W HONG KONG HOTEL REVIEW written by The Walking Critic.
I’ve just had a glimpse at the future of hotel living (note to myself: I used the word “living”, not “accommodation”) and I like it.
What I just experienced at the W Hong Kong was a cut-and-thrust to classical, hotel thinking. It was a huge step forward for progression. A martini toast to the avant-garde.
I had come face to whisker with an experimental originality that was both kick-ass and ultra-modern, without necessarily being revolutionary or trailblazing. What really irks me is how I had been previously tepid towards W San Francisco, because “I didn’t get it”. I was like a kid being offered a huge candy jar stuffed with shiny goodies, only to have it cruelly ripped away as soon as his greedy fingers dipped into it.
W Hotel is well ahead of its time. It is recognising an affluent and influential group of 30 to 49-year olds by becoming a honey pot for these busy, discerning and impeccably well-dressed bees. From my perspective, as a travel professional and expert reviewer, the buzz is getting louder on the street. I’m not embarrassed to admit this, but I’m being lured by the sound, the noise. I’m like Ulysses being strapped to the mast, allowing himself to listen to the dulcet tones of the W Sirens, tethered but safe!
As a travel insider, a professional reviewer and writer I have learnt not to wear blinkers and be myopic. Something tells me that W Hotels is going somewhere and I want to be a part of that Odyssey. But that wasn’t always the case.
I had been thrown a damp-squid at the W San Francisco. I was miffed, stumped, pained by a woeful sense of “I-don’t-get-it”. A false sense of security that left me feeling hoodwinked by the pizazz of the lobby lights, until I stepped onto my upper floor. There I found myself desperately lost in what I can only describe as the “bedroom department” of Ikea. Chalk and cheese. Apples and oranges. Style and WTF!
The fact is that no one built Rome in a day, not even W Hotels. I could have fobbed off the mediocrity of one experience and stamped that view across the whole brand, but I knew better. I confronted my disappointment and without flinching, booked myself into W Hong Kong. I needed to experience more.
From the outside, the W Hong Kong is an immensity of modernity placed in the most up-and-coming neighbourhood of West Kowloon. It is a huge departure from those ghastly, characterless, self-same concrete towers that blot and blight the rest of Hong Kong.
This hotel is different. It is vibrant. A beacon. A stand-alone work of art. It has spirit and energy. It exudes warmth.
For me it tells a dreamy story throughout all its 393 rooms and living areas, a theme that is pervasive and ubiquitous, whether you are resting or dining or drinking.
Smiles work. Name recognition works. Lobbies are the front line of any hotel. They are the name beneath the banner. The face of the brand. The first line of defence, never the first line of offence.
And these guys at the W Hong Kong are good. Really good.
Behind the check-in counter is this massive screen of flashing “what-evers”. It is mesmerizingly huge and colourful and quite a contrast to the slick, black uniforms of these overly attractive young men and women that man the front trenches.
(I’m sure “good looking” is a concept W stole from Virgin! I’m biased in Branson’s favour: I notice good-looking staff!).
I’m asked, “Do you recognise it?” one of the drop-dead gorgeous girls asks. I transfix my eyes on these moving colourful, squid-like shapes behind her head.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “But it reminds me of an LSD trip.”
“Oh no….” she giggles. “Try again.”
I looked carefully.
I felt as if she wanted to clap. But nothing happened.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it reminded me of The Wonderful World of Disney on LSD. At university, every Saturday night, we use to love the fireworks bursting above the Disney castle as Tinkerbell turbo charged and twerked in her tutu. We discovered it looked so much better when stoned.
FROM ELEVATOR TO CORRIDOR
At all the W Hotels that I’ve visited, the elevator is not just a mode of convenience but a quirky feature that is deliberately OTT (over the top) with in-your-face décor. I find that captivating, sexy, enticing and definitely memorable.
At the W Hong Kong, the elevator is manned by a dapper, smiling attendant. He must love watching people go, “Wow!” as the doors slide open.
The lift floor is like a giant iPad emblazoned with flashing, garish colours that literally welcome you “GOOD AFTERNOON”. I wasn’t sure where to stand in case I cracked the glass (my brain was never programmed to stand on computer screens!). I clung to the side of the elevator as we ascended, sucking up the view of Kowloon Bay through the amazing floor to ceiling windows. I still found my plasma floor disconcerting especially as it emanated a huge amount of heat. “Was the floor built by Samsung?” I found myself asking.
