Robb Read: What Happens Next?

2020 was the year everything changed. Here’s what lies ahead across luxury travel, personal health, technology and more.

By David Smiedt 22/04/2021

With perhaps the exception of two global wars, no era has redrawn the world’s boundaries quite like 2020.

Elements for so long taken for granted— family, freedom of movement, healthcare and life expectancy—have become increasingly precious commodities, with few aspects of contemporary life what they used to be, including the notions of elevated living.

So what does the future hold? We explore this sentiment with one of the world’s most lauded futurists, Anders Sorman-Nilsson, to map the future of travel, personal health, personal concierge services and home technology.

Luxury Travel

Since vast swathes of the planet are essentially no-go zones (and will continue to be so for some time yet), it seems we have no choice but to look above and beyond. Following suborbital test flights in December 2020, it seems likely that the first of the 600-plus passengers, who each paid around $330,000 for a Virgin Galactic flight, will finally slide into their exclusive Under Armour suits and blast off in 2021, from a purpose-built space port in New Mexico, alongside celebrity clientele like Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Closer to home, luxury travel will be all about contraction, with the focus on smaller groups enjoying greater access to locations and guides. You don’t just get an expert, you get the expert. For example, companies like The Luminary Experiences will facilitate trips such as a luxury jaunt through Naples and Sorrento with Eataly top chef Simone Falco; or an Iceland meander with Game of Thrones actor Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson.

Health concerns will remain paramount, but the medical care that high-end guests receive will shape-shift. Renowned and ascendant luxury travel brand Soneva already has protocols in place where guests are immediately tested for Covid-19 on arrival at the airport, then isolate in their bungalows for between six and 24 hours as results are processed at a tempo few government-funded facilities can match.

Moving forward, the focus will be on prevention rather than containment, and the medical facilities of resorts will no doubt be able to offer Covid-19 vaccines to those who have not previously been inoculated. In the meantime, expect to see every other room being left vacant to put a suitable physical distance between guests, and a heightened array of in-room services to restrict high-traffic communal areas.

Elsewhere, exclusive hire is expected to further rise and dominate the market (think $13,530 a night at Queensland’s Bedarra Island for yourself and friends across nine premium villas, including unlimited Jacquart champagne).

And while it may be a seriously clunky portmanteau, “voluntourism” is also set to feature as an increasing part of high-end travel offerings—mainly because 2020 brought into sharp focus both the privileges many view as day-to-day life and a burgeoning desire to give back to visited communities beyond mere tourism dollars. An example can be found at Thailand’s spectacular waterside Six Senses Yao Noi, where you can devote anywhere from an hour up to a few days teaching local children about a topic that suits your abilities, including basic skills such as counting and English phrasing.

Aside from a better marrying of visitors’ specific skill sets with the needs of individuals in communities, the future of voluntourism will eventually shift focus from the well-intentioned to the well-researched. A recent article in the New York Times found that Americans travelling to developing countries to construct buildings actually took away jobs from capable locals, and that long-term planning for volunteer projects is often lacking.

For example, building a school is not terribly helpful without future plans to staff, supply and maintain it. Instead, resorts such as the Sandals & Beaches chain in the Caribbean have partnered with charities like Pack With A Purpose, where visitors bring in a backpack of stationery and school supplies for children whose education has been hampered without them. Less mission statements and more actual long-term help.

The Futurist: Sorman-Nilsson, the acclaimed author of Seamless: A Hero’s Journey of Digital Disruption, Adaptation and Human Transformation, sees the future of exclusive and elevated travel as a move from the experiential to the transformative.

“True luxury in this sphere will take the form of people wanting to emerge from the experience feeling different about themselves in some way. It’s no longer just enough to see something,” says Sorman-Nilsson. “The emphasis will be on a level of high-end immersion that somehow transforms a traveller, whether it’s a yoga camp or ayahuasca retreat.”

Case in point, the Rytmia Life Advancement Center in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province—a beachside enclave with farm-to-table, locally sourced organic menus, onsite spa and medically licensed professionals on hand to guide clients through ayahuasca.

Home Technology

In terms of covetable hardware, the notion of massive screens warranting their own rooms in our homes or dominating living areas is on the wane as foldable UHD versions will emerge from secret spaces as and when needed. The holy grail of true 3D—sans the bulky glasses—will also be conquered sooner rather than later.

