I rolled the dice and got a double six!
Yes, yes….I can hear your sarcastic groans, as you writhe over my awful cliché comment. But then, that’s the prerogative of a writer sitting on his side of the screen. He has artistic licence to lob literary hand grenades at the mooing crowds!
The first time I visited the Double-Six Luxury Hotel in Seminyak was on a whirlwind site inspection with 20 or so fellow travel experts. We were on the downward slope of a somewhat tortuous schedule and this one was at the “nether” end of the line and week.
I went through the property around 9pm with nodding motions that culminated in a mild, aching disdain and indifferent thoughts. My focus had not been on the hotel, but my weary body and hunger pains.
My second visit was five months later and voluntary. I happened to be staying a few kilometres away at the Downtown Villas near the Bintang Market. I wanted to see the Double-Six in a real light and without tired and aching blinkers.
On that lunchtime trip I experienced the token zing and pizzazz of the restaurants and bars. I saw the rooms…again. They looked so much better. I was in my personal mode, wearing an off-duty hat, not a professional one. I walked away with an incomplete feeling and an impulsive urge to stay there.
On my return to Perth, I booked a stay.
Bloggers Don’t Do This
My return visit was less of a gamble than a need. At itch that needed scratching. I had been particularly compelled by some friends who had raved about the Double-Six. “This may be the best hotel we’ve stayed in” was their conclusion.
This was totally contrary to my own, preconceived notions. And very soon I would be eating my own humble apple pie.
Arriving at the Double-Six Luxury Hotel
There’s no grand façade awaiting you or giant Corinthian columns dripping in acanthus leaves. Your arrival is quite surgical after the customary security bomb check and short, winding twist to the drop off zone.
“Mind the step,” I’m reminded, as I move out of my car and into the dark and massive el fresco lobby.
I take note of the staff. Cool. Very cool. Love the outfits. Guys in sort of 1920’s grey and white styled culottes, linen waist coats, plain tweed caps. Girls in light flowing, breezy outfits. Immaculate. They match. Colour, contrast and texture.
You scoot across a massive, shining, white marbled floor with the odd, inset butterfly. The lobby area is surprisingly dark. And then you are greeted by what I can only describe as nymphs: more super-beautiful people only this time, ones want your money!
I part with it…willingly. I’ve arrived in heaven.
This is my silent epiphany. A wiggle through the door and waggle past a corner and then into the most amazing space. It is hard to describe the moment when your eyes go from Ferrari, to snail. But trust me, it happens.
First impressions are everything, even when you’re downright sweaty, tired and desperate to unwind. You don’t really soak up the nuances and twists. But I did. And the funny thing is that I had actually been in this room two times before. As a kind of lemming being rushed through a semi-arduous industry process to “experience” it. As a travel guru that might bring business through the door.
Up until that moment, I’d never stayed at the Double-Six Luxury Hotel. And up until that moment, I had never wanted to either.
The Lounge & Bathroom
Two areas are clearly defined in the enormity of the suite: the bathroom to left; the bedroom and lounge to the right. The entire space is long and leading. It smacks of modernity. The pool and ocean views are compelling. The entire feel is soothing and rewarding.
As you turn towards the living space, a dark banquette creates delineation. It is a big dollop of space that is almost less interesting than the bathroom. But it is there. Bed and all. Staring at the ocean view.
The banquette is massive, but not functional. It is like a restaurant serving station but I’m not in a kitchen. But I like the simplicity and clean lines.
I look for the plugs. I always do. There aren’t enough. Where do I charge things? Phone? Computer? Camera? Such a big working area and so few outlets.
I’m annoyed. I see only one plug. In my mathematics one plug equals one device. The place is out-of-date. As for decoration, spartan springs to mind. A clever use of nothingness and yet everything. The sheer curtains are faux, yet they add body and volume to the carriage-like room. They may have no function. But they add style. The concept works especially at night when the touch of soft lighting adds a tinge of sexiness to the room.
And then there’s the bed. The view from the bed. Wow. Zzzzzzz.
If there was ever an award for bathroom space, this hotel would be nominated.
The contrasting dark mosaic wall tiles are countered by large swathes of white floor tiles and an imposing, rectangular ceramic bath tub. “His and her” washbasins are separated by a recessed and padded two-seater bench. A rain forest shower has no doors. The toilet has floor to ceiling clouded glass for privacy.
Everything in the bathroom seems to glint, but never too bright to be offensive: mirrors, down lights, wall tiles, chrome taps and towel rails.
The space may be angular and moody, yet it was neutral in tone and soft in outcome.
The pool wraps around the ocean side of the hotel, cut at intervals by two foot bridges giving access to the beach and road below. A smattering of umbrellas provide perfect shade, with comfy lounges. Troops of attentive staff bustle too and fro between the bar and restaurant. You want for very little, at any one time.
There is almost no noise or traffic emanating from the road; in fact I barely remembered it was there. And for the little relaxation time I did have to myself, I did choose to be by the swimming pool mostly. The beach is fabulous in the morning, prior to 9.30am, and then the sun and noise kicks in.
I’m never one to sit on my hands when I’m bugged by something and such was the case with the Double-Six Luxury Hotel. It had nothing to do with the hotel itself. It had everything to do with its surroundings. I was fearful that guests would be blighted by noise because of neighbouring bars and beach entertainment.
I know you don’t expect travel writers or bloggers to say this kind of thing, but I take my job very seriously. My comments and opinions carry enormous weight especially when they are read by over 20,000 people. My readers and clients expect the truth and not a fluffy fill for staying somewhere free.
My booking at the Double-Six was driven by a quest for knowledge. It was not a holiday for me. I was on a mission of discovery. I needed to know if noise was an issue. I did not book the hotel to sit by the pool and sup on fine food and cocktails. Unwittingly, my hotel room was a prime location to determine this. Thankfully, I have good news to report.
First of all, the balcony doors are thick glass and almost nothing penetrates through them. Sure, the beach is a hive of activity as the sun sets and the crowds dig into their bean bags and cocktails. Live music is pervasive and generally awful (in that the musicians cannot sing in tune). But it is not offensively loud. The double-glazed balcony doors filter out the music so effectively that you are only left with muted vocals. The bad news is that if they cannot sing in tune, you left with a free comedy show that sounds like muffled out-takes from the worst X-Factor auditions! The good news is that the live music does not last long.
I’m no longer the spritely teenager that parties late into the night. I tend to hit the hay early and at no time was I woken by anything more than the sound of waves crushing on the beach. Even that was mildly disturbing, despite the fact that I have my own beach house that is closer to the water and that too, wakes me up sometimes.
The loudest noise comes from the Coccoon Bar to the left, but you almost have to be there to experience the worst of it. You are generally shielded by the Double-Six Luxury Hotel as the Coccoon is recessed back from the road. Here they have a happy hour, two-for-one session, that is abrasively loud but does not last long into the night. But if you want to watch the odd drunk person wallowing by the water’s edge, knock yourself out. It’s not very inviting and I actually never heard the bar again during my stay. That being said, I still have this haunting image of a large, braided Irish woman, double fisting cocktails into her mouth and smoking at the same time!
Food & Dining
The Double-Six offers a good choice of dining venues. On this visit, I mostly stuck to the poolside for my early morning breakfast, as I had to film before guests woke up. I had the choice of eating on the level above, at the Seminyak Italian Food, but I did that before. What I can say is how good the food is at both locations. I’m a bit of a food snob when it comes to breakfasts and I rate the Double-Six in the top 10 places in Seminyak. The coffee was excellent, service impeccable, bread choices wonderful and every time, my eggs benedict cooked to perfection. Juices were ripe and fresh. What more could I ask for but a perfect setting which I got.
Rooftop Sunset Bar
I have mixed thoughts about the Rooftop Sunset Bar and that’s because I have been to so many great rooftop bars in the world. This, however, is not one of them.
Sure, the view is impressive, covering 1700 square meters, but where are the people?
The measure of a good rooftop bar is the crowd. This is the real litmus test.
On the three occasions I visited, the patrons would have dwindled into about 20 square meters. Even the ‘pods’ or circular seated areas (that you pay a premium) for were only 50% full. Mind you, I was always early (around 9 o’clock). At that time, the music was daggy and 80ish, and in some ways, so was the disco décor. The dance floor was always empty. Yet I could not help feeling that this was a good thing. Too many people would mean too much bustle and probably, excessive noise. I think I’ll sit on the fence on this one. May be next time I visit I’ll stay away longer to experience the night life.
I did visit the beach every night and I have to say I loved the chilled out, laid back vibe there. Colours fill the sands everywhere from the bean bags to bamboo poles and flags. But buyers beware, service is slow and you do get the token beach hawkers constantly trying to flog you trinkets or substandard paintings or neon, flashing toys.
I have learnt again, never to judge a book by its cover. If I ever had a negative thought before my stay, or preconceived judgement, they have all been dispelled now.
The Double-Six Luxury Hotel is a truly wonderful location both for privacy, exclusivity and access.
The beachfront offers tranquillity and calm and you never lose the feeling of privacy. It kind of sits in its own enclave, slightly raised above the road and you barely see or hear anyone approaching from the beach. I spent most of my limited time by the swimming pool, using the beach only for morning or evening walks.
The rooms are stunning and truly spacious. Bar the absence of electrical plugs catering for modern travellers, I found nothing to fault.The staff deserve significant and standout praise. From the front desk check-in and bellhops, to waiters, waitresses and pool staff, everyone was impeccably dressed, kind and courteous.
Double-Six offers free golf cart shuttle rides to Seminyak Square or further towards the Bintang Market (Downtown Villas). I advocate using them to experience more of the Seminyak area and to enhance your hotel stay.
I had big expectations going to the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore, after all, it does stand out from the crowd as one of the true icons of the Singapore skyline. And that is where (unfortunately) the good news ends. I had already been to the Pan Pacific and the Raffles Hotel. And if these two forebears were a litmus test, then the Marina Bay Sands crashed and burned on impact. It was a slap-in-the-face to my understanding of customer service and it began as soon as I entered the giant foyer.
In fairness to the Marina Bay Sands, this venue is one giant throng of heaving flesh…everywhere. There is zero room for the personal touch, as almost everyone and everything scurries from taxi to elevator dragging suitcases on un-oiled, squeaky wheels. Yet the whole place unquestionably runs like a well-greased machine, best suited to the convention fraternity, or the Willy Wonka factory. Bodies are designed to be cranked out, farmed into bedrooms and then harvested like a cash crop.
I too was a victim.
I felt like a number. An insignificant one. The whole of my stay.
Peace reigned and a sense of normality and quietness returned when I entered my room, which though small, was diametrically pricey and fabulous. I was lucky enough to have a floor-to-ceiling view overlooking the CBD, from where I could watch the sun go up (and down) with the shimmer of boat wakes amusing me as they shuttled across the bay drawing white lines. I kicked off my shoes, placed my outstretched feet across the glass coffee table, photographed them like all women do on beaches, and then sucked up the mesmerising urban scenery before me.
It was a perfect moment of reflection from 40 floors up.
The bed was snug and comfortable; a tiny writing desk provided a compact work area for my laptop. It was pretty much a room for short term convenience and probably designed as such. The bathroom was likewise modern with neutral tones and marble finishes. Nothing too lavish or over the top.
THE ROOF TOP – WHERE THE ACTION IS AT THE MARINA BAY SANDS
I’m not a big fan of public swimming pools. For obvious reasons, I refer to them as “pee soup” since most kids (and probably adults) have a penchant for relieving themselves in the water.
As a consequence, I am a marred man.
I have experienced two unforgettable episodes in my life when I have ended up with an ear infection from swimming in floating guano. Once was in Nassau, the Bahamas, when (by the way) both my ears were squeezed completely closed by exceptionally painful swellings (abscesses) They took five days to burst. The other (second torture) was at Cap d’Antibes in the South of France. That episode I will never forget as long as I live. I was eight years old.
It was an emergency, or as the French would have said, “Un urgence“. And now that I’m older, and wiser, I’ve just figured out that the english stole the word “emergency” from the French for their inability to say “urgency!”
At that time I didn’t care. I was reeling in pain.
Le docteur appeared and diagnosed my agony with my first ever prescribed suppository. As you can imagine, that image is still etched into the interior of my scalp.
I remember having to clutch my ankles in the shower as my mother inserted a conically shaped, greased pill into my rectum. It was an inordinately uncomfortably “cure” and totally alien to my 8-year-old understanding of modern medicine and “oh la la!”
