Tag Archives: Best of the Best

world sushi cup 2016

Brazilian Chef Wins ‘World Sushi Cup’ in Tokyo

A Brazilian chef won the World Sushi Cup Friday, bursting into tears of joy after his knife skills and artful preparation of salmon roe, tuna and shrimp delicacies wowed Japanese judges.

With the country’s UNESCO-recognized cuisine enjoying an explosion of global popularity, the competition – sponsored by Japan’s agricultural ministry – aims to improve sushi standards overseas.

Dressed in white coats and hats, 27 chefs from countries ranging from France, Brazil and the US to Pakistan, nervously prepared fish and made traditional “Edo” style sushi, in tightly timed rounds.

Their techniques were closely watched and evaluated by a panel of Japanese sushi masters, with 20 chefs making it through to the finals on day two, where they had to show off their own original styles of sushi.

“I had fun,” said cup winner Celso Hideji Amano, 38, a Brazilian of Japanese ancestry who shone in the traditional sushi making round, before busting into tears.

“It’s not an easy competition,” Usman Khan, a 32-year-old Pakistani chef working at a branch of the prestigious Nobu restaurant chain in Cape Town, told AFP. “You’re under a lot of pressure,” he said on Thursday, the first day of the competition.

The annual contest was first held in 2013 and Khan, who has competed twice and made it through to the finals this year, said it was a good challenge.

“What better way to test your limits by competing against other chefs in the same profession in Japan,” he said. Khan first encountered sushi after he moved to South Africa from Kuwait 13 years ago.

“I couldn’t believe people could eat raw fish,” he said. “I was disgusted initially but I got intrigued.”

Soaring Popularity

As of July 2015, there were 89,000 Japanese restaurants outside Japan, up from 55,000 two years before, according to the ministry. But many establishments outside the country serve sushi without proper knowledge and skills, competition organisers said.

“Quite a lot of people are learning from the internet and books,” said World Sushi Cup chairman Masayoshi Kazato, who has worked as a sushi chef for more than four decades.

“Improvement of the level of cooking and hygiene through this competition – that’s what we’re aiming for,” he said.

One of the contestants, French chef Eric Ticana Sik, 31, said his goal in participating was simply to learn more. “We are one of the countries that eat the most sushi in the world, but there is really a lack of training,” he said.”Only Japanese can teach us the basics.”

Sik, whose signature sushi brings together elements of Japan and France by combining salmon and brie cheese, said he wanted to meet other chefs from around the world to “discuss and share” views.

The origin of sushi dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185), when salted “funa” fish were fermented together with rice, according to the ministry. The current style was developed in the Edo Period (1603-1867) when the public began using vinegar mixed with rice.

BMW-record-sales-2016

BMW is World’s Top Luxury Carmaker

It seems that BMW is leading the rat race of the automotive world, claiming the title of most popular luxury car maker. The Bavarian automaker achieved this with a record combined quarterly sales of 605,534 units for Mini, BMW and Rolls-Royce vehicles. Yes, this is in relation to BMW overall, not just cars bearing the BMW badge.

BMW-record-sales-2016-x1

BMW X1

Having said that, the group record isn’t the only one the German firm shattered in 2016. The first half of the year saw a record 986,557 BMWs being sold, with an increased demand of 31.7 percent for the premium 7 Series. Interest in the X1 compact SUV also rose 61.7 percent, with 94,156 units sold; the larger X3 models saw a 16.6 percent increase in demand, hitting a sales total of 77,486 cars.

New Dawn For Rolls-Royce
Rolls-Royce Dawn

Rolls-Royce Dawn

Like its German counterpart, the ultra-luxurious British marque Rolls-Royce has also achieved new quarterly sales record of 1,133 cars, of which 514 were the new Dawn.

And if these figures are anything to go by, it is that drivers are gearing up to the idea of electric mobility and autonomous driving. Obviously, there is clearly strong demand for high-end vehicles, despite overall sluggishness in the global economy. “Sustainable profitability on this scale provides us with the financial headroom we need to pursue our work on future technologies such as electric mobility and automated driving. For me, there is no ‘either/or’ between the present and the future. The strength of today’s core business is the cornerstone for tomorrow’s success,” Krüger said.

This is especially apparent in select parts of Europe, where charging infrastructure is relatively more developed and government incentives are greatest. In June, 14.9 percent of Beemers sold in the Netherlands were electric or hybrid, while Scandinavia saw 13.2 percent across the same period. Throughout the continent, electrified accounted for 4 percent of the company’s sales.

Battery Upgrade
BMW-record-sales-2016-i3

BMW i3

The impressive figures don’t stop there. Since the i3 received an upgraded battery this July, more than 7,000 orders have been placed (triple the number of reservations when the first-gen i3 was launched). The more efficient battery will increase the range of everyday driving from 130km to 200 km on a single charge.

This corresponding increase in sales suggests the biggest hurdle car firms need to overcome when it comes to getting consumers to move from gasoline-powered cars is ultimately range anxiety – a problem that should be easily solved now that the industry has sharpened its focus on eco-friendliness.

