The new St. Regis Hong Kong is raising the standards of the brand by introducing more personalized elements, discovers Karen Ho.
The porter leaves us both in the room, signaling sharply-dressed Timothy to do what he came to do. My eyes scan quickly and approvingly across the elegant chamber before he invites me to take a seat. Then I notice him getting down on one knee beside me. But we’ve only just met, I chuckle to myself. With a smile and a discernable local accent, Timothy pops a question: “I would like to ask… What newspaper would you prefer in the morning? You can choose from here.”
I glance at the electronic tablet that he’s been carrying since we left the lobby and make my selection. After sharing a few more pointers on the screen and obtaining my signature, he rises and proceeds to brief me on the room, all part of the personalized in-room check-in service at St. Regis Hong Kong. It’s already making me feel like a special guest and that’s even before a lady drops by unexpectedly to deliver a plate of tantalizing welcome treats.
My cosy corner unit is bathed in soft daylight pouring in from two wall-size window panes, beyond which lies a vertical cityscape of towering buildings, some functional and weary, others modern and gleaming. A partial view of Victoria Harbour teases me, while to my right, verdant hills peek out in the background behind the concrete jungle. This is the district of Wan Chai, or north Wan Chai to be more specific, where hotels have sprung up alongside office towers, small businesses, and an international conference and exhibition centre. Once renowned for being home to dubious forms of nightlife, this district on the northern shore of Hong Kong Island is becoming a commercial and cultural destination. There are signs of regeneration such as upgrading works at the harbourfront and plans to turn Wan Chai into a design district.
There will be time to explore the area, but at present, I am lured by the interior comforts of an international luxury hotel brand that recently made its debut in Hong Kong, with a 27-storey sophisticated property housing 129 guest rooms and suites.
Timothy tells me that the iPad check-in procedure is new to St Regis, part of eco-friendly efforts to move towards a paperless system. Regular guests also have the option to check-in via their smartphone before arriving. Rooms and suites are equipped with an intelligent sensor that manages the lighting and air-conditioning settings when guests leave or return. The moment I re-enter the room, my preferred settings will be immediately restored without the conventional need to pop the keycard in a wall slot.
Perhaps the 21st century hospitality feature that guests will most enjoy here is the e-Butler, part of St Regis’ signature Butler Service. It does not refer to a humanoid robot but rather to the round-the-clock convenience of contacting a dedicated butler via electronic means such as email, message apps and the Marriott Mobile App. As much as I consider myself an independent do-it-yourself person, the prospect of having my crinkly clothes ironed for me (two complimentary pieces everyday per guest), my luggage unpacked or packed for me, or having a bubble bath ready on my return, fills me with a sudden desire to feel pampered. We all relish those moments. Whether a guest needs more elaborate assistance like arranging a celebration or something simple like travel advice, it would seem that nothing is too small or too difficult to handle.
This butler service is actually a legacy that was first introduced by the founding family of St. Regis. In 1904, John Jacob Astor IV established the first St. Regis in New York, essentially because his mother Caroline, a doyenne of high society, loved to throw parties, however their house could no longer accommodate the increasingly large social events. The new hotel was a perfect solution to fully hosting their guests, from afternoon tea to dinner parties to midnight suppers. As Caroline Astor was accustomed to having butlers at home, this personal aspect was brought into the hotel, with the family’s own butlers asked to come and serve the hotel guests.
During the tour around the latest Hong Kong property, its public relations manager discloses their plan to improve this bespoke service, “Moving forward, St. Regis Hong Kong is a blueprint for other St. Regis properties, so we’re smaller and more intimate. There will be upcoming St. Regis hotels with fewer rooms, under a hundred, so we want to make sure the butler service is more personalized.”
A FUSE OF EAST AND WEST
If Hong Kong married New York, I’m very sure that a product of their union would look exactly like this hotel property. Famed interior designer and architect Andre Fu, renowned for his concept of modern luxury, was engaged to curate a smooth marriage between eastern and western elements, which he did by fusing Hong Kong’s heritage and culture with the historical legacy of the original St. Regis.
One gets a real feel of the scale and grandeur of early 20th century New York architecture upon arrival at the porte cochere where concierges, porters and butlers await. The oversized bronze panelled doors leading to the high vestibule and lifts contribute to the feeling of entering a high society mansion. The major public area is on the second floor, a more dramatic contrast from ground level. Soaring 8-metre high ceilings and expansive windows that flood the area with soft natural light, bring a sense of luxury and airy openness. This is the marble-clad Great Room, a welcoming space that’s also a great spot for people-watching and posing for group photos in the manner of the Kardashian family.
