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
I had a sombre mood before I checked into my flight on route to the Intercontinental Bangkok. I had purposely planned my Bangkok trip to fall on the 30th day, after the much-loved King Bhumibol Adulyadej had died. I expected the city to be in mourning. I wanted to share my respects too. 30 days was the accepted time for restraint and reverence.
Thailand holds a dear spot close to my heart. We have a lot of history together. Even with the new king in waiting, Maha Vajiralongkor.
Maha Vajiralongkor was a client of mine from London days when he was the dapper Crown Prince. My family ran an upmarket interior design and gift business on the Kings Road in Chelsea, London. His wife, the Crown Princess, loved visiting us. I would lock the doors and give them (and their massive entourage of dark-suited diplomats and security guards) exclusive access to all four floors of the building, whilst they went shopping for the palace. And trust me they did! The process was fascinating.
Returning to Thailand evokes many memories for me. It is more than just a pleasure. I genuinely love the country. I love the people and their culture.
I didn’t take the Skytrain this time. I had too many bags to jostle through the turnstiles of the Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS as “rot fai fa”). I opted for a hotel limo to drop me at the Intercontinental Bangkok where I was greeted by a hanging poster of the late King. It was draped and framed in black and white material, a reminder that the hotel was in tune with the mood of the country too. In fact most of Bangkok was in the same vein of mourning,.
An officious white-gloved guard whistled us to a stop outside the lobby, as if this was his only purpose on the planet or he’d shoot you. I jest. That is all part of the culture and ritual that I love here in Thailand. I always tip my hand and salute to uniformed personnel, out of custom and respect. They never forget you when you do.
The lobby of the Intercontinental Bangkok is not imposing, though giant columns lend themselves to a feeling of power. It feels busy. Too busy.
To the right, there are ascending stairs to the first floor with an overlooking balcony. To the left is an almost unnoticeable, small concierge rest area with few seats. It has no real defining area, except for a few shelves with boxes and a standard lamp providing a zone of demarcation.
Beside it, to the right, you find stairs, only this time leading down to the lower street level and the Theo Mio restaurant and Grossi Trattoria & Wine Bar. And there is the Balcony Lounge and not too far from that, the check-in desk with a plethora of bronze colours and shapes. Above is a giant circular ceiling light that radiates golden light. It seems more becoming of a cruise ship or a ball room, than a hotel lobby. On the floor directly below it is a padded circular seat on a large round carpet. People fill the voids like scurrying ants. Some resting. Others just passengers on route. It is active but not frenetic
It is “very Thailand”.
I’m getting use to Intercontinental hotels. I like them. The check-in process is swift as we exchange details and my bags traffic themselves via a bellhop to my room. This time I’m not jet lagged. But I am in a hurry. I have a meeting within the hour. I need to do what I call a “Batman change”. Finding my room is imperative. I don’t need hassle or obstacles.
Predictably, the Intercontinental offers none.
I swiftly reach my room and swipe my electronic key card. Before I nudge open the door, I sigh. I have this familiar “welcome home” feeling. It’s good.
The Room – #2018
I prise open the door with my foot and head toward the window light. It’s like a magnet. As a consummate traveller, I always throw open the curtains first. I want to know where I am. I’ll be living out of a suitcase, devoid of my creature comforts from home. This centres and placates me.
At the Intercontinental Bangkok I’m in for a treat. When I prise open the sheer curtains a swath of skyscape unfurls before me, the Bangkok I know and love. It could be reminiscent of Dubai or Tel Aviv, miles of concrete towers popping up with no discernible break in the pattern. The evening sunlight glints warm off the sun-bleached concrete and sky rise cladding. It is soothing.
Inside my Grande Deluxe Suite there is a preponderance of earthy, brown colours from the mirrored cupboard doors to the patterned carpet. A long bank of built-in drawers run full length with its doors cut in a chevron pattern according to the wood grain direction. One of the cupboards hid the mini bar, which slid quite easily if you tried to open the door (a sign that it was not very heavy and therefore empty!).
On top of one these sets of drawers was a kind of recessed nook with metal runners on the furniture and wall to house and protect your suitcase. Very useful. I’m not a fan of the fold-out luggage racks.
I immediately used it.
A small glass desk jutted out from the wall, out of which emanated multiple plug and phone sockets (pre-configured for international travellers that don’t have adaptors). A love seat was positioned the opposite side, to the right of the window. In front was a small, round coffee table with a welcome fruit platter.
In keeping with the tones, even the king-size bed had a fawn coloured runner edged in a darker brown trim with a spiralling foliage pattern. At its foot lay a soft, padded stool. Two side tables stood either side of the mattress with thin dark legs; ample space for the glass ball lights, and the odd phone and message pad. The bed head was a giant feature in itself with long, beige rectangular leather padded tiles that ran to the ceiling. This was framed in a rather bold silver frame. A thin, colourful rectangular print ran the width the bed.