Transportability of tech will also open up entertainment options that previously limited us to home or a shared space like a cinema or cinema room.

Sorman-Nilsson provides an example whereby just a few years ago, you could re-create Moonlight Cinema in a back garden with a projector, screen, some speakers and day bed. In the near future, however, high-performance and increasingly transportable AV tech will fit into whatever milieu is desired, rather than it dictating the parameters of functionality.

“Imagine,” offers Sorman-Nilsson, “the kind of cinema experience where you’re out on the yacht just off [Sydney’s] Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and just roll out that piece of equipment, sit down on some bean bags and watch a film about the Australian Outback while actually in the Australian Outback.”

To make this whimsy a reality, portability that doesn’t sacrifice performance will be the hallmark of future luxe tech.

LG’s Signature Oled R is a harbinger of things to come. At 65 inches, the TV screen rolls neatly into its base much like a sunshade over a verandah. While cost and availability are yet to be determined in Australia (though a price tag around $85-90k has been mooted), the device is already on sale internationally.

Elsewhere, Sony will this year roll out “cognitive processing” as part of its new Bravia XR Masters series, due mid-year. It means an allegedly highly immersive viewing experience across 8K LED and HDR screens—the new tech able to “cross-analyse and optimise hundreds of thousands of elements in the blink of an eye”, according to the marketing guff.

The resulting images are driven by a chip that divides the screen into numerous zones which then detect a “focal point” within the picture—mimicking the processing of the human brain and adjusting elements like contrast, colour and detail to always deliver the best picture possible.

But what to watch? The lockdown period emphasised the existence of a ravenous global market of individuals who will pay exorbitant monthly subscriptions to watch new releases at home, therefore negating the issue of having to share the cineplex with the virally suspect public. What’s being sold here, essentially, is access and exclusivity. Only available in the United States for now, one example is HBO Max. Known as an “over the top” streaming service, it has struck a deal with WarnerMedia whereby all of the latter’s 2021 cinema releases will also be available simultaneously on the streamer.

Ten months since inception, it’s only now that the true value is beginning to manifest. This year will see Warner release 17 feature films on HBO Max while Comcast’s Universal Pictures will make films available online 17 days after hitting AMC theatres.

Back to hardware, the much-vaunted but rather vague-sounding sphere of smart home gadgetry will see booms in two areas—both of which have been prompted by the Covid pandemic. The first is home tele-conferencing and an upgrade from the rather unflattering bog-standard Zoom experience. We’re talking high-def cameras that automatically adjust for lighting conditions, microphones that ignore surrounding noise and lighting systems you can control with your voice. Think of it as the cyber version of Vaseline on the lens.

The second boom in luxe tech will be home sanitation. The most high-profile example is Molekule, which in February 2020 raised $75 million in seed funding and whose sleek devices are pulling viruses (hello?), mould and bacteria from the air in homes from Miami to Maroochydore.

UV light as a sanitation tool will also continue to find favour with items like Phonesoap-—to clean mobile phones—and LG’s InstaView refrigerators, which were introduced at January’s CES Electronics Show and use proprietary UVNano technology to remove up to 99.99 percent of bacteria on the water dispenser’s tap.

This fridge further taps into the trend by being voice operated so that it opens on command—limiting the number of hands going in and around your food. Expect, too, a wealth of incoming touchless, intelligent toilets.

The Futurist: “It used to be that branding 1.0 was a brand just saying, ‘This is what Jaguar Land Rover stands for as a luxury brand.’ Then brand 2.0 was the era of social media where increasingly we hijacked brands and we started leaving reviews about them.”

Sorman-Nilsson adds that the 3.0 era in which we now live has shifted from monologue to dialogue to trialogue, where the brand, the owner and the object itself communicate.

“So think of the object as a Tesla and imagine being a Tesla owner a couple of hurricane seasons ago in Florida and you’re fleeing with your family away from the hurricane down the highway when your Tesla battery starts running low. You’re probably feeling pretty anxious at this stage, but then all of a sudden across the dashboard comes a message from Elon Musk saying, ‘Hey, fret not, human. We’ve just remotely upgraded the firmware in your battery and your computer in your car so that you can safely get out of harm’s way.’

