You know which city you are in by the street cleaners, says the gal. In Shanghai they wear stunning pale lavender trouser suits with dayglo yellow stripes. Here in Beijing they are in overall dayglo orange. See them if you take a morning run from the luxury Fairmont Beijing Hotel, off Jian Guo Men Wai Avenue. Come out of the hotel, turn left and 100 yards later you can cross a road to get to a river bank. There they are, this hearty band, mostly female, all sweeping away as if a single cigarette-butt left could cost them their jobs, or more. Actually one does wonder where all those cigarette ends go…
It was a bit of a shock checking in to one hotel (not this, I hasten to add) to find myself standing next to someone smoking, right at front desk. Smoking is supposedly banned in public places, but that did not deter him. It is a shock, too, to find ashtrays and matches in some bedrooms. Anyway, back to this distinctive hotel. You know you have found the right block as it stands out. It is not orange, but a delicate shade of pink. Both the glass and the metal of the 25-floor exterior are rose-hued, as is the entire complex. The hotel is one tower of an upturned C structure, which also houses the Reignwood tower and its private gallery of art, and its 250-seat Reignwood Theatre, a replica of La Scala in Milan.
Inside, the 222-room hotel does have a lot of orange. The two floor lobby is clad in orange-yellow marble and a gigantic orange and clear glass thing, like twisted burned sugar bits that could have been blown by Dale Chihuli but in fact come from one of the Czech Republic’s champions, Jitka Skuhrava, hangs overhead. Another burned sugar confection wafts down the stairwell that leads you to the all-day restaurant, where you can look out at a Chinese garden, with water trickling down a wall (grey), next to living trees (green). At the lobby’s ground level there are decorative vases – orange, not surprisingly.
Head up to the upper level of the lobby and you pass orange flowers. You are on your way to The Cut, a justly popular restaurant for carnivores who need sustenance after yet another day of sightseeing. We ordered a tomahawk, 1,500 grams, bone included, just right for us two hungry souls. The order was taken but, oh dear, a text message came back from the open kitchen, all of ten feet away, to say they had all been taken. Oh well. From past experience, here, I should have ordered an FBEI (Fairmont BEIjing), a martini glass with Hendrick’s gin, lemon juice, egg white and, in honour of the owner of this place, Red Bull – he has the Chinese rights to it. But we chickened out, and had our individual steaks with Trefethen 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.
One tip for all you meat lovers dining here. Even if you can get a tomahawk, do make sure you order an ultimate dessert. It is not large. It is merely beautiful. It is created in front of you, with a big empty plate put on the table and piped with squiggles and decorated with one-bite-sizes of ice cream, sorbet and crumble. Something else beautiful here is the Willow Stream spa. Yoyo, on the left in the photo, trained in Chinese massage and, my goodness, my neck has never felt so revitalized in my entire life. The whole experience is first-class, and she also wears a face mask throughout, which actually should be industry practice.
So not all is orange in this luxury hotel. Of course, as always here I had to borrow a iPod with GPS and a local map, but frankly I was concentrating too much on avoiding other traffic. To get to Tiananmen Square, about three miles away, you merely head into the 20-foot-wide bike lanes either side of Jian Guo Men Wai Avenue. Supposedly these are one-way but you quickly realize that bikes and motorbikes seem to be able to go in either direction, passing whichever side they like. The only solution, says this survivor, is to keep your cool and not to swerve, and look forward to that glass of Cabernet when it is all over.