FALLING IN LOVE WITH INTERCONTINENTAL
When I arrived at the Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur, I felt a bit like Caesar returning to Rome after years of fighting Barbarians in the wilderness. By the time I had checked out a few days later, I felt as if I’d won an Oscar.
And that was the point.
This was not a coincidence. This was supposed to happen. I was meant to have an Intercontinental experience.
Just like all the other guests.
But someone should have warned me not to fall in love.
Thanks to the brilliant Vicky Wong, Director of Marketing & Communications at the Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur, I had arranged for a driver to meet me at the airport and sure enough, there was “Jauzi” waiting for me at the arrival gate. After being in four countries in 29 hours, I could have kissed him. He was like an apparition at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
I was whisked through the formalities of customs and baggage claim by my driver and eventually into his gleaming black BMW. I took a bottle of chilled fresh water, swabbed my brow with a towel (god knows how filthy I must have looked and been) and settled in for the 45-minute journey to the city. I was feeling somewhat shell-shocked. I was no longer in an aeroplane and wow that felt good.
Arrival was a breath of fresh air too. As the car pulled up to the front of the hotel, my door was opened by a beautiful, beaming face that greeted me by name. Personal touches matter to me, especially a grubby and weary executive who was sick and tired of being treated like toothpaste being squeezed from a tube – at least that’s how I describe air travel!
The lobby is fascinating and very clever, a modern, powerful, fusion of contrasting textures and shadows. Behind the reception desk is a giant climbing mural of sharp, golden erratic triangles and diagonal lines that cast angular shadows and patterns everywhere. It is like a tryptic rock formation. Or a giant game of Tetris that’s collapsed.
Counter to this are the smooth polished floor tiles below, with tiny square insets, providing conformity and consistency underfoot. Even the reception desk refracts light off the marble floor from its back-lit rectangular panel. But the pièce de résistance, the jewel in the crown, are the glass pillars that frame the hanging centrepiece where dangling shards of glass glint in the light and emulate a cascading waterfall. And if you look carefully beyond it, a staircase is revealed, rising into the heart of the property. The soul and real reason for being at the Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur.
Check-in was a painless and flawless process of name, rank and number (credit card that is). By the time I had blinked, I was being escorted to the elevator and into my room. My poor old bags, brimming with dirty clothing, were there before me, I could hear them begging to be cleaned. But not today.
Room # 2709
I get really excited by what lies behind a hotel door. The expectancy of the unknown driving me as I pull out my key card and wait for the, “Whoa!”
First impressions are everything to me.
Once in, I invariably move with trepidation towards the window to find my bearings and soak up the moment of where I am. I want to know what view I have. It defines the importance of the space; my new home.
I was booked into a Deluxe City View Room, which was precisely that, with a startling panorama of soaring skyscrapers bursting upwards and everywhere. But that was the beauty of it: urban art. It was reminiscent of where I’d just been, the concrete maze of San Francisco. I liked it. It was comforting. It was all I wanted or needed.
And then I switch mode.
I have a mental check list of things that I go through every time I step into a hotel.
Where are the plugs? How many are there? Is there a luggage rack? What are the bathroom amenities and shampoos like? Is the bathroom clean? Are the towels soft and do they have a bathrobe? Where is the safe? Is there a mini bar? Is there room in the fridge for my own things? Can I get laundry done and how soon? Do they have Wifi? Where is the password? How is the bed?
I’m an expert on beds. My family use to run an interior design business in London and all our beds were bespoke-made and hotel quality. The king size bed was gorgeous and inviting. I had to test it. I threw myself star-fish on top without pulling back the sheets and woke up 13 hours later.
I think it passed!
I travel with a lot of electrical goods: phones, cameras, computers, tablets. Finding plugs is the single most important criteria I look for in a room and Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur was not only up to the grade here, it excelled. A big tick for having a plug socket close to the bedside table for charging my laptop and mobile phone and better still, a built-in adaptor board by the desk. No need to rummage around for travel adaptors as this was provided for in the same board. A simple time-saving process of “lock and load” or plug in and go!
Next is the safe. I’m a man of process. I deconstruct my backpack of all valuables and lock away my cash, passport and other irreplaceable necessities. I liked the fact that this was not at floor level too. Again, ease of access for someone on the move where time is money.
