31 December 2009 by Amy Sohanpaul
Caramelised bananas, candied walnuts, blue cheese foam, pork jelly. The food just keeps coming. Seared lamb, eggplant, cucumber, all daintily wrapped up in flat bread. g, the in house restaurant at the Fair. Pea soup, Parmesan foam, raisin toast, marinated morels and pickled onions. The chef’s table is really a seat at a bar counter, an extravagantly beautiful counter consisting of strips of Egyptian Tiger’s Eye stone, gleaming and lustrous, at once amber and brown and gold. On the other side of the counter are two chefs, in whites so immaculate it would appear that they’ve never created a dish while wearing them. But they have: many many dishes, and I’m eating all of them. Along comes a tasting platter, and they give instructions on how I’m to eat this - in precise clockwise order. So, oyster with shallots and vinegar first, then the stilton croquette, then the carrot millefeuille, then lobster parfait, guacamole eclair and finally, oh finally, a little sip of asparagus soup. But it’s not finally.
A tiny version of a main course appears- a sizeable chunk of very tasty cod in a lemongrass and coconut broth. I have to finish this: I’m eating it in front of the people who cooked it. But no, no, no pudding. I cannot eat another bite. The chefs don’t understand. They’ve been brilliant fun, offering up little concoctions, and they are obviously having fun themselves, experimenting. "This is just something I’m playing around with tonight, what do you think?" I think it’s wonderful. But please. I just got off the plane today. It’s now six in the morning in London. I should be getting up to a cup of tea, not at the tail end of multiple courses before going to bed. "If I have pudding, it will be the wafer-thin mint, I promise you." This reference is lost on them, but the chefs have been superb company and the food they’ve so enthusiastically created has been seriously good. Still, I’m relieved that I’ve spent the hours leading up to this meal walking and walking and walking. The Fairmont Battery Wharf sits between the harbour and the Italian North End of Boston, so every path I strolled down was filled with interest, from the narrow harbourside streets to roads lined with Italian style.
Trattorias with red-checked tablecloths and the briny fishy aroma of spaghetti a la vongole, pasticcerias with shelves laden with biscotti and amaretti and cassata, salumerias with strings of salami and slabs of cheese, cafes full of cappuccino and espresso drinkers. In the garden of St Leonard, the first Roman Catholic Church in New England, built by Italian immigrants, statues of saints and of Christ stand serene amidst the commotion of the surrounding streets. If it wasn’t for the redbrick buildings and the classic skyscraper skyline beyond them, this could pass for Italy at a pinch. But as it isn’t, freedom-fighter Paul Revere’s house is around the corner, and around another is a replica of the bar from Cheers - the Bull And Finch pub that the series was based on is also in Boston. The replica is situated in Faneuil Hall Marketplace, three elegant buildings and their adjoining terraces chock-a-block with shops and stalls, some maverick, some marvellous, some mid-market. The food hall is fabulous, laden with goodies, but somehow I manage not to sample a single thing, not even a nibble from Slugger’s Dugout, offering ’A Taste of America’s Ballpark Foods’.
This is a good thing, of course, given the meal to come, although I don’t know that during the lovely walk back to the hotel alongside the waterfront, where the old warehouses and shipyards have been restored or reborn as elegant residences or restaurants, and where people are getting off the decks of their yachts to sit on the decks of their rooms with stupendous views. A little duck bobs on the darkening water, while a big plane comes in to land just over the water at Logan Airport, flying close enough to be seen but not enough to be heard. Many of the rooms at the hotel boast similarly superb views, and a fire service boat is moored just beside mine, but I’m too sated and sleepy to enjoy anything in my well-appointed room when I’ve finally finished supper, other than the vast and welcoming bed. I have plenty of time to make up for this when I ping awake at five the next morning, due to a very confused body clock. There’s a huge walk-in shower, an extremely comforting lounging chair, a platter of fruit, the weather forecast on the interactive phone system (showing a picture of clouds heavy with rain) and even an espresso machine. But I’d rather have a cup of tea, so I leave my room and the block it is situated in, to walk over to the block opposite, which houses the lobby, reception and restaurant, as well as more guestrooms.
The hotel was originally planned as one high-rise building, but rather than spoil the waterside view for residents in the buildings behind, they decided to build four smaller buildings, with just 150 rooms and suites in total. Now that I’m alert and awake and not eating, I see all the details I’d missed the night before, many of them subtle and inspired by the waterside setting. The flowerbeds are shaped like the bow of a ship, the carpets are patterned with beach pebbles, some of the tables in the lobby are inlaid with nautical stars, even the butter dishes subtly echo the theme, shaped as they are in the form of a wave. Attention to design detail is everywhere - fabric walls, sculpted chandeliers, beautiful stone- and marble-work at every turn, modern sculptures dotted around the lobby, and a splendid suspended work of art below a skylight, a swirling piece resembling a school of sardines. I notice that one of the suites has a telescope by the massive windows overlooking the water, for ship- and star-gazing. At eight o’ clock there’s a blast, just outside the lobby window. "That’s the coastguards’ canon salute," explains a waitress. "They do that every day". Looking out, I see the coastguard crew standing to attention on deck as the Stars and Stripes is raised on their boat.
I notice, as I head out for another spot of sightseeing, that this is moored near an art-deco-style water-taxi office. It turns out that many guests arrive at the hotel by boat from Logan Airport across the harbour, and I’d love to hail a boat-ride now - but I’m heading into the city for another wander. Those heavy rain clouds promised on my in-room telephone forecast are gathering above the redbrick buildings, and by the time I return to the lobby I’m drenched, and dripping water all over the polished floor and plush carpet. I hardly dare sit on the plump sofa that looks so inviting after my wanders, but as I checked out this morning and have a taxi due soon, there’s no time for a costume change. A member of staff rushes over and is all concern. "Please sit. I’m going to ask the restaurant to send someone to you, to get you a hot drink right away." When the barman comes over, he says, "So I’m thinking what might be good is this. You’re English, and I’m going to use a hot infusion of English Breakfast tea. Tea’s important to us in Boston too. Some grappa, in homage to the area we’re in. A touch of orange bitters, and some honey syrup. It’s something I’ve just been experimenting with. Do you like the sound of it?" I do.