“This is a true story where Tesla predicatively solved, through technology, the client’s problem before it became a reality. So the relationship with that cold piece of technology has now become anthropomorphised. I think you’ll see more of that humanisation of technology.”

The idea of products that know what we want and need before we do? Where do we sign up?

Personal Health & Fitness

In the near future, the worlds of fitness, wellness and mental health will be virtually indistinguishable—the key word here being “virtually”. Technological convergence in this incredibly fast moving and increasingly lucrative sector will mean two things. The first is that technologies, equipment and metrics once available only to elite athletes at high-performance centres will be offered to suburban Lycra wearers.

While you may not be covering 100 metres in a match for Usain Bolt, you will have access to similar levels of motion analysis—which overlays your movements against a model of computer-generated perfection to see where more muscle strength or a tweak of form is needed. Leading the field here is Notch, a set of 3D water-resistant motion trackers that you affix to certain points on the body to record personal dynamics through a smartphone.

Myriad other factors such as respiratory metrics to maximise oxygen intake can also be factored into the equation to boost performance, enabling you to run, swim, cycle, row and swing a club or racket with greater power and efficiency. One start-up that is already generating interest and is past prototype development is Yopi.

By teaming a Fitbit-style sensor with a custom-built app, it measures biomarkers in the skin and sweat that are correlated with oxygen intake. It then, “instructs, in real time, the trainee according to his momentary physiology and goals”.

The second element is such training will take place at home. Most new domestic builds now feature so-called wellness spaces—as opposed to mere “home gyms”—given that 2020 has drawn a thick line under the importance of personal resilience and wellbeing, with many larger studios forced to permanently closed.

One must-have item for 2021 is Mirror, a piece of smart fitness hardware that allows users to not only stream customised workouts but simultaneously view themselves doing so to access real-time feedback on form. It means skipping the small talk with a PT named Jake about what he got up to on the weekend before being barked at through a set of personalised crunches. Seen as a true fitness game changer—and one on an ascendant rate of global take up—athletic apparel company Lululemon shelled out $672 million to acquire Mirror in 2020.

Also likely to increasingly feature in domicile wellness spaces are Hydrow rowers and Liteboxer boxing machines—bits of exemplary kit that deliver a workout and personalised digital training plans or classes, reflecting the success of the acclaimed Peloton training bike.

In terms of mental health treatment, one of the growing future trends will involve increased technological mediation—albeit with an appropriate level of human connection. What this means in real terms is that instead of making an appointment to see someone when you’re in crisis or having to actually talk to a stranger on the phone—its own type of intimidation, especially for introverts—digital, text-message-based counselling will eventually come to the fore, promising immediacy, mobility and anonymity. All of which are prerequisites of the millennial age.

Elsewhere, expect to hear the term “age management” increasingly thrown around. The target market will be patients seeking—and able to afford—direct “age doctors”, and what is generally a heady outlay for a personalised “prescription” of supplements and hormone replacement therapies. The aim? Optimal physical and mental function, and overall quality of life as the client gets older.

Just know that such practices are often seen as controversial.

The futurist: The future of “fitness” as an umbrella term, according to Sorman-Nilsson, means dramatically heightened levels of customised services, much of which rests in acute personal programs, testing and science.

“We’re going to see less fragmentation and more expertise. So rather than having a dietician and a PT, and then a separate yoga instructor, for the real luxury experience you’ll end up with something more akin to a board of advisors. They will in turn be a conduit to a single integrated experience of someone who keeps you accountable towards your bio-hacking.

“It will be almost a minute-by-minute engagement where, for example, they’ll instruct you to have that cold shower at the precise time it will do most good for muscle recovery and inform when your body is in a state of ketosis. It’s also going to be integrated with DNA testing to make sure that everything that is prescribed suits you specifically as an individual.”

Sorman-Nilsson points out that as stigmas continue to fall around discussion of mental health and depression, the open use of psychologists will ultimately rise.

Personal Concierge Services

Another high-end service that will integrate cutting-edge tech with a level of personalised service no machine can (yet) muster is that of personal concierges. On the software side of the equation, bots will become smarter, faster and more intuitive so that by the time you, for example, check into a hotel, it will have received personal data that registers a preferred choice of scotch, favoured in-room climate and scent settings, and dietary requirements well in advance. They will also know you prefer ABC news over SBS and baths over showers.