This story is also available in Bahasa Indonesia. Read it here: BMW, Produsen Mobil Mewah Teratas di Dunia

Connaught Bar Named World’s Best 2016

The Connaught Hotel in London might just boast one of the finest penthouses in the city, which makes it the ultimate dream accommodation for travelers, but definitely has the best watering hole, the Connaught Bar. Over the weekend the hotel’s bar helped cement its status in the world of luxury hotels, having been named the world’s best bar 2016. Seriously, the bar is so famous that it is just called the Connaught Bar, with nary a thought for the hotel that hosts it.

As part of the “Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award”, the event saw 100 industry experts’ award winners in five main categories. With finalists from America and around the world, the awards recognized the efforts of mixologists, cocktail menus and bars. The event also saw the Connaught Bar walk away with the award for best international hotel bar.connaught_bar_drinks

Located in one of London’s most desirable and fashionable neighborhoods, the bar boasts a luxurious interior and a carefully concocted menu. The bar was designed by David Collins, the man responsible for the interiors of restaurants such as Marco Pierre White, Marcus Wareing, The Wolseley and Gordon Ramsey. Apart from restaurants, the interior designer has also been the creative mastermind behind retail interiors such as Jimmy Choo and Harrods as well as Madonna’s New York and London apartments.

At the Connaught Bar, guests can look forward to plush leather seats amidst 1920s inspired décor as they sip their cocktails. Yes, because people with class sip… Surrounded by silver leaf walls decorated in pink, pistachio and lilac, bartenders in spiffy suits, white-gloves, crisp white shirts and black vests serve up some interesting concoctions. From the Mulata Daisy, made of eight-year-old rum, creme de cacao and fennel seeds to the Sakura that is created with Pear Williams EDV, cherry blossom liquor and plum wine, the cocktails promise to give you that tingly feeling.connaught_bar_bartenders

Other winners include:

Best American Restaurant Bar: Saxon + Parole (New York)

American Bartender of the Year: Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Clyde Common (Portland)

Best American Cocktail Bar: Smuggler’s Cove (San Francisco)

Best American Hotel Bar: The Elephant Bar at The NoMad (New York)

Best New American Cocktail Bar: Sweet Liberty (Miami Beach)

Best International Bar Team:American Bar at the Savoy (London)

Best International Restaurant Bar: Hawksmoor Spitalfields (London)

International Bartender of the Year: Hidetsugu Ueno of Bar High Five (Tokyo)

Best International Cocktail Bar: Happiness Forgets (London)

New York iStock generic with Central Park

New York Tops US Livability Ranking: Report

A new report ranking the top US cities in categories such as culture, education, diversity and prosperity places New York at the top of the heap, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago. Curiously, for those who care to know, the Big Apple losses out in the prosperity stakes to unlikeliest of cities…

Released by consultancy group Resonance, the 2016 US Place Equity Index measures major cities across the US with populations of more than 500,000 across 23 areas that are grouped into six core categories: place, product, programming, people, prosperity, and promotion.

Cities are evaluated based on statistics and reviews on social media sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. After topping the leaderboard in four of the six categories — place, programming, product and promotion — New York is ranked the best overall city in the US.

Place is defined as the quality of a city’s natural and urban infrastructure; product is characterized by a city’s key institutions and attractions, and programming defined as its arts, culture and entertainment.

The People category considers a city’s diversity, immigration, educational attainment. Prosperity is defined by its economy and promotion, the quantity and quality of online reviews.

Where New York failed to take the top spot is in the category of People, which was awarded to Miami, a city rich in “human capital” with its diversity and education levels.

Likewise, the Big Apple loses to Plano, Texas in the category of prosperity, where unemployment and poverty rates are lower and average household incomes higher than their counterparts.

Here are the top 10 overall US cities for 2016:

  • 1. New York
  • 2. Los Angeles
  • 3. Chicago
  • 4. San Francisco
  • 5. San Diego
  • 6. Boston
  • 7. Houston
  • 8. Miami
  • 9. Washington
  • 10. Seattle

Most Expensive Wine? Hermitage La Chappelle 1961

Wine fans would be no strangers to the name Hermitage La Chappelle 1961, but will still be surprised to learn that it is the world’s most expensive wine, according to iDealWine, based on their own auction results thus far this year. Most accurately, the Hermitage vintage can be said to be the most expensive wine bought via iDealWine auctions so far in 2016. [This version of the story clarifies the rationale behind the ranking].

The world-famous Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (DRC) is typically top dog at auctions, ranked as it is as one of the greatest wine producers and widely recognized as the leader of the pack. With its low production volumes matched with very strong demand, you might recall that one DRC bottle clinched the highest auction bid, with the Grand Cru Domaine de la Romanee-Conti 2009 sold for 11,160 euros.

This is, unfortunately, old news. Just recently, a bottle of Hermitage La Chappelle 1961 from the Jaboulet estate went under the hammer with the winning bid of 13,320 euros to an Austrian enthusiast. It is too soon to claim that the DRC has been dethroned, however, for according to Wine-Searcher.com, the Grand Cru DRC has registered even higher prices, more than $16,000 in fact – albeit not at auction. The DRC has a long way to go before it relinquishes its investment-grade crown.

