By Hideaway Report Editor
January 7, 2019
At hotels and restaurants aiming to provide the highest level of hospitality, it is people who ultimately make the difference. Distinctive architecture, stylish interior design and lavish amenities are all worthy attributes, but no property receives a Hideaway Report recommendation without staff members who are warm, efficient and sincere. In 2018, our editors had the good fortune to encounter these exceptional individuals. Here are our Editors’ Choice Hospitality Award winners.
Chef of the Year: Ollie Dabbous
Hide — London, England
No restaurant opening in London was more hotly anticipated this year than Hide, the new three-level venture by celebrity chef Ollie Dabbous. I wondered how his acclaimed cooking would translate from his industrial-chic former restaurant to luxe-chic Hide, with its stunning swirl of a wooden staircase and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Green Park. I discovered cuisine that exuded confidence and creativity. Dabbous nailed the details in every element of our lunch in the “Above” section of the restaurant. An ostensibly simple crudités plate came carefully composed and beautiful to behold, and even the little bowl of butter accompanying the gorgeous breads looked positively sensual. More-complex courses were delicate but thoroughly satisfying. Most exciting was my main course of veal rillettes, in which the shaved king oyster mushrooms on top turned into something like al dente pasta when mixed with the truffle cream. I eat a lot of fancy food over the course of a year, but Dabbous’ remarkable restaurant stands out. I hope to have an excuse to return very soon.
Guide of the Year: Coti Mainero
Awasi Iguazú — Puerto Iguazú, Argentina
All guests at Awasi Iguazú are allocated their own 4WD vehicle and guide. This transforms the experience, as every excursion, including those to the magnificent Iguazú Falls, is personalized. We met our guide, Coti, at the airport, where she was waiting for us in a brand-new white Ford Ranger. She immediately struck us as good-humored, efficient and articulate. In addition to possessing an impressive knowledge of colloquial English, she displayed a serviceable command of Portuguese, as well as her native Spanish. During our stay, Coti took us on a speedboat excursion on the Paraná River, led us on a hike through the dense riverine forest and expertly guided three excursions to both the Argentine and Brazilian sides of the falls. Her knowledge of the topography of the falls, the surrounding national parks and the native birds and animals was encyclopedic. We spent much of one day bird-watching — I had expressed a desire to see the spectacular giant toucans that are relatively common around the lodge — and in the evening before dinner Coti presented me with a printed list of all the birds we had seen, complete with their Latin names. Awasi Iguazú has 16 guides, catering to the needs of a maximum of 28 guests, and from various conversations, I gleaned that our experience with Coti was not untypical. But as well as her punctuality, expertise and consummate professionalism, Coti displayed a remarkable talent for hospitality. For three days she proved a delightful companion.
Sommelier of the Year: Vinko Fornažar
Nautika — Dubrovnik, Croatia
Vinko Fornažar, the soft-spoken sommelier of Dubrovnik’s oldest fine-dining restaurant, never forgets a wine, or a face. The restaurant’s staff visited the Korta Katarina winery at the same time we did, and when we arrived at Nautika a few days later, Fornažar remembered seeing us in the winery’s tasting room. In honor of our reacquaintance, he graciously poured us complimentary flutes of elegant Šember Brut Rosé. Over the course of our superb dinner on Nautika’s romantic seaside terrace, he provided a style of service that few manage to achieve: at once formal, warm, attentive and good-humored. Just as important, his pairings of unique Croatian wines dazzled. It’s not every sommelier who knows how to handle a fragrant and ethereal Ilovčak Škrlet Iconic, a hefty and mineral Bire Grk and a darkly ripe and spicy Zlatan Crljenak. Some reviewers complain that Nautika is too stuffy, old-fashioned and expensive, but I adored every minute of our meal, thanks in no small part to the superlative service provided by the knowledgeable and personable Fornažar.
Staff of the Year: Nekupe
Nandaime — Nicaragua
With just eight accommodations and a staff of around 100 people, the sporting retreat of Nekupe achieves an extraordinarily high level of service. Our personable young ranger, Jason, was always available to drive us around the tangle of dirt roads crisscrossing the property. We never once had to phone for him, or indeed phone anyone, for anything. When we exited the clubhouse’s swimming pool and were drying off, a staffer appeared with robes. When we left muddy boots inside our foyer, we returned after dinner to find them fresh and clean. And when we arrived at one of the property’s many scenic viewpoints to watch the sunset, a bartender was waiting for us, mixing sundowners. Anywhere outside the privacy of our JR Villa, it seemed as if I couldn’t furrow my brow without a staffer approaching to see if I required something. Such attentive service might sound awkward, but it’s frightening how quickly one can become accustomed to it.
Most Innovative Hotelier: General Manager Eric Toren
Hotel TwentySeven — Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam native Eric Toren literally grew up in the hotel trade, since his family lived in a few rooms of their eponymous hotel on Keizersgracht. His deep knowledge and relentlessly demanding professional standards have garnered him numerous European awards. Now, with the conversion of two floors of the Royal Industrial Club into the 16-room Hotel TwentySeven, he has realized his dream to create a supremely luxurious small hotel in his hometown. “Dam Square is the heart of Amsterdam and one of the most vital urban crossroads in Europe,” says Toren. “So the location was terrific, and the Royal Industrial Club is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.” No expense was spared during the renovations, which include quadruple glazing to make the rooms here as quiet as bank vaults. “My philosophy is that all expectations must be fulfilled and preferably surpassed,” says Toren, who developed the Procs app, a task-management system, with a software company. “This ensures that employees can look up and check off their tasks, checklists and instructions. This way they know exactly what’s expected from them to guarantee the guest a perfect stay.” The Hotel TwentySeven has some 80 employees despite its small size.