Move over New York and Paris. A raft of new five star hotels points the way to the hip and happening cities of Asia including Tokyo, Beijing and Shanghai.
THE PENINSULA TOKYO
Well-dressed, and whisper-quiet Tokyo ladies chat patiently as their queue snakes down the grand staircase of the brand-spanking The Peninsula Tokyo. Swirls of topiary pebbles form a distinctive Japanese karensansui pattern at the stairwell base, and an elegant ESPA Spa ‘playground’ and uber trendy indoor pool and gym complex sit ready for action at its zenith, all exotic aromas and the promise of fine pampering to come. Nearby, the lobby is alive with an ambience you could sink your teeth into. These women will do just that when they enjoy a hotel tradition worth waiting for - Afternoon Tea at ‘The Pen’.
Five star hotels create interest wherever they open. Tokyo being Tokyo, the effect is extreme, measured in queues for their restaurants and bars, a word-of-mouth buzz that sweeps certain quarters of the city, and much anticipated publicity. Being a Peninsula hotel, the expectation is high, and so far the buzz is addictive - even local tour operators feel compelled to point out the recently opened hotel as a noteworthy city landmark: a well-designed and cleverly executed one at that.
For the technologically/designer minded, the guest experience at The Peninsula Tokyo is supreme - from sink-into soft beds in each of the 314 rooms and suites, to the ‘easy-as’ in-room technology that at the push of a button opens curtains, turns on and off appliances, and dim all or some of your room lights. Even the loos, (yes, the loos), open, then flush, and finally re-close their lids all at the appropriate time - without need for human touch. All rooms feature spacious walk-in robes, and to-die-for bathrooms (complete with two sinks, over-large baths, and spa music and mood lighting at the touch of a button).
Everywhere, the hotel has set exacting standards: flat screen TVs, wireless computer connections, The Peninsula Privacy button, and even a fingernail dryer are standard in every room. The 24-storey building, that overlooks the Imperial Palace Gardens in the financial district of Marunouchi, is an aesthetic design feat shaped to represent a Chinese lantern - and only a hop-skip-and-jump from the Ginza shopping district.
All staff add a warm flavour: doors are swept open for you with a well-timed ‘Welcome to The Peninsula’ or ‘Welcome Back.’ This is ‘nothing is impossible’ territory, and from a guest perspective the level of service is addictive.
But if there is one thing Tokyo has a grip on in 2007/8, it is exceedingly good food, and here ‘The Pen’ excels. Peter, the exciting top floor restaurant offers 360-degree views of the city, has an exciting and ever-changing interior that steals design elements from theatre, film, and the catwalk, yet Chef de Cuisine Patrice Martina never takes his eyes of the main game - superb quality food. Favourites include warm marinated Brittany lobster and Japanese matsutake. Spare a night (or two) for a drink in the lounge bar. Elsewhere, the traditional Hie Fungi Terrace offers Cantonese cuisine, and guests can breakfast, lunch and dine in the Lobby as well.
Beyond the hotel, Tokyo offers a myriad of truly international dining experiences: recently relocated Nob, bustling Gynarchy, and Luke Magnan’s own ‘aussi-vescent’ Salt. Recently released, the inaugural Michelin Guide Tokyo 2008 (released November 2007), awards a total of 191 stars to local dining establishments, more than any city in the world. (See a full report in Global Gourmet in our Spring Edition.)
Shoppers should take a peak at Rippongi Midtown and xxxxxx. All the major brands are here in Tokyo. Armani himself swanned through the Lobby while I visited, on the way to open his latest super-store. With The Peninsula’s own ‘Rolls’ waiting to take him downtown, no doubt he jumped the queue for Afternoon Tea. MK
LUXE LIST: Rooms at The Peninsula Tokyo start from xxxxx. For more details contact +813 6270 2888, or www.thepeninsula.com
SOFITEL WANDA BEIJING
French-owned Accor has recently opened its flagship five star hotel in China - the Sofitel Wanda Beijing - embracing a blend of both Tang Dynasty and modern French style. Located on the Jianguo Road, with close proximity to the World Trade Centre, and easy access to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square the hotel is suited to both business and leisure travellers.