For the record though, tracking the most expensive wine of all time is surprisingly difficult. For example, the most expensive standard (750 ml) bottle of wine sold at auction is the Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1869. A Sotheby’s auction in 2010 raked in $690,000 for three bottles of this vintage, sold as a single lot. For just one bottle of wine, another Chateau Lafite, (this time the 1767, before Baron Rothschild acquired it), is credited with holding the sales record. It was thought to have been part of Thomas Jefferson’s collection. Malcolm Forbes purchased it in 1985 for $156,000 and it has been consumed by controversy since then, with its authenticity questioned till today.

In any event, the crowning of our new iDealWine auction leader speaks volumes about the world of wine. Rhone Valley wines (like the current reigning champion) are currently on the rise in the industry, with its WineDex Rhone index jumping 5.60%, as compared with the 5% for the index tracking Burgundy wine (like the DRC) prices. Things are certainly changing.

Check out Rhone Valley and DRC wines on Epicurio now. Download the app on iTunes or Google Play now

Luxuo AFP Italian chef Massimo Bottura © AFP PHOTO / YASUYOSHI CHIBA

Focus: Chef Massimo Bottura, Osteria Francescana

The man behind Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy creates world class wonders and serves them up with a dash of humor. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, and he nearly did.

But Massimo Bottura’s obsession with cooking instead has paid off: his restaurant may have put the noses of conservative Italian chefs out of joint, but it now boasts the title “best in the world”.

Set in the heart of Modena in northern Italy, the Osteria already boasted three Michelin stars before it snapped up first prize at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in June thanks to a creative cuisine that reinvents Italian traditional dishes.

Winning was a “very emotional” experience, Bottura told AFP, though he said one of the main differences between first and second place on the prestigious list was “the number of interviews” he is now asked to give.

With its blue-grey walls, taupe carpet, artworks on the walls and photographs of the singer Edith Piaf, there are just 12 tables and most diners come for the tasting menu, with its 220 euro ($245) price tag.

The fare may be world class but this osteria does not take itself too seriously. A wax sculpture of a security guard by American artist Duane Hanson startles diners at the front entrance. The levity continues once seated.

Dish names include “An eel swimming up the Po River” and “Yellow is bello”. Bespectacled Bottura, 53, worked on one of his signature creations, “Memory of a mortadella sandwich”, for four years.

Follow your Palate

“I rely on my past, but I look at it critically and without nostalgia, because I want to bring the best of the past into the future,” he says.

He says he has always “sought to look at the world from under the table, with the eyes of a child stealing the pasta his grandmother” is making from scratch.

The kitchen — and the table he hid under while his grandmother fought off his quick-fingered brothers with a rolling pin — became “my safety place”.

When he was 23-years old Bottura, who was famous for rustling up culinary delights for his friends, dropped his law studies to open a Trattoria in Campazzo, in the countryside around Modena in the Po River Valley.

On his days off, he would study with French chef Georges Cogny, who had a restaurant two hours away.

“He said to me: ‘always follow your palate, because you have a great palate which will make Modena known around the world'”.

Two years and an interlude in New York later, it was another Frenchman that changed his destiny, Alain Ducasse.

After the Provencal food guru came to Bottura’s Trattoria, the Italian ended up going to work for him in Monte Carlo for a time.

Ducasse had a huge influence on him: “He taught me to be obsessed: obsessed with quality ingredients, obsessed with detail”.

Back in Modena in 1995, he opened the Osteria Francescana. Never satisfied, he jumped at the chance five years later to learn from another great master, Spanish giant Ferran Adria.

Adria taught Bottura the “freedom to be creative”, to think that “a sardine can be worth as much as a lobster, but it all depends on whose hands it is in.”

Mouthfuls of Passion

Bottura begins with local products and messes around with traditional recipes, drawing for inspiration on everything from his childhood kitchen to poetry, art and music, “compressing my passions into mouthfuls”.

His philosophy and creations at first perplexed and even angered Italy’s culinary old guard.

“It’s ironic isn’t it? Ten years ago they wanted to string me up in the main square because I ‘destroyed’ our grandmothers’ recipes”.

With the world prize in the bag, Bottura turns his mind back to his social projects, particularly his war on food waste.

His next big gig will see him set up a caffetteria in Rio which will transform leftover food from the Olympic Games Village into free meals for the poor living in the Brazilian city’s favelas.

Everything the excitable chef does comes with the support of his American wife Lara Gilmore, who left New York for him and gave the ok for his Spanish adventure even though she was pregnant at the time.

“I fell in love with Massimo’s kitchen before actually falling in love with him,” she says.

“He really got me with his creamy velvet artichoke soup”.

World Spa Awards 2016 Open for Voting

There are good spas, and then there are really good spas. When contemplating your next pampering retreat, you might as well settle for nothing less than the best. Fret not, you need not Google your way through heaps of list after disorganized list. Meet the World Spa Awards 2016, the aspiring definitive benchmark of spa excellence and the potential panacea to our Google search woes.

Welcoming its second run this year, the awards are – as promised – definitive. Categories range from World’s Best Hotel Spa Brand to even World’s Best Desert Spa brand, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The award shortlists spas from all over the world, where world powers such as England and the US right down to minnows such as the Cayman Islands and Anguilla (both in the Caribbean) have their own list of nominees. Color us impressed.

As expected, a few usual suspects made it into the awards shortlist. Banyan Tree Spa is a nominee for World’s Best Hotel Spa Brand, while L’Occitane and Sisley Paris features in World’s Best Spa Brand. For those curious, nominees for World’s Best Desert Spa include The Ritz-Carlton Spa at The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain and Amangiri, both Stateside in the Southwest, among others.