This will in turn free up actual human beings to focus on the more important tasks where a level of EQ (emotional intelligence) is involved—because the IQ can be left to the cloud.

One of these will be securing access to coveted events. Until mass Covid inoculations are a reality, restricted capacity will be the hallmark for sports and concerts. The competition for exclusive football boxes, performances at the Opera House or that Barca/Real Madrid game will become fiercer than ever. Concierge wise, those with the best combination of contacts and cash will triumph as resources diminish.

In the post-Covid world, the remit of personal concierges will also expand into property, and those appropriately qualified will be wooed hard. Whether you’re looking to buy, invest or splash out on a single-occupancy holiday rental, personal concierges are all about saving time and anguish—and few areas consume more of both than finding somewhere to live. The mere fact that they will cut back on the time you have to spend interacting with real estate agents sells itself.

Where the personal concierge service industry will buck global trends is that its customer-facing dimensions will become less centralised. In other words, there will be bureaus dotted around the world where, for example, you can actually speak to someone in Tangiers about that hidden gem they discovered in a souk not last summer, but last night.

Exemplifying the movement is the Quintessentially group, which operates 60 offices staffed by 1,500 specialists speaking 15 languages. Its pillars run across property, wine curation, education, art consultancy and personal shopping. In one notable coup, the group famously managed to close down the Sydney Harbour Bridge for a marriage proposal. According to Haute Today, the company also secured an Egyptian pyramid for a party on three days’ notice and acquired a black Hermès Birkin bag in 48 hours (waiting lists can run to six years). And forget front-row tickets, they can, and have, supplied Elton John as private entertainment.

The Futurist: “Any kind of experience that empathetically touches the enduringly analogue human heart is going to have a luxury premium attached to it,” says Sorman-Nilsson.

It’s in what can’t be digitised that true luxury blossoms—in other words, the encasing allure of the human factor informing a great concierge service.

“Behind the scenes, the back end is highly digitised. For example, my tailor in Sydney has all the trappings of an old-school kind of British establishment [out front]. But then, of course, everything just goes into a back end that is highly effective in terms of their global supply chain. It’s that combination of having a great concierge, the friendly human face, but
then there’s a digital interface that makes their work very efficient.”

 

 

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The 10 Best Omakase in Sydney

Sydney’s best Japanese chef’s-table dining experiences.

By Belinda Aucott-christie 06/06/2024

In Japan, where food is a cultural art form, omakase stands for traditional Japanese foods made with seasonal ingredients. A good omakase meal, prepared with purity and mindfulness, can make an unforgettable imprint on the culinary memory. Yet in a land defined by seasonal traditions, omakase is a relatively new concept.

Omakase originated in Japan in the 1970s as affluent Japanese began to dine more regularly at first-rate sushi counters. Bowing to the expertise of the sushi master, omakase loosely translates to “I’ll leave it to you.” In a setting where money is no object, letting the chef decide was designed as a chic way to take the awkwardness out of ordering.

In Australia where there’s an abundance of fresh seafood, omakase menus have experienced a recent rise in popularity. Today omakase is any series of small dishes served directly by the chef to the diner. Each part of the meal is presented on beautiful ceramics and lacquer wear, with a great —and somewhat— intimidating reverence for elegant details. It’s a chance to see a chef’s knife skills up close and get a feel for their cooking style.

Omakase menus are based on whatever is freshest at the market and can be influenced by the chef’s mood, expertise, and response to the guest. They can be slowly paced like a ceremony—hushed and reverential—but they can also be rowdy, humorous, and personal.
Here we give you 10 of the best to try in Sydney.

Yoshi’s Omakase at Nobu Crown Sydney

Crown Sydney, Level 2/1 Barangaroo Ave, Barangaroo. Open: 12–3 pm, 5:30–9:30 pm Phone: 02 8871 7188 Reservations: F&B-SYD-Nobu@crownresorts.com.au; $380 per head (including matched wine and sake). Crownsydney.com.au

Sushi Oe

16/450 Miller St, Cammeray; Tue – Sat. SMS only 0451 9709 84 E: jizakana16@gmail.com Phone: 0426 233 984 $230 per head. jizakana.com.au

Kisuke with Yusuke Morita

50 Llankelly Place, Potts Point; Tuesday – Saturday: 17:30 – 10.45 (closed Sunday/ Monday) $185-200 per head Kisukepottspoint.com