Beijing, in the lead up to the 2008 Olympics, has transformed rapidly. Whole city precincts have been landscaped and ’greened’ apparently overnight, memorable and provocative architectural structures including ’The Water Cube’ have been revealed, and top quality hotels have been either preened and primped, or built from scratch.
Constructed to meet modern expectations of the highest calibre, the 27-storey 417 room and suite Sofitel property also has a Club Sofitel executive lounge.
The hotel’s signature restaurant, Le Pre Lenotre, and head chef de cuisine Frederic Maynard, bring a Parisian style and quality to city diners.
The Sofitel Wanda Beijing will be the launch pad for ’LeSpa at Sofitel’ in China, using Lancôme products and ancient Chinese wellness treatments. MK
Rates at the Sofitel Wanda Beijing start from RMB 1600 per night, (AUS xxx). For bookings, +86 10 8599 6666, www.accor.com
While Tokyo might be blessed with myriad five star hotel options the imposing Conrad Hilton stands out from the crowd. With a lofty presence 37 floors above the Shiodome business district, this 2005 addition to the Hilton contemporary luxury stable deserves its award-winning reputation as one of Tokyo‚s top spots to stay. Within walking distance of the up-scale shopping and entertainment district of Ginza, the Conrad towers above the historic Hamarikyu gardens, Tsukiji market and Tokyo Bay.
The hotel is a masterpiece of contemporary elegance, comfort and style. In a city known for its lack of space where hotels offer sleeping pods as rooms, Conrad‚s phenomenally generous proportions are a wonder. From first footfall onto the plush silk carpet of the hotel’s spectacular 28th floor lobby, the immense ceiling heights are a statement in scale and grandeur. The spacious theme continues throughout the hotel with each of the 290 guest rooms a minimum size of 48sq. metres and the bathrooms capable of accommodating cocktail parties. Full-length picture windows maximise the panoramic views of the gardens and bay that are spectacular by night and even more beautiful by day.
The hotel entrance, lobby, hallways and private rooms house an extensive collection of works featuring Japanese artists. As an integral part of the hotel‚s design, the artworks were commissioned from twenty-three of Japan‚s leading master craftsmen and artists and add a subtle subtext of modern creativity to the hotel.
The hotel is also home to some of Tokyo’s finest restaurants. Conrad’s China Blue Restaurant was recently awarded a star in the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2008. Chef Albert Tse serves authentic Cantonese cuisine with modern flair and China Blue boasts an eight metre high wine cellar and three private dining rooms. Open for dinner and lunch diners enjoy the splendid vista over the Hamarikyu Gardens and Tokyo Bay.
Renowned international chef, Gordon Ramsay, made his first foray into Asia with the modern French restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at Conrad Tokyo. Again featuring the floor to ceiling windows the restaurant affords spectacular city views and features a Chef‚s table in front of the open kitchen. The more casual brasserie, Cerise by Gordon Ramsay, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and delicious Japanese cuisine is on offer at Kazahana.
For relaxation and fitness the Conrad treats its guests with the luxurious Mizuki Spa, offering Tokyo‚s only true Hinoki Bath. The impressive 25-metre indoor lap pool overlooks the modern urban landscape of Shiodome while a fully equipped gymnasium; an aerobics studio, sauna and steam rooms with relaxation zone are also available.
Hilton has an established presence in Japan currently operating eight hotels there. The Tokyo Hilton in the Shinjuku district was established in 1984 and has just completed an impressive multi-million refurbishment.
Hilton recently announced its entrance into the booming Japanese ski resort market to undertake the refurbishment, re-branding and management of the former Niseko Higashiyama Prince Hotel. To be known as the Hilton Niseko Village, it will be launched on 1 July 2008. JC
Rates for Conrad Tokyo start from $720 per room per night including breakfast. For more information, www.ConradHotels.com, +81-3-6388 8000. For more information about Hilton www.hiltonworldwide.com