The hallway cupboard offered ample hanging space and of course, the trusty safe for securing personal belongings.
I loved the overall feel of the room. It was neither large or small. It was adequate for my short stay. My schedule was punishing and the bed became my best friend when I just wanted to crash and put my feet up.
The bedroom feels like a subdued and mellow room, but wait until you see the bathroom. This is “in-your-face” ornate with bold yellowy-white and terracotta veined marble that makes you nod your head and purr. It is not decadent, but it is warming and inviting.
There is a walk-in shower and separate bath tub. I used both. And there were towels and robes in abundance, along with the bathroom shower gel, shampoo and body lotion accessories. Big ticks all around.
The Club Intercontinental
This was the 4th Club Intercontinental I had visited in a week and without question the one with the most impressive view. You are literally parked up against a window on the 37th floor, staring down at a racetrack. I couldn’t help wonder if it was the most expensive real estate in town! With a 9-hole golf course in the middle!
There are two definitive eating areas beyond the business section: the main buffet dining room with larger tables. This had a city view and quite a few tables. Or you could choose the quieter, smaller, elliptical windowed area with tables for two.
I opted for the latter because it was more secluded. From my eagle’s eye perch, in the safety of the club dining area, I could stare down on Bangkok for hours. There was so much to digest. It was like a giant poster of “Where’s Waldo” except I couldn’t find Waldo.
The club buffet was perfectly ample, nothing over the top. More of a sampling of choices. I have groomed myself to eat lean: smoked salmon, cold cuts, salad, muesli with yoghurt. Some fresh fruit. A little bit of cheese. I could have ordered more substantial food, but I was overly content to hover over my coffee and keep the waistline under control. I never needed more than what was on offer and it was totally within the Club Intercontinental concept that I was warming to more and more.
The Club Intercontinental Privileges
Guests have the opportunity to enjoy the following services and facilities:
- Private check-in and check-out services at Club InterContinental Lounge
- Daily fruits refreshment
- Complimentary pressing of two items per stay
- Complimentary one-hour usage per day of the meeting room at Club InterContinental Lounge
- Complimentary local landline telephone calls
- Complimentary high-speed internet connection
- iPad available for use at Club InterContinental Lounge
- Personalised Concierge and Business Services at Club InterContinental Lounge
A lot of the guest indulgence revolves around the elegantly appointed Club Lounge with its impeccable and noticeably high standard of Thai hospitality. It is also open from 6am to 11pm where guests enjoy:
- Refreshment bar
- Indoor seating in full air-conditioned comfort with a beautiful sunset view
- Local & international newspapers, business & lifestyle magazines
- Fully equipped meeting room
The Pool and Gym
If you whizz up to the top of the Intercontinental Bangkok you’ll find the small pool area with a bar cabana. Expect to find panoramic views of Bangkok, especially good at dusk when the sun sets.
There are sun lounges and towels for pool guests and though I only visited once, it was quite busy and mostly used for refreshing dips rather than exercise. If you wanted a work out, you headed to the lower gym below which was not your average health club, but certainly housed enough gear to work up a sweat and keep you toned on the road.
My Favourite Dining Areas
Here’s a little secret and a massive dichotomy: I’m not a big fan of eating in hotels. But I do like to stay in them (a lot). I just feel that eating in a hotel is somewhat lazy and unimaginative when there is so much more choice out there. If you’re going to visit a country, then do just that – visit it.
Don’t hibernate in your hotel!
I’m more of an explorer. I like to get out and “do as the Romans do in Rome”. To hunt down where the locals hang. But this trip has completely re-written my text book on travel dining logic, particularly in Bangkok and it begins squarely with Theo Mio.
Theo Mio has become my favourite restaurant in Bangkok which is like a slap in the face to my love of Thai food. I didn’t go to Bangkok to eat Italian, but I did. Twice. At the same joint.
Theo Mio is the brain child of award winning chef Theo Randall. It is a modern street-front Italian kitchen located on the ground floor of the Intercontinental Bangkok which straddles the Phloen Road and what would normally be a rather uninspiring view of concrete and people; there are lots of both. Yet Theo Mio breathes life into this corner with its bold glass frontage and external terrace edged with carefully planted shrubs and topiary trees. Turquoise umbrellas and blue padded chairs add colour to this little garden enclave which is mirrored inside by gigantic ficus trees in dark ceramic planters. The black and white mezzanine floor adds even more authenticity to the Italian kitchen concept, along with the baskets and bread racks, the dangling salami meat and the blackboard menus.
The feel is definitely bright and airy. Quite intimate with its open-kitchen plan and seating choices. I loved the studded bench seating that ran uninterrupted around the windows as well as the little touches of throw cushions. Even the limited number of bar stools lent themselves to the cucina experience as you gawped at the busy chefs whipping fresh produce into action.
