The RuMa Hotel & Residences (‘house’), in Kuala Lumpur, is Urban Resorts’ first hotel outside China. It came about because Malaysian developer, Datuk Lai Siew Wah, stayed at Urban Resorts’ The PuLi in Shanghai and, like so many who visit the resort, he loved it; he wanted a luxury hotel just like it. RuMa is a celebration of Malaysia past and present. Entering the hotel, guests walk past six antique wood columns. The ante-lobby is reminiscent of entering a mine. Go further into the main lobby and enter the Grand Salon, which has a copper ceiling wrapped down to the walls. A highlight appears on the 27 curved stairs from the Salon up to the restaurant, where a full-size kebaya dress, by local artist Bernard Chandran catches the eye. The kebaya is formed entirely of real-gold butterfly shapes, each three centimetres long.
The designers, MQ from Shanghai, working in tandem with Urban Resorts’ ultra-creative CEO Markus Engel, deliberately set out to make this 250-room hotel – which also has 200 residences – the kind of home that any global Malaysian aesthete could enjoy. Yes, this imagined person might well collect tea sets. See the display behind the Salon’s long, low counter: the equivalent of front desk-meets-concierge. To one side of the Salon is a Library, with an eclectic collection of old and new books, with such tomes as Street Food Asia, Life is Meals, 100 Million Years of Food and a big book simply called Fashion. Upstairs, bedrooms are sleek, edgy. Black Venetian blinds seem to permanently cover the windows, washbasins are black-wrapped copper and bronze and hemispherical in shape. Toiletries are bespoke, the espresso machine is a simple Nespresso.
This is a hotel for the fit. The sixth floor is partly exposed, along one side, to the elements, forming a giant terrace, with a 30-metre pool cantilevered over the void and its black-base interior rising to gold. There is an excellent 24/7 Technogym here, and, discreetly reached around the back via a bush-lined walkway, the five-room UR SPA with kelarai screen walls and ceiling. Had there been time, I would have gone for the 90-minute UR A Goddess to combat city life, stress and pollution, but I was really happy with a 30-minute warming back, neck and shoulder treatment. Guys can also opt for a Trufitt&Hill shave, from the London operation that goes back to 1808.
The food here is absolutely modern. Enter the all-day Atas (‘upstairs’) past a flower display that is one of the few bursts of colour in this luxury hotel. The restaurant stretches over several rooms; chairs are Peranakan rattan, tables have white marble tops from Ipoh, or brown marble, from Al Petra. The Canadian chef, Tyson Gee, came from Park Hyatt Melbourne. From the A3-size, hard-backed menu, which offers Snacks, Starters, Charcoal oven and Accompaniment dishes, I chose heirloom tomatoes from Cameron Highlands with whipped tofu, basil and salted plum dressing. This was followed by Saltgrass Australian lamb shoulder rolled with ginger torch blossom, garnished with slivers of cucumber and radish and a side of foraged fiddlehead ferns with dark soy and crispy shallots. The wines were French, Alain Geoffrey 2017 Petit Chablis and Tannat Cabernet Franc 2014 Gran Fiesta Madiran. It was a suitably stylish international meal, while also highlighting the best of Malaysia.
It is always a joy to find a luxury hotel where its on-site boss is so passionate it is tempting to imagine that person owning it. This is certainly the case at Four Seasons Hotel and Residences Kuala Lumpur. GM Tom Roelens was nurturing the 209-room hotel for about a year before it opened on 30 June 2018. The day I was there he had just heard the good news that Bar Trigona, named for Malaysian bees, has won yet another award. Already deemed the best bar at the AHEAD Asia awards in Singapore this March, two months later it won the Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award 2019. Yes, this has been a good year for Roelens, boosted by a tremendous opening party that apparently had every one of the Royals from Malaysia’s seven states. Other elements help this hotel, too: it looks good.
Restaurants and bars are designed by AB Concepts. The all-day CurATE features dozens of oversized glass butterflies suspended from the ceiling; these are complemented by real flowers on the buffet stations below. The overall effect of these flowers is that customers invariably take several images before helping themselves to food. We actually dined à la carte in the Lounge, starting with a surprise that was brought personally, with a big smile, by chef Junious Bickerson, who had previously been in the Maldives. He carried out, with great glee, his first-ever presentation of Malay caviar, TLUR, named for the Malay word for egg, ‘telur’. As we proceeded to cod ceviche, which went remarkably – and surprisingly – well with Haut-Brion’s 2014 Clarendelle, specially labelled for the hotel, Tom Roelens shared how the bar’s team, led by Ashish Sharma, uses local honey instead of sugar for its specialty Trigona Old Fashioned.
