Last time the gal was at Kempinski Hotel Beijing Lufthansa Center the lobby, about a floor and a half high, seemed like an airport terminal waiting for business. What has happened? The place seems to have shrunk. This luxury hotel now seems immediately welcoming. It turns out that the ultra-creative top team, led by Gerhard Mitrovits, has brought the lobby to life. A silent auction, for three giant china rams, occupies the middle of the space (it is to benefit a charity looking after children of convicts). There are throw rugs on the marble floor. There is soft green leather seating, and a young Finnish artist-in-residence, Tanja Koljonen, has a pop-up studio in one corner.
Mr M has been called away to what seems like a somewhat boring dinner. My evening, in Via Roma, is one long entertainment. As I found out a year ago, what was a boring old Trattoria was tweaked big time, by opening it up to the outside world and putting in a proper barista corner, a drinks trolley and more. Want to finish your meal with a herbal infusion? An entire trolley load of fresh herbs is wheeled up and you cut your own. But I am jumping ahead. To get to Via Roma we walked past Paulaner Brauhaus, which had a long line outside (they will serve over 600 tonight).
There was no line outside Via Roma but it was full inside, and they would later do a second seating. As soon as we sat down Francesco Sanna – still a bit short of sleep because he has a three-week old daughter – came over to try and persuade us to have pasta. Having already been European pizza champion a few years ago he is now practising hard to compete in the world pasta competition. Do you have to eat it or just prepare it, I ask.
I go classic Italian tonight, caprese, or rather mozzarella flown in from Campana, followed by a bistecca fiorentina with arugula, confit of cherry tomatoes and thinnest shavings of Parmigiano. The hotel has an outstanding full-colour bi-monthly newsletter (eight pages, A3-sized) with details of food events. Right now I should be buying zongzi, sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves to celebrate dragon boats, then it is Midsummer at Paulaner, Oktoberfest at Paulaner, a German ball and, March 19th, 2016, save the date for the annual Vienna ball, with debutantes. Oh yes, and it is Eat the World at Kempideli, with a changing dessert every week for the year.
I have an early start, and think about whether to try my welcome gift, a make-your-own-green-tea tray, with three exquisite bite-sized somethings, Ronnefeldt red berry crème brûlée, Ronnefeldt blueberry tea macaroon, and a Ronnefeldt orange tea bread and butter pudding. As I leave I wonder what my lovely Tang Suite (1636, facing over the city – it has access to the friendly 15th floor club lounge) will look like next time. Soon the hotel begins a major internal facelift. But this is a luxury hotel that is already keeping itself up to the minute. As I go out, facing a circular statue that must mean something, I see I am being driven off in a compact BMW electric car. Thank goodness I have only my ubiquitous Porsche Rimowa wheelie.