BEST OF CLASS
Why Hong Kong’s Grande Dame remains in a class by herselfBy Maja Olivares-Co
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong is the embodiment of Oriental heritage, but with an eye on the future. And heritage it has, as it celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2013.
It lays claim to being the oldest established hotel on Hong Kong Island. (Peninsula Hong Kong is 85 years old, but is in the Kowloon Peninsula.)
Located in the heart of Central Hong Kong, overlooking glittering Victoria Harbor and the city skyline, it is not just a stone’s throw from the finest shopping, entertainment and business areas; it is also connected to these areas via the bridge linking the hotel’s second floor to Prince’s Building.
Much to my surprise, this soon-to-be 50-year-old low-key, low-rise building actually has 501 guest rooms and suites.
Since its opening in 1963, the hotel has had a series of facelifts up until its major renovation in 2009. What remains unchanged, however, is the Old World charm and service of its staff, from the doorman to the restaurant managers.
There are 430 spacious rooms and 71 elegant suites that offer city and harbor views. Each standard room is between 38 and 43 square meters. You have a choice between two distinct styles: the Taipan and the Verandah. The Taipan has gentle brown and tangerine tones with spacious seating and a work desk beside floor-to-ceiling windows. The Verandah was designed in light blue and cream with a daybed and a work desk that can be curtained off from the bedroom area—perfect when traveling with someone who needs to continue working while you snooze. The amenities are the same for both standard bedrooms.
The deluxe suites range from 47 to 77 sq m. The suites are all perfectly well-appointed with cotton linen sheets (it felt like 800 thread count), Hermes and Aqua di Parma bathroom products, and a pillow menu that includes goose down versions.
A valet box, otherwise known as a dumbwaiter, is provided so as not to disturb you when a message or package is delivered. I found this feature so useful, especially when traveling alone and you are in the shower when packages are delivered.
Binoculars, multilingual butlers, and even 24-hour technology butlers are available—so perfect for non-techies like myself. You come in, lay out your iPhone, Blackberry, MacBook Air and whatnot, and they connect it all for you on WiFi.
None of the six Signature Suites (approximately 80 sq m) are alike. The Deluxe Oriental Suite is an expansion and a further upgrade on the Oriental (i.e. Mandarin Oriental) vocabulary. It is very special.
The Lichfield Suite is in memory of Patrick Lichfield, the renowned photographer who was a regular guest of the hotel and the man behind the lens of Mandarin’s award-winning “He’s/She’s a Fan” advertising campaign.
The Howarth Suite is classic in the traditional English influence. The Meiji Suite, as the name suggests, has Japanese overtones. The Tamar Suite has nautical influences, while the Macau Suite is a spin-off from the Oriental idiom. The Tamar and Macau Suites have the most commanding views of Hong Kong Harbour.
The Mandarin Suite, which is the Presidential Suite, is the hotel’s most prestigious, and reflects the true opulence of the old Chinese Court combined with the latest comforts of the West. It boasts seven rooms, priceless objets d’art and double-story height windows in the living room with wraparound balconies. The suite even has its own personal spa room.
In terms of dining, the hotel has 10 food outlets, with three of the outlets awarded Michelin Stars. The Clipper Lounge at the Main Lobby is fondly referred to as “Hong Kong’s sitting room.” The breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets, and legendary afternoon teas, are known for their classically elegantly styled presentation. It has long been the place tai-tais (ladies who lunch) patronize.
Café Causette offers all-day dining and serves “comfort food”—Hainanese Chicken Rice, Nasi Goreng, The Mandarin Burger, and a congee so huge you can almost swim in it.
The Mandarin Cake Shop is known for its jewelry-style displays and beautiful cake sculptures. I was just mesmerized by the artistry. Captains Bar is a 50-year institution famous for its silver tankards (mugs). The Chinnery, tucked away on the first floor, underwent major renovation a few years back. It has a nice updated old gentleman’s club atmosphere, and only admitted women in 1990. The Chinnery also boasts 120 varieties of single malt whiskeys and counting.
M Bar prides itself in the stunning views over the harbor on Hong Kong’s skyline. Classic cocktails, champagnes and signature drinks make this place a favorite watering hole.