Haco 

102/21 Alberta St, Sydney. Lunch, Friday to Saturday 12 -2:00 pm Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday 5:45 pm – 8:1 5pm (closed Sunday & Mondays) P: 0408 866 285                                     E: haco@hacosydney.com.au; $150 – $210 Hacosydney.com.au

Kuon

Shop 04 2/58 Little Hay St, Sydney, Lunch: Fri-Sun 12:30 pm. Dinner  Tue-Sun 5:15 pm or 7:45 pm sittings.  Reservation via SMS at 0488 688 252; $220 per head @kuon.omakase

Sokyo 

The Darling, Level G, 80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont. Open dinner Monday to Thursday from 5:45 pm P: 1800 700 700 $300 per head Sokyo.com.au

Kuro

368 Kent St, Sydney; Open Tue – Wed – Thur: 6 pm Fri & Sat: 5:30 pm P: 02 9262 1580, reservations@kurosydney.com $220 per head. Kurosydney.com;

Choji Omakase

Level 2, 228 Victoria Ave, Chatswood —upstairs from Choji Yakiniku. Every Monday to Wednesday at 6.30 pm. One seating per day only. $295 per head. Chojiomakase.com.au

Gold Class Daruma

The Grace Hotel, Level 1/77 York St, Sydney; 12–2:30 pm, 5:30–9.00 pm Phone: (02) 9262 1190 M: 0424 553 611 booking@goldclassdaruma.com.au·$120 – $150 per head Goldclassdaruma.com.au

Besuto

Besuto Omakase, Sydney Place precinct, 3 Underwood Street, Circular Quay. Omakase is available to book for dinner – Tuesday to Saturday. 5:30 pm & 8pm sittings. From $250. Besuto.com.au

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is no soy and wasabi offered during my omakase meal?
Even though sushi and sashimi are being served, the chef is serving each piece of sushi so quickly and directly that the chef is applying the wasabi and soy to the sushi themselves. Watch as they brush the top of the fish with soy and dab a tiny amount of wasabi on the rice, under the fish. You should not need to add extra, and in fact, it can be insulting to the chef to add more. Bathing the bottom of the rice of your sushi in soy sauce is considered bad manners, as it is seen as detracting from the flavour of the fish.

Nobu, Sydney

Can an omakase experience accommodate my dietary needs?
Although there is often little variation once the chef has set the daily menu, some customisation is possible. Advise the restaurant when you book and remind them of allergies or aversions again as you sit down. They will let you know when you book if your allergy is possible for the chef. Japanese menus feature a lot of seafood and dashi so accommodating a no seafood request can be genuinely tricky.

What are the golden rules for chopstick etiquette?
Use your chopstick holder in between eating, rather than putting chopsticks on your plate. Don’t use your chopsticks to gesticulate or point; if offering food to someone to try, never pass food directly from your chopsticks to theirs. Rather place the food onto a small plate and let them pick it up.
Never touch communal or shared food with your chopsticks. The longer, slightly larger chopsticks are like sharing cutlery, never put these in your mouth.

Without a menu, how can I know what I am eating during omakase?
Omakase is often a no-menu situation, and you are expected to try new things. Attending an omakase experience with an open, trusting mind yields the best results.
There are Wagyu and tempura omakase that reflect the chef’s personal predilections and training, but in a standard luxury omakase, the format will include a lot of freshly caught seafood and will usually kick off with a delicate appetiser. This will be followed by a sashimi and sushi course, a savoury egg custard (chawanmushi) with meat and seafood, a cooked or blow-torched market fish, a soup course, and dessert.

Can I talk to the chef during omakase? What is the protocol?
Guests at an omakase experience are welcome to ask questions of the chef; in fact, interacting with the chef is part of the experience. It is considered polite to ask questions or inquire about the food so they can explain.

What is best to pair with omakase  in terms of drinks?
In general, wine and sake are a perfect match for omakase. Aged fish and vinegar have strong umami flavours so depending on which course you enjoy, different wine and sake will pair well. Dry chilled sake is a great choice. Amazing sakes are imported into Australia, so trust the restaurant to advise you and take you on a sake journey at the same time.  If you don’t like sake, drinking chardonnay, a crisp young riesling, or even a dry complex Riesling is also totally acceptable. All three styles help bring out the flavour of the fish. Champagne can also be good. Try a blanc de blancs— 100% chardonnay —for a great way to start the meal. As you progress, remember that sake is good for dishes with a strong taste, such as uni and eel.