I remember asking my mum, “If I have an ear ache, why do you have to shove something up my bum?”
THE ELEVATOR RIDE
The Marina Bay Sands is famous for its rooftop infinity pool and despite my reservations of climbing into the water, I was resigned to having a swim there. I wanted to tick another square on my ill-informed bucket list. To not do so, would be like going to Paris for the first time and avoiding the Eiffel Tower! But getting there is the fun part. You simply follow the trail of (mostly Asian tourists), bedecked in white bathrobes as they squeeze into the elevator. Everyone is quiet. No one speaks. It is awkward. Like they’ve just had sex. Or are about to.
I so wanted to break the ice and ask ,“So-where-are-you-going-today” but I didn’t have the time to explain such a dumb question.
The main part of the pool is for hotel guests only and you can’t access it unless you have an electronic key card with you or a Colt 45. This is rigorously checked by officious-looking ladies in white polo shirts that are clearly taught never to smile which is why a Colt 45 would be so much fun.
The infinity pool is stunning and every guest in the hotel knows it, which is why you’ll never be there alone to savour the moment. It’s not a very spiritual or romantic place to be at, especially when you are surrounded by a million selfie sticks that look like snorkels. But the view is stunning and the water comfortingly warm (I’m not referring to urine). Not wishing to be left out, even I waded to the pool’s edge with my (cough) neon green selfie stick. The photo outcome was another story. I looked like a blubbery, glutenous mass of body fat bobbing in the water before being strained through muslin cloth.
I think that holiday snap will stay in the drawer forever!
GROUND FLOOR & BELOW
Everything at the Marina Bay Sands is big. Giant flower pots with towering ficus trees. Long, snaking check-out lines. Three towers and three elevators to suit. A jumbo Christmas tree. A large invoice. With the double-whammy VAT added after the fact.
The shops within the Marina Bay Sands are world class with barely a fashion house or label missing from between the lines of Gucci and Cartier. This was very impressive. Immensely clean, totally modern and fully undercover. It is a shopper’s paradise and not small either.
And if gambling is your bent, then there is a casino on the lower lever. I would have gone in for a quick look, but they have a strict policy in Singapore that you must to carry your passport to enter a casino. I didn’t. So I kept on walking.
The Marina Bay Sands Hotel Review Singapore are the sole opinon of me, The Walking Critic.
The Intercontinental Singapore was an afterthought and I’m kicking myself, because it should have been elevated to a “must stay” list.
How could I have stuffed up my planning so badly?
Well it was tagged onto the end of a stupidly hectic 16-day tour of South East Asia. And no, I did not book the hotel myself. My PA did that for me.
I’m a sucker for big things and “grand entrances”. My stint as a style reporter for the Washington Times newspaper blemished me in that way, thanks to my very noble and wonderful editor, Kevin Chaffee. Yet my arrival here seemed dismal and ignoble compared to my previous fanfare at the Raffles. My driver kind of slid across the cobbled paving to the front door, made more magnificent by the crescendo and reverberations of the courtyard confines. Everything echoed.
Yet, you know what, I arrived with gusto! A large entrance, for a person of indifferent significance and stature.
So, this is my take on the Intercontinental Singapore. And it began with the best and warmest welcome possible, which was good, because I was sad. This was my last stop on a whirlwind tour. I was checking into the hotel late and then leaving by 7am the next morning. Hardly time to know my “date”.
I was met with smiles and led to my room down the newly carpeted corridors. Everything felt and looked pristine. Soothing.
Intercontinental Singapore – Reception
Where many Intercontinental hotels have vast sweeping reception areas, this is not the case here. Instead, you have a more refined boutique feel that is alive with colour and bright lights. The marbled floor is a network of angular and square patterns infilled with green, white, grey and burnt gold textures.
The small concierge lounge looks onto the front courtyard through French doors. It is a vibrant palette of colours too, dominated by tub chairs and couches with velvet purples and brown tones. A large modern painting hangs above a dark lattice console table, on which rests a pair of Chinese ceramic urn lights, with pleated silk shades. Even the drum side and coffee tables reflect the same theme that is mirrored throughout the hotel on carpet designs and carved wood work.
The Lobby Lounge
I find that whenever I’m tired and hungry, I kind of gravitate towards the nearest lounge or bar and the Intercontinental Singapore was no exception. I can barely remember my sort of dirge-like march as I floor-scraped towards where the signs told me to go, but I do remember my shock when I entered the Lobby Lounge. If you think the reception area is an understatement, then wait until you see this place. A towering atrium fit for a train station or a New York trading floor or a press room. The only thing missing was a giant railway clock and the throng of people.
The lobby lounge was more of a giant tea room, than a bar lounge, even though there was a silver bucket teeming with Perrier-Jouet. All around one, vast columns rose two stories high, flanked by onlooking wooden louvre shutters and dangling glass lanterns. Square and round tables were interspersed, affording one privacy as well as comfort. And the seating choice varied from the modern looking dining chairs, to leather tub chairs or tall winged arm chairs. It oozed tranquillity and formality at the same time. The perfect place for quite reflection or a more intimate business meeting.
I ordered a gin and tonic (I’d overdosed on sampling Singapore Slings) and just as I was settling into my laptop to bash out some work, I noticed the unmistakable curly locks of celebrity chef Marco Pierre White sitting to my left. Close up, he looked big and prostrate. Inclining and sober.
He was locked in a slow, pensive discussion with a colleague, may be a contestant. I’d forgotten that they were filming Master Chef Singapore at the the hotel the next day. He was sipping water from a wine glass. I wanted to nudge my way into their chat, to eavesdrop or intrude, yet I have this “thing” about not annoying celebrities.
They get enough attention from fleeting onlookers. Why contribute to their public discomfort?
Yet Marco had me baffled. He seemed at ease, slouching in the corner with one arm hanging over the side of the arm chair. A complete contradiction to his infamous, firebrand personality from within the kitchen. Mind you, he had me in awe, after all, he was the youngest chef to ever be awarded three Michelin stars. And he has been rightly dubbed the first ever celebrity chef too.
I looked on him with great respect, knowing how he’d trained such notables as Mario Batali, Gordon Ramsay, Curtis Stone and Sharon Bennett. I wanted to thank him. Not just for the food, but my memories that went with them: the Six Bells pub in my old stomping ground of Wandsworth; The Restaurant Marco Pierre White; and the Oak Room at the Le Meridien Piccadilly Hotel. I’d eaten at all of them. I remember every instance with un-aged clarity.
The Intercontinental Singapore has just been brilliantly revamped and I tip my hat to the designers for how well they incorporated the Straits Chinese, Peranakan heritage into the building. It draws much influence from the once teeming shop houses of the Bugis District though a big departure from the screaming 50s when they were in full swing.
In times of old, Bugis had a thriving nightlife, a draw card for visiting sailors and military personnel, not to mention the less savoury and nefarious folk that lurked in the shadows. It became an internationally renowned hub for a bizarre and colourful transgender sex culture. Tourists and gawkers alike flocked there to see (and sometimes dabble in) the Asian exotic, until quashed in the 1980s by more conservative elements in the Singaporean government. I still love the banter amongst Westerners, that you could easily tell who was a real female and who was not – the transvestites were drop-dead gorgeous, while the rest were real women!
The Intercontinental Singapore is a far cry from its once wild and notorious neighbourhood. Today she stands as a symbol of modernity in the heart of a go-to shopping area filled with hip stores and fine dining restaurants. Hints of the Peranakan culture are everywhere; tiles, screen print patterns, wood mouldings, Chinese ornaments, marble flooring, bed throws, paintings, carpets, cushions, furniture, lamps, ceilings. It just has a really comfortable feel of where classic Asia meets contemporary living.
I love it when I enter a hotel room and get this overwhelming sense to scream, “Yes!” and my Executive room was just like that. A really clever design job that managed colours and contours in a relatively constricted space to achieve a sense of grandeur. It was historically sensitive to the building, thematic to its cultural surroundings which were played out with the patterned print above the bed and the busy, latticed lines of the carpet. Both were borrowed ideas from Peranakan culture, yet counter-balanced by the softer, flatter colours of the furniture and fabrics.
The formula worked. It was serene.
And then you have the little touches and nuances that go a long way. The welcome plate of pastries served on a grey slate; the personalised welcome card; the Nespresso coffee machine; the courtesy bottles of water; the digital safe; the ample provision of electrical sockets, both for normal plugs and USB chargers; the built-in luggage rack. As a seasoned traveller, I felt the guest had been given priority, not housekeeping.
As with all Intercontinental hotels, the bathroom is bright and spacious with marbled floor and their signature bathroom toiletries from well-known luxury American fragrance house, Agraria.
Club Intercontinental – Singapore Style
This was my 5th Club Intercontinental experience in over two weeks, covering thousands of flying miles and four countries. And I have to say that I’ve become more than just a vagrant traveller passing by. I’ve become an expert on Intercontinental, and indeed hotel clubs.
The Club Intercontinental is located on the second floor and worthy of the long walk to get there, as you cover immaculately polished wooden floors and passing alcoves of wonderfully painted modern art. Even the eagle eye’s view of the Lobby Lounge is impressive from on high, before you traverse through the doors and into the Club.
The interior is another testament to the influences of the Chinese-Malay Peranakan people, a mish-mash of areas to sit, each defined by bright colours and furnishings of a mixed colonial origin. Even the vaulted ceiling light commands attention with its unusual square panels.
It definitely scored highly for the cultural experience, friendly staff and cleanliness. And like all the Intercontinental hotels, it was well designed and free flowing. However, I did have a niggling feeling that the buffet was more Spartan than others I’d experienced, but then I was in a rush for the airport; I literally had seconds to quaff two coffees and wolf down a pastry. I barely had time to enjoy my breakfast with President Obama.
As a Club InterContinental guest, you get to enjoy a host of complimentary bespoke services and privileges:
- Personalised arrival and check-in /-out at the exclusive InterContinental Club Lounge
- Access to dedicated Club InterContinental Concierge team
- Culinary indulgences including:
– A la carte breakfast from 6.30am to 10.30am
– Afternoon tea from 2.30pm to 5.00pm
– Evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres from 6.00pm to 8.00pm
- A premium selection of coffee and loose-leaf tea throughout the day
- A private library featuring Peranakan literature and reference books
- Professional secretarial services
- Clothes pressing for two pieces of garments upon arrival
- 25% savings on all laundry services
- High-speed wi-fi throughout the hotel
- One smartphone per guestroom with 4G data and local/IDD calls to up to 10 countries during stay
- A private InterContinental Club boardroom for up to 10 guests for one hour with state-of-art audio-visual capabilities, high-speed wi-fi and a projector
- Guided two-hour heritage walking trail in the Bugis precinct (Saturdays only)
Parting Comments on the Intercontinental Singapore
I never got to inspect the other rooms at the Intercontinental Singapore, which was a real shame, since I left feeling like I’d only scraped the surface of an amazing experience.
The InterContinental Singapore places you minutes from Marina Bay and the Central Business District, and it’s a short stroll from the National Museum, the Singapore Art Museum and other cultural institutions. Direct access to Bugis train station connects you to the city’s many shopping and entertainment precincts.
80 Middle Road
+65 6 3387 600
If I have learnt one thing in life, it is this: some stories are just too unbelievable to put into writing. The plots make no sense, even when they are 100% real. That’s why I don’t gamble…..much.
When I left Singapore, 12 hours earlier, Hillary Rodham Clinton was a shoe-in to retake the White House on behalf of the Clinton clan. She probably had her tape measure in one hand and an olive wreath half-hovering and vibrating in the other. She was expecting victory. I was expecting a porcelain smile. But neither were meant to be.
Her minions of fawning fans would not writhe in orgasmic adulation. There would be no Democratic tooting of horns in California. America had voted her into oblivion. Donald Trump had trounced the pundits and the population with a tumultuous victory. He had wrenched the crown away. “Stolen it,” some would say.
I was arriving to a knock-out dirge, not a laid-back party.
And here is the irony. I was returning to the USA as a seasoned ex-political reporter. This was once my beat!
I thought my arrival would be a soft, inconceivable splash rather than a dollop of slap-in-the-face sludge. I expected to be bored rigid with the election spins, but oh no, not this time.
Total Shell Shock
I tried to keep my mortification to myself, but that was hard. Seemingly every American I met, from pilots to taxi drivers, all felt as if they had to apologise to me.