As the elevator slowed and stopped on the 27th floor, I secretly held my breath. “Please don’t be medicinal and industrial,” I implored and prayed, hankering back to my previous stay in San Francisco. I barely had time to say amen before the doors opened to reveal these funky book shelves lined with faux white books and the odd sea shell or statement piece.
My wish had come true. There were no hospital greens, but a plethora of soft greys and neutral colours, warmed by glowing overhead sconce lights. Even the ceiling bulkhead light was patterned with etched images of hats. The flecked texture of the carpet was perfectly balanced by the ragged texture of the walls.
“Clever,” I thought to myself. “Very clever.”
The corridor to my room was dark and moody. There was no overhead or wall lights, simply floor level strip lighting that showed the way.
Outside my door was a simple, thin shelf holding what looked like a large, bound book. It was opened to an illusionary page that showed a hand holding a feathered quill. It had drawn the number 2703. It looked like an old print except, it was only my room number sign. And below it was a small raised strip that clearly repeated everything in Braille.
The whole “book” doubled up as a “Do Not Disturb” sign, once the button was depressed in the room. A red light would glow warning querulous room service members to keep on walking. I liked that. I hate using doorknobs and door hangars for “Do Not Disturb” signs, or even laundry bags. They always fall off!
ROOM 2703 – MY SPECTACULAR ROOM
From moody to magnificent. Kick out the grey and welcome the splashes of colour. This is a medley of energy and excitement. The craziness of insipid swirls on the wall and a throw pillow are brilliantly counterpointed with big bursts of lime green from the bed spread and the pale monotone of the modular chaise longue. At 431 square feet, this is no giant suite, but a lot of thought and design has gone into this space.
You don’t have fat, annoying bedside tables; you have delicate places for your water and phone.
You don’t have big table lamps; you have bendy LED lights that you barely notice.
Someone understands design here: balance; economy of space; the equilibrium of contrasting textures, patterns and colours.
Everything made sense. It works.
I loved the King Bed – I went to nirvana when I slept. The 400-thread-count linen was my elixir!
But the room was seriously smaller than I like. Word to the wise: upgrade.
I normally gravitate to the bathroom in most hotels as this is where you spend most of your waking hours when on the road, but I didn’t here.
In contrast to the main bedroom, it had dark grey, granite-like colours, on the floor and walls. This was offset by the whites of the basin, bath, toilet and towels, all of which were amplified by white light that emanated from a modern pattern within the mirror.
The space would be too tight for a family especially if they have multiple wash bags to put somewhere. But I liked the clean lines and door-less feel, the rainforest shower and separate bathtub. If you wanted privacy, you slid a concealed door panel across the corridor to segregate the bed from bath areas. Or you could opt for open-planned living. Your choice.
I loved the range of Bliss shampoos and gels, lotions and potions (another word to the wise, women know this too, so guys “buy some and take home to the missus!”).
In reality, Bliss Spa and W Hotel are a marriage made in heaven with stand-out packaging that is both edgy and cool. They are pushing the boundaries of tongue-in-cheek humour with subliminal slogans like Fresh Mouth….Bare All….So Vain….Less Rough More Buff. You almost feel like you’re at a marketing stall, not in a hotel bathroom. Yet the end result works. The products are not gimmicks. They are high quality.
KITCHEN is the super stylish bistro and all-day dining venue that draws its eclectic inspiration from the unlikely pages of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is a brilliant concept, that plays to the Hong Kong’s English heritage and the quirky, whimsical, fantasy world that Lewis Caroll created 150 years ago. From the moment that she fell down the rabbit hole, Alice was bent on consumption, a frequent desire for food and knowledge that she coined as her “Curious Appetites”.
Today, all that literary magic is embodied in KITCHEN, allowing its international chefs to challenge their art form with inventive, fanciful menus and treats. They have creative license to push edible boundaries in a setting that is a modern spin on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
For me, breakfast was my bent. I distinctly remember how good the coffee was before plunging into the huge buffet offerings. I relished the mix of Asian and English food. Sweet and sour pork, versus eggs benedict. Pastries that were pure decadence coated in sugar (though I did have a few that were gluten free!). Ice troughs filled with bottles of freshly squeezed juice.
Enjoy the panoramic views over Kowloon Bay, the flotilla of floating barge cranes, ferries and tankers. It is an awesome sight, as industrial as it is.