Nobu, Sydney

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The Sonos Ace Headphones Are Music to the Ears

The audio giant has (finally) revealed its foray in the personal listening category.

By Josh Bozin 20/06/2024

In the ever competitive market for premium headphones, few brands have captured the hearts (and ears) of audiophiles, professionals and enthusiasts alike. Bowers & Wilkins, Bose, Sony, and even Apple come to mind when debating great audio brands in 2024. Then there’s Sonos.

For over 20 years, the American audio manufacturer has been lauded for its high-end capabilities, particularly in a home setting; Sonos changed the game for the integration of home entertainment. But it had yet to venture into the realm of headphones.

Until now. Earlier this month, the company marked its long-awaited entry into the personal-listening category, with the launch of its highly anticipated Sonos Ace over-ear headphones.

“Fans have asked us for years to bring the Sonos experience to headphones,”says Patrick Spence, CEO of Sonos, “and we knew our first foray into the category needed to champion the type of innovation and sound experience Sonos has become synonymous with.”

Sonos

On paper, the Sonos Ace is an enticing proposition: a premium over-ear headphone featuring lossless and spatial audio, intuitive Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), and Aware Mode. Most appealing, however, might be its new immersive home theatre offering; the Sonos Ace can pair to compatible Sonos soundbars with just a tap of a button. The new TrueCinema technology, which arrives later this year, will precisely map your entertainment space and then render a complete surround sound system for an unparalleled listening experience.

Sonos

Retailing at $699, they aren’t exactly cheap, and there more affordable headphones that compete with Sonos in terms of audio output and high-fidelity sound. But where Sonos thrives is in the details. Available in  stealthy black and pure white, the Sonos Ace are sleek and stylish right out of the box. Sure, there is some resemblance to the Apple Air Max Pro—arguably its greatest rival in the over-ear headphone segment—but Sonos has also added its own design touches, and it’s clear the Ace was made to look and feel as good as it sounds.

Its distinctive, slim profile elegantly blends metal accents with a sleek matte finish, and thanks to the use of lightweight, premium materials like memory foam and vegan leather, you get an airy fit that isn’t overbearing, even after extensive use. The design of the Sonos Ace is also intuitive; tactile buttons make controlling the headset a cinch, and pairing with Apple or Android devices is also straightforward. The dedicated Sonos App is also helpful for customising (somewhat) your listening experience, from altering EQ to turning on certain capabilities, like Head Tracking.

Sonos

It does fall short on a couple of key fronts.  I was expecting more from the Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) for over-ear headphones of this price point; there’s no way the ANC as it stands will filter out the sounds of a plane engine, for example. I also found the Sonos Ace has an issue, albeit subtle, with the mid-bass, which can sound muddy and lack punch at times.

But these are small nits. The Sonos Ace only adds to the company’s impressive standing as an unimpeachable innovator in the audio industry.

For more information, visit Sonos.

 

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Wake Up To World Martini Day 19 June

Cocktail legend Dale de Groff talks Grey Goose, World Martini Day and getting wet.

By Belinda Aucott-christie 18/06/2024

Dale de Groff knows his way around a bar. Back when late nights and heavy drinking were a badge of honour, he presided over one of New York City’s most legendary venues, The Rainbow Room, and is credited with reviving the classic cocktail across Northern America.

To promote World Martini Day on June 19 he’s teamed up with vodka company Grey Goose, for which he has served as a brand ambassador since 1997, to make a winning case for the classic Martini everywhere. He is even lending a hand at the opening of Le Martini bar at Crown Melbourne. 

We asked de Groff about his time serving stars like Michale Douglas, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood and, of course, how he likes his martini.

Dale for the uninitiated, please describe the Rainbow Room.

In the 1980s Rainbow Room was situated high atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York. Back then, it was just the pinnacle of glamour.

It has stunning views of the city from way up on the 65th floor. Being situated in the same building as NBC Entertainment, still pretty synonymous with late night TV,  it was and still is the home of Saturday Night Live. You can imagine the kinds of people we’d be getting in each week—from celebrities, musicians, even governors, you name it. 

Robb Report ANZ: What was one of your favourite memories from that time?

