Connectivity to the art world, still a rarefied sphere, is likely to be alluring and enriching for those who enjoy gastronomic creativity. In our world subsumed with digital saturation, art hotels with mesmerising food too are quietly thriving and providing a different kind of sophistication that is exceptionally personal, reflecting the passion, verve and impeccable taste of the patron.
Below, you can find a roundup of some of the most interesting art hotels worth a visit for their fine dining offer, as well.
Taubenkobel follows in the tradition of La Colombe d’Or, the trailblazing South of France hotel that opened in 1920 as a humble inn. Its owner Paul Roux had a particular interest in the arts and would offer a few meals or a stay in exchange for paintings, which soon covered the walls. These were no ordinary artworks, his regulars were Picasso, Matisse and Braque whose works are in the dining room. Since then the hotel, still owned by Roux’s family has grown considerably as has the art collection. The most recent installation completed by Irish artist Sean Scully is by the swimming pool and joins the Calder sculptures on the restaurant terrace where a Grande Aioli with resplendent vegetables and charcuterie is wheeled around on trolleys, the menu is so retro, it is cool again.
In similar vein to La Colombe d’Or, the contemporary art and sculpture at family run Taubenkobel, is far more than a mere side order and has grown exponentially in what started similarly to La Colombe d’Or as a small converted farmhouse bar where artists, painters, sculptors, musicians congregated. Initially food barely figured on the menu until one of the artist habituees badgered Barbara Eselbock’s father Walter to learn to cook properly. He transformed the inns’ culinary status encouraged by his cultured “salon” who frequently paid for meals and rooms in artworks. Taubenkobel, in Schützen am Gebirgeheld, Austria, has two Michelin stars until the guide stopped rating beyond Vienna, a mere 45 minutes away.
It is now a Relais & Chateau art hotel and restaurant with ravishing sculpture-filled gardens, a lily filled lake converted into a pool and the most important Austrian contemporary artists decorating the interiors from Otto Muhl to Roland Rainer, a stylish tipping point between rustic and bohemian.
Chef Alain Weissberger, Barbara’s husband, creates a painterly yet daring expression of the landscape and traditions of the little known Pannonian region (where eastern Austria, West Hungary and North Slovakia meet) with the creativity of a storyteller. It’s not too fanciful to see dinner there as immersing guests in a live installation, an evolving journey through the senses and the local landscape. Among the starters, the sculptural skeleton of a catfish arrives at the table adorned with smoked and cured fish delicacies. Bread is accorded a whole stand alone course, more like the playing out of a tableaux. The homemade bread straight out of the wood-fired oven is broken by Barbara at the table with satisfying crunch. It is served with butter, including a deeply caramelised utterly moreish brown butter, pork fat, thistle oil, sorrel, lardo and a beautiful selection of wild herbs foraged each morning as they have done since 1992, long before foraging became an essential part of most chefs’ repertoires.
The main dish is particularly epic in its presentation with chef Weissgerber inviting guests into the kitchen to watch him pull the pigeons roasted in hay from the charcoal stone oven and arrange the legs on the handmade plates, their claws hanging over the sides. It is visceral in the extreme. The last dish of the meal is characteristically boundary redefining and delectable: it is savoury-sweet with different spinach varieties, green, almonds and a sour cream, mixing sweet, bitter, acidic, green and nutty sensations.
Explains Barbara Eselbock: “As my parents taught me, art is good for the soul, it makes you look, think, takes you to new places and ideas. Like food it can be a journey that makes you feel and understand things anew. For our guests at Taubenkobel, our combination of art and taste lets them find themselves differently and lose themselves in the moment.”
“If you like we see the hotel as living art: we interpret not just the richness and uniqueness of the Pannonian region, but the character of the producers and community and the beauty of the landscape for guests to interact with, be inspired by, perhaps even be changed subtly by, especially when our artist friends and writers are in residence.”