For the masses, the election was a total travesty; a complete lapse in national judgement. I was left to shrug my shoulders in a sympathetic “better-luck-next-time” condescension, even though this just whizzed over their heads and into the impalpable ether space.
What I said was of no consequence. It simply didn’t matter. Americans had been rocked. They didn’t care. I was just a whipping block, with no face; the object of grief and pain. A lowly foreigner.
I think I had a handkerchief dangling over my back with a big white X marked on it!
I was grateful to arrive at the Intercontinental San Francisco.
A Welcome Arrival at the Intercontinental San Francisco
I rushed the late check-in process. I was tired. The lobby was modern, unclutterd; a blur. I just wanted to unwind.
I headed for the Intercontinental Club Lounge upstairs, but, wow, what a difference to Asia. It felt like I’d been spun backwards into a time warp. Dumped into a small 1980s corporate lounge where three women were the only company.
The first woman was gushing about how great the hotel was. Trump was three-glasses removed from her mind. She was at the end of a tortuous solo night with her best friend, “Chateau Le Rouge”. I was concerned for Apple Inc the next day!
I discreetly pardoned myself to the other side of the lounge to hedge against any amorous intentions and was surprised to see a giant TV blaring out morbid details of Hillary’s destruction. It was quite loud. Two good-looking ladies sat side by side, clutching big glasses of red wine, eyes glued to the screen. They were in a funereal silence, tearful and shell-shocked.
Donald Trump had just ruined their date night by winning.
As so the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I went downstairs to the ground floor to seek out life from Bar 888. Surely there had to be more soul to this place!
There was nothing old or daggy here. It was edgy and inviting. A smattering of punters were likewise glued to the overhanging screen as CNN repeated again and again the gloom and bile that California hated to hear: Trump had won. The bar sort of burbled in unison, muttering silent dissent into their glasses, whilst I sort of semi-shrugged it off.
Two minutes later, I’m talking to some grey-haired man on the stool next to me. He was making more sense.
“The writing was on the wall,” he boomed in a very Jack Nicholson way. “No one wanted to believe me. They should have listened.”
I asked him if he was there to drown his sorrows, but he deflected that wild guess. “I’m here with a Christian missionary group,” he replied.
I gulped apologetically whilst he smiled and nonchalantly waved away that thought.
“I use to be a mercenary in Africa. I’ve done a lot of bad things. Then one day I woke up and found God.”
I reached for my wrist to feel a pulse. I was now really confused. Republican versus Democrat, gay versus straight, killer versus preacher, Trump versus Clinton. And I’d only been in the US for four hours!
Where the heck was Elvis when I needed him?
(Probably drinking red wine with Jesus, I thought)
It I ever needed a sign, then here it was. Time to prick this illusion with a giant pin and head for my room.
This is where I’m a total sucker. I always fall in love with Intercontinental hotels, because their beds are amazing. Sure, I was jet-lagged, but wow, what a wonderfully soft place to snuggle up into. It was the one thing I really craved the most after flying for so many hours.
My room was small compared to my previous stay in Singapore though spotlessly clean. More Western in feel and demeanour with non-descript beige and brown neutral colours. Slightly more Spartan and muted than its Eastern contemporaries, which tend to lean towards vibrancy and opulence more, especially in the bathroom department.
True to Intercontinental form, a welcome card was on the table with my name inked across the front. It was propped against a complimentary bottle of Evian water and an array of light snacks, arranged in three small, white square dishes.
In the hallway, a cupboard housed a thin, flat safety deposit box with a token clutch of hangars you can’t steal. A luggage rack was folded away which made we wonder why? Surely when you enter a room, you want it there, prised open, ready for your suitcase? Or should we throw our dirty suitcases onto the fresh, new linen first and then get the rack out of the closet.
As far as in-room entertainment, I’m more of a “news junky” than a movie watcher and I do appreciate having a large, 42-inch screen on the wall because I often click on the TV, more for background noise than serious viewing. And I’ve grown fond of the looping Intercontinental in-house promotions that are always playing when you arrive.
Yet the other toys are wasted on me: an iPod-ready alarm clock. Why? I barely have time to adjust to different time zone, let alone bring a sound system with me! But the Nespresso coffee machine is a total winner, as is the mini bar. I use to revile mini bars but now I appreciate time saving efficiencies like a beer at your beck and call.
I didn’t realise the magnitude of my view from the Intercontinental San Francisco at night time, which sort of dissipated into darkness after being dazzled by in-your-face Bloomingdales signage . But when dawn broke, everything sprung to life.
At first the view was shrouded in fog, but once the sun started to beat down, it quickly lifted and shifted towards Oakland with the thermal drift. Blue sky filled the heavens with the odd wisp of lingering cirrus clouds streaking past. I can’t put my finger on it but I was overcome with nostalgia. I was looking at the old America I once knew. Long blocks of brick buildings and warehouses. Roads that ran in grid lines. It was a feeling I can’t explain.
The bathroom was nothing flash, yet in keeping with the overall feel, daubed with beige colours and neural tiles. Pristine bath sheets and hand towels were folded and hanging ready for use.
Normally I gravitate towards a hotel bathroom, as if to get some barometric reading for the quality of the room and my pending experience. Here, I left without a second glance or lasting impression. It was neither good nor bad. I don’t even remember what amenity selection they had. I normally pay attention to the quality of shower gels and shampoos.
The Exterior of the Intercontinental San Francisco
It takes daylight to fully comprehend this towering, 32-floor, turquoise glass building that houses 550 rooms. In some parts, it looks a lot like the front radiator grill on a metallic blue Cadillac. In other parts, it emulates giant dormer windows or a pleated accordion.
It definitely stands out and you know what, it may look out of place today, but just wait. One day she will be surrounded by others that follow her path in modern design. In my opinion she breathes life into an otherwise drab and commercial neighbourhood.
You can’t compare apples and oranges when it comes to cross-matching Club Intercontinental lounges in Asia with their brethren in North America. For US standards, the Intercontinental San Francisco is pretty decent and definitely spot on for service. I barely had to flinch and someone was at my side attending to me and it does offer a degree of exclusivity, requiring room key access. My only confusion was why it was on the 6th floor? The hotel offers stunning views from above and I fear this aspect has been wasted by sandwiching the Club Lounge so close to the ground floor. If I had my will and magic wand, I’d move it to the top floor like with other hotels of its calibre.
As far as food choices, the offerings were a minimal spread both in the evening and the morning and incomparable to my recent stays in Asia. Breakfast was a DIY affair that could have been an out-take from any hotel or motel. It lacked Intercontinental personality which is why I headed to the lobby restaurant for my invitation buffet breakfast.
For the deal-conscious, the Club Lounge serves complimentary drinks and cocktails between 7.30pm and 11.30pm. My first experience was enough of a lesson. With barely a soul there, it was, excuse the pun, “soulless”.
Named after the hotel’s street address, Bar 888 has the best vibe in the Intercontinental San Francisco and although it is not large, it is cozy. The bar is shaped like a galley kitchen with access on three sides, all of which offer padded bar stools. Above and to the side are brightly lit shelves of spirits and a big selection of wines.
Breakfast in the Lobby
What a contrast from the Club Lounge! Down here the place was jamming with people. The normal English breakfast offerings (eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, etc) were ample and if you don’t mind me saying, I did more than one circuit around the bain maries. The quality of the selections was superb and the coffee a winner.
My Final Comment
The Intercontinental San Francisco is a corporate hotel, no question. Everything is geared for speed and efficiency, over pleasure and relaxation. And to that end, it deserves heaps of respect and positive comments. It serves its function brilliantly.
My stay was too short to fully digest what the hotel has to offer, but I did do a full inspection of all facilities. The external patios are perfect for entertainment and the conference facilities top-notch. The lap pool and gym are great for those “on the run”.
She is famed for her Michelin rated restaurant Luce, yet sadly, this too I never got to try. Next time may be.
InterContinental San Francisco
888 Howard Street
T: (888) 811-4273
Hotel Amenities & Services
- Activity desk
- Airport shuttle transportation ($)
- Bar/Lounge ($)
- Breakfast ($)
- Business center ($)
- Dry cleaning ($)
- Express check-in/check-out
- Free newspaper (lobby)
- 24-hour front desk assistance
- Gift shop
- Dial-up Internet ($)
- Wireless Internet in public areas ($)
- Limo/Town Car service available ($)
- Restaurant ($)
- 24-hour room service ($)
- Safe deposit box (front desk)
- In-room safe
- Full-service spa & beauty services ($)
- Hot tub
- Fitness center
- Supervised child care/activities ($)
- Indoor swimming pool
- Television in lobby
- Wake-up calls
- Valet parking ($)
- Handicap access
You could not have more contrasts going from the antiquity of Nob Hill and the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, to the funked-up modernity of the W Hotel San Francisco. From the staid and sedate, to the artsy and uber cool.
I have experienced my fair share of edgy and cutting edge hotels around the globe, yet this time, I didn’t know what to expect. I was about to review my sixth hotel in 8 days and the disparity between all of them was significant. Not just by brand but by continent. Yet the W Hotel was one that filled me with excitement. I wanted a change of pace. But would it deliver it?
The W Hotel San Francisco lacks the grand courtyard entrance that many hotels offer for arriving guests, which may explain why my taxi dropped me at a side door (which by the way is far better for check in). But it does “own” the chamfered corner of 3rd and Howard Street from which you have pedestrian access through two giant columns that climb two storeys high. Bold and impressive. Modern.
The down side to pavement drop offs is having no doorman to help you with luggage and I had a lot. Yet once I had negotiated this minor irritation and stepped into the lobby, it was all bells and roses…though very dark inside. And this is where I’ll pause for comment: the staff were noticeably young, brilliantly friendly, immaculately dressed, really helpful and totally put me at ease. No task was to hard for them, male or female, and every request polished off with a beaming smile and a “You’re welcome.” This was not a one-off event either. It held true for the entirety of my three-day stay at the W Hotel San Francisco.
Check-in was fluid and faultless and filled with friendly banter. I grabbed my electronic card key and headed towards the elevator.
As I rounded the corner and approached the elevator, it suddenly dawned on me that I was in for an experience and not just a stay at the W Hotel. That every detail mattered.
In front of me was a wall of neon purple and dark slated squares. In the middle, lay another square, this time a glass vase of blazing gold flowers. Simple execution. Massive statement.
When the silver doors opened, another surprise: a glass mural of a cherry tree. A sort of modern Japanese painting or something you’d find in an advertising agency. I stepped in
My heart beat picked up pace. I felt excited. It had tapped into my childish memories of Christmas. The colours. The presents. The huge variety of wrappings and ribbons. The gift that lay within.
And then my dream world came to an abrupt halt.
When the elevator opened on my floor, I was greeted with a completely different sight of greens and blues. It felt medicinal and industrial. Airport-like. I rubbed my eyes and did a double-take.
“Huh?” I thought to myself. “What just happened?
MY “SPECTACULAR ROOM”
I had a long, winding walk to my hotel room which was literally called a “Spectacular Room” and this gave me ample time to wonder whether I had been let down, before I swiped my way into my room. As I pushed open the door, I did my second double-take and stopped.
“Are they trying to make Ikea cool?”
It didn’t make sense. Was the designer targeting new couples and first-home owners? The beige wood and green glass bench top. The laser-cut floating clouds on the head board? The origami butterflies tagged as “Rare Species: Fahlai Ahwei”. Cute but not funny. Like fortune cookie messages.
But the pluses were there too. Clean, colourful, modern. Definitely spacious. You could hold a party in the bathroom it was so large! And it came with Bliss Spa amenities and their own W Signature Waffle Spa Robes with Terry Lining.
Their W Signature bed was large, but nothing like the comfort for the Intercontinental hotel mattresses. I appreciated the softness of the goose down duvet and the down pillows which were noticeably fluffy and airy.
And I loved the remote-control blinds and the window seat with their electric blue padded cushions. I often sat on them staring out the window. Even though the view was nothing spectacular and very urban, it was mesmerising.
The desk was not to my homely taste, but it was a really large work area and perfect for my abundance of computers, cameras and papers. The internet cost USD $14.95 per day but I was given free access and it was high speed with no glitches.
THE LOBBY LIVING ROOM BAR
Every hotel has soul and at the W Hotel in San Francisco it is definitely here. Like bees to honey it pulls in the crowd from within the hotel and from the fashion and art conscious locals.
A plethora of LED lights throw splashes of colour everywhere: on the bar, under it and everywhere around it. Flashes of pink and purple. Slatted silhouettes and a theme that ties it to the rest of the ground and first floor balcony behind it. The big fireplace is also a draw card with comfy seating.
