This is the last year that a teddy bear Christmas tree adorns the lobby of Conrad Centennial Singapore, or so it is said. Sponsor one of the bears, five inches high (S$20), nine inches high (S$35), 12 inches high (S$50) or 20 inches (S$160), writing a message on a label round its neck. The proceeds this year go to Singapore’s Association for Persons with Special Needs, #ConradBearyChristmas. Next year, promises the hotel’s enthusiastic Irish GM Mark Meaney, the bears will be back, but in another form. What can this change-the-norm luxury hotel be planning now? The gal says that intentionally, by the way. This is such a successful hotel that staff seem to stay and stay (18 are here since its 1996 opening) and business guests, week in and week out, come back again and again, but Mr Meaney thinks a change is good from time to time.
What a good maxim for today. Mark Meaney’s father was a cruise director on Holland America ships, which meant he continuously, day-in, day-out, had to be creative, planning onboard events for passengers, hosting quizzes, standing in for entertainers when for some reason they could not perform – he then went on to host his own Hollywood-based television show. Obviously creativity runs in the Meaney blood, and when it comes to food, this is Mark Meaney’s own background. Tonight he hosts dinner in Golden Peony, the hotel’s Cantonese restaurant that is clearly tremendously popular with locals. Yet another party of ten comes in, at ten, around the table next to us. Many go for set menus, priced individually from Onyx, at S$68, up to Emerald, at S$188, but they also do menus-for-ten, at just under a thousand, Singapore dollars that is.
Chef Ku Keung rushes out, presents his business card, seems to take our order personally. I must profess a prejudice. I would always, without exception, choose any cuisine other than anything Chinese but this dinner was absolutely delicious, and so stylish. Loved the gold-tasselled menu, offering Flavours Of Wellness suggestions, say poached baby spinach and morels and wolfberry in rice broth, to get ride of phlegm, but we went for dimsum with new-style Pekin duck, barbecued suckling pig with asparagus, spotted grouper, fried and plain rice, vegetables. The highlight, however, was the dessert, chilled cream of avocado soup with ice cream, totally eulogistic, especially with the final taste of Ch de Chamirey Marquis de Jouenne d’Herville 2012 Bourgogne. And all the while we talked Ireland, and Japan, and Singapore, and its weddings – of the 162 they will have done at this hotel this year, 98% are Singapore-Chinese as opposed to Singapore-Indian or Singapore-Malay, the young couple plan everything, including menu-tasting, but the bride’s parents pay.
In the morning I am in the 31st floor Club Lounge, now somewhat quiet – last night, at cocktail hour, it was, shall we say, not-a- chair-free, with many making dinner out of the copious hors d’oeuvres. It is holiday time, says Michelle Wong, the charming club manager. By nine, we will be full (at least a quarter of the hotel’s 507 rooms seem to give access to the lounge). While reading Jeremy Paxman on Jeremy Clarkson in the lounge’s Financial Times, I enjoyed excellent scrambled eggs, and thought that with every hour I warm to this hotel even more. Want to know why? The gym is 24/7 and its televisions work, with decent channels. Speedy WiFi, and everything in the room is where you ideally expect it to be. No impossible to find and work light switches here, no complicated shower, no wait at all for a personalised response from the telephone operator – I was using a proper telephone rather than some hotels’ designer items that are