The corridors and bedrooms are soft-hued, by Wilson & Associates. #1201, a 116-square-metre Ambassador Suite, had walls of pale grey fabric or smudged marble-look glass and the entrance foyer wall was bedecked with 3D grey ceramic rose heads. I added another ingredient to my personal Luxury Monitor: wooden coat hangers that are satin-smooth, paired with ample satin. The pluses in this hotel, in which B.S. Ong has a sizeable share, go on and on. The LifeFitness gym is 24/7 and the spa introduced me to Subtle Energies, a brand that I immediately liked. It felt good and people kindly said I looked good (every travelling gal needs friends, even if they exaggerate)!
Another special at Four Seasons Kuala Lumpur is that you can go directly from the hotel into a superb shopping mall. Although the anchor of this shopping mall is a Robinson’s department store, the basement is a treasure house of food stalls, carts and proper restaurants, some of which are at least associated with the Ong dynasty. This is clever; Kuala Lumpur’s success stories and status-seekers shop down there then rise up to the luxury Four Seasons. Some of them are even astute enough to head for the hotel’s Tiffany-themed afternoon tea, served on exquisite Tiffany porcelain. Aficionados then, I’m told, ask where they can buy cups and saucers, and more, to have at home.
One thing needs to be pointed about Kuala Lumpur, by the way: all three of its new luxury hotels are within a few minutes’ walk of the Twin Towers and the adjacent KLCC park. The next thing to remember is that this city has grown out of all recognition. Only a few years ago you could, and did, easily walk around all the central areas. Now the authorities have made it well nigh impossible to walk at street level. There are just about enough overhead walkways, but if you are not exactly au fait with the city’s geography you might, as this gal did, end up in a shopping mall rather than back in a street. The moral? If you are staying in a hotel stay put and enjoy simply being there, particularly if it has a lobby as colourful as that of W Kuala Lumpur.
And as is company standard, there is a multicoloured Woobar. This 150-room hotel opened in August 2018, a full seven years after the contract was signed. It is owned by Tan Sri Dato Tan Chee Sing, whose sons apparently are fervent enthusiasts of the W hotels they know in Hong Kong and Taipei. For this hotel, the owners chose Australian designer Nic Graham, who had actually done W Hong Kong, as well as W Brisbane and Indigo Taipei. In Hong Kong, he had a 76th-floor rooftop pool to play with. Here, at W Kuala Lumpur, the 12th-floor Wet Deck, as it is called, is a magnet for many guests and local visitors. The day I called by for lunch with the GM, Christian Metzner, and a coterie of ladies belonging to the Malaysia-South American Association, or something similar, were having lunch and spending a hilarious amount of time taking poolside selfies.
Another pool, a 10-metre private pool, goes with the hotel’s 520 square-metre Extreme Wow Suite. Not surprisingly, it was booked when I was there so I need to go back to see it. I also need – or rather want – to return to eat here. The hotel’s Culinary Director, Richard Millar, is from Melbourne and he is passionate about farm to table. He has cultivated a farmer in the Cameron Highlands who grows about 30 items exclusively for the hotel. They are picked the previous night, placed in a truck that leaves at 4am, for arrival at the hotel at 10am. Millar works with another farm for his herbs and he has close relations with a chicken farm and a cheesemaker right here in Kuala Lumpur. About 50% of the hotel’s produce is consequently fresh. Yes, costs are slightly higher, but the flavour and freshness are incomparable, say both culinarian and GM – and customers love it.
The W brand has always been about partying but now, says Christian Metzner, it stresses fuel – read: ‘good food’ – and fashion. It could also extend to favourites. As with all W hotels, this luxury place has W Insiders, or concierges. The hotel has deliberately chosen two switched-on females. One is a practising musician, who knows all about the best concerts in town, the other is more into fashion and sounds like a walking encyclopedia when it comes to openings and sales. Between them, they even seem to be able to identify the best graffiti and more. But, as I said earlier, it might just make sense not to go anywhere and just stay put inside this fun luxury hotel.
Lead image: RuMa, Infinity Pool