The Living Room Bar is a hot spot for the chic and social, touting eight locally renown brews and a covey of international flavours too. And if wines and cocktails are your tipple too, then you won’t be disappointed either, especially served by top-notch staff that score a massive goal for being friendly, fun and switched on. They never erred when it came to recommending food or drinks, especially to our hoard of antipodean corporate travellers.
Friday night is a bit more frenetic with really great live music and trust me, the place rocks until 1.30am. But if you want to escape the mayhem for a second, go to the Upstairs Bar & Lounge on the first level (or 2nd level if you are American!).
UPSTAIRS BAR & LOUNGE
At the Upstairs Bar & Lounge you’ll find the same décor as the lobby area with square modular seating and a range of scatter cushions. As you ascend to bar on the semi spiral staircase, check out the hanging light. Ultra-modern and a work of art.
Open from 5.00pm to 1.30am (Thursday to Saturday), it is all about local, organic and sustainable offerings.
Secret spaces provide a more intimate spot so mingle and talk, with top shelf liquors and eight seasonal signature cocktails crafted to explore molecular gastronomy.
SPA & FITNESS CENTRE
After a long day of work or play, sweat it out at our restyled FIT® Gym, available to registered hotel guests 24/7. Take your detox even further with a rejuvenating massage or treatment at Bliss® Spa.
PET FRIENDLY HOTEL
I have been to Paris over 15 times and I’m use to the British love affair with their dogs, but I didn’t expect this in San Francisco. What a great idea to allow pets in too. Great forward thinking.
W Hotel has a P.A.W. program for all your four-legged furry friends, dog or cat that is, where you’ll receive a custom W Hotels pet bed, food and water bowl, floor mat, pet-in-room door sign, W Hotels pet tag, clean-up bags and much more. There are weight restrictions, up to 40kgs, but that is up to the General Manager’s whim on booking. And they have to be leashed in public areas and kept away from food areas.
PARTING THOUGHTS BY THE WALKING CRITIC -W SAN FRANCISCO HOTEL REVIEW
I had great expectations stepping into the W Hotel San Francisco, but I felt the ground and first floors were let down by the upper floors. A bit of an anti-climax that left me wondering if the designer ran out of money after pressing “1” on the elevator.
The lower level really is hip and worthy of after-hours drinks. The bar staff were amazingly friendly and switched on. They never erred on a recommendation of food or drinks. Yet the let-down came in my hotel room upstairs. It was very medicinal and airport-like in decor though having nothing wrong with it. It was just better suited to an Ikea-loving crowd or first-homer, than a seasoned traveller and professional. The concept was out of balance and I just didn’t get it.
I liked it, but I didn’t love it. But I did have an awesome time there.
That being said, I now know the W Hotel San Francisco is about to undergo a massive refurbishment which I’m excited about too. The marketing manager, Natalie, knows my thoughts and replied as follows:
Oh we hear you! Thank you so much for your honest opinion on our room design; we agree and are happy for our face lift happening very soon.
Thank you so much for the shout-out to our amazing bartenders. I myself go to them as well when I need that extra insider tip.
I can’t wait for you to see our new rooms! Feel free to reach out to me personally to chat further on design and our cocktail culture. Stay tuned.
It was my first W Hotel San Francisco experience and I will give W Hotels the benefit of the doubt. I actually can’t wait to try another one.
Yet with all good things comes an ominous warning: if I don’t try the Bliss Spa, I will be killed by about 1,000 women who want to know what it’s like!
Who is Bliss? And why are they more popular than me?
W Hotel San Francisco
181 3rd Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
I’ve just had a glimpse at the future of hotel living (note to myself: I used the word “living”, not “accommodation”) and I like it.
What I just experienced at the W Hong Kong was a cut-and-thrust to classical, hotel thinking. It was a huge step forward for progression. A martini toast to the avant-garde.
I had come face to whisker with an experimental originality that was both kick-ass and ultra-modern, without necessarily being revolutionary or trailblazing. What really irks me is how I had been previously tepid towards W San Francisco, because “I didn’t get it”. I was like a kid being offered a huge candy jar stuffed with shiny goodies, only to have it cruelly ripped away as soon as his greedy fingers dipped into it.
W Hotel is well ahead of its time. It is recognising an affluent and influential group of 30 to 49-year olds by becoming a honey pot for these busy, discerning and impeccably well-dressed bees. From my perspective, as a travel professional and expert reviewer, the buzz is getting louder on the street. I’m not embarrassed to admit this, but I’m being lured by the sound, the noise. I’m like Ulysses being strapped to the mast, allowing himself to listen to the dulcet tones of the W Sirens, tethered but safe!
As a travel insider, a professional reviewer and writer I have learnt not to wear blinkers and be myopic. Something tells me that W Hotels is going somewhere and I want to be a part of that Odyssey. But that wasn’t always the case.
I had been thrown a damp-squid at the W San Francisco. I was miffed, stumped, pained by a woeful sense of “I-don’t-get-it”. A false sense of security that left me feeling hoodwinked by the pizazz of the lobby lights, until I stepped onto my upper floor. There I found myself desperately lost in what I can only describe as the “bedroom department” of Ikea. Chalk and cheese. Apples and oranges. Style and WTF!
The fact is that no one built Rome in a day, not even W Hotels. I could have fobbed off the mediocrity of one experience and stamped that view across the whole brand, but I knew better. I confronted my disappointment and without flinching, booked myself into W Hong Kong. I needed to experience more.
From the outside, the W Hong Kong is an immensity of modernity placed in the most up-and-coming neighbourhood of West Kowloon. It is a huge departure from those ghastly, characterless, self-same concrete towers that blot and blight the rest of Hong Kong.
This hotel is different. It is vibrant. A beacon. A stand-alone work of art. It has spirit and energy. It exudes warmth.
For me it tells a dreamy story throughout all its 393 rooms and living areas, a theme that is pervasive and ubiquitous, whether you are resting or dining or drinking.
Smiles work. Name recognition works. Lobbies are the front line of any hotel. They are the name beneath the banner. The face of the brand. The first line of defence, never the first line of offence.
And these guys at the W Hong Kong are good. Really good.
Behind the check-in counter is this massive screen of flashing “what-evers”. It is mesmerizingly huge and colourful and quite a contrast to the slick, black uniforms of these overly attractive young men and women that man the front trenches.
(I’m sure “good looking” is a concept W stole from Virgin! I’m biased in Branson’s favour: I notice good-looking staff!).
I’m asked, “Do you recognise it?” one of the drop-dead gorgeous girls asks. I transfix my eyes on these moving colourful, squid-like shapes behind her head.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “But it reminds me of an LSD trip.”
“Oh no….” she giggles. “Try again.”
I looked carefully.
I felt as if she wanted to clap. But nothing happened.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it reminded me of The Wonderful World of Disney on LSD. At university, every Saturday night, we use to love the fireworks bursting above the Disney castle as Tinkerbell turbo charged and twerked in her tutu. We discovered it looked so much better when stoned.
FROM ELEVATOR TO CORRIDOR
At all the W Hotels that I’ve visited, the elevator is not just a mode of convenience but a quirky feature that is deliberately OTT (over the top) with in-your-face décor. I find that captivating, sexy, enticing and definitely memorable.
At the W Hong Kong, the elevator is manned by a dapper, smiling attendant. He must love watching people go, “Wow!” as the doors slide open.
The lift floor is like a giant iPad emblazoned with flashing, garish colours that literally welcome you “GOOD AFTERNOON”. I wasn’t sure where to stand in case I cracked the glass (my brain was never programmed to stand on computer screens!). I clung to the side of the elevator as we ascended, sucking up the view of Kowloon Bay through the amazing floor to ceiling windows. I still found my plasma floor disconcerting especially as it emanated a huge amount of heat. “Was the floor built by Samsung?” I found myself asking.
As the elevator slowed and stopped on the 27th floor, I secretly held my breath. “Please don’t be medicinal and industrial,” I implored and prayed, hankering back to my previous stay in San Francisco. I barely had time to say amen before the doors opened to reveal these funky book shelves lined with faux white books and the odd sea shell or statement piece.
My wish had come true. There were no hospital greens, but a plethora of soft greys and neutral colours, warmed by glowing overhead sconce lights. Even the ceiling bulkhead light was patterned with etched images of hats. The flecked texture of the carpet was perfectly balanced by the ragged texture of the walls.
“Clever,” I thought to myself. “Very clever.”
The corridor to my room was dark and moody. There was no overhead or wall lights, simply floor level strip lighting that showed the way.
Outside my door was a simple, thin shelf holding what looked like a large, bound book. It was opened to an illusionary page that showed a hand holding a feathered quill. It had drawn the number 2703. It looked like an old print except, it was only my room number sign. And below it was a small raised strip that clearly repeated everything in Braille.
The whole “book” doubled up as a “Do Not Disturb” sign, once the button was depressed in the room. A red light would glow warning querulous room service members to keep on walking. I liked that. I hate using doorknobs and door hangars for “Do Not Disturb” signs, or even laundry bags. They always fall off!
ROOM 2703 – MY SPECTACULAR ROOM
From moody to magnificent. Kick out the grey and welcome the splashes of colour. This is a medley of energy and excitement. The craziness of insipid swirls on the wall and a throw pillow are brilliantly counterpointed with big bursts of lime green from the bed spread and the pale monotone of the modular chaise longue. At 431 square feet, this is no giant suite, but a lot of thought and design has gone into this space.
You don’t have fat, annoying bedside tables; you have delicate places for your water and phone.
You don’t have big table lamps; you have bendy LED lights that you barely notice.
Someone understands design here: balance; economy of space; the equilibrium of contrasting textures, patterns and colours.
Everything made sense. It works.
I loved the King Bed – I went to nirvana when I slept. The 400-thread-count linen was my elixir!
But the room was seriously smaller than I like. Word to the wise: upgrade.
I normally gravitate to the bathroom in most hotels as this is where you spend most of your waking hours when on the road, but I didn’t here.
In contrast to the main bedroom, it had dark grey, granite-like colours, on the floor and walls. This was offset by the whites of the basin, bath, toilet and towels, all of which were amplified by white light that emanated from a modern pattern within the mirror.
The space would be too tight for a family especially if they have multiple wash bags to put somewhere. But I liked the clean lines and door-less feel, the rainforest shower and separate bathtub. If you wanted privacy, you slid a concealed door panel across the corridor to segregate the bed from bath areas. Or you could opt for open-planned living. Your choice.
I loved the range of Bliss shampoos and gels, lotions and potions (another word to the wise, women know this too, so guys “buy some and take home to the missus!”).
In reality, Bliss Spa and W Hotel are a marriage made in heaven with stand-out packaging that is both edgy and cool. They are pushing the boundaries of tongue-in-cheek humour with subliminal slogans like Fresh Mouth….Bare All….So Vain….Less Rough More Buff. You almost feel like you’re at a marketing stall, not in a hotel bathroom. Yet the end result works. The products are not gimmicks. They are high quality.
KITCHEN is the super stylish bistro and all-day dining venue that draws its eclectic inspiration from the unlikely pages of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is a brilliant concept, that plays to the Hong Kong’s English heritage and the quirky, whimsical, fantasy world that Lewis Caroll created 150 years ago. From the moment that she fell down the rabbit hole, Alice was bent on consumption, a frequent desire for food and knowledge that she coined as her “Curious Appetites”.
Today, all that literary magic is embodied in KITCHEN, allowing its international chefs to challenge their art form with inventive, fanciful menus and treats. They have creative license to push edible boundaries in a setting that is a modern spin on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
For me, breakfast was my bent. I distinctly remember how good the coffee was before plunging into the huge buffet offerings. I relished the mix of Asian and English food. Sweet and sour pork, versus eggs benedict. Pastries that were pure decadence coated in sugar (though I did have a few that were gluten free!). Ice troughs filled with bottles of freshly squeezed juice.
Enjoy the panoramic views over Kowloon Bay, the flotilla of floating barge cranes, ferries and tankers. It is an awesome sight, as industrial as it is.
- Contact: 3717 2299
- Email: email@example.com
- Time: 6:30 AM to 11:00 PM
SING YIN CANTONESE DINING
If you want some truly authentic Cantonese cuisine and outstanding dim sum, then look no further than Sing Yin where Chef Johnny Chan works his magic. But if you’re expecting the stereotypical grandeur or most Cantonese restaurants, you’re in for a big surprise.