Should you have a strong opinion regarding the nominees, you can make your voice heard via that most democratic of tools, voting. While the World Spa Awards collates votes from professionals within the spa industry, the public is free to weigh in as well as well. Making a difference among senior executives, frequent travelers and the media, among others, that’s a sign of true transparency and prestige. We’re eager to learn who the winners are as it has been too long since our last list of the world’s best spas.

Votes close on July 25, 2016. To vote, visit World Spa Awards’ website here. May the best spa win.

World’s Highest Paid Celebrity 2016 is…

At the tender age of 26, Taylor Swift is the world’s highest-paid celebrity, pulling in a whopping $170 million over the past year, Forbes magazine said Monday.

The pop diva’s take from June 2015 to June 2016 is the highest total of her young career, the magazine said, more than doubling her previous record of $80 million last year.

She out-earned other famous musicians including Adele ($80.5 million), Madonna ($76.5 million), Rihanna ($75 million) and Bruce Springsteen ($60.5 million).

The “Shake It Off” singer also outpaced rival Katy Perry who was last year’s top-earning musician at $135 million, according to Forbes magazine’s annual list of 100 highest-paid celebrities.

Perry dropped to number 63 on this year’s list, earning a mere $41 million.

Swift’s huge earnings were largely thanks to her “1989 World Tour” during which she smashed the Rolling Stone’s North American record, grossing $200 million on the continent en route to a quarter of a billion worldwide, the magazine said.

Coming in at number two on the list this year was the boy band One Direction, ($110 million), followed by author James Patterson ($95 million). Taylor’s former beau, musician Calvin Harris, also made the cut coming in at number 21 ($63 million).

“The world’s 100 highest-paid celebrities pulled in $5.1 billion pretax over the past 12 months, more than the GDP of Belize, Gambia and Bhutan combined,” Forbes said.

Magazine editor Zack O’Malley Greenberg said live entertainment continues to be a major cash draw.

“From soccer games in Spain to concerts in China, fans are willing to shell out to see big names – and this is driving the celebrity economy to ever greater heights,” he said in a statement.

On the Hollywood front, Jennifer Lawrence was the industry’s highest-paid actress for the second consecutive year, earning $46 million, a slight drop from the $52 million “The Hunger Games” star banked the year before.

Actor Dwayne Johnson wrestled the highest-paid actor spot from “Iron Man’s” Robert Downey Jr., earning $64.5 million, largely thanks to the billion-dollar “Fast and Furious” franchise and the surprising success of 2015’s “San Andreas” movie.

Many athletes also made the list, including Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo ($88 million), tennis man Roger Federer ($68 million), and German race car driver Sebastian Vettel ($41 million)

Etihad Airways: Best First Class Airline 2016

An airline is more than just a means to an end and Skytrax knows this all too well, hence it has been evaluating and recognizing airlines around the world for excellence since 1999. This year, Emirates is crowned king of the skies, as World’s Best Airline while Etihad Airways bags top honors in luxury, as the World’s Best First Class Airline 2016. Making it a triple-header for Gulf airlines, Qatar Airways is the World’s Best Business Class Airline in 2016. No American airlines made the top 10 this year, which you can see at the bottom of this article.

Etihad Airways First Apartment

Etihad Airways First Apartment

Etihad didn’t just bag the award for World’s Best First Class Airline. For the second time in its history, Etihad took home two other titles: World’s Best First Class Onboard Catering and World’s Best First Class Airline Seat for its First Apartments and Suites.

For its part, Emirates returned to the top of the pile this year, displacing perennial rivals Qatar Airways (last year’s overall winner) and Singapore Airlines (second last year, third in 2016). Emirates was also crowned best airline for keeping passengers entertained, an award the carrier has won for the last 12 years.

Calum Laming, Vice President of Guest Experience at Etihad Airways, said “The airline is tremendously proud that, based on the results of a huge global customer satisfaction survey, we have yet again been presented with these prestigious awards for the world’s finest First Class experience.” He added that “We have enhanced the experience even further this year through investment in our products, services and cabins and this is a welcome reward for those efforts.”

Etihad Airways: First Apartment Bed

Etihad Airways: First Apartment Bed

With nine First Apartments aboard the A380, guests can relax tens of thousands of feet above the ground in spaces that are said to be 74% larger than Etihad’s current First Class suites. Within this 39-square-foot space, the airline has installed a Poltrona Frau leather armchair and ottoman that can create a 80.5-inch long bed. Guests also have a dedicated shower room — who said travelling first class was anything but fancy?

To ensure that you never go hungry during a flight, the airline even offers up a sumptuous menu that features fine steaks, sides and sauces that are prepared by onboard Chefs. These professionally trained crew members can even craft a meal based on the request of each passenger for that bespoke dining experience.

Etihad Airways: Onboard Chef's serve the First Class Cabins for each flight

Etihad Airways: Onboard Chef’s serve the First Class Cabins for each flight

Capping off the first class experience with Etihad and cementing its status as the World’s Best Airline of 2016, is the First Class lounge & spa. Located at Abu Dhabi International Airport, first class passengers are given access to an array of services such as a fitness room. Cigar lounge, Six Senses Spa, Style & Shave barbers and even a nail bar.

