, Panamanian cuisine is influenced by the many ethnic groups which visited and stayed in this multicultural country that connects North and South America. Predominating in Panamanian dishes are Spanish, African and Chinese influences, as well as an array of indigenous techniques and ingredients.
At the five-star Bristol, dining is in the Salsipuedes Cocina & Bar and in the 8°58’ Lounge. The award-winning Salsipuedes is named after a famous street in Panama’s Old Quarter where you could buy just about anything, and which is a play on the words “sal si puedes” which mean “get out if you can”. Begun by Chef Cuquita Arias de Calvo — one of Panama’s most famous chefs and the only Latin American woman on Saveur’s world’s 100 best chefs list — the restaurant is now led by innovative Executive Chef Bolivar Franco, from Colón on Panama’s Caribbean coast.
The restaurant’s eclectic menu features modern adaptations of traditional Panamanian dishes like cod fritters and crocodile rice soup, as well as dishes reflecting Panama’s multiculturalism, like bulgogi tacos. Chef Bolivar uses Panamanian ingredients like cocoa from Bocas del Toro, local artisanal queso blanco, and Chiriqui beans. His philosophy is to respect his products. He uses all parts of the animal he cooks with and wants the flavour of his local ingredients to shine.
My tasting menu shone with dishes like an asparagus soup in the form of a mousse, accompanied by perfectly grilled vegetables; a single raviolo with scallop and langoustine and beurre noisette; and local cobia fish. Before or after your dinner, have an aperitif or a digestif on the patio or inside the bar next door to Salsipuedes. Be sure to look up to see the cool display of Panama hats on the ceiling. Not sure what to order? Ask for an inventive cocktail made with Panama’s national sugarcane liquor, seco to remind you exactly where you are.
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