Imagine looking out at the vast views of Hong Kong from the Ozone Bar on the 118th floor, or from the 116th floor of the Club Lounge, or even from your room on the 117th floor of The Ritz Carlton Hotel. Since it’s the tallest hotel in the world, you might as well be seeing Kowloon, the New Territories or the whole of Hong Kong on a Google satellite map.
The original Ritz Carlton Hotel opened in Central, Hong Kong, in 1993 and closed its doors in 2008.
Three years later, The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong reopened as the tallest hotel in the world. It is strategically located on the prestigious West Kowloon waterfront.
Occupying floors 102 to 118 of the International Commerce Center (ICC), the hotel offers direct connections to the Hong Kong International Airport in just 20 minutes via the Airport Express from Kowloon Station, and to Central Hong Kong in 5 minutes via the MTR’s (subway) Tung Chung Line.
Unlike the original and more traditional Old World Ritz Carlton in Central, the new Ritz Carlton at ICC is modern and very much inspired by Hong Kong’s dynamic culture of power and wealth, old and new.
A luxurious high-ceiling lobby with Hong Kong Island’s skyline as backdrop greets you as you enter the hotel from the (9th floor) driveway. In just 52 seconds, any of six high-speed elevators takes visitors to the lobby on the 103rd floor.
The entire hotel articulates a modern East-meets-West design throughout, expressed in the most luxurious materials imaginable. The paintings, sculptures and large murals have all been commissioned from top artists. I was particularly amused by the hanging red crystal balls in a glass enclosure next to the elevator lobby on the 103rd floor. They sway when there is building movement.
Hong Kong may not be as prone to earthquakes as, say, Tokyo but it is in the path of tropical storms. Last August, typhoon signal No. 8 was up in Hong Kong (equivalent to signal No. 2 in Manila); but tall structures such as this hotel are prepared to withstand such natural forces.
The famous Toscana Restaurant at The Ritz Carlton Central (which closed as well in 2008), then under the baton of now three-star Michelin chef Umberto Bombana of Otto e Mezzo fame, has reopened as Tosca with the appointment of two-star Michelin chef Pino Lavarra.
Diners can expect an authentic Southern Italian menu that takes classical ingredients and presents them in contemporary and innovative ways. It is not uncommon to find Nouvelle French Cuisine, but Italian Nouvelle Cuisine is quite uncommon even with the proliferation of the best restaurants in Hong Kong.
All the flavors are familiar, but the presentation and preparation are very different. The pesto sauce in the pasta, for example, is made from a basil reduction. A combination of molecular gastronomy, some traditional techniques and good-hearted fun are the hallmarks of Chef Pino’s cuisine.
Though I must admit being a hard-core Bordeaux aficionado, I thoroughly enjoyed the pairings of the Italian wines with Chef Pino’s creations. All the wines were excellent on their own, but tasted even better with the paired dishes.
Tosca’s Wine and Champagne List is as deep and as wide as it can get. The restaurant’s hallways are lined with the most stellar vintages from the best vineyards from all over the world. I heard that the 1982 Chateau Petrus double magnum that sells for HK$1 million (US$129,000) actually moves!
Tin Lung Heen
This two-star Michelin restaurant by chef Paul Lau presents authentic Cantonese food at its best. Lau is regarded an expert in Chinese culinary arts, with over 34 years of experience in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Dubai and the United Kingdom. His cuisine is grounded on traditional cooking methods using only the best ingredients, yet combining innovation, extreme refinement and restraint.
The food presentation is so refined that the food is cut to the perfect size for putting inside one’s mouth without a struggle. The finest wine and champagne pairings are also a regular feature in the restaurant. Last April, during one of our visits, it actually had Cristalle Champagne Vertical pairings. Nothing like the best champagne to wash down the grease of the Peking duck.
Char-grilled barbecued Iberian pork, crispy roasted belly, wok-fried soft-shell crab with port wine sauce, pumpkin rice, deep-fried chicken in X.O. chili sauce, drunken prawns in Huadiao wine and the chef’s signature barbecue combination are staples that hit the spot. All presented in silver flatware, bone china, damask linens that Pu Yi would approve of.
Perched on the top 118th floor, Ozone is the world’s highest bar at 490 meters above sea level. With a choice of an indoor or outdoor portion, one can enjoy the bar all year round, literally among the clouds!
Apart from its extensive collection of the best gins, vodkas and single malts, Ozone features top mixologists, one of whom is Teresa Moon. Teresa is one of the few Asian mixologists in Hong Kong. Of Korean descent, she grew up in the Canary Islands of Spain. After getting a degree in Culinary Arts from La Roche in 2010, she pursued mixology in the tapas bars of Barcelona. Her signature style, she claims, is one that is “Spanish, warm, very Mediterranean, fruity and bubbly.”
True to Teresa’s Eurasian lineage and culinary background, she has created a drinks menu that actually sounds healthy. It tastes so good that you may think it’s healthy and nonalcoholic, but prepare to change your mind after a few rounds.
This is a private dining room with a lounge seating area that overlooks the Hong Kong harbor from the 102nd floor. Here, executive chef Peter Find creates customized menus for eight persons. Wine pairings may be added as well.
Everything can be seen being prepared from the open kitchen. A minimum of three dedicated chefs are at work as guests view and await each course. Every dish is served with detailed explanations on the ingredients and cooking methods. This very bespoke experience takes private dining to a whole different level.
Spa by Espa
The Ritz Carlton Spa by Espa covers a grand 860 sq m of space on the 116th floor. Panoramic views of the Kowloon and Hong Kong skylines help to redefine the urban spa experience.
The treatment rooms are equally relaxing with their breathtaking views. It is, however, the somewhat organic oval shape of the room that puts you in a true state of calm and peace. It is as though you were back in your mother’s womb.
The collection of signature Espa treatments combine Western and Asian influences, incorporating traditional techniques and special ingredients that can be tailored to one’s needs.
Signature treatments include Lava Shell Body Treatment, Radiance Facial with Jade Stone Eye Treatment, Skin Radiance Moisturizer, Executive De-stress Treatment and Traditional Oriental Massage.
If you want the strong, deep-tissue Oriental massage, you must look for Felix Wong. He has an incredible bag of tricks to address every specific muscle pain. With his fit, taut physique, he will even literally “walk on your back” if you desire. A true master.
Pool and lounge
Located on the 118th floor, the pool area features a ceiling with a giant LCD screen that can broadcast the concerts of pop stars who might be swimming in the pools themselves, or plain-colored patterns to set the mood for guests.
The Club Lounge, meanwhile, features floor-to-ceiling windows. The very modern clubby interiors provide a perfect backdrop to enjoy martinis at the bar sitting area, or to experience the culinary distinction of the hotel’s chefs.
Staying the same
So, after all these, what has stayed the same from the original Ritz Carlton in Central?
Despite the absence of the dark mahogany wood paneling, and amid the unabashed display of luxury and wealth, The Ritz Carlton has stayed consistent to its commitment to seamless, genteel service.
The ladies in their impeccable ivory suits and pearls greet you upon entry, always ever ready to attend to your needs. The ratio of staff to guest seems high; there is always someone on hand to be of assistance even at the busiest hours. The fleet of sleek Mercedes Benz S Class and Rolls Royce Phantoms remains at your service to shuttle you anywhere.
Clearly, as The Ritz Carlton reinvents itself, it recognizes that there are certain core values that never go out of style.