Dale de Groff: In ‘88 we held the 30th anniversary Grammys afterparty at the Rainbow Room which I’ll never forget. The event took place over multiple floors, but in the bar itself, the three tiers that go up from the dance floor were taken over by the who’s who of the time. I remember roping off a zone just for music legends like Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, and Madonna—who was no stranger to the bar during those times. Not bad for a Wednesday night.

RR: What role do cocktails play in making a good venue truly great?

DD: A venue’s popularity ultimately comes down to the bartender or team behind the bar. How they interact with people, size them up as they walk through the door, talk to them over that three feet of mahogany, I mean, it’s everything.

RR: What’s the trick to becoming a great bartender, one who can easily impress guests, friends and family?

DD: Knowledge behind the craft. Let’s face it, understanding how to create a really high degree of deliciousness is required, but getting deep into how beverages are made is a massive skill in drink making. The research and innovation behind it is just mind-blowing.

RR:What three cocktails should every sophisticate know how to make?

DD: Well, a martini obviously! I personally like mine 50/50—equal parts vodka and vermouth. I used to drink my martinis for the power, but now I prefer a wet martini. Then I think a classic spritz is a must—always effervescent, lower in alcohol, really it’s the preprandial libation. Then thirdly, it’s gotta be an Old Fashioned.

RR: How do you make a solid martini at home?

DD: If I’m making a classic martini at home, I’m adding Grey Goose, vermouth and bitters to a mixing glass with ice, stirring then straining into a chilled glass. Garnished with lemon twist of course.

Le Martini, the world’s first standalone Grey Goose bar, is now open and will welcome guests in time for World Martini Day on 19 June. You can follow:  @LeMartiniBar 

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Can Italy’s Lake Garda Finally Compete With Como—or Will It Become a Victim of Its Own Success?

Crowded, cacophonous Lake Como is overflowing, filling its nearby villages and lakes with new luxury hotels and savvy, in-the-know travellers.

By Jake Emen 17/06/2024

The sun is shining down and your wooden Riva Aquarama boat is slicing through the lake. The crowd is beautiful, well-tanned and they like their spritzes. Sound like Lake Como? Almost. You’re about 150 kilometres southeast on the larger, yet less frequented, Lake Garda.

As the popularity of Lake Como has grown thanks to non-stop celebrity endorsements filtered down via social media, an in-crowd is discovering that Garda offers the same glitzy perks of its neighbour with far fewer headaches.

“Giorgio Clooney is to Como what Tom Hanks is to Garda,” says Katie Parla, author of “Food of the Italian Islands” and a tour leader across Italy. “Sure, Como is beautiful and charming, but Garda is equally talented, and some would say, more versatile and well-rounded.”

Grand Hotel Fasano, which turned 135th anniversary, is welcoming a new crowd.
Grand Hotel Fasano,

Long the preferred destination for Italians and other continental families, the secret of Garda has now well and truly been leaked. Investment is pouring in at Ferrari speeds.

On the hotel front, historic, legendary properties such as Grand Hotel Fasano (from USD$470)—which celebrated its 135th anniversary in 2023— are joined by a flock of newcomers. There is the new family-owned spa hotel Cape of Senses, a Small Luxury Hotels of the World member (from USD$628). Conti Thun (from USD$225) debuted as an on-vineyard wine resort last year. And this spring, Borgo Tre (from USD$640) opened a small collection of luxury apartment suites in a converted 18th-century farmhouse. (If you haven’t noticed already, a stay here is still considerably cheaper than say, Lake Como’s Passalacqua at USD$2,660 a night).

The region’s established properties are doing their best to stay ahead of the new arrivals, too. The mountain-top wellness haven Lefay Resort & Spa (from USD$460) is famous for encouraging its guests to wear their plush robes across the grounds from morning to night, as the saunter from treatment to treatment. It’s just unveiled a new, elevated room category dubbed Sky Suites that will speak to Como expats. These top-floor units are 1,500 square feet and come with a terrace hot tub, a private in-suite sauna and, of course, unimpeded views of the lake, mountains, and valleys beyond.

Lefay Resort & Spa is drawing wellness activists to the region.
Lefay Resorts

But change like this always comes at a cost. Locals and long-time visitors worry that the region’s newfound popularity puts it in danger of losing its distinctive atmosfera. Ironically, even the new guard hotels are concerned.

