From one new luxury hotel to the next, namely The Peninsula Beijing, so completely gutted and renovated inside that it is barely recognisable. Outside, the distinctive H-shape of the 13-floor white tiled building, that opened in 1989 as The Palace remains pretty much the same, although now it has a large overhang porte cochère outside its Goldfish Lane entrance. Inside, the lobby now has the ultimate red-carpet staircase, 30 white marble stairs leading straight up to function rooms – see GM Vincent Pimont, above. There are some new sculptures: the gal loves Moments Of Bliss, left, Kong Qingjian’s 18-inch sculpture showing the epitomal one-child, with his six adoring adults, namely parents and two sets of grandparents.
Without cutting back on staff numbers, the keycount has been reduced from 525 to 230, which means the smallest room is now over 610 sq ft. Designer Henry Leung’s colouring is gorgeous, as the video below shows, and technology, which comes in 11 languages, is what one now expects from Peninsula. What IS new here is the realisation that today’s travellers are more than ever inclined not to unpack properly but to live out of suitcases. Sensibly, therefore, the closet here has a shelf at least six feet long so you can open up even the biggest wheelie, and it is padded, to avoid damaging one’s precious Rimowa, or Louis Vuitton or whatever. As always with Peninsula, there are serious books, and plenty of international newspapers.
They have really re-done the dining, too. The rear of the lobby is now an elegant all-day sit-up-at-tables-for-four place. Down 30 white marble steps from there and the formerly dark and somewhat claustrophobic Jing is now brilliant. Enter through a bar with a lake packed full of perfectly flowering lilies, and go on to the dining room, broken up partly by ceiling-high glass panels holding embroidered fabric. There is a private dining room at the far end, and another, sponsored by Krug, but for most fun exclusivity, I would personally choose the ten-seat chef’s table, to the left, looking into the creative laboratory where dishes are produced (the stunning show plates, with cartoon-like heads, are Legle). The menu thoughtfully lists all suppliers, say wagyu M9+ from Blackmore Farm in Alexandra, near Melbourne. We had a truly memorable meal, highlighted by a starter that is called ‘Additional organic vegetables set’.
Look at it, right. I was given my only do-it-yourself laboratory, with cocottes of baby carrots, cauliflower purée, kale and mushrooms, and of course that ubiquitous jus that every fine dining chef in China seems compelled to offer. You can do Krug, course by course, but we asked the sommelier-maître d’, Max Chong, for the hotel’s own, 2011 The Peninsula St-Estèphe. One of the many things that I like about Peninsula is that apart from potables, the brand does not thrust itself down one’s throat. At breakfast, which is in a side room only opened up for that morning meal, labels that stand out are Berkel, for the standing slicer, and Kitchenmaid, maker of the scarlet, four-slice toaster that does all the work: put the bread in, it takes it down and while it is toasting it tells you what is happening, even to the keeping-warm if you are not around to take it out. The breads here, I forgot to say, are outstanding, but then this is a luxury hotel run by a Frenchman, from Normandy, who knows the importance of details.