The 120-seat Sing Yin is on the ground floor of W Hong Kong and a nod to contemporary thinking, thanks to international architect and interior designer, Steve Leung. The moment you approach the entrance you are absorbed by this towering façade dominated by high ceilings and dangling Chinese artefacts. Huge screens beckon you to enjoy the recreation of Hong Kong’s bustling streetscape.
The wow-factor continues on your journey inside. Even the bar is reminiscent of the old stores of the 60s and 70s, modelled on a traditional Chinese tea house. A hand-sketched cityscape on the ceiling above.
Approaching the main dining area is another experience, semi-private rooms that emulate the old boutiques and barber shops, the décor of local groceries. And if you make your way to the very end of the restaurant, you’ll find a cluster of intermittent LCD screens that are intertwined with real and virtual marine life.
With bulging eyes and dripping tongue, I leapt at the chance to sample Chef Chan’s signature set menu and I was not disappointed. My highlights were the barbecued Spanish iberico pork, roasted pork belly with crispy crust and accompanying chilled cucumber with black vinegar. This was followed by pan-fried crab claw stuffed with minced shrimp and a sautéed king prawn with crab meat and sea urchin. Total seafood perfection! And not to be out done was the sautéed Australian wagyu beef (“marble score 8”) with black pepper sauce. And the steam fried rice with whole abalone wrapped in lotus leaf.
- By phone: 3717 2848
- By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I have this thing about roof top bars having recently been to Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. I thought I’d seen it all from dizzy heights, but the Wet Deck has just leapt into pole position on the vertigo chart. From 76 floors up, it commands an awesome vantage point with sweeping views of Victoria Harbour.
A decent lap pool runs parallel to the glass pool fencing from where you can watch the world around you. An iconic mosaic wall looms over the entrance depicting an explosion of fantasy, though I’m not sure fluttering butterflies and a conch shell is my vision of imagination, but it is really impressive.
I had an unplanned chat with the F&B Director who gave me a private talk on every building and view. How much you pay for apartments, which one was the in-place to rent, and so forth.
I didn’t get to enjoy the “Wet is On Fire” barbeque, but my eagle eye spotted the Grilled half Boston Lobster and Grilled Canadian Sea Scallop. Next time, I hope!
Venue: 76/F, Wet Deck
Time: Monday – Friday, 6:00PM – 9:00PM
Price: HK$398 Per Adult / HK$199 Per Child
Enquiries: 3717 2299 / email@example.com
*All prices are subject to 10% service charge
*Subject to weather conditions and is not applicable to public holidays
The WOOBAR is definitely not bland as far as the décor goes and the crowd is much the same there too. The interior follows the same vein of “Mad-Hatterness” as the Kitchen, whimsical and crazy with hanging paraphernalia and butterflies above the bar.
During the day it a quiet and serene; more suit and tie than fashion parade. A healthy buffet is offered out with cold cuts and salads for lunch. Afternoon tea offers other healthy options as well. But hold your horses, as the sun dips and the tempo rises, the WOOBAR takes on a whole new metamorphosis with live music and happy hour cocktails. Taking a leaf from W Hong Kong’s own wording, “ Join the party with pulsating beats from the city’s top DJs, our chic signature W Hong Kong cocktails and one of the best happy hours in town. Detox, Retox. Repeat. The party never stops.”
My kind of place!
- Cuisine: Light Fare
- Setting: Chic and Fun
- Dress Code: Bold and Witty
- Smoking Permitted: No
- Hours: 10:00 AM – 1:00 AM
For reservations or enquiries:
- By phone: 3717 2889
- By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I have eaten a major chunk of humble apple pie visiting W Hong Kong and I owe a big thanks to Natalia Silva (Marketing Manager, W San Francisco) and Fiona Cheng (PR & Marketing Coordinator, W Hong Kong) for opening my eyes to a brand that I feel has got it right. It is appealing, sexy, funny, on the cutting edge and distinctively young, fresh and worth its salt. It oozes love and pretends to be nothing more than what it delivers which is funked-up excellence.
I did get to see the other room categories and I have nothing but good thoughts for what is a well-delivered, well-executed concept from Penthouse top, to restaurant bottom.
I will say this, W Hong Kong is not just for the uber, super cool. I was actually gob-smacked by how many families were there, kids and all. And yes, the yummy-mummies dominated, bedecked in the latest fashion accoutrements, which was exactly what W Hotels wants and I expected to find.
If I had one gripe it was this: I was not there long enough to truly enjoy W Hong Kong. And if I could walk away with one star, it is this: W Hotel has become my number one hotel brand to follow. It is the future of hotel living.
(Did I mention “Living” before?).
Note: I was not paid to write this review by W Hotel, and nor was I given a free stay or hotel room. These words are my words and my opinions. If you don’t like them, tough!
I have just been left shell-shocked by my stay at the Soori Bali It has literally blown my mind away.
It has taken me months to digest the gravity of my visit; to actually find the time and breath to etch out my thoughts into carefully construed words.
What I will say is this: when I left the Soori Bali, I carried with me an a sense of enlightenment. I felt uplifted. Emotionally purified and purged.
If it were truly possible, I had just been blessed with more love than in almost any stay….anywhere.
The travel gods had smiled on me. I had been anointed. I had become a better person.
Until this very moment, I had shied away from reviewing the Soori Bali. I didn’t feel as if I was ready to give it every experiential inflection, a moment of justice in the open pulpit of review. In my expert world, details matter. You have to get them right. You don’t need to wear lingerie and have melt-downs over vanity lines getting more like troughs. You just call a spade a spade based on reality, not “fluffdom”.
My dilemma was poignant: how can you possibly assemble and morph so many thoughts into such a short piece?
Well this is how.
FROM SEMINYAK TO UBUD TO SOORI
From the party pizazz and shining lights of Seminyak, to the monkey forests of Ubud, I had experienced much over the last few days. As I descended from the volcanic mountains towards Tanalot and through the rice paddy fields surrounding the Soori Bali, I had time to reflect on this intense journey. I had just visited nine hotels, staying in three, before being disgorged at the plinth of the cobbled Soori reception area.
I had gone through an emotional roller coaster with every ride. Each hotel property a challenge to my own sense of purpose, as both a writer and travel expert.
I rarely “just stay” in a hotel when I review it. I venture far and wide, to immerse myself in the food, the culture, the people. This is often a spiritual journey too, one that allows me to give context to a hotel and “frame” it in its local environment. To complete the picture, one might say.
As I whizzed through local villages to the Soori Bali, I was gripped by this uneasy feeling of regret. What on earth had I done? Where was I going?
I felt like I was heading to nowhere.
Even my seasoned and brilliant driver, Putu, was reverting to peevish quips and grouchy calls, as we crabbed through winding streets that looked all the same with ruffled, giant banners to me. Yet unruffled and diligent as always, he delivered me to the property without even a whinge or gripe.
A solitary security guard smiled a greeting at us. After a quick clip-board check, we were ushered forward to cross this rickety wooden bridge that clattered and clacked loudly. I felt normal and ever-present.
Either side of the arch, stood these giant, carved, black stone columns entwined with gold and white chequered fabric. A customary, family temple was set to the side, adorned with a gold and white umbrella. A slightly taller golden flag fluttered in the soft breeze. And then we shook down the long driveway some 500 metres long, before winding up at the circular cobbled courtyard and reception area.
I was beginning to smart more. Why, oh why, had I booked a place that was so far away and remote? I had gone from buzz and energy of Seminyak, to the jungle hillsides of Ubud and now this: total removal and total solitude.
I must have looked a somewhat anxious and squalid wreck, as I exited the car. I still had no idea where I was, or what I was in for. I never research a place before I go there because I don’t want my thoughts to be tainted or affected by the babble of mediocre spew that others contrive.
THE RECEPTION AREA
Anyone that has been to Bali knows this sensation well. When you exit from an air-conditioned car, there are mini nanoseconds before you suddenly feel the pin pricks of sweat trickle down your neck. An envelope of humidity throttles you with slow malaise, until you reach the point of drenched, no return . I really did feel grimy and mucky and this didn’t help. But the mark of excellence is when hotel staff sense your distress and rise to the occasion and need. In this instance it was a cold towel, with the soothing scent of lemon grass, my arch angel for the moment.
The check-in process was effortless. I never left my seat. I had all the time in the world to absorb my new surroundings, unrushed and at peace. The staff brought everything to me, including a complimentary drink that bristled with soothing relief.
The Soori Bali reception area is a huge al fresco space. It is a world of contrast from the brilliant light outside, to the darker, muted wooden tones of shelter inside. Yet it is also an area of balance. The striking horizontal lines of the slatted wooden screens are counterpointed by vertical poles and low planted gardens. It is a testament to nature and life, with water ever present. The reflecting pool open to the elements and heaven above with one’s eyes being drawn to the frangipani trees on the central island. There is a careful respect between the gentle, living green tones of nature and the hardness of stone and concrete. You barely notice the subliminal affect it has on you. The rolling and soft crashing sounds of the ocean afar adding mystery to the mood, whilst local musicians beckon you with a haunting and spiritual piping Rindik Bamboo Music.
The reception area is a feature in itself and almost removed from the rest of the Soori Bali resort. It towers above the villas and concedes little to their whereabouts or the immensity of the property. It betrayed little of the experience I was about to enjoy, or the world I would fall in love with.
OCEAN POOL VILLA 203
As I was led down from the reception area, and steep stairs to the left, it began to dawn on me just how vast and truly private the Soori Bali really was. I felt like I was in my own kingdom. Palm trees and walls and bamboo clusters towered above me. I followed the stone paving as it weaved and snaked between low-lying vegetation and sporadic, carefully planted frangipani trees. Someone very clever had thought of every nuance of planting and vegetation.
Soon, I stood before the entrance to my own Ocean Pool Villa marked 203. It was a simple yet huge and open, dark wooden archway. But this was still not the end of my journey. It was a beckoning, a beginning, a welcome gateway to a private complex. I had yet to climb the remaining steps and open the giant doors into my new world.
THE GRAND REVEAL – A STUNNING VILLA
Nothing can prepare you for the moment when you part open the doors and step into what I can only describe, as the most gorgeous ocean view garden courtyard. It is like watching the grand reveal on a TV decorating show, when the judges see a finished room for the first time.
Your eyes are literally drawn to the crystal blue infinity pool and then the breaking waves beyond. You just want to yell out, “Mine…all mine!” But you can’t, without causing childish alarm, because the neighbours and concerned staff would probably dagger you with querulous looks.
“No, I’m not on drugs,” you want to say and you grin within. “I’m just immensely happy!”
The funny thing is that you haven’t even stepped into your room yet.
STEPPING INTO MY SOORI VILLA
Wait until you actually open the doors to your living space and are greeted by this amazing, modern, four poster bed. Like the garden, the ocean view is never compromised. You can lie back on the bed and from the pillows, gaze across your feet towards the pool, through the slide doors and beyond.
To your left and right is a small living area. A giant plasma screen is concealed within the wall. A couch to the other side. If the moment grabs you, yes, you can even step off the end of the bed, through the opening and into the pool. I did. Often!
The sheer volume of space is captivating. I have never been in such a stunning environment where light and air swirls around you in such a comforting manner. Even the textures and smooth surfaces blend and fuse with each other despite being so divergent in colour. Dark, almost black woods and furnishings are harmonious with neutral floor tiles and brighter wall colours and linens. Almost nothing seems to dominate or distract you from the overall feel of the room or design. It is truly a living space that works as a whole and not governed by an individual statement.
Luxury is not an exaggeration when you stay at the Soori Bali. I can’t remember the last time I had a choice of a sunken bath tub in my bedroom, or another interior shower, as well as my favourite, the outdoor shower. There is something infinitely sexy about washing outside where no wandering eyes can find you.
The sunken bathtub is massive. I lit the candle one night and just laid back listening to the diminutive and barely audible music and the crushing sound of waves outside. I was lost in the space and at peace within.
What I truly loved about my Ocean Pool Villa was the use of local colours and materials. They dictated the mood and ambiance of my space, where walls were clad in paras kelating, a cool grey sandstone taken from the banks of a local river. Yet outside, the black-sand beach is prevalent, until you realise how this too has been infused into the resort interiors using the local volcanic stone called batu candi.
The interior bathroom offers “his” and “her” washbasins with giant mirrors that straddle the walkway to the outside shower. There is a huge amount of storage and hanging space, plus a digital safe for keeping valuables. This is the ultimate bathroom design.