If you want some truly authentic Cantonese cuisine and outstanding dim sum, then look no further than Sing Yin where Chef Johnny Chan works his magic. But if you’re expecting the stereotypical grandeur or most Cantonese restaurants, you’re in for a big surprise.
The 120-seat Sing Yin is on the ground floor of W Hong Kong and a nod to contemporary thinking, thanks to international architect and interior designer, Steve Leung. The moment you approach the entrance you are absorbed by this towering façade dominated by high ceilings and dangling Chinese artefacts. Huge screens beckon you to enjoy the recreation of Hong Kong’s bustling streetscape.
The wow-factor continues on your journey inside. Even the bar is reminiscent of the old stores of the 60s and 70s, modelled on a traditional Chinese tea house. A hand-sketched cityscape on the ceiling above.
Approaching the main dining area is another experience, semi-private rooms that emulate the old boutiques and barber shops, the décor of local groceries. And if you make your way to the very end of the restaurant, you’ll find a cluster of intermittent LCD screens that are intertwined with real and virtual marine life.
With bulging eyes and dripping tongue, I leapt at the chance to sample Chef Chan’s signature set menu and I was not disappointed. My highlights were the barbecued Spanish iberico pork, roasted pork belly with crispy crust and accompanying chilled cucumber with black vinegar. This was followed by pan-fried crab claw stuffed with minced shrimp and a sautéed king prawn with crab meat and sea urchin. Total seafood perfection! And not to be out done was the sautéed Australian wagyu beef (“marble score 8”) with black pepper sauce. And the steam fried rice with whole abalone wrapped in lotus leaf.
I have this thing about roof top bars having recently been to Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. I thought I’d seen it all from dizzy heights, but the Wet Deck has just leapt into pole position on the vertigo chart. From 76 floors up, it commands an awesome vantage point with sweeping views of Victoria Harbour.
A decent lap pool runs parallel to the glass pool fencing from where you can watch the world around you. An iconic mosaic wall looms over the entrance depicting an explosion of fantasy, though I’m not sure fluttering butterflies and a conch shell is my vision of imagination, but it is really impressive.
I had an unplanned chat with the F&B Director who gave me a private talk on every building and view. How much you pay for apartments, which one was the in-place to rent, and so forth.
I didn’t get to enjoy the “Wet is On Fire” barbeque, but my eagle eye spotted the Grilled half Boston Lobster and Grilled Canadian Sea Scallop. Next time, I hope!
*All prices are subject to 10% service charge
*Subject to weather conditions and is not applicable to public holidays
The WOOBAR is definitely not bland as far as the décor goes and the crowd is much the same there too. The interior follows the same vein of “Mad-Hatterness” as the Kitchen, whimsical and crazy with hanging paraphernalia and butterflies above the bar.
During the day it a quiet and serene; more suit and tie than fashion parade. A healthy buffet is offered out with cold cuts and salads for lunch. Afternoon tea offers other healthy options as well. But hold your horses, as the sun dips and the tempo rises, the WOOBAR takes on a whole new metamorphosis with live music and happy hour cocktails. Taking a leaf from W Hong Kong’s own wording, “ Join the party with pulsating beats from the city’s top DJs, our chic signature W Hong Kong cocktails and one of the best happy hours in town. Detox, Retox. Repeat. The party never stops.”
I have eaten a major chunk of humble apple pie visiting W Hong Kong and I owe a big thanks to Natalia Silva (Marketing Manager, W San Francisco) and Fiona Cheng (PR & Marketing Coordinator, W Hong Kong) for opening my eyes to a brand that I feel has got it right. It is appealing, sexy, funny, on the cutting edge and distinctively young, fresh and worth its salt. It oozes love and pretends to be nothing more than what it delivers which is funked-up excellence.
I did get to see the other room categories and I have nothing but good thoughts for what is a well-delivered, well-executed concept from Penthouse top, to restaurant bottom.
I will say this, W Hong Kong is not just for the uber, super cool. I was actually gob-smacked by how many families were there, kids and all. And yes, the yummy-mummies dominated, bedecked in the latest fashion accoutrements, which was exactly what W Hotels wants and I expected to find.
If I had one gripe it was this: I was not there long enough to truly enjoy W Hong Kong. And if I could walk away with one star, it is this: W Hotel has become my number one hotel brand to follow. It is the future of hotel living.
(Did I mention “Living” before?).
Note: I was not paid to write this review by W Hotel, and nor was I given a free stay or hotel room. These words are my words and my opinions. If you don’t like them, tough!