Other awards categories see Cathay Pacific emerge tops for cabin cleanliness, which is always a plus, and marked yet another year of Asian airlines dominating the awards. Indeed, only Qantas and Lufthansa cracked the top 10 best in the world 2016, if one counts Turkish Airlines as Asian. Asian airlines were once again honored for their top-quality crews, with Garuda Indonesia winning “Best Airline Cabin Staff” for the third consecutive year, ahead of All Nippon Airways (second), Singapore Airlines (third), Thai Airways (fourth) and Eva Air (fifth, Taiwan).

In case you are curious, the top 10 airlines in the world for 2016 are as follows:

1. Emirates
2. Qatar Airways
3. Singapore Airlines
4. Cathay Pacific
5. ANA All Nippon Airways
6. Etihad Airways
7. Turkish Airlines
8. EVA Air
9. Qantas Airways
10. Lufthansa

The top First Class airlines are as follows:

1. Etihad Airways
2. Cathay Pacific
3. Air France
4. ANA All Nippon Airways
5. Singapore Airlines
6. Emirates
7. Lufthansa
8. Qatar Airways
9. Qantas Airways
10. Garuda Indonesia

To find out more about the World’s Top 10 Airlines 2016, click here.

Best Fine Dining Airport Restaurant 2016 Is…

One can sample some of the finest French fare, it seems, without leaving the confines of Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. “I Love Paris”, named the best fine dining airport restaurant of 2016, was picked at the Airport Food and Beverage (FAB) Conference and Awards in Geneva.

Owned by chef Guy Martin, the restaurant serves up classic French cuisine such as blanquette de veau (veal ragout) and pot-au-feu as well as vegetarian burgers and mango carpaccio. The spin-off of the chef’s Michelin-starred Le Grand Vefour in Paris, edged out Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food to win the top prize in the category of chef-led, fine dining offer of the year.

However, Martin may not be the leader of the pack for long with the arrival of restaurants by celebrity French chefs Thierry Marx and Michel Rostang last week. Meanwhile, Copenhagen Airport took home the top honor for best overall airport for food and beverage for the second time — having first done so in 2014. While the Danish capital is now regarded as a culinary hotspot thanks to chef Rene Redzpei’s restaurant Noma, the airport offers 34 restaurants and coffee shops to choose from.

Other winners at the FAB Conference and Awards include Emirates Leisure Retail, Hudson and Brisbane Airport for the best airport coffee shop of the year. The Hausmann’s Flughafen Gastronomie at Frankfurt airport took home the title for the best casual dining restaurant of the year.

This story was written in-house, based on an AFP report, with an image from the same

Lesedi la Rona: Largest Diamond Fails to Sell

Some say bigger is better but in the case of the Lesedi la Rona, that may not be the case. Said to be biggest uncut diamond that has been found in more than a century and the second largest ever mined, the gem failed to sell in London earlier this week.

The public auction saw bidders wiling to part with a maximum of $61 million but alas it fell short of the minimum sum reserve price that had not been disclosed.  Sotheby’s, the auction house that helped to handle the sale of the diamond even predicted that it would fetch $70 million. One reason cited for the failure to create a successful sale, is that Lucara Diamond Corp went with an auction method that is less conventional.

While most diamonds of this size and quality are usually sold in a private auction, the company chose to go down an alternative path with a public auction. The failure to sell the diamond also saw the company’s stocks drop 14.5% after the end of the auction. There is speculation that the result may be attributed to the Brexit kerfuffle (pretty much everything is related to it at this point) where many a wealthy diamond lover may have seen a significant dip in net worth.

Still, it is more likely that suitors for his kind of stone prefer to play their hands in private. Private buyers may still have a chance to bid for the diamond because Lucara of course retains possession. The company is said to be considering distinctly non-commercial avenues for the diamond, such as loaning it to museums for educational purposes.

Utamaro Woodblock Print Sets Auction Record

The Japanese art of woodblock printing has a very long history, with its fair share of masters whose work is in high demand from collectors . One of these masters was Kitagawa Utamaro, an artist nonpareil at the time for his beautiful depictions of women. At a Paris auction, held by the Beaussant Lefevre auction house in association with Christie’s, Utamaro’s sensual skill was brought to the forefront again with an auction of his ‘Deeply Hidden Love’ (Fukaku Shinobu Koi) print. It fetched around 745,000 euros, and went way beyond the initial estimate of 100,000 euros – setting a record for both prints of the Ukiyo-e genre, as well as prints by the artist of course.

Auction of the Portier Collection

The auction held in Paris was focused on Asian art and objects from a collection held by the Portier family – mainly consisting of Japanese earthenware including chawan (tea bowls) and kogo incense boxes. All 90 lots put up were sold after intense bidding, which is an extraordinary result. Some of the other major lots sold included a portrait of actor Tanimura Torazo created by artist Toshusai Sharaku (101,000 euros), and a bust of comedian Iwai Hanshiro by Utagawa Kunimasa (78,680 euros).

“(The Portiers’) expertise has been a reference for the Asian art market for the past four generations,” said the auction house in a statement.

There was also a set of eight exceptional Edo stamps that mainly depicted portraits of actors done by leading artists at the time. Each stamp was acquired by Henri Portier and his son Andre, major figures in the Asian art market in France, in sales at the Drouot auction house over the past century.

