Elevator waiting spaces on floors are generally just not given enough attention by luxury hotels’ owners, managers and designers, says the gal. Hotel guests may have to wait some time, especially in high-rise hotels and during peak times, or when one elevator is out of order, which for some illogical reason puts all the others into slower mode. There is also a demographic challenge in that some nationalities, no names mentioned, take longer than others in getting in, and out, of elevators. Anyway, absolutely full marks to all concerned at Fairmont Singapore. HBA, which has redone its North Tower and lobby, has put a Chinese chair at each elevator bank.
This is a hotel that now has 769 rooms but you would not know it – it is broken up into two square towers joined by short walkways on each level, one corner of one tower to one corner of the other. In a previous existence it was even larger. Until 2002 it, and the adjacent Swissôtel, were, combined, Westin Singapore. Now both these hotels are overseen by Tom Meyer, who opened two other conjoined siblings last year, Manila’s Fairmont and Raffles. Here, the stylish new-look includes hundreds of clear glass bubbles, on wires, seemingly flying overhead. The closed-off ground floor bar is now opened up to become a see-through and walk-through all-day eatertainment area. Very stylish.
Style is the key word here. The top restaurant in the complex, JAAN, is Krug’s official restaurant in Singapore. Take an elevator up to the 70th floor (of the Swissôtel) and you are rising to the pinnacle of style. Krug 2003 vintage is poured at the moment but you can, like an average ten diners a week, opt for the special Krug menu, with a different Krug vintage with each course. Yes, it is S$680 per person, plus tax and service, but think of all that Krug…. whichever menu you choose, and 95 percent do go for one of the set menus, which start at S$198++, you will probably be offered a complimentary canapé selection that includes oh so yummy, a bite-sized beetroot macaroon.
If you are going à la carte, as we did, you simply MUST include the best-selling 55’ eggs. The ‘ stands for minutes. These are organic eggs from lovingly-tended hens chirping away somewhere in New Zealand. The whole egg is smoked over rosemary, at 63 degrees and for precisely 55 minutes. It then has its top taken off and it is put in the ‘cup’ in the top of a typical compressed paper egg box. Just before it is served dry ice is added so you get a concoction with white smoke billowing out in all directions. Sensational? Yes. Sensational taste? Yes, rosemary and egg go remarkably well.
The chef here, Julien Boyer, is an enthusiastic young Frenchman who eschews tattoos and earrings in favour of wearing what looks like a pair of fine tweezers long enough for an elephant’s eyebrows. This implement, tucked into an apron pocket, is the main tool of his art. This is what he uses to make sure every strand of, say, a risotto of spring barley with grilled avocado and pink garlic is exact. The diner here can choose a risotto knowing that quality rather than quantity that results, which meant I could go on to granite with Kyoto grapes and elderflower, and finish with truffled Brie de Meaux cheese with truffle icecream and slivers of toasted Poilâne bread.
But I must not get carried away on the height of fine dining. Down to earth, literally, is Prego, the Italian restaurant that has been here since Westin days. I loved it then, especially for its plain roast chicken, coincidentally with rosemary, and mash. I could have had breakfast in the luxury Fairmont hotel’s 23rd floor club lounge but I went first to see how Prego manages at breakfast. The answer is, superbly. Somehow seeing lightest croissants and an Indian cooking station set out below the Italian salamis hanging overhead reminds one yet again what an international world this is (and yes, they have Greek yoghurt). All Fairmonts are like one’s favourite pair of Ferragamo shoes, a good fit – in this case, polished and loved.
Really, the people running club lounges in Singapore are way higher than global par – and that comment is not only because they are generally high up, in lounges of highrise luxury hotels. See what the team at the Pacific Club on the 38th floor of Pan Pacific Singapore produced for the gal. How did they know her birthday was coming up? Elementary, My Dear Watson. Everyone checking in to a hotel here, as in so many other countries, has to hand over their passport. Ergo, the staff know the date. They also know the age, but thank goodness they did not try to get 20 candles on this cake.
The advanced-birthday presentation came with two books, well chosen, and paperbacks for easy carrying. I started this particular trip with Hillary Clinton, or at least her hardback auto, ghost-written by a panel of spin doctors and lawyers (did I mention that Heathrow security, having commented on my wacky watch, looked with disdain at that choice of reading?). Anyway Hillary was handed over to a seemingly grateful recipient and replaced, as my travel companions, by Tracey Chevalier and Donna Tartt.
The people up on the 38th floor Pacific Club, led by a marvellously chic lady, Prema Irangani, have to manage a circular space that you think might take off, like a frisbee destined for Mars, at any time. You also wonder if it is going to start turning (when the hotel opened back in 1986 it was undoubtedly a restaurant). This is one of the hotels that the open-atrium-inventor John Portman designed, and probably this thing-on-top was the icing on the cake, so to speak. Now, with the views from up there, offering 360 degrees in total so you have to decide where you want to sit, you do tend to sit.