“We don’t want that, we’re not a mass tourism product,” says Cape of Senses general manager Alina Deutsch of any attempt to clone Como at Garda. “What is luxury today? It’s what people are missing from their lives, and that’s space and time.”

“Locals, like me, really hope that our beautiful destination will remain as authentic as it is now, even if international tourism is booming and new luxury properties are going to continue opening in the next couple of years,” added Alice Lancini, Grand Hotel Fasano’s sales and marketing manager.

But the scene in Lake Garda’s is already shifting. Lancini says that in the last three to four years, U.S. travellers have made the lake hotel the brand’s second strongest market after Germany. “Lake Garda is becoming more popular in the States as it’s much cheaper than Como, less crowded—still, for now—and it’s a completely different experience than Lake Como.”

Parla adds that the 50 kilometre-long Lake Garda has a natural protection from “becoming a Disneyland” overnight: its massive size makes it feel more like a sea than a lake at times.

“Como the town, Bellagio, and all the fancy hotels are beyond overcrowded and have become the playground of influencers generating their FOMO-inducing content,” she says. “I don’t see a way to enjoy the lake if you stick to those two towns, which most do…Lake Garda is so much bigger.”

Its other protection? Garda isn’t a first stop for first timers. After all, would you tell someone to skip the Eiffel Tower on their first trip to Paris, or forgo the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco? Icons are icons and that includes Lake Como.

The new family-owned spa hotel Cape of Senses just opened on Lake Garda.
Cape of Senses

“Lake Como is for romance and honeymoons, and lounging around on a boat and never leaving the confines of a luxury hotel,” adds Parla, noting that other lakes and villages attract a more active, creative and adventurous crowd.

So will Garda ever become Como? Lancini thinks it’s likely, and that’s why you should get there sooner rather than later. “Lake Garda is going to boom as a destination in the next three to five years,” she says. “Now is the time to take advantage and come to this beautiful destination before it becomes too crowded.”

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Kyoto Has the Most Michelin Restaurants per Capita: Report

There are 100 Michelin-starred spots in the Japanese city, serving some 1.5 million people.

By Tori Latham 17/06/2024

The residents of Kyoto, Japan, are positively swimming among Michelin-starred restaurants.

The Japanese city is home to the highest density of eateries ranked by the French tire company, including five three-starred restaurants, according to a new report from website Chef’s Pencil. With 100 Michelin-ranked spots and a population of almost 1.5 million, Kyoto has one restaurant for every 14,637 people.

Coming in a close second is—unsurprisingly—Paris: The city’s 122 Michelin-starred restaurants serve 2.1 million residents, resulting in one spot for every 17,235 people. (Paris also has the second-highest absolute number of Michelin-starred restaurants, behind Tokyo.) Third place may come as a shock: Washington, D.C., has ranked highly, with 25 restaurants for 690,000 residents, or one for every 27,582 people.

Of course, there are some caveats for the Chef’s Pencil report. The website looked only at cities with 500,000 or more residents. And the restaurants had to be located within the city limits, rather than the larger metropolitan area. The Michelin Guide itself often includes eateries in a broader region, so this list may be slightly more abbreviated than the official selection.

To address some of that disparity, Chef’s Pencil has also released a ranking of Michelin density in midsize cities, those with 100,000 to 500,000 residents. At the top of that list is Nara, Japan, which has 23 starred restaurants for a population of just 367,000 (one restaurant for every 15,972 residents). That’s followed by Maastricht, Netherlands (six Michelin-starred restaurants and 120,000 residents, or one restaurant for every 20,038 people), and Geneva, Switzerland (eight starred eateries and a population of 204,000, or one spot for every 25,494 residents).

And while France is the country with the most Michelin-starred establishments, Switzerland actually has the most starred spots per capita. The country’s 134 Michelin-starred restaurants serve a population of almost 9 million, or one for every 66,872 residents. The much smaller Luxembourg, with just 672,500 residents, comes in second for this metric: With 10 Michelin-starred restaurants, there’s one for every 67,250 people.

While many people travel to the areas with the most Michelin-starred restaurants, they may be better served by going to the areas where they’re the densest. Neither Kyoto nor D.C. may be called its respective country’s culinary capital, but both are teeming with Michelin-ranked spots relative to their size.

 

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