Utamaro, Master of Japanese Woodblock Prints

Compared with more popular forms of art like painting, the techniques behind woodblock printing are less known. It was a complicated process that involved three people working in tandem with one another. The artist himself usually only made the initial sketch of the final product, before sending it over to a carver to carve out the block, and a printer to apply inks to the block. Especially troublesome was the fact that each block could only be used for a single color (although some used blocks repeatedly to get special effects). Multiple woodblocks had to be prepared for a single print.

When the whole process worked out, under the conception of a skilled artist, you get the masterful combinations of color and form that characterize the best works in the medium. The powerful contrasts of blues and whites, for example, that blends together, for example, in Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave Off Kamigawa’. Utamaro, on the other hand, was more focused on using those colors to create a light and idealized form of femininity – and captured subjects like courtesans and Geisha from the Yoshiwara district – or bustling scenes of human life.

The methodology of Japanese woodblock printing has fallen out of favor, especially in view of newer mediums like linocut and lithography (and not to mention digital printing today). Still, the effects and techniques achieved by the Ukiyo-e artists have inspired countless others in the East and West – including great painters such as Van Gogh, most famously. The prints are being perpetuated all over the globe and can gather up new fans over the years. Hopefully, that’ll continue.

Fastest Ever: Brabus 850 Biturbo Cabrio

If we know anything at all about Brabus, it is that Brabus cars are either fast or powerful…well more than likely they are both, as is the case with the 850 6.0 Biturbo Cabrio. The Internet, the blogosphere and the Thunderdome are all abuzz because this not-so-gentle giant might be the fastest road-legal four-seat convertible in the world. This is no showhorse either because it is both real and is really for sale.

How fast, exactly? The German tuning firm says that the car, based on a Mercedes S 63 Cabriolet can hit 350km/h (that’s 217mph for the metrically challenged). That makes slowpokes out of the Audi R8, Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible, Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet, Ferrari 488 Spider, McLaren 650S Spider and any series production Lamborghini other than an Aventador. Even the Aventador is merely equal to the Brabus 850 6.0 Biturbo Cabrio because both top out at 350km/h.

But as well as mph there is an immense amount of bhp on offer too. The car’s twin-turbo 6-liter V8 produces 625kW, that’s 850hp or 838bhp plus an epic 1450Nm of torque, accessible from as little as 2,500rpm.

All of those performance stats working in harmony equate to a 0-100km/h time of 3.5 seconds, a 0-200km/h time of 9.4 seconds and, so claims Brabus, an electronically limited top speed. The tires of the 850 6.0 Biturbo Cabrio can’t handle more than 350km/h, even if the rest of the car can.

To achieve those sorts of numbers, Brabus has had to almost completely rebuild the Mercedes’ stock V8: increasing capacity to almost 6 liters from 5.5. Adding its own turbochargers, crankshaft, pistons, connecting rods and even re-machining the cylinder heads to ensure the biggest bang possible with the least possible waste on every revolution.

The engine also breathes better thanks to new intake manifold, exhaust and bigger air filter boxes. The finishing touch is real gold in the engine bay for heat shielding the turbos’ intake and charge-air pipes.

The exterior has needed some serious aerodynamic upgrades to reduce drag and to ensure it stays on the road rather than entering a near-Earth orbit when approaching top speed. They include a new lower front spoiler, larger side air intakes and a redesigned rear air diffuser. All of which have been wind-tunnel developed, made from carbon fiber, and will be made available to S Class owners who want to improve or individualize the look of their cars without the total engineering overhaul.

However, like with all things Brabus, despite the incredible retuning, the 850 6.0 BiTurbo Cabrio comes with a three-year, 100,000km warranty.

40 Best Hotels 2016 Across the US

If you’re wondering what the best hotels in the world this year are, according to an independent aggregator without any vested interest, UltimateHotels.com has just the ticket. This hotel booking site has come up with a ranking of the top 40 hotels across five major cities in the US, with brands such as the St. Regis, Langham and Rosewood receiving ringing endorsements.

UltimateHotels.com, which claims to make independent recommendations, has released a list of the top hotels in New York, San Francisco, Miami, Washington DC and Chicago.

Hotels were ranked based on factors such as location, price, value, proximity to landmarks and attractions, unique distinguishing characteristics such as architectural features and design, and overall guest experiences.

The list is based on thousands of hotel reviews gleaned from “trusted sources and the most respected brands in the travel industry” and was developed to provide an edited, curated list of properties.

The concept takes a page out of the playbook of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, which creates a hierarchy of restaurants around the world in a single, powerful ranking. Winners of the 15th edition of the event were to be announced from New York on Monday night.

Meanwhile, according to UltimateHotels.com, the top-ranked guest experience in New York can be had at the luxury Casablanca Hotel in Times Square, a boutique hotel that stands out for its “warm, European-inspired décor.”

In San Francisco, the St. Regis takes the top spot for offering modern, luxurious accommodations with “style and grace.”

One of the hotel’s most popular attractions? Champagne sabering, an evening ritual in which guests witness the theatrical art sabering a champagne bottle before clinking their flutes of bubbly.

