Mary Gostelow visits old and new in Jakarta

Hotel Indonesia Kempinski and Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta Capital Place

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The Indonesian capital has many splendid hotels, and there are several additions coming up within the next three years.  First, let us visit Jakarta’s ‘institution’, Hotel Indonesia Kempinski, built for the fourth Asian Games. It was opened on August 5th 1962 by President Soekarno (he also constructed a welcome monument in front of the hotel, with a traffic circle around it; this whole complex is called Bunderan Hi).

The main lobby of the hotel is, today, a light and glass construction, but leading off this is a maze of corridors, many lined with photos of Soekarno and dozens of the global VIPs who have graced the hotel since. This is where top people come to see, and be seen. This is still where big names get married: the main ballroom holds 3,500 which is still not big enough for some weddings (typical attendance for Jakarta’s A-list crowd can be up to 5,000). Guests are often asked to arrive at a particular time during the event, staggered to avoid congestion, and food is stand-up, apart from for the lucky VIPs assigned to seated areas.

There are 289 rooms in all. Suite 826 must surely be a favourite, as it looks down at the Bunderan Hi circle. Through 24 hours, traffic flows; interestingly, and seemingly on a whim, traffic direction can entirely, or partly change, depending on the current thinking of the policemen on duty. Quite a lot of the day-time and evening traffic is on its way to Jakarta’s largest, and most important, shopping mall, which sprawls around several six-floor open atriums (only last week, what must be one of the world’s biggest Victoria’s Secrets stores opened here).

I tried to take a walk outside the hotel but, literally, the sidewalk pavement stopped abruptly after 300 yards, and I either had to reverse or head into the mall; I chose the latter. I later found there was also direct entry and exit via the hotel’s lobby.

The mall is also connected to Kempinski Residences, which share a 17th-floor rooftop pool, and the adjacent gym, with the hotel. All this, including the mall, happens to be owned by Indonesia’s richest brothers, Budi and Michael Hartono. Michael went viral on social media a few weeks ago because, at age 78, he won Bronze (for bridge) in 2018 Asian Games and he, said to be worth double-digit US billions, came home with US$750.

The hotel is also partly owned by the Katuari family, and it is Grace Katuari who has done an outstanding job in bringing some elements of the building up to global restaurant standards. She has, for instance, replaced a restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel by a stunning Scandinavian-look Japanese, OKU.

OKU is filled to capacity all evening long, and entirely local. I was with the hotel GM Sjefke Jansen, who must surely have made the reservation soon after he arrived from St Petersburg five months ago (foodie hotel guests should definitely book a table and room, at the same time).

As local connoisseurs know, Kazumasa Yazawa’s food is exquisite, with such tastes as buta pork belly salad, and a savoury omelette with spicy raw cod and Emmenthal. Apparently another restaurant here at the hotel, a 650-seat Paulaner Brauhaus, also runs at 100% (who says hoteliers cannot run restaurants?). On our way out, after dinner, we looked in on a high school prom ball being held in a smaller ballroom, the 800-person oval room. When I left the following morning that area had metamorphosed into photos of mountains and young blondes in dirndls, hosting an Austria marketing breakfast. There is always something going on at this historic hotel.

Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta Capital Place

I am often asked, ‘which is the best hotel in the world?’. Impossible to answer. Almost as difficult is the question, ‘which is the most beautiful hotel in the world?’, but at least one contender would be the still-new Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta Capital Place.

From top to bottom, the luxury of space and attention to detail make this entire 20-floor building a thing of beauty. One of the first things GM Christian Poda wanted to do on my arrival (by a mile-long private road, built by the hotel’s owner to avoid Jakarta’s correctly notorious traffic) was to show it – the hotel – off.  The exterior is a steel and glass rectangular sculpture-shape by Cesar Pelli. Bill Bensley landscaping includes his signature animal sculptures amid ballet-like trees around the fifth floor outside pool, and all interiors are Alexandra Champalimaud, star of all YTL hotels, the redone Raffles Singapore and so many more.

Champalimaud’s talent includes an almost unmatched eye for colour. All 125 units here are suites, from 63 square metres up. Suite 1609 is best described as a subtle silver-grey palette, which includes full-height panels of modern chinoiserie, delicate chrysanthemums on a shiny silver background.

In public areas, however, Champalimaud has gone for a riot of colour, plus height and light. The lobby’s ceiling is 13 metres high, with Lasvit chandeliers from Prague. A grand staircase, leading down from meeting rooms, has 27 wide stairs covered in beige carpeting with occasional gentian flowers (high over, a moulded cream cornice features Indonesian spices, in relief).

Several rooms lead off the lobby, which is itself seating-free. A library, open 24/7 for residents, has comfy seating, and hardbacks include Dictionary of Clinical Cardiology standing next to a tome on Cartography. Look up, and the ceiling here is malachite, with criss-crosses of gold leaf.

The library is flanked by a nook of a bar and by the aptly named Palm Court, with a hemispherical ceiling which soars to 15 metres. Seating here is bottle-green, and includes porters’ chairs with hoodie-type backs. Go out from Palm Court, which is all-day dining, to its tiled courtyard garden (Bill Bensley), with towering palms and a glassed-in conservatory called Orchid Court, because that is what it is filled with.

Bill Bensley also designed some outré chairs for the outside terrace to the 20th-floor, dinner-only Alto restaurant, where the interior has deep persimmon walls. Yes, I was told, this is the best Italian food in town. Christian Poda and I both had his favourite dish, Straccetti al Porcini – freeform pasta with porcini, and oodles of truffle parmigiano cream (his preferred accompanying wine, Tignanello 2012, was a perfect match).

The chef, Marco Riva, was everywhere in this thoughtfully attentive hotel. He was there at dinner, and at breakfast down in Palm Court, supervising the first appearance of a buffet that, today, successfully evolved from what had until now been one long table to several different venues. No, he did not bring my room service lunch trolley, though I am sure he personally prepared the caprese of soft cheeses and green and red, tomatoes – and was it he who had suggested sending up rosemary flavoured iced tea? Marco Riva was certainly there, by the lobby’s tea salon, when I later checked out.

Oh that salon, another venue of exquisite beauty, with mustard chairs in front of displays of cake boxes in soft gelato colours, pistachio and rose. High above is yet another crystal chandelier, and as I walked out I noticed a bough-shaped chocolate confection on which playing cards are affixed. This is an absolutely gorgeous hotel, with endless touch points, many of them delightfully whimsical.

Lead image: Hotel Indonesia Kempinski

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