A month again, in Santiago, the gal was bowled over by what the Ritz-Carlton there has done with its restaurants. They, and the bar, literally flow out into the main public street. A similar thing has occurred at another luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel, here in Istanbul.
The big-boss, Max Zanardi, is a former engineer who became a restaurant waiter and stayed in the food side for years. Take both skills, and it is not so surprising that in mid-2012 he turned what had been a summer-only terrace into a highly successful year-round bar-restaurant, Bleu. The gal had to see it of course.
You are greeted by very-mod servers, in tight-tight jeans. Girls wear heels, men wear pristine white plimsolls, as if 1950s, and Italian-cut white cotton over-shirts modelled on what waiters wore in Rome half a century ago.
There is blue light by the end bar, and overhead, in the heat-bar roof that rolls back if and when the temperature allows (and the water tumblers and napkins are blue). Surprises abound.
One wall is all living greenery, except for a gigantic sports-bar television. At nine, however, water pours down from the roof level, obscuring the (now turned-off) television, and this provides backcloth for the live music that helps attract the younger-set Istanbul fashionista crowd.
The chef appears. She, Beste Onkol, was a successful journalist until she decided, like Max Zanardi, that working in restaurants is much more fun. She is certainly having so much fun here.
The (blue-covered) menu lists lots of tapas-style sharing things. I am recommended one of the cornet sets. The salmon and avocado set arrives in its own little holder. Breads come with the hotel’s own olive oil, from an employee’s olive grove.
Apparently it has no proper name as he normally sells it in bulk to wholesalers. I think of those who grow grapes to produce wine that is then blended into what will sell on as a recognised label. I hear of other innovations.
In case Turkey does go ahead and ban smoking inside, terraces are miraculously being added to some of the 244 bedrooms here: in one, the terrace is large enough to have its own barbeque and also log-look outdoor gas fire, for parties of up to 50 or, perhaps, as a party of two to watch the night lights of Istanbul over a bottle of Roederer.
And innovations continue. One big public terrace is the Outdoor Spa, with two spa treatment rooms, a pool big enough for ten strokes, and three different-temperature soaking tubs, and enough deck space for a couple of hundred. But back to Bleu. Another speciality on the menu is the kebab section.
As if in Brazil, the meat is presented on vertical skewers, but here you get your own set of skewers, in a stand that obviously has a skilled engineer somewhere in the design (yes, Max Zanardi has had a hand in everything here at Bleu, including the overall interior design).
When the hotel opened in October 2001 – yes, what unfortunate timing – Halis, a shoeshine boy from a family who for generations had plied their trade in busy commuter streets came in and asked if he could clean in the hotel lobby.
Eleven years later, and by now a full-time member of the Marriott work force, he was flown to Washington DC to receive, from Bill Marriott no less, the J.W. Marriott Award of Excellence for his ‘spirit to serve’. His award sits by him, and he wears the coveted pin, with such pride.
He is an amazing guy. His equipment shines, he has a stack of new International Herald Tribunes ready, he speaks perfect English and greets arrivals coming into the hotel as if he is the manager of the place.
One final thought about innovation here at this luxury hotel. There are little white Fiats that you can borrow, GPS and mobiles provided in case you think you might get lost in the confusing and somewhat chaotic city that is Istanbul. And it is in one of those lovely Fiats that I am, sadly, driven away.