Here are the top five hotels in each of the five cities:

San Francisco

  • St. Regis
  • Scarlet Huntington
  • Omni
  • Loews Regency
  • White Swan Inn

New York

  • Casablanca Hotel
  • Library Hotel
  • Hotel Giraffe
  • Knickerbocker
  • Bryant Park

Miami

  • Hotel Beaux Arts
  • Mandarin Oriental
  • Four Seasons Miami
  • JW Marriott Marquis
  • The Shepley Hotel

Chicago

  • Langham
  • Virgin Hotel
  • Waldorf Astoria
  • Peninsula Hotel
  • Thompson Hotel

Washington DC

  • Rosewood
  • The Jefferson
  • The Hay-Adams
  • Sofitel
  • Fairmont Georgetown

For the full list visit https://ultimatehotels.com/.

Pierre Herme Crowned Best Pastry Chef 2016

The next time you bite into one of Pierre Herme’s macarons, remember that it is a creation of the world’s Best Pastry Chef, a title bestowed on him by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Born into a family of master bakers from the Alsace region of eastern France, Herme’s dedication to macarons has elevated it into an art form. It is very surprising then that he started out not being a fan of the French dessert because they were too sweet. “What prompted me to work on macarons was that before there were just coffee, chocolate and vanilla flavors,” he added. “So it gave me great latitude for creativity.”

His inventiveness and creativity made his signature macarons a household name. Steering away from typical flavors, he married ingredients such as olive oil and vanilla, wild rose hip, fig and foie gras to his menu, using sugar “as a seasoning and not a principal ingredient.” Some of his most sought-after flavors include “Ispahan” – a refreshing mix of raspberries, lychee and rosewater – and “Mogador” – a decadent combination of passion fruit and milk chocolate.

It wasn’t an overnight success story; Herme had to undergo constant experimentation and a decade of apprenticeship with Parisian patissier Gaston Lenotre before his debut in 1997. He obtains inspiration from everywhere – “something I have tasted, something I have read or maybe an image,” he said. But with success also comes failure. “We worked on a pear and chestnut macaron. But after three attempts, we had to admit that we were never going to make one that had both the true taste of pear and of chestnut at the same time,” Herme reflected.

Now 54, Herme still keeps his experimental notes safely archived. His patisserie has expanded to include tarts, cakes, chocolates and jams, though the core of his business still revolves around macarons. Collaborations with artists such as Nicolas Buffe, who designed his chocolate boxes, and perfumier Jean-Michel Duriez has helped spread the word about his desserts internationally. “There are more and more talented patissiers out there opening shops and doing great things in hotels and restaurants. The profession is very much alive and there are lots of people eager to learn, which is wonderful,” he said.

New Photos, Video of Tallest Glass-Bottom Bridge

If you are afraid of heights, look away now because this story is all about the world’s tallest and longest glass-bottom bridge. New photos have emerged of what’s poised to become, arguably, the world’s most dizzying glass-bottomed bridge in China. Scroll to the bottom of the article for the video.

Located in the national park that inspired the floating mountains of James Cameron’s film Avatar, the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge is not for the faint of heart, connecting two precipices 300 meters above the canyon floor. The transparent bridge spans 430 meters in length, 6 meters in width and can accommodate up to 800 people.

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Designed by Tel Aviv-based architectural firm Haim Dotan Ltd., the feat of structural and architectural engineering holds 10 world records including the world’s highest bungee jump. The bridge is meant to be “as invisible as possible,” work seamlessly with nature and give visitors the sense of floating in mid-air.

Zhangjiajie National Park is located in the northern part of Hunan province. The bridge is expected to open this summer.

Though the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge will claim several bragging rights when it opens, the one title it won’t hold is being China’s first glass bridge. Last fall, a glass walkway opened in central Hunan province at a more modest height of 180 meters.

More pictures follow,below the video:

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tallest longest glass bottom bridge China

 

Oppenheimer Blue Sets Record Price at Christie’s

In what seems like a week of record-breaking auctions, the Oppenheimer Blue diamond has been sold for a historic $57.5 million. This final price at a Christie’s auction in Geneva easily overshadowed the $48.4 million price tag of the 12.03-carat “Blue Moon of Josephine” last year.

The Fancy Vivid Blue rectangular-cut gem, weighing an impressive 14.62 carats, was the lead item at Christie’s Geneva Magnificent Jewels auction at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, Geneva, May 18, 2016.

The stunner was named after its previous owner, Sir Philip Oppenheimer – a name synonymous with precious gems, largely because his family owned the legendary diamond company De Beers.

Set in a platinum ring, and flanked on either side by a trapeze-cut diamond, the Oppenheimer Blue’s VVS1 (Very Very Slightly Included) clarity grade is one step below Internally Flawless. This means that the gem only has minute inclusions that are difficult for a skilled grader to see, even under 10x magnification. Its very rare medium to dark tone has earned it the prestige of being labelled “the gem of gems”.

This result comes after the Unique Pink – a 15.38-carat vivid pink diamond –  was reported sold for $31.56 million at Sotheby’s.

Most Expensive: $31 million Unique Pink Diamond

Another diamond has hit the auction block, with a great deal of fanfare, but this particular rock has delivered on those promises with its unusual size and exceptional quality. The result was a record-breaking sale and a happy moment for the Asian collector who walked away with it.