Ample hangars and shelf space made unpacking a joy, and better still, there is a fixed rack to keep one’s luggage, without having to dump one’s case on the floor. I like an element of decorum when I travel, not mess. Another tick.
The bathroom suite was an abundance of space and light with a full-length mirror creating even more depth. I liked the open-plan feel created by having a glass window separate the bathroom and bedroom, instead of a closed-in brick wall. You could either choose to soak in the bath tub and peer into the bedroom or simply roll down the blind for privacy. Or for those on the run, you always have the option of a separate walk-in shower with heavy glass door.
A lush marble counter top was also inviting with its mild yellow and earthy tones. Beside the basin was also the signature Intercontinental amenity box of gels and shampoos, sided with hand towels and face cloths. Inside were the usual culprits of branded cotton buds, tooth brush, shoe polish and other amenities.
It was here, on the 26th floor, at the Club Intercontinental Lounge, around 06.15m, that I had an epiphany. I was shrugging off the vestiges of jet lag, wide awake and watching the condensation build on and roll down the windows. The dawn light was brightening over Kuala Lumpur. I had already ordered a cappuccino and was wandering about ogling at the tantalising buffet selections. No guests were there. It was just me, myself and I…and a few staff members.
My mind was focused on the day ahead. I didn’t want clutter and noise and random people doing random, distracting things. I had my business head on. I just wanted somewhere that suited my purpose. And that was the Club Intercontinental Lounge.
I had been in so many places, in such a short time, that I hadn’t realised how vital a “Club” concept was to me. As an executive, I needed two things: time and money. I could not afford to lose either. I needed both the tangible and intangible benefits of having things at my fingertips.
The Club Intercontinental delivered this:
- Dedicated check-in and check-out
- Complimentary High Speed internet
- Concierge and Business Services
- Late check-out (until 16.00 hrs) when available
- Club Lounge Buffet Breakfast and a la carte selections (06.30 to 10.30 hrs or 11.00 on weekends and bank holidays)
- Serena Brasserie Buffet Breakfast (06.00 to 10.30 hrs daily)
- Club Lounge Afternoon Tea with snacks (15.00 to 17.00 hrs)
- Club Lounge Evening Cocktail with cocktails & appetizers (17.30 to 19.30 hrs)
- All-day refreshments (06.30 to 23.00 hrs) – juice, tea, coffee, soft drinks
- One complimentary visitor to the Club during the stay
I remember thinking to myself, what a great place to hold a Board Room meeting in the Club Board Room. I just wish I’d been more organised and used my complimentary hour as a Club Intercontinental guest.
The newly refurbished Club Lounge is really modern and openly furnished over two levels: the lower food court and buffet area; the quieter upper lounge with tub chair seating and a private Board Room.
There was an immensity of choice from the buffet food selections, all of which I could easily have attacked and devoured, but experience has taught me to go nimble on the palette and stomach, especially on long journeys (and holidays!). I approached one of the young chefs and said, “Make me any omelette of your choice.” This was one decision I was willing to relinquish and an excellent one too.
DINING AT THE INTERCONTINENTAL KUALA LUMPUR
Tao Chinese Cuisine
Tao Chinese Cuisine is for the discerning connoisseur that loves traditional Chinese food with an impressive dim sum menu. The name “Tao” is taken from the Mandarin for peach, and it has consequently adopted the bloom motif of the pale pink April peach flower. The restaurant is a contrast of dark wood and bright lights, soft linens and striking carpet patterns. A collection of hundreds of carefully chosen Chinese teapots adorn the nooks and wall features, creating a unique showroom feel that would be worthy of any collector. Tao also houses six private dining rooms with their own story to tell based upon the six dynasties in China: Han, Song, Tang, Yuan, Ming and Qin.
For me the food was the nectar in the peach flower. I was honoured to share a tasting with General Manager Clive Murray and to be dazzled by award winning Chef Wong Lian You. He introduced each plate as it arrived at the table, with such a broad Chinese accent that I just nodded and smiled. Where my ears failed me, I let the food do the talking. It was superb. A perfect balance of old-world-meets-new.
Tatsu Japanese Cuisine
I did not expect to do a double feast in one sitting but when Clive Murray, General Manager, told me to up sticks from Tao Chinese Cuisine and head here to Tatsu Japanese Cuisine I was not expecting that. Nor was I expecting such stunning presentation and outstandingly exquisite sashimi from Chef Tadashi Inose.