Mandarin Grille and Bar is where the boldest business deals have been made. The interiors designed by Terrence Conran are elegant but modern. It is where the ever-creative El Bulli-trained executive chef Uwe Opocensky serves updated classic grilled specialties with progressive gastronomy. It has retained its Michelin Star for three years.
Man Wah is where you dine in a place of Imperial splendor. Chef Man-Sing received his first Michelin Star this year for his authentic Cantonese cuisine.
The Pierre boasts stunning views, handsome interiors, impeccable intuitive refined service, and elaborate modern French cuisine deeply rooted in the French cooking tradition thereby producing extremely well-thought-through degustation dinner menus.
The grilled defatted rib-eye and misfits condiments finished in hazelnut butter truly melts in your mouth. The beef carpaccio stuffed with squid and oyster beef broth was heavenly, followed by Royale-style cepes mushroom with garlic cream and bone marrow on toast. I barely had room for the thin slices of apple cooked like a “tatin,” frangipani biscuit, red wine juice with black currant, frozen grapes and omiza gel.
My husband and I discovered a wonderful well-priced Blanc de Blanc that was crisp with a perfect balance of Pinot and Chardonnay: Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montgueux NV Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut. For the Red, we had a relatively young Bordeaux, but very smooth, no tannin and a clean finish: Chateaux Pedesclaux 2006 Pauillac. You don’t need to break the bank to complement the cuisine with good wine.
My only regret is I couldn’t go back this October for the white truffle festival with Monsieur Pierre Gagnaire himself in the kitchen.
The Krug Room has no Michelin Star, but is by all means equally spectacular. This very special room that seats only 12 has no menu. Instead, the super-creative genius Chef Uwe creates a menu just for the evening. A menu titled “Picnic” serves meals on a tablecloth of grass with lollipops of foie gras, sandwiches served as croque monsieur but with truffles inside. So beautiful! Then it’s all washed down with the largest collection of Krug champagne outside of France. One must book now for Valentine’s, since the wait list runs two to three months.
Art and spas
The Clipper Lounge is home to three annual art exhibitions in support of local artists, in partnership with top HK galleries like Amelia Johnson Contemporary. This program was started two years ago by the dynamic and energetic Nina Colls, Mandarin Oriental’s director of communications.
Last May 2012, the one-man show “I Call You Nancy” of Tang Kwok Hin, was based on the life of the artist’s fictitious sister. China is fast becoming the largest art market in the world, and HK remains at the heart of this. Rumor has it the Mandarin Oriental may be appointed as the official hotel for Art Basel Hong Kong. What a coup.
If you are unable to catch any of these exhibitions, an art tour endorsed by Art HK12 can be booked in advance. Other bespoke cultural, food and shopping tours can be arranged as well.
The all-time classic Shanghainese Pedicure, which I wrote about last July 27, 2012, (http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/59223/why-i-can-swear-by-shanghainese-pedicure), is a must. But there are also special seasonal pedicures like “Christmas PUD’icure,” wherein you enjoy mulled wine or cranberry juice while enjoying a foot bath filled with cinnamon and cranberry body wash. Once the feet have been buffed and nails shaped, your leg and foot are exfoliated using a blend of cranberry, apples, oranges, raisins, etc. All that’s missing is the eggnog!
A baby’s first haircut is a precious milestone. To immortalize this event, you’ll be given a souvenir frame containing a certificate and the very first lock of baby’s hair tied in pink or blue ribbon if you get the haircut at the Mandarin’s Barber Shop. This assures the Mandarin of their third-generation customer.
In case of emergencies, like your suitcase not arriving with you, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong can help. Three versions of the emergency kit are available—one for men, one for women and even one for children. They include undergarments, a shirt or blouse, a polo shirt, socks and even a pair of pyjamas. While guests freshen up, the concierge will call on a series of Hong Kong’s most famous tailors to come and visit them.
It has been said that it takes three generations to make a lady. At 50, the Mandarin Oriental is not only a lady, but the Grand Dame of Hong Kong.
For more information, please contact Nina Colls, director of communications, tel. (+852) 2825 4060, fax (+852) 2903 1685, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road, Central, tel. (+852) 2522 0111, fax (+852) 2810 6190, e-mail email@example.com; or visit www.mandarinoriental.com/hongkong