The 15.38-carat vivid pink diamond, affectionately dubbed “Unique Pink” is not only the biggest of its kind to go on auction, it also sold for an eye-watering total of $31.56 million, making it the most expensive fancy vivid pink diamond ever to sell at auction. For some context, just look at the picture above and realize that the stone is about the size of the human eye.

Sotheby's Sale of Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels 17.05.16

The prized jewel, set in a simple ring, was sold to an Asian private buyer who was bidding via phone. “Exactly one year after having set the world record for a jewelry sale, Sotheby’s Geneva has raised the bar once again with a great sale and a great result for the Unique Pink,” said David Bennett, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery Division.

Sotheby’s, who valued the gem at $28 – $38 million, revealed that the Unique Pink was discovered less than five years ago in a South African mine. “It is difficult to imagine a diamond that better illustrates the term Vivid Pink than this outstanding stone. The color is simply astonishing and, for its size, it is in my experience truly unique,” Bennett added.

The Unique Pink (iii)

Tuesday’s auction also saw a 7.32-carat blue diamond being sold for $17.1 million. The magnificent spring jewel auctions continue in Geneva at Christie’s, where the biggest ever vivid blue diamond – the 14.62-carat “Oppenheimer Blue” – will hit the auction block at an estimated $38 — $45 million. The massive gem belonged to Britain’s Sir Philip Oppenheimer, a kingpin in the world diamond market for nearly 50 years at famed jeweller De Beers.

Most Beautiful Island in the World Revealed

Not all islands are created equal, it seems. This year, Maui edges out thousands of the planet’s other islands to claim top spot on TripAdvisor’s annual list. An island in the mid-Pacific and part of the Hawaiian island chain, Maui is beyond paradise with its stunning azure waters and stretches of powder-white sand.

TripAdvisor determines its award winners based on an algorithm that takes into account the traffic and quality of reviews and ratings for the attractions, restaurants and hotels there throughout the year. This year’s award winners are largely contenders in Europe, the Caribbean and Asia.

This year, Santorini clinches top spot for most beautiful island in Europe while Jamaica and Bali top the category in the Caribbean and Asia respectively. Here, we bring you the rest that made the list, with some accommodation ideas that will have you booking that long-awaited holiday, pronto.

Warning: these images will give you serious vacation envy.

 

TripAdvisor’s Top 10 Most Beautiful Islands:

1) Maui, Hawaii

2) Santorini, Greece

3) Jamaica

4) Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

5) Bali, Indonesia

6) Majorca, Spain

7) Mauritius

8) Phuket, Thailand

9) Bora Bora, French Polynesia

10) Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

 

Montage Kapalua Bay, Maui

MontageKalaluaBay_Maui

This sprawling 24-acre beach-front hotel is set atop the picturesque Kapalua Bay, with sweeping views of Maui’s northwest coast and neighboring islands. The resort’s many activities range from spectacular helicopter tours of the island to lounging by the Kapalua Beach so there’s something for everyone. Each of the subdued residential-style accommodations feature contemporary island-inspired décor, complete with private lanais so you can experience the spirit of aloha in true luxury.

Andronis Luxury Suites, Santorini, Greece

Nestled within the jigsaw of houses in Oia, Andronis Luxury Suites boasts an unrivalled view of the Aegean Sea and volcanic islets of Santorini. Inside, the Cycladic-style villa promises unrivalled luxury, with amenities ranging from private waterfalls to a heated infinity pool with incredible views of the Caldera.

Uma by COMO, Ubud, Bali

Surrounded by Tjampuhan Valley’s lush greenery, Uma by COMO exudes the charm of a traditional Indonesian village despite its contemporary interior and modern conveniences. The 46-room estate sees narrow paths defined by tall planted walls, private tropical gardens and plenty of light-filled spaces for an authentic Balinese escapade. With holistic, Asian-inspired treatments at the COMO Shambhala Retreat and nutritionally rich menus at Uma Cucina, this resort is a dream for the health-conscious jetsetter.

Parker Out: Top Bordeaux Wine Nose Retires

Renowned American wine guru Robert Parker (yes the Parker so many of us rely on when picking vintages – Ed), whose ratings could make or break Bordeaux vintages for the past 38 years, turned his power over to a successor over the weekend, his magazine told AFP.

While it is the end of an era, especially for those who grew up with his 100-point rating scale, the news is not a surprise. The 68-year-old oenologist has been retiring in stages, in 2014 leaving his British successor Neal Martin to rate “en primeurs” (futures) while continuing to evaluate top Bordeaux vintages.

It is this prestigious baton that passed to Martin May 1, while Parker holds on to his role scoring northern California wines, such as those of the Napa and Sonoma valleys.

Parker’s extraordinary nose has earned plaudits from the likes of former French president Jacques Chirac, who said he was “the most followed and influential critic for French wines in the entire world.”

Parker will also stay on as president of Wine Advocate, even though he sold the market-moving magazine to a Singapore consortium in 2012.

His parting Bordeaux evaluation will be the top score on his vaunted 100-point scale that he awarded recently to a Pape Clement 2009, a Graves “grand cru” created by the millionaire philanthropist Bernard Magrez.

He leaves the Bordeaux perch with a reputation for having unwittingly caused the region to standardize its wines to conform with his preference for predominantly wood flavors, strong tannins and high alcohol content.

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