The Carpaccio di Manzo was a game winner with its thinly sliced beef filet, toasted pine nuts, wild rocket and large parmesan shavings. It was supposed to come with aged balsamic vinegar and Puglian olive oil but after a quick rummage around the rocket leaves I was compelled to call for some (or extra).
On two occasions, I ordered the gorgeous traditional Ligurian Trofie al Pesto Genovese with fresh pesto, potato and green beans. And I stole mouthfuls of the Risotto con Gamberoni e Zucchini (prawn risotto) and the Pappardelle con Ragu di Guancia (ribbon pasta with slow cooked wagu beef cheeks) from my paying guests. Thumbs up all around.
When coffee time beckoned, a thin slab of chocolate accompanied it, served on a chopping board with a bronze hammer to smash it. Clever. Memorable.
The wine choice was excellent and the atmosphere lively and I have to say, the service was brilliant. I barely had to look parched before my glass was topped up.
From antipasti to pizza, the choice is spot on. Prices are as expected for a hotel but nothing outrageous either. Pretty much what’s you’d expect to pay for good Italian fare.
Seats: 62 seats (main dining); 32 seats (terrace)
Open: 11:30 to 23:30 (daily); 11:30 to 14:00 (weekend brunch)
Address: 973 Phloen Chit Road, Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330
Telephone: +66 (0) 2 656 0444
Website: Theo Mio website
Fireplace Grill & Bar
The Fireplace Grill & Bar is the Intercontinental Hotel’s legendary steakhouse that has fed carnivores with its superior grilled meats since 1966. The flair and style is very French with starters like escargots (French snails) to frog legs, roasted bone marrow, beef cheek, foie gras, beef tartar and even Osetra Caviar Prestige for the slightly more financially cash flushed. Not to be outdone, seafood is thrown in for good measure. Try the “From The Sea” sharing platter and get stuck into the oysters, Alaskan King Crab legs, Maine Lobster, prawns and green lip mussels from New Zealand.
The main courses are equally impressive: pan fried scallops, duck a l’orange, duet of wagyu lamb, and prime rib (served with Yorkshire pudding, just to make the poms feel at home). In fact Wagyu leads the menu on the grill, followed by the tried and tested Black Angus steak.
The wine menu boats an equally impressive range of French wines and champagnes, though the Italians and new world varietals do get a look-in too.
The restaurant is timelessly classic with distinct modern touches and an open-kitchen design. All the action happens around the centre-mounted charcoal grill for true culinary theatre.
Open: 12:00 to 14:30 hours (lunch daily); 18:30 to 22:30 hours (dinner daily)
Telephone: +66 (0) 2 656 0444 ext. 5505
Website: Fireplace Grill & Bar website
Location of the Intercontinental Bangkok
The Intercontinental Bangkok could not be more perfectly located, being in the Rathchaprasong district, one of most pre-eminent business and commercial areas in the city. You are a stone’s throw away from the Erawan Shrine and walking distance to all the major shopping centres like MBK, Siam Paragon and Centralworld. If you’re smart, use the covered walkway that follows the route of the Skytrain. It is right outside the hotel and helps you avoid the endless traffic lights and intersections.
- Adjacent to Chidlom BTS Skytrain Station
- 25 KMs from Suvarnabhumi Airport
- 40 minutes by car via Express Way from Suvarnabhumi International Airport
- 20 minutes via Airport City Line from Suvarnabhumi International Airport to Phaya Thai BTS Skytrain
- 3 stops from Phraya Thai BTS Station to Chidllom Station
- 20 KMs from Don Muang International Airport
- 30 minutes via Express Way from Don Muang International Airport
Final Words from the Walking Critic
I have stayed in well over 20 hotels in Bangkok and it annoys me that I have not looked at the Intercontinental Bangkok before, because it ticked all the boxes.
The room was sizeable, modern and well furnished. The bed was amazingly comfortable. It had the right number of electrical outlets for charging my phone, lap top and cameras, all at the same time. The bathroom was wonderfully spacious and I pretty much wanted for nothing. Room service was done without me even noticing.
Location was a huge major plus….and I can’t underline this enough. A huge plus.
The Skywalk is right outside the hotel lobby with all major shopping centres in walking distance (do take comfy shoes). The night life and markets are equally close by, and I barely used a taxi (or tuk tuk) during my whole stay.
Price-wise, the Intercontinental Bangkok sits on the edge of the comfort zone for the budget-minded but totally on par with other “international brand” hotel chains. I would easily recommend this hotel for both for tourists, because of its proximity to shopping and tourist attractions. And as for the business traveller, it is a total winner, especially if you go for the Club Intercontinental experience. I was able to work and enjoy my time in Bangkok without flinching. It has completely whet my appetite for more Intercontinental hotel experiences.
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