The main body of the 790-room hotel is triangular. Rooms are set facing outwards off the open-sided corridors, which have real flowers in their decorative boxes – at least one of the 650 people who work here must spend all day watering. In days past there were long fabric banners hanging from the 37th floor roof, below the Pacific Club. Now, only the circular holder at roof level remains – a sculpted shape I naughtily say would make a great Cirque du Soleil feature, to hang and swing from it. Look down, far below, to the tops of decorative conical ‘hats’ that sit not above seven dwarfs but above private seating areas, many with decorative water features around (the hotel describes this as ‘an eclectic collection of seating pods floating over a reflection pool’. Whatever, it is very calming.
Someone, I suspect the larger than life boss here, Scott Swank, has indeed shown thoughtfulness. Calm people’s nerves after designer shopping until you can hold no more bags, and then, at peak times, you stand in designated lines for a taxi… Restore a healthy feeling after, perhaps, guzzling hawker food outside somewhere, things like Laksa, Bak Kut The and Nasi Lemak. Back here, pick up one of the bright green apples that are plentiful, both in the gym and also on every floor, by the elevators. These elevators soar up the outside of the building, by the way, which is great for bird’s-eye pics of the locale.
It makes sense to eat in, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yes, the really sensible have chosen a Pacific Club room so they can eat up there, day long, with that magnificent view – and you also get a hefty discount at the hotel’s other, main, restaurants. I personally love The Edge, a clever concept that does indeed give third floor views, over balconies and corridors, down to the main ground floor below. You are greeted by giant orange billboards and Methusalehs, all Veuve Clicquot (the Champagne that comes with this luxury hotel’s Sunday brunch). This is the place for seafood on Wednesday and Thursday nights, and, on Saturday, lunch turns into tea with a four-hour eating extravaganza that includes, for strong stomachs, durian desserts. Me? I think next time I will go really simple, and order sausages, the German sausages made right here, by a German butcher, and sold in their thousands to Singapore Airlines. And a glass of bubbly, of course.
To be welcomed with a perfectly chilled glass of champagne is as sensational as a luxury hotel’s farewell with champagne. A glass of Roederer poured in front of the gal by key people from the fabulous club lounge at Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore was the ideal welcome home to Singapore. This is the champagne, apparently, that is served at the weekly Sunday brunch in the hotel’s Greenhouse restaurant. What is new, since last sighting, in this always-evolving art-filled hotel? The signature innovation is, in fact, that club lounge, risen Phoenix-like from its previous incarnation, which was already ace, even before the new look.
It is still on the 23rd floor of the 32-floor hotel, but it seems to have doubled in size. Designer Richard Farnell has paired the soft caramel lacquered wood, a feature of the entire interior of the 608-room hotel, with soft azure and taupe. At either end of the main lounge, which has lots of tables, some topped with slabs of champagne-coloured marble, are drawing room-type sitting areas. In there is a standing easel, with big A-3-sized pads of paper, and Faber-Castell pens. Why? One glance out of the windows, which stretch the whole length of this side of the lounge, makes it clear. I am looking out at Singapore’s icon, the standing-E that is Marina Bay Sands.
The lounge has, however, been extended, across the corridor, to the other side of the hotel, with views to the enormous armadillo-shaped National Stadium, with a roll-back roof. The lounge on this side of the hotel has a proper kitchen. Go in there and talk to the chef, to have what you want, precisely, and fresh-cooked. Gee, this is even better than being at home, say I, and so do lots of guests. I hear stories of some who spend all day up here, eating and drinking and just looking out at the views.
Next to the kitchen is the help-yourself buffet area, with an eight-bottle Enomatic machine. I am impressed by its choice of wines, which apparently change regularly – at the moment I am tempted by such old favourites as Cloudy Bay, Joseph Faiveley and Rodney Strong, but then I might try some I do not know, say Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Malbec 2011 or Pirvamimma Stock’s Hill 2012. The quality of the wines poured, without charge, in club lounges, tells a lot about the perceived value of spending more to stay in a room that gives club access.
Interestingly, the powers-the-be, who obviously include the hotel’s owners and management as well as the designer, have maximized the overall available space. One element of this is the compact buffet area. How to get all the food, as well as the wines, and the big coffee machine and juices and things, adequately displayed? No problem, build a vertical display. That in itself is not new. Many hotels have glass-fronted fridges that allow you to see what is inside and help yourself. Here they have specially designed a ‘vertical kitchen’, with four glass walls, two of which are doors.
Yes, it is all very thoughtful, which can equally be said of the big boss of the hotel, Peter Mainguy. He tells me about supporting the rest of the team. He has rented a beach house, which the 560 team members can use – obviously not all at once – for overnights, away from home. Since 98 percent of these lovely people are likely to be living in homes that may well be small and compact, and since at work, they are in an ultra-spacious environments, with the smallest bedroom measuring 549 sq ft, the freedom of relaxing in a beach house for a night must be a joy. They have lots of celebrations, at work, and days off for birthdays.
I comment on the chic, catwalk-type jackets and black skirts worn by the ladies in the lounge. They designed them themselves, says The Boss. On my way out from this luxury hotel, I am told that Amy choreographed the last staff show – would love to have been there to see that!