The Upper House, Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s Upper House gained an immediate world-luxury following the moment it opened October 2009: this was one of the first marsupial hotels as it is slotted into the JW Marriott, though it has its own entrance, and the only connection is at the seventh floor, used by anyone who cannot access Upper House’s upper lobby by escalator. This was also the hotel that put André Fu on the global luxury map (it would be tempting to say that the names of Champalimaud, Fu and Pushelberg are ‘everywhere’ these days, but only at luxury level and in select locations). André Fu, born in Hong Kong, has depth, like a three-dimensional light installation stretching to infinity: to this Master of Architecture, from Cambridge, true luxury is experience and not just aesthetics.
André Fu told me that his current evolution is re-inventing the classic grand hotel – reinvented in the context of the contemporary world. Stay in one of his Upper House suites, havens of pale avocado shades, with such thoughtful touches as window-seat cushions on the ledges of the big wall-wide windows that give some tremendous views down to Victoria Harbour and across to Kowloon, or over to Central highrises and Mid-Level greenery, here on Hong Kong Island. From the start, Swire Hotels put in such elements as swing-lever controls for the Emco toilets (so easy to operate, much easier than a simple lever or those ghastly push-in controls that are anathema to nails).
Upper House worked with Myodetox lifestyle therapy from 18-22 November this year: this is a hotel that wants guests to feel good. Bamford toiletries have been here for some time in the rooms and now clever hotel GM Marcel Thoma has introduced Bamford treatments right in your suite. Winnie gave me a marvellous facial, although I slept throughout – the music was delightfully soothing. All I can say it felt good, and afterwards I seemed to look a little better, and by the time I came back up from the gym the portable spa bed and other gear had been taken away. Mr T was actually away, marketing this gorgeous place in Switzerland or somewhere, but he had left me in the hands of his manager, Kristina Snaith-Lense (I have never worked with anyone with whom I have as much rapport as Marcel, she declared).
Café Gray – overseen by culinary legend Gray Kunz on the 49th floor of this luxury hotel – is the Hong Kong meeting place of serious global names in entertainment, fashion, and style – these are aesthetes who appreciate that butter knives, at both dinner and breakfast, are Laguiole (and the butter is Bordier, naturally). I dined off Kunz gravadlax, and a local, chicken breast, with porcini and chanterelles, and a glass of German Pinot Noir, Weingut Meyer-Näkel Spätburgunder 2017 from Ahr. At breakfast, with a hint of Manhattan, the set menus include Upper West, with eggs, and Upper East, with congee. Not surprisingly, the hotel has a repeat-guest factor of around 45%.
The St. Regis Hong Kong
But it was time to see André Fu’s latest Hong Kong hotel, St Regis, next to the headquarters of its owner, China Resources Company. Its Chairman, Fu Yuning, wanted something that showed old Hong Kong as well as globalism-2020, and apparently André Fu travelled extensively around the city making notes. As soon as you rise to the second floor lobby, indeed, there is a sense of elegance and tradition, especially if you happen to arrive at 5.30 pm, the moment of the daily sabrage. The young sommelier did a superb job in slicing off the bottle tops, and then the gal was shown some of the unique drinking vessels from a bar that, true to brand form, has a unique painting, a collage of Hong Kong, covering the entire back wall.
The main part of the hotel’s second floor soars to double height, just as André Fu’s own home does – he lives on-island. Dinner at L’Envol showed this place’s style to perfection. Alsatian Chef Olivier Elzer came from Robuchon, and from the start of the meal it was quality. The white card menu cover is deliberately torn (=art) while the stiffly starched linen cloth was ironed without even a hint of a wrinkle (=science). There are various set menus, offering five or eight courses (one has Petrossian caviar followed by seared Kagoshima A3 tenderloin wagyu with pressed Kaviari gnocchi). No-one minded that I went à la carte, starting with a tiny tin holding prawns and crunchy fennel, topped by Hokkaido sea-urchin.
A L’Envol meal’s prelude includes an addictive home-blended caviar and seaweed butter to go with breads cut from the three whole loaves we were presented: china is Bernardaud, cutlery is Ercuis, complemented by steak knives that are Le Thiers par Claude Dolorne. (The right names are important not only to Olivier Elzer but also to designer André Fu, who typically dresses casually but his gear is predominantly Armani, Ferragamo and Loro Piana.) I was dining with hotel GM Derek Flint, a psychology graduate who starts every morning with a pre-sunrise 5km run. We tasted, naturally in Riedel glasses, a Loire wine, Dme de la Taille aux Loup 2015 Montlouis, and then a Bordeaux, Ch d’Armailhac 2005 Pauillac GCC.
Then I hot-footed it back up to the St Regis Suite, #1509. André Fu has put colour into rooms here – I loved the orange lacquer floor-to-ceiling panel in my salon, which balanced the overall soft greys of a colour scheme that was ideally suited to looking out through big windows at typical buildings of the Wanchai district of Hong Kong Island. I also appreciated the soft lavender cashmere throw on the bed, and it was good to have an oval freestanding tub that was thankfully free of jacuzzi jets. In the morning, the soft greys of Run restaurant at breakfast seemed soothingly just right: I looked out at the terrace’s vivid greenery and the buffet had lots of colour. This restaurant transforms brilliantly into Chinese for main meals, as I discovered at a dimsum lunch with Craig Smith, Marriott’s President for the whole of Asia-Pacific. If luxury is hairy crab in such an ambience, this is Hong Kong’s newest luxury hotel for you. Obviously discerning travellers think so too: St Regis Hong Kong has soared from Tripadvisor’s #753 to seventh, in six months.
Lead image: Sky Lounge, The Upper House, Hong Kong