Giovanni Valenti, Chief Concierge of Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, has only been there 33 years – did he look exactly the same back in 1979, one wonders?
Bet the Florentine had the same smile and the same enthusiasm for life. Everyone, to him, is very special. Valenti is unique, as is his colleague Danny Lai, whose title is Executive Assistant Manager Guest Relations.
Lai joined in 1972, so he has a full seven years’ seniority on Valenti. Regardless of their titles, these are key players in one of the world’s iconic luxury hotels, which celebrates its 50th birthday next year. The gal, of course, had to have a preview…
Of course some things have not changed. Regular guests would go wild if they discovered that Man Wah restaurant, which has one Michelin star and is said to be the sexiest Chinese dining place in town, were to lose its tracery and undergo a blue-tinged overhaul (in fact it has gone decidedly pink in hue).
Many things have changed. The hotel used to be practically on Victoria Harbour, with just the General Post Office and the Star Ferry terminal between stone and water, but now, thanks to the government’s obsession with creating more land, it is more than a hop, skip and an Olympic jump to the new ferry terminal. Fortunately, the new land is going to be one-storey shops and restaurants, a kind of entertainment centre.
The hotel’s fabulous Barber’s Shop was introduced in 1963 and it has been deliberately left more or less as-was. Stained glass screening, in 1930s style, separates the visitor from an Important Person having a close shave and, goodness, if you want or need to have your white hairs darkened, you have a separate room, now with a wall-inset television for watching Bloomberg and the latest stock prices while the colour sets.
The great and good come here for traditional (blade) wet shaves, and Shanghainese pedicures – yes, knife scraping, dear, by Samuel So, doing it since 1996. He replaced his father, So Yan Ko, who started 1988, and Mr So took over from his elder brother Simon So, in action for the previous four years. So, a dynasty of Sos.
While He is having his shave, She can be having a hair-do, from bad-bed hair to ready-to-go hair, with continental breakfast and today’s newspapers, and perhaps a 40-minute facial. They think of everything, this hotel run by an international Swiss guy, Jonas Schuermann.
There is even a John Lobb 15-minute shine, for shoes belonging to Him or Her. Sit in one of the four-only Rena Dumas Architecture shoe-cleaning chairs (wood and Hermès buffalo leather) and your Tod’s or Manolos have a thorough polish, done by a gentleman or lady butler trained to perfection. If you have just arrived, meanwhile, your bags will be taken swiftly to your room by a bellhop.
The rooftop pool indoor pool has not really changed, apart from corrugated mirrored walls either end. You might prefer swimming during the week, when there are less likely to be kids around. During the week this hotel is business base, for top corporate CEOs from the USA, UK and China.
Locals come in the whole time (the Wall Street Journal mentioned recently how you can ‘use’ the hotel without staying here, perhaps for a shave). Come in, alternatively, for the nightly, Monday to Saturday, live jazz in the Captain’s Bar, where 40 tankards are named for regulars.
Come in, if you have already booked, for the monthly tutored wine-tasting dinners, though they sell out in 30 minutes. Come to dine, in Man Wah or the other restaurants, the two-Michelin star Pierre by Pierre Gagnaire and the one-star Mandarin Grill, designed by Conran with screens between tables, already far apart, to allow serious business to be effected undisturbed.
There is so much going on here there is hardly time to rush through to Princes Building and the Landmark (all by indoor, easy-to-follow walkways) for the outstanding retail that this part of Central, Hong Kong Island, has to offer.
But after lugging back the Chanel and Shanghai Tang shopping bags, get a bit of muscle-stretch in at the gym here. Equipment is Technogym, and the way the striped carpet matches the decorative bamboo trunks in big ceramic pots makes this area design rather than functionality, and windows make it a pleasure to work out. T
There are now 501 bedrooms at Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, re-designed by Jeffrey Wilkes. The small terraces of yesteryear have been incorporated into the rooms, to give more space.
The Macau Suite, number 225, comes with a circular dining table in case you want to entertain nine of your favourite local contacts: it is overall plush but not over the top and the plaster-look moulded ceilings are a reminder of English castles of mediaeval times, long before Hong Kong was known to anyone but Portuguese explorers.
Flowers, everywhere, are very Hong Kong 2012. Latest vogue here is take stiff green stalks as the focal point, and attach blossoms to them, at a required angle.
Ah, angles. Someone has come up with innovation at breakfast here. You can choose The Cake Shop, a bakery café with a large central table, an open square with a supply of newspapers and magazines – Sydneysiders will think back to Bill Grainger’s bills, and its no-reservation, shared-table concept.
This is the same idea, but here you are surrounded by sugar confections that look like full-size Philip Treacy hats for Ascot, Chantilly or Melbourne. You can, alternatively, choose the mezzanine Clipper Café, where a copious buffet is set up on several real wheeled hawkers’ trolleys, and fruits are displayed in vertical trays.
The gal loves luxury innovation, and she smiled to the end of her stay (the hotel’s Mercedes has a telephone charger, in its own cute little fabric bag).