The heritage of Hong Kong is referenced throughout the hotel as well, with Fu weaving in his childhood memories of growing up in this city. Giant bronze screens stand tall, evoking the old window frames typical of colonial Hong Kong and there are lights inspired by 19th century oil street lamps. The award-winning designer also pays homage to Wan Chai’s history through the use of vertical wall panels, reminiscent of Chinese shop shutters, and colonial columns from the old Wan Chai police station.
Every space in the hotel oozes distinctive design and classic elegance, matched with satisfying symmetry and balance. At some point, I notice the abundance of pairings, a mark of auspiciousness in Chinese tradition. Twin reception counters. Two identical sofa areas side by side. Bronze frames standing in pairs. Even the chandeliers comprise two tiers.
The guest rooms also reflect meticulous design with intent to create a residential ambience. Every time I walk back to my room, it feels like I’m returning to my luxury studio apartment. From the front door entrance, to the comfy reading chair complete with reading light, to the cosy banquette seating curved around a table, the homely vibes are strong and calming. Details make a difference to the room experience. Just like the bedside control panel that’s angled perfectly to allow me to see what I’m pressing without even lifting my head. Or like finding my untidy power bank cable neatly folded and tied with a St. Regis-branded velcro cable strap. Small things can leave a big impression.
As much as I want to immerse myself in the sanctuary of this room and roll in the plush king-size bed, no stay at St. Regis would be complete without experiencing its signature rituals. The Afternoon Tea is one of them, hosted in the Drawing Room that also serves as an all-day dining venue. The tables are filled and I can understand why when the dim sum-inspired trolleys appear, carrying an innovative summer selection of exquisite-looking savouries and sweets. I’m invited to choose eight in total, complemented by my choice of craft tea. In my books, scones are a prerequisite of proper English afternoon tea and St. Regis doesn’t disappoint at all. Perfect in appearance and texture, the freshly-made buttery scones hit the taste target as well.
By 5.30pm, afternoon tea might be over but another custom is about to happen that celebrates the transition from day to evening. “Ding-a-ling-a-ling!” A man walks through the Drawing Room ringing a loud bronze bell to call guests forward. Everyday at this time, St. Regis Hong Kong presents a champagne sabrage ceremony that involves someone slicing off the top of a champagne bottle with a sword, a technique that was supposedly made famous by Napoleon Bonaparte. I observe a guest take up the challenge of sabering a bottle. He slices upwards along the neck once but nothing happens. Then, a second time. By the third time, a pop is heard, sparking a round of applause from the small crowd. It’s certainly more interesting to watch than the usual popping of the cork and of course glasses of bubbly are distributed afterwards.
Tucked away beside the Drawing Room is the St. Regis Bar that exudes the ambience of a contemporary private club. Besides bespoke cocktails and more than 800 wine labels, the signature drink to try at St. Regis Hong Kong is a version of the classic Bloody Mary (first invented at St Regis New York) that’s been given a local twist and re-introduced as the Canto Mary. And yes, she’s still spicy.
The hotel’s food and beverage offerings are made complete with two beautifully-designed restaurants helmed separately by two Michelin-starred chefs. Rùn (pronounced Rune) specializes in refined Cantonese cuisine with a contemporary take, while at L’Envol, diners can savour an inventive interpretation of French fine dining.
Whether in the dining experiences, cross-cultural design features, bespoke tableware and amenities, or staff service, there are signs everywhere of meticulous planning and thoughtfulness within St. Regis Hong Kong. Sometimes that thoughtfulness stays on even after leaving the building. Like when a concierge went beyond expectation to help me secure an Uber in the middle of peak traffic. That day, I took away with me a lingering impression of having been well looked after, from start to finish.
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Karen Ho is a talented freelance writer with a focus on lifestyle features, copywriting and scriptwriting. Her background in broadcasting and communications includes years of experience in television, radio, public relations and even the niche in-flight entertainment business. Aside from writing, she is also a professional voice-over talent and a member of Voice Guild Malaysia. In her free time, she travels to feed her wanderlust, attempts to burn calories on a badminton court and enjoys the pleasure of fine foods and exquisite desserts.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
HOMME Magazine is proud to feature Karen’s work and give full accreditation to New Straits Times (NST) who first published this great article: https://www.nst.com.my/lifestyle/sunday-vibes/2019/09/519609/sanctuary-luxury