Rarely do I like to be in a bathroom for more than functional purposes, but here at the Soori Bali, it became a part of my experience and stay, for which my reward was total enjoyment.
OTHER ROOM AMENITIES
Like most hotels in Bali, you have a well-stocked mini bar with the usual culprits of Bintang beer and Heineken, white wine and champagne, Coke and Sprite. You even have the choice of still and sparking water.
A small wicker box hosts an array of Pringles, nuts and local snacks. And you even have a kettle with a choice of tea, plus a Nespresso machine for coffee. Soori also provides its own complimentary drinking water in the bathroom for brushing teeth, as well as for making coffee and tea.
DINING AT SOORI BALI
I love being in that situation when you don’t know what to do. You’ve arrived in a completely alien environment, with absolutely no “sense of place”. You have no idea where the heck you are, what is north of south, and certainly no concept of how to behave. You are like a mole, broaching the tufts and soil for his first peek and sniff.
I meandered from my villa early, around 5.30pm. I was exploring.
My sexy date was hungry – I jest: that was me. I was completely alone. And it was then that the immensity of the Soori started to set in.
Soori is vast. Huge. Everything is so clever and perfect. I felt like a Roman general pacing amidst a garden, shell-shocked yet ever-present. A conqueror that was sick and tired of the outside world. A man that was disposed to look at notes of beauty, not calamity. A being, a real person that needed a shower, a wash, a massage; someone, anyone that could uplift.
I remember a fleeting look at the library to my right and a feeling of awe and despondency. I was engaged by the light. I even waked into the room and touched the books with soft finger tips, like I was reading Braille.
I needed to move on. I was only staying for two nights. There was no real time to enjoy or revel.
My greatest surprise by far, after nine days on the road and so many experiences, was the food. I was absolutely not expecting such mouth-watering brilliance. Every meal was a voyage of virginal discovery that left me stunned and silent.
When art meets food and it tastes great, you know you have reached heaven’s door. I just happened to find the key and it was at Soori Bali .
I make no pretences that I have cooked professionally for over 250,000 people in the last 15 years. I have flipped that many burgers! Yet despite my self-deprecation, I do know a thing or two about food.
I hate charts and “Top 10” erroneous bollocks that most people fawn over but let me tell you this quickly.
In my opinion, Soori Bali is in the top two best hotels for food in Bali. I’m sitting on the fence here on purpose, because I have only been to Soori once and normally I visit a venue two or three times before making such sweeping statements.
Cotta is dark and moody and ethereal, a fusion of natural textures like wood and stone, offset by polished concrete and minimalist decoration. Four-top tables are draped with fresh white linen, adding brightness. Two polished wooden banquet tables lend colour and warmth to the setting. It is a comforting refuge from whence to ogle at the ocean beyond or the manicured lawns to the side. It is both romantic and inspiring.
Omabak is like an extension of Cotta, though concealed more to the right and around the corner. It has the modern bar vibe, the al-fresco feel, a closeness to the ocean and nature. Slated wood is ever-present, behind the bar with light showing through. Above is the more permanent roofing feature providing shelter when needed from the elements. Even the padded dining chairs are back with horizontal wooden slats.
Ombak was a wonderful place to be at sunset, especially when the cave bats make their escape in one nocturnal exodus. Hanging lanterns and table candles add to the softness of the ambience.
I can only describe all my meals at Ombak and Cotta as faultless, verging on perfection. I will leave you the readers to discover this for yourselves another day, rather than have me micro-analyse every nuance and leaf on my plate. Suffice it to say, I am still in awe of my experience there.
In my more informative student years, I spent three of my five years studying art history and architecture in one of the most famous schools in the world: Eton College. And let me tell you this: the architect behind Soori is brilliant.
What he has created is a never-ending narrative that assumes nothing, but blends almost everything into one amazing Balinese adventure. I may not be equal to his genius or vision, but I can appreciate his story in almost every minute detail. I noticed and absorbed every fleck of water on the plants, every rough-edged cobble stone, ever weave and turn and pollen grain. I understood the mission without needing a mud-map to guide me.
I have never had a working magic wand or a “big canvas” to work with. But I do revere Soori as this visionary, giant, living canvas that I have always wanted to paint on. The balance of air and light and water is so profound and evocative that I am really forced to compare Monet’s lily pond with Soori Bali. It is completely and utterly in a stand-out league of its own.
After reviewing 40 or so hotels in Bali over the last year, I cannot even contemplate giving Soori Bali anything less than a top award. I approached it with trepidation and dread, after so many reviews and experiences at other properties and now I am desperate to return. This has become, in my opinion, the bucket list hotel to visit in Bali. It is the ultimate escape.
For Soori Bali booking and great deals click here: Soori Bali reservations.
Or call 1300 799 758 to learn more.
Argh, the Raffles Hotel, the Grand Dame of Singapore. How much I miss you already. You are everything I dreamt you’d be, only better.
The Raffles Hotel was the one property that I most wanted to review on my tour of Singapore and I had butterflies in my stomach from the anticipation. It left me edgy and uneasy. A meld of fear, apprehension, excitement, adrenalin.
Would it live up to its reputation? Would it let me down?
I relate to history. I was exposed to it from an early age, born into an aristocratic line that owns most of England and Scotland, and probably killed much in between. It left me with a cluster of notable friends that would make for really fun dinner talk: actors, prime ministers, foreign secretaries, royalty, writers; and less interesting “common” folk…like me.
When my taxi crunched to a halt on the circular gravelled driveway, a tall, smiling doorman, sporting regimental Sikh livery, stepped out from under the shaded portico to open my door and welcome me. I realised then that my quest for knowledge had begun. How was he able to wear a full-length coat and turban and not suffer from the oppressive humidity? I’d just left the comfort of an air-conditioned cab and was dripping wet!
The battle of doubts versus wants had ended. This was real. I was about to enter the most iconic hotel in Singapore. To follow in the in footsteps of so many great names. I was bubbling with excitement. I couldn’t wait to relive what they had seen and done. To hear the voices of the past.
When I stepped out of the cab, I did so with new purpose, strutting up the red carpet, past the doorman’s dais, and thorough one of the French doors into the vastness of the white marbled lobby. My heart quickened and my pace slowed. The immensity of the moment gripped me. And so did the space. I was like a bewildered child caught by the twinkle of Christmas lights.
My quest for the old-world had begun in earnest. I had arrived. I was no longer a voyeur. I had become part of the Raffles story.
The staff were amazing and faultless as they escorted me to the check-in desk on the right. I barely remember doing more than scratching my signature on the guest registration form before being ushered to an arm chair beside one of the giant white Corinthian columns. I put my hand luggage down and before I could blink, there was a silver tray sporting a complimentary Singapore Sling in a tall glass with a pink straw poking out of it, and a carefully balanced cherry and slice of pineapple on the lip.
I got up and walked a few metres to the adjoining Writers Bar musing over my cocktail and surrounding space. I was glowing with invented thoughts. Did Somerset Maugham sit here? Noel Coward there? I wanted to break open my pad and pen, just to say I’d been in the bar and scribed something important too.
The Singapore Sling is one of my litmus cocktails that I often use to gauge the proficiency of bartenders worldwide. A gin and tonic is another one. And I’m not saying this lightly, but I truly think that was the best Singapore Sling I have ever had.
By being at the Raffles, I had traced the Singapore Sling back to its roots,. It was here in 1915, at the Long Bar on the first floor, that a very clever bartender called Ngiam Tong Boon would create his infamous masterpiece and thus his ascension towards fame. Nowadays, people flock from all over the world just to have a Singapore Sling (and get poor in the process), a testament to both his wizardry and its enduring taste.
I tried cocktails at many other venues, but I can say with absolute authority that the Raffles Hotel is the King of Sling.
They are truly unrivalled and unmatched.
For me, there is another side to appreciating this wonderful cocktail, both fascinating and enshrined in the history of the Raffles. What Ngiam Tong Boon did was very daring for his time and in total breach of convention.
The Long Bar was a popular watering hole for colonial Singaporeans, almost a social institution, and it was not uncommon to see the gents tipping away on their glasses of gin or whisky. However, this was in stark contrast to the women. Prevailing etiquette dictated that they should not drink in public…in case, I presume, they got tipsy or worse still. It was very unladylike to see a woman swaggering or wobbling in public, but quite okay for men to do so. Alcohol was very much the preserve of male habit in those days. Ladies were relegated to sip on juice or water or tea.
In a genius moment of early Singaporean marketing prowess, Ngiam clicked that he could slip a dash of gin and cherry brandy into his pink “fruit cocktail” and the men (and public) would be none the wiser.
And thus was born the Singapore Sling and his legend. He may well have become the most sought after man in the country.
THE LONG BAR
The Long Bar is the public and much-hyped part of the Raffles Hotel. It is flaunted and well-marketed. I last visited it in 2004 when you could smash a few peanuts and drop them on the floor with wanton abandon. I seem to remember that the beer was well chilled and on the steeper side of expensive. Of course, it didn’t shock me to discover that nothing has changed since my last visit. Not at the Raffles, nor the Long Bar, nor with alcohol prices throughout Singapore.
My gorgeous personal butler, bedecked in pressed beige uniform, escorted me through the grey cast iron gate that delineated the separation between the public and the private guest quarters. To my right lay a perfectly manicured square lawn that had me thinking, “croquet and cocktail” parties. As we walked around the edge to my room, I had this overwhelming sense that I had stepped back in time. Voices and faces from the past were reaching out to me in flashes. But there was no one there. Just me.
The Raffles Hotel is grand and my room was no exception. It felt like a furnished apartment with high ceilings that you lived in, not a room that you stayed in. You stepped through the door into a small ante-room. To the right was a round breakfast table with an orchid and welcome fruit bowl on it. There was enough space for two chairs and a standard lamp. Botanical prints hung above it. A Nespresso machine was on the counter opposite. To the left was a small couch. I didn’t know what to try first.
Giant tied-back curtains partitioned the ante-room from the huge bedroom with its two-post bed, chaise long, suit stand, writers table and giant armoire wardrobe. And beyond there was the timeless green marbled bathroom with two rooms; one with basin and Raffles amenities; the other with toilet, shower, giant bath tub and ceramic elephant pot holders. I felt as if I could live in this room alone!
You truly got the impression that time has stood still. The colonial furnishings and nuances unblemished. Egyptian cotton sheets. Tapestry bed seat. Even the wicker table under the colonnade outside my bedroom door was in keeping with the “old world” charm. I would have my coffee there each morning. So peaceful. Mind you, a word to the wise, the air conditioning in your room will be so cool that when you step out in the warm humidity, everything fogs up – glasses, cameras and all. Enjoy those moments of being electronic free, as you can’t fight the condensation until all temperatures equalise.
I loved my room and really, for a single traveller, it was overkill. The king-sized bed was enormous, soft and all mine! I would never trade it for anything else.
BAR & BILLIARD ROOM
Sunday brunch at the Bar and Billiard Room should be on everyone’s bucket list of things to do in Singapore. For me, this was unquestionably “the” highlight of my stay at the Raffles Hotel. The sheer scale and size of the offerings would rival almost any decadent banquet and although I have seen bigger, I had certainly not eaten better.
Almost every taste was catered for, even with bite-sized morsels in shot glasses (my favourite being the Seared Tuna and Sweet Soya Sauce Gazpacho), exquisitely laid-out salads (loved the asparagus and crab meat), wooden chopping boards with cut meats, a carvery under heat lamps, a slurry of chefs and wait staff running everywhere.
I loved the neon blue ice bar with giant prawns, Irish and Tsarskaya oysters, Fine de Clair, crab claws and half lobster tails. The dessert selections were outrageous, some daubed in gold leaf, others drowning in wide glasses and fruit. The Coffee Caramel, served in small green elliptical bowl was simply stunning and enough to trigger my “get out soon” mode. I made for the door, passing rows of chocolates, dodging even more calorie bullets before hitting the cheese board selections and realising that I had failed in my escape. I needed a more worthy death, by cheese!
Reservations are a must and remember, this is a classy establishment, so try not to rock up in your singlet and thongs because there is a place for everything and everyone. The Raffles does not specialise in “the average” tourist meal and you pay for quality. If you want quantity and prices, McDonalds is across the road in the shopping mall. However, with the renovations to the Long Bar and the arcade, traffic is being directed to the Bar & Billiard Room.
THE RAFFLES HALL OF FAME
No stay at the Raffles Hotel would be complete without a quick traipse down the small Hall of Fame. Situated on the first floor, you’ll see a plethora of photos and pictures lining the wooden corridor.