Tatsu is true to Japanese aesthetics where simplicity underscores the complexity of great food. The surroundings are clean and modern, a fusion of contemporary minimalism and modernism that flows effortlessly across the sushi bar, teppanyaki counter, the main dining room and the lounge bar. There are also four private dining rooms for executive meetings or special occasions.
I loved the little touches: the ice mould; the “hit me” chocolate which you literally have to mash and mangle before eating.
Thank god I didn’t tuck into the sake and wine, because this is a connoisseur’s paradise surrounded by floor to ceiling glass windows. The views are stunning. You can ogle at the cascading waterfall and perfectly manicured gardens whilst sampling any of the 20 types of sake, as well as Shochu and wines.
Bentley’s Pub touts itself as “an authentic English pub in the heart of Kuala Lumpur” and in that respect, it is like an old English pub, though this one is distinctly less traditional and definitely more in tune with modern day “brand” pub chains.
For me, my visit was a quiet affair, fresh off a late flight on a Monday evening. I was gagging to have anything to eat that didn’t resemble airline food and by god it was good. I opted for the beef burger with tomato and sweet onion relish, and lettuce and a fat glass of wine to wash it down. Pure heaven. It was exactly the shining star I needed to see and follow.
It is called The Bentley’s Pub Dining Menu Edition Daily which is really a menu printed on a kind of A3 newspaper look-alike, with a few ditties pilfered from news articles in 1671 (good reading in a pub, by the way). My “menu” story was about a certain Thomas “Colonel” Blood and a few of his reprobates who bluffed their way into the Tower of London to steal the gem-encrusted Crown jewels. Their joy was given short shrift, as they were quickly captured in possession of their stolen cargo. King Charles II subsequently learnt of Blood’s incredible daring and was so impressed that he forgave and pardoned him and then sent him to Ireland to live on a vast estate he had granted him.
On the back of the menu is a gigantic list drinks, of which whisky fills up about 50% of the page. Beer, cocktails and liqueurs fill the rest of the space.
Another sign that caught my attention was clearly pitched at Thursday ladies Night. It read, “Skirt nite. Anyone in skirt drinks free from 6pm to 8pm.” I wondered if I wore one too, would I get a free drink? Would I lower myself to that level? Mind you Colonel Blood did!
I only had one negative comment and that is smoking. There is a smoking section in the pub which was close enough for some trendy yuppy to waft painfully repulsive billows of cigar smoke my way. Surely in this day and age they can go outside to kill themselves, no?
Serena Brasserie offers a truly tranquil setting for hotel guests to enjoy a medley of international flavours from its huge buffet spread or a la carte options. It delves into the local Malay, as well as Chinese and Indian cultures offering variety for all palates and tastes.
IVIV (OneSixFive) Lounge & Bar
OneSixFive (I prefer this name to the less confusing Roman numeral title of IVIV – which sounds more like an “ivy” plant you could get poisoned from) is the embodiment of a stylish lounge. Giant windows offer a tropical, water-feel that is both soothing and a perfect presentation for relaxing with company or on your own.
Try the freshly baked cakes or the signature afternoon tea. Or amp up the volume later with cocktails or wines from the bar. Here you’ll find less pizzazz than most hotel bars, but that in itself offers a more intimate vibe to while away the evening listening to soft jazz.
Final Words from The Walking Critic
Of the 10 hotels I visited in 16 days, I will say this: Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur was singularly the most organised and welcoming or all the hotel properties I stayed at. They moved mountains to help me, before, during and after my stay. Without their input, my journey would have been half the experience it could have been in KL.
I would never have seen the hero sites of KL: the Batu Caves, the Lake Gardens, the Islamic Arts Museum, lunch at Sri Nirwana Maju, Merdeka (Independence Square). I would have missed an induction into local life. Never eaten at local haunts or sampled such a broad tourist experience. I am immensely grateful. But the most enduring part of my stay was having an affinity to the Intercontinental brand. Relating to the Club Intercontinental experience. Finding myself smiling, because they understood my expectations and made my surroundings subliminally familiar.
In the coming days, I was to value and cherish these same concepts in two other properties too: Bangkok and Singapore.
But I know one thing for sure. It was here that I unwittingly fell in love with Intercontinental.
I just didn’t know it yet.
Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur
Jalan Ampang 50450
T: +60 3 2782 6000
F: +60 3 2161 1122