by Mary Gostelow
Shane says the air in the Laguna Niguel area, 90 minutes’ drive south of Los Angeles, is the healthiest in the world.
How does Shane know? Well, he came from Kansas City ten years ago and never wants to go back. Ever since it opened he has been a personal trainer at Montage Laguna Beach, the luxury hotel that on February 26th, 2013, was one of the latest properties to be awarded the coveted Forbes five-star status (another newcomer in the 76-total list is Hotel InterContinental Hong Kong). Anyway, Shane loves Laguna so much, he enthuses about it in such a way the gal feels he would work there for nothing.
What do guests typically do at this 248-room hotel? Probably, like me, they open their bedroom windows and look at the Pacific. Every single bedroom, even the starter Horizon rooms, faces the ocean. You see people just sitting, looking out for dolphins. Obviously I had a couple of things to do, like take a boot camp hour with Shane. If you want to know what it is like, here is a précis. Run around in a big circle while he watches you. Climb up and down on to a table bench while he watches you. Run along a 50-foot marked section of soft sand, forward out and backwards on the return. Yes he watches, as he does when you side-step, and then run up the cliff-face gradient three times.
Obviously it was time for food. Thanks to some Spanish scientists, it has finally been proved that a Mediterranean diet, which includes eggs and lots of fish and even seven glasses of red wine a week, will cut the risk of heart disease and strokes by 30 percent. Tonight, however, it was forget Mediterranean time and think instead of Casey Overton. He is a local boy, and passionate about local produce. Read his menu in Loft restaurant and it lists the producers, say carrots from Weiser Farms about an hour north of Los Angeles. He has what he calls foragers, namely agents who go out and find amazing products for him. We thought about what we were going to eat while we had our statutory red wine of the night…
And then we started. We had a baby beet salad, using beets from Bill McGrath’s Farm and paired with local avocados. California, especially southern California, claims to produce 95 percent of all avocado farming in the USA, and both Carpinteria and Fallbrook have annual avocado festivals, a reminder that avos were introduced here from Mexico in the 19th century. Casey Overton also puts blonde frisée and green peppercorn vinaigrette with the salad. Next comes a salmon, an intruder in that it has flown, not swum, all the way from the Faroes, north of Scotland, but it is paired with Mr Weiser’s carrots and toasted heirloom grains. What makes a grain heirloom is beyond my culinary knowledge, sorry.
What I can tell you is that the food here is sensational (try, after a boot-camp workout, an avo omelette – amazing). And even this non-dessert lover fell head-over-heels for pastry chef Lee Smith’s concoctions. Our tasting included Affogato, fresh hot espresso which you pour over Madagascan vanilla bean ice cream. There was a caramel-flavoured sea-salt soufflé with popcorn ice cream. Pride of place probably went to a dark chocolate ball, the size of a tennis ball. Hot chocolate sauce was poured over so that the ball melted. Eat the delicious result with green apple icecream, hazelnuts and poached Bartlett pear.
Todd Orlich, GM of this luxury hotel, not surprisingly has an enormous beaming smile on his face. He was at Montage Beverly Hills to pick up the Forbes award, but he rushed straight back to ‘his’ hotel, to congratulate a newly-married couple, and talk to other regular guests – 70 percent of leisure people here are repeaters (gosh, do some repeat the Shane experience?). The award is for the facilities, including the enormous spa with its Kim Vö salon, and the Paintbox experience for kids from toddler age up. It is also, he says with that beam getting even bigger, for his team, a quarter of whom have, like Shane, been here since Day One.