At Fife Arms in Braemar in the Scottish Caingorms (Prince Charles attended the opening) and Durslade Farmhouse, Bruton in Somerset, the Swiss art dealers and collectors Iwan and Manuela Wirth who represent art powerhouses including Martin Creed, Paul McCarthy and the estates of Louise Bourgeois and Dieter Roth through their gallery Hauser & Wirth’s outposts in London, Zurich, New York, Hong Kong and Los Angeles are moving into hospitality. They admit they are novices, but approach it as if creating an exhibition. “We know talent and how to find it and have that level of detail, the understanding of nuance and context, the passion of an almost perverse intensity that’s required to make an exhibition successful,” explains Iwan.
Those skills evidently translate well into The Fife Arms where the stories of contemporary art and craft are in provocative dialogue with the food, landscape and local history. Muralist Guillermo Kuitca paints his vision of Clunie Water across the walls of The Fife Arms’ dining room and Chinese contemporary artists Zhang Enli has painted the ceiling of the drawing room with his take on the Highlands inspired by local quartz stone. The Clunie restaurant is a feast for the eye and the appetite.
Besides the Gerhard Richter on the wall, chef Magnus Burstedt showcases the wild Highland landscape through its food cooked over wide fire and often presented with some surprising flavours. Orkney scallops and heather smoked blue mussels are partnered with flamed kohlrabi, scallop roe botturga. Blue mussel sabayon, Whole West Coast turbot is wood roasted with a pea puree and malted potato crumbs whilst pride of place is given to local red deer smoked over birch and served with borlotti beans, charred leeks and foraged herbs. Dessert celebrates the hyper-local using Invercauld honey with meringue, bergamot curd. As Wirth says: “A great hotel is always a portrait.”
HOTEL LA COSTE
Such exceptional art naturally appeals to the ultra-high-net-worth guests, many of whom are probably collectors themselves, and sets such hotel-restaurants apart. Chateau La Coste near Aix-en-Provence in the Luberon owned by businessman and property investor Paddy McKillan (also a key investor in the Maybourne Hotel group including The Connaught and Claridges) combines his passion for stellar art, fine wine and gastronomy. His wine estate and 28 suite hotel Villa La Coste are home to an outstanding collection of contemporary sculpture including Tracey Emin and Ai Weiwei.The restaurants are peerless too.
The restaurant showcases the famed cooking on wood fire by culinary game-changer Argentinian Francis Mallmann. What’s more, over the summer, Helene Darroze has a pop-up whilst her Connaught dining room is being redecorated. From 29 July-1 September, Darroze serves her menu in The Louison restaurant, named after Louise Bourgois whose sculpture The Couple graces the room. Dishes are made with produce from the Chateau de Coste vineyard’s own vegetable garden.
Dishes such as shellfish consomme with San Remo red prawns, ajo bianco with Collioure anchovies and baba au rhum made with Darroze family armagnac. Says Helene: “The outstanding art, wine and fresh produce of Chateau La Coste inspired me to create what I feel is a true summer menu to reflect the joy and flavours of Provence.”
21C MUSEUM HOTELS
Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson opened their 21c Museum Hotel in LouisVille, Kentucky nearly a decade ago and now have 21c Museum Hotels in a number of US locations, and are expandingin immently to Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. Each hotel curates exhibitions of its own collections of 21st century art by up-and-coming and well-established talents and showcases artisanal local products in their restaurants, destinations in their own right.
The current, thought provoking multi-media exhibition in Louisville raises questions about textiles and other materials. A site specific installation Fallen Fruits: The Parts of Everyday Life adds pops of colour to the farm-to-table restaurant Proof on Main. Here dishes change with the seasons focussing on producers around the Ohio River Valley. Currently, there’s a farm gem lettuce salad with cornbread and local Kentucky Blue cheese, charred pork chop with salsa verde, salted ricotta, chilli pickle, and summer berry pie with cornmeal brittle and lemon verbena ice-cream. Each hotel also puts on a feast of cultural events, from music to artist talks.
Such hotels combine gastronomy and visual arts with such synchronicity, they could surely be considered art forms in themselves.