One of the first on the left sums up the Raffles Hotel, an etched print of the main building that is headlined “Patronised by Royalty and Nobility”. It was not far wrong. Black and white photos of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, Bill Clinton, Ken Follett, Boris Johnson and Catherine Deneuve. These are but a few of the notables, though there are absences too like Michael Jackson.
Stories abound at the Raffles and I so wanted to pick the brains of their Resident Historian, Leslie Danker, but time was against me. I gleaned tit bits. The last tiger shot in Singapore was in 1902. It had escaped from a nearby circus and was cowering under the Bar & Billiard Room when it was noticed and shot by Raffles Institution principal Charles McGowan Philips. Or when Michael Jackson stayed. He wanted to go to the zoo but too many fans were camped outside, so the hotel “brought the zoo to him” in the form of an orangutan that subsequently ran riot around the pool.
HISTORY OF THE RAFFLES
The Raffles Hotel has come a long way since 1887, when it first opened its doors as a humble 10-room bungalow at number 1 Beach Road. As the address implied, it was originally on the “beach”, not where it is today. But thanks to land reclamation, the Raffles is now a majestic inland feature that rises three stories high, with a rather bland view of the CBD, not the ocean view that author Joseph Conrad would have relished in 1888. The number of rooms have also grown. Today the Raffles has 103 expansive suites, all framed by polished teak verandas and white marble colonnades. Their doors face inward, encircling perfectly manicured tropical gardens. It has the air of exclusiveness and privacy.
The front façade is undoubtedly impressive with its striking white-washed walls and terracotta roofing. Even the giant palm trees and frangipanis that frame the sides of the building lend themselves to this feeling of tropical greatness. A grand entrance that has contributed to the Raffles Hotel being made a National Monument. Today, she is one of the last remaining 19th century hotels left in the world.
The Raffles Hotel was named after the venerable founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles/ She was run by the Sarkies Brothers, proprietors of the Eastern & Oriental in Penang.
Business boomed for the Sarkies and they expanded their interests in Singapore. This included a major upgrade to the hotel. By 1899, the familiar Main Building, was completed and opened to a huge fanfare. Its neo-Renaissance style became the embodiment of the colonial, Golden era or exploration. Grand space. Luxury. Style. A list of firsts: electric lights and ceiling fans. A French chef.
Slowly but surely, the Raffles was giving birth to its legendary status. It became a magnet for the world’s great thinkers, travellers and actors. The Raffles became the darling of writers and “the men of letters”. They seemed to attract each other and gravitate to her doors. Names like Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maughan. Faces of the silver screen like Charlie Chaplin, Maurice Chevallier, Frank Buck, Jean Harlow, Eva Gardener and Elizabeth Taylor. Yet not every part of the Raffles Hotel’s history was rosy.
1931 saw the collapse of the Malayan rubber trade and the Great Depression. Arshak Sarkies, the last of the Sarkies brothers, died and the Raffles Hotel, including the Eastern & Oriental Penang, were placed into receivership. A new company called Raffled Hotel Ltd was created under a Swiss general manager, Teddy Troller. Even its main competition, the Hotel de L’Europe closed its doors for good.
In 1941, Singapore was consumed by World War II, surrendering in 1942 to the ravages of the Japanese invading army. But in 1945 she was liberated by the Allied Forces under Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. She became a transit camp for war prisoners – a shadow of her former self.
But the Raffles survived, allowing me to become another part of history.
When I arrived at the Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur, I felt a bit like Caesar returning to Rome after years of fighting Barbarians in the wilderness. By the time I had checked out a few days later, I felt as if I’d won an Oscar.
And that was the point.
This was not a coincidence. This was supposed to happen. I was meant to have an Intercontinental experience.
Just like all the other guests.
But someone should have warned me not to fall in love.
Thanks to the brilliant Vicky Wong, Director of Marketing & Communications at the Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur, I had arranged for a driver to meet me at the airport and sure enough, there was “Jauzi” waiting for me at the arrival gate. After being in four countries in 29 hours, I could have kissed him. He was like an apparition at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
I was whisked through the formalities of customs and baggage claim by my driver and eventually into his gleaming black BMW. I took a bottle of chilled fresh water, swabbed my brow with a towel (god knows how filthy I must have looked and been) and settled in for the 45-minute journey to the city. I was feeling somewhat shell-shocked. I was no longer in an aeroplane and wow that felt good.
Arrival was a breath of fresh air too. As the car pulled up to the front of the hotel, my door was opened by a beautiful, beaming face that greeted me by name. Personal touches matter to me, especially a grubby and weary executive who was sick and tired of being treated like toothpaste being squeezed from a tube – at least that’s how I describe air travel!
The lobby is fascinating and very clever, a modern, powerful, fusion of contrasting textures and shadows. Behind the reception desk is a giant climbing mural of sharp, golden erratic triangles and diagonal lines that cast angular shadows and patterns everywhere. It is like a tryptic rock formation. Or a giant game of Tetris that’s collapsed.
Counter to this are the smooth polished floor tiles below, with tiny square insets, providing conformity and consistency underfoot. Even the reception desk refracts light off the marble floor from its back-lit rectangular panel. But the pièce de résistance, the jewel in the crown, are the glass pillars that frame the hanging centrepiece where dangling shards of glass glint in the light and emulate a cascading waterfall. And if you look carefully beyond it, a staircase is revealed, rising into the heart of the property. The soul and real reason for being at the Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur.
Check-in was a painless and flawless process of name, rank and number (credit card that is). By the time I had blinked, I was being escorted to the elevator and into my room. My poor old bags, brimming with dirty clothing, were there before me, I could hear them begging to be cleaned. But not today.
Room # 2709
I get really excited by what lies behind a hotel door. The expectancy of the unknown driving me as I pull out my key card and wait for the, “Whoa!”
First impressions are everything to me.
Once in, I invariably move with trepidation towards the window to find my bearings and soak up the moment of where I am. I want to know what view I have. It defines the importance of the space; my new home.
I was booked into a Deluxe City View Room, which was precisely that, with a startling panorama of soaring skyscrapers bursting upwards and everywhere. But that was the beauty of it: urban art. It was reminiscent of where I’d just been, the concrete maze of San Francisco. I liked it. It was comforting. It was all I wanted or needed.
And then I switch mode.
I have a mental check list of things that I go through every time I step into a hotel.
Where are the plugs? How many are there? Is there a luggage rack? What are the bathroom amenities and shampoos like? Is the bathroom clean? Are the towels soft and do they have a bathrobe? Where is the safe? Is there a mini bar? Is there room in the fridge for my own things? Can I get laundry done and how soon? Do they have Wifi? Where is the password? How is the bed?
I’m an expert on beds. My family use to run an interior design business in London and all our beds were bespoke-made and hotel quality. The king size bed was gorgeous and inviting. I had to test it. I threw myself star-fish on top without pulling back the sheets and woke up 13 hours later.
I think it passed!
I travel with a lot of electrical goods: phones, cameras, computers, tablets. Finding plugs is the single most important criteria I look for in a room and Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur was not only up to the grade here, it excelled. A big tick for having a plug socket close to the bedside table for charging my laptop and mobile phone and better still, a built-in adaptor board by the desk. No need to rummage around for travel adaptors as this was provided for in the same board. A simple time-saving process of “lock and load” or plug in and go!
Next is the safe. I’m a man of process. I deconstruct my backpack of all valuables and lock away my cash, passport and other irreplaceable necessities. I liked the fact that this was not at floor level too. Again, ease of access for someone on the move where time is money.
Ample hangars and shelf space made unpacking a joy, and better still, there is a fixed rack to keep one’s luggage, without having to dump one’s case on the floor. I like an element of decorum when I travel, not mess. Another tick.
The bathroom suite was an abundance of space and light with a full-length mirror creating even more depth. I liked the open-plan feel created by having a glass window separate the bathroom and bedroom, instead of a closed-in brick wall. You could either choose to soak in the bath tub and peer into the bedroom or simply roll down the blind for privacy. Or for those on the run, you always have the option of a separate walk-in shower with heavy glass door.
A lush marble counter top was also inviting with its mild yellow and earthy tones. Beside the basin was also the signature Intercontinental amenity box of gels and shampoos, sided with hand towels and face cloths. Inside were the usual culprits of branded cotton buds, tooth brush, shoe polish and other amenities.
It was here, on the 26th floor, at the Club Intercontinental Lounge, around 06.15m, that I had an epiphany. I was shrugging off the vestiges of jet lag, wide awake and watching the condensation build on and roll down the windows. The dawn light was brightening over Kuala Lumpur. I had already ordered a cappuccino and was wandering about ogling at the tantalising buffet selections. No guests were there. It was just me, myself and I…and a few staff members.
My mind was focused on the day ahead. I didn’t want clutter and noise and random people doing random, distracting things. I had my business head on. I just wanted somewhere that suited my purpose. And that was the Club Intercontinental Lounge.
I had been in so many places, in such a short time, that I hadn’t realised how vital a “Club” concept was to me. As an executive, I needed two things: time and money. I could not afford to lose either. I needed both the tangible and intangible benefits of having things at my fingertips.
The Club Intercontinental delivered this:
- Dedicated check-in and check-out
- Complimentary High Speed internet
- Concierge and Business Services
- Late check-out (until 16.00 hrs) when available
- Club Lounge Buffet Breakfast and a la carte selections (06.30 to 10.30 hrs or 11.00 on weekends and bank holidays)
- Serena Brasserie Buffet Breakfast (06.00 to 10.30 hrs daily)
- Club Lounge Afternoon Tea with snacks (15.00 to 17.00 hrs)
- Club Lounge Evening Cocktail with cocktails & appetizers (17.30 to 19.30 hrs)
- All-day refreshments (06.30 to 23.00 hrs) – juice, tea, coffee, soft drinks
- One complimentary visitor to the Club during the stay
I remember thinking to myself, what a great place to hold a Board Room meeting in the Club Board Room. I just wish I’d been more organised and used my complimentary hour as a Club Intercontinental guest.
The newly refurbished Club Lounge is really modern and openly furnished over two levels: the lower food court and buffet area; the quieter upper lounge with tub chair seating and a private Board Room.
There was an immensity of choice from the buffet food selections, all of which I could easily have attacked and devoured, but experience has taught me to go nimble on the palette and stomach, especially on long journeys (and holidays!). I approached one of the young chefs and said, “Make me any omelette of your choice.” This was one decision I was willing to relinquish and an excellent one too.
DINING AT THE INTERCONTINENTAL KUALA LUMPUR
Tao Chinese Cuisine
Tao Chinese Cuisine is for the discerning connoisseur that loves traditional Chinese food with an impressive dim sum menu. The name “Tao” is taken from the Mandarin for peach, and it has consequently adopted the bloom motif of the pale pink April peach flower. The restaurant is a contrast of dark wood and bright lights, soft linens and striking carpet patterns. A collection of hundreds of carefully chosen Chinese teapots adorn the nooks and wall features, creating a unique showroom feel that would be worthy of any collector. Tao also houses six private dining rooms with their own story to tell based upon the six dynasties in China: Han, Song, Tang, Yuan, Ming and Qin.
For me the food was the nectar in the peach flower. I was honoured to share a tasting with General Manager Clive Murray and to be dazzled by award winning Chef Wong Lian You. He introduced each plate as it arrived at the table, with such a broad Chinese accent that I just nodded and smiled. Where my ears failed me, I let the food do the talking. It was superb. A perfect balance of old-world-meets-new.
- Location: Level 1
- 6 private rooms available
- Website: http://kualalumpur.intercontinental.com/dining/tao-chinese-cuisine
- Open daily: lunch & dinner
- Book Online or Call: 1800 801 881 or +61 3 2792 6000
Tatsu Japanese Cuisine
I did not expect to do a double feast in one sitting but when Clive Murray, General Manager, told me to up sticks from Tao Chinese Cuisine and head here to Tatsu Japanese Cuisine I was not expecting that. Nor was I expecting such stunning presentation and outstandingly exquisite sashimi from Chef Tadashi Inose.
Tatsu is true to Japanese aesthetics where simplicity underscores the complexity of great food. The surroundings are clean and modern, a fusion of contemporary minimalism and modernism that flows effortlessly across the sushi bar, teppanyaki counter, the main dining room and the lounge bar. There are also four private dining rooms for executive meetings or special occasions.
I loved the little touches: the ice mould; the “hit me” chocolate which you literally have to mash and mangle before eating.
Thank god I didn’t tuck into the sake and wine, because this is a connoisseur’s paradise surrounded by floor to ceiling glass windows. The views are stunning. You can ogle at the cascading waterfall and perfectly manicured gardens whilst sampling any of the 20 types of sake, as well as Shochu and wines.
- Location: Level 1
- 147 seats
- 4 private dining rooms
- Website: http://kualalumpur.intercontinental.com/dining/tatsu-japanese-cuisine
- Open daily: lunch & dinner
- Book Online or Call: 1800 801 881 or +61 3 2792 6000
Bentley’s Pub touts itself as “an authentic English pub in the heart of Kuala Lumpur” and in that respect, it is like an old English pub, though this one is distinctly less traditional and definitely more in tune with modern day “brand” pub chains.
For me, my visit was a quiet affair, fresh off a late flight on a Monday evening. I was gagging to have anything to eat that didn’t resemble airline food and by god it was good. I opted for the beef burger with tomato and sweet onion relish, and lettuce and a fat glass of wine to wash it down. Pure heaven. It was exactly the shining star I needed to see and follow.
It is called The Bentley’s Pub Dining Menu Edition Daily which is really a menu printed on a kind of A3 newspaper look-alike, with a few ditties pilfered from news articles in 1671 (good reading in a pub, by the way). My “menu” story was about a certain Thomas “Colonel” Blood and a few of his reprobates who bluffed their way into the Tower of London to steal the gem-encrusted Crown jewels. Their joy was given short shrift, as they were quickly captured in possession of their stolen cargo. King Charles II subsequently learnt of Blood’s incredible daring and was so impressed that he forgave and pardoned him and then sent him to Ireland to live on a vast estate he had granted him.
On the back of the menu is a gigantic list drinks, of which whisky fills up about 50% of the page. Beer, cocktails and liqueurs fill the rest of the space.
Another sign that caught my attention was clearly pitched at Thursday ladies Night. It read, “Skirt nite. Anyone in skirt drinks free from 6pm to 8pm.” I wondered if I wore one too, would I get a free drink? Would I lower myself to that level? Mind you Colonel Blood did!
I only had one negative comment and that is smoking. There is a smoking section in the pub which was close enough for some trendy yuppy to waft painfully repulsive billows of cigar smoke my way. Surely in this day and age they can go outside to kill themselves, no?
- Website: http://kualalumpur.intercontinental.com/dining/bentleys-pub
- Open daily: 3pm to midnight
- Call: 1800 801 881 or +61 3 2792 6000
Serena Brasserie offers a truly tranquil setting for hotel guests to enjoy a medley of international flavours from its huge buffet spread or a la carte options. It delves into the local Malay, as well as Chinese and Indian cultures offering variety for all palates and tastes.
IVIV (OneSixFive) Lounge & Bar
OneSixFive (I prefer this name to the less confusing Roman numeral title of IVIV – which sounds more like an “ivy” plant you could get poisoned from) is the embodiment of a stylish lounge. Giant windows offer a tropical, water-feel that is both soothing and a perfect presentation for relaxing with company or on your own.
Try the freshly baked cakes or the signature afternoon tea. Or amp up the volume later with cocktails or wines from the bar. Here you’ll find less pizzazz than most hotel bars, but that in itself offers a more intimate vibe to while away the evening listening to soft jazz.
Final Words from The Walking Critic
Of the 10 hotels I visited in 16 days, I will say this: Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur was singularly the most organised and welcoming or all the hotel properties I stayed at. They moved mountains to help me, before, during and after my stay. Without their input, my journey would have been half the experience it could have been in KL.
I would never have seen the hero sites of KL: the Batu Caves, the Lake Gardens, the Islamic Arts Museum, lunch at Sri Nirwana Maju, Merdeka (Independence Square). I would have missed an induction into local life. Never eaten at local haunts or sampled such a broad tourist experience. I am immensely grateful. But the most enduring part of my stay was having an affinity to the Intercontinental brand. Relating to the Club Intercontinental experience. Finding myself smiling, because they understood my expectations and made my surroundings subliminally familiar.
In the coming days, I was to value and cherish these same concepts in two other properties too: Bangkok and Singapore.
But I know one thing for sure. It was here that I unwittingly fell in love with Intercontinental.
I just didn’t know it yet.
Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur
165 Jalan Ampang 50450
T: +60 3 2782 6000
F: +60 3 2161 1122
I love that nervous feeling when you pull up to the front of a hotel like the Pan Pacific Hotel Singapore and you just know that you’ve arrived somewhere special before you even step out of the car.
The Pan Pacific Singapore was no exception. From the very second my taxi door was eased open by a smiling doorman, I sensed that I was special too.
That my needs mattered.
That someone else cared about me and what I wanted.
I spend a lot of time travelling on the road and reviewing hotels both for work and a growing list of readers. And I love it when everything seems to gel and come together. When the check in process is so effortless and soothing, that in one fell swoop, your body untangles every tense knot and just melts into this kneaded lump of puppy-dog contentment.
My opening reception augured well for my upcoming “Odyssey”. In the next 16 days, I was going to stay in 10 hotels, in four countries. And now, with hindsight on my side, I can look back affectionately and say, that the Pan Pacific Singapore eclipsed, outclassed and outshone most hotels I stayed in.
Harbour Studio – Room 3117
I barely had to breath for myself as I ambled across the foyer towards the elevator. I was in the capable hands of Charlene Ong, the Guest Services Officer, my bags already on route to my room on the 31st floor.
Service is clearly a forté of the Pan Pacific.
When the doors whoosed open, they revealed an external lift with the most amazing floor-to-ceiling glass view of the city. As we ascended to the 31st floor I watched the turquoise blue of the swimming pool disappear beneath me. It looked endlessly inviting, even on a grey, rainy day. But my real treat was yet to come: the room.
I was booked into a Harbour Studio, room 3117, which at 46 square metres (495 square feet) was not titanic but incredibly stylish. As a man on the go, it ticked most of my boxes with an enormous cherry on top, an outrageously great view beyond the Marina Bay towers and out towards Sentosa Island. On this morning, I spied two cruise ships in the distant port, side by side.
There was no luggage rack immediately noticeable (built in or otherwise) which was disappointing, but cupboard and hangar space was ample for the stay. I often prefer to dump and live out of my unzipped suitcase in lieu of unpacking it. A mild irritation.
I found a safe in the closet too, quite a large one, always a welcome resource for my clutch of meagre items (mostly cash and electronic goodies). I smile when I find one, mostly out of habit, not insecurity. And better still, I prefer a lock box with a four-digit code. I’m always flummoxed when I have to contrive a six-digit passcode when jet lag reigns supreme. I’m pretty sure I don’t have a six-digit code for anything back home home and I’m damned if I’m going to break that habit in another country. Too much stress to deal with.
Work space is crucial to me, but even that pales in significance to one other thing: electric sockets. I need them.
I travel for work and with me comes enough electronic hardware to light up a factory: laptop, iPad, phones, camera (generally two), back up battery pack. You get the gist. Nothing bugs me more than when I find there are limited or no electrical plugs, especially near the desk, or by the bedside table. The Pan Pacific Singapore had not such issues. A massive tick.
And trailing close behind, nearly neck and neck, is my need for internet access. This too was provided complimentary with my stay.
I swivelled my focus to the king-sized bed. It was alluring, delicious, huge. Beautifully set against a soft, panelled wall that had a distinct neutral, yet Asian theme. Like immovable papyrus panels lit my warm wall lights.
I love a big bed. It has to be soft. Warm. A giant workstation that I can crash in. I can put my laptop beside me. A book. A phone. A newspaper. I can drift off and relinquish myself to sleep, but when I wake up, everything will be just as it was. Barely a crease in the sheets. A well-earned slumber that was only possible from space and comfort.
These are the little things that matter. To me.
When people say, “It’s like a hotel bathroom,” they do so for a reason because it carries connotations of being lavish and plush and often over the top. As travellers, we forget that we spend a very large percentage of our hotel time in our bathrooms which is why space matters in this room. So do the accessories.
The Pan Pacific Singapore does not cut corners here. The premium Hans Grohe fittings, the marble surrounds, the fresh white robes and towels, and rain shower completing the “hotel bathroom” feel. The “home-away-from-home” we all yearn for.I loved the glass window pane above the bath tub. It made the studio brighter and that much more spacious and inviting. I took a bubble bath and watched the flat-screen TV in the lounge with the integrated speaker volume up and the lights off. It was really soothing and regenerative.
The Little Bits That Count
I’m not a giant mini-bar user (especially with prohibitively expensive prices!) but this one was fully computerized and automated, apart from being well stocked and very cold: Asahi, Heineken and Tiger beer; tonic, juice and Perrier; Bombay Sapphire gin, Smirnoff Vodka, Bacardi rum; Snickers, M&Ms, Twix and an Alpen bar. I did, however, dip into the slightly less fattening complimentary fruit bowl.
The Dining Experience
“Embark on a diverse culinary experience at Pan Pacific Singapore,” the hotel likes to boast and they are not far wrong: innovative dining concepts, award winning restaurants, a massive, full length 44-metre lobby bar and a gourmet marketplace are but a few of the treats on offer.
Han Tien Lo
The Pan Pacific Singapore is renown for its choice of food and if there is one restaurant that leads the charge, it is the superb, award-winning Han Tien Lo. Here you find the best traditional Cantonese dining with a contemporary twist. The chefs still dip into age-old recipes to produce classic dishes, but their modern spin has got the food pundits calling it ‘new Cantonese’ cuisine.
Leading the foray is Master Chef Lai Tong Ping whom I had the great pleasure of being cooked for and served by. A medley of outstanding dishes from dim sum, double-boiled soup, Peking duck and a modern spin on the “Trio of Treasures” and “Lobster in Lemon Butter Sauce”.
- Location: Level 3
- Seating: 180
- Private dining: Room for 20 guests, 4 private dining rooms (10 guests each); 4 semi-private dining rooms (8 guests)
- Lunch: 12:00pm to 02:30pm (daily)
- Dinner: 06:30pm to 10:30p (daily)
Edge presents an engaging gastro-tainment dining experience and a culinary tour of Singapore, the region and the Pacific Rim. Seven ‘live’ food theatres present a la minute cuisine which include a variety of delectable Asian and Pacific cuisines – including Chinese, Malay, Indian, Singaporean, Japanese and Pan Pacific’s signature “Pacific Cuisines”. A self-serve dining concept, diners are invited to explore the live food theatres to interact with the chefs and take their pick from an extensive choice of almost 120 dishes and 35 desserts that are available. For the ultimate indulgence, Sunday Champagne Brunch is a convivial event with traditional roasts, crustacean on ice, freshly-made pasta, a grill, 30 types of cheese and 20 varieties of dessert.
- Location: Level 3
- Seating: 298
- Private dining: Room for 14 guests
- Website: www.edgefoodtheatre.com
- Breakfast: 06:00am to 10:30am
- Lunch: 12:00pm to 02:30pm (daily)
- Makan Makan: 12:00pm to 04:00pm (Saturdays only)
- Sunday Champagne Brunch: 12:00pm to 04:00pm (Sundays only)
- Dinner: 06:30pm to 10:30p (daily)
Renowned for the use of seasonal delicacies air-flown from Japan, Keyaki provides authentically prepared and immaculately presented traditional Japanese cuisine. These include sashimi, teppanyaki, kaiseki, omakase and more. Perched on level 4 of the hotel and surrounded by a beautifully sculpted Japanese garden and koi pond, this elegant venue provides an authentic setting for Chef Hiroshi Ishii’s exquisite cuisine.
- Location: Level 4
- Seating: 146
- Private Dining: One private Tatami room (six persons): one private Western dining room (10 persons); one semi-private dining room (eight persons); four outdoor tables (seating four persons each)
- Lunch: 12:00pm to 2.30pm daily
- Dinner: 6.30pm to 10:30pm daily
Located in the heart of the lobby, Atrium presents a curated collection of craft beers, boutique wines and spirits. Guests can enjoy a bespoke cocktail at the dramatic 44-metre (144 feet) long bar or have an intimate tête-à-tête at a private pod floating over a reflection pool.
- Location: Ground floor
- Seating: 207
- Pods: 16 pods (holding a total of 132 persons)
- Living Room: seats 48
- Front & Back Bar Counters: seats 24
- 10:00am to 01:00am (Sunday to Thursday)
- 10:00am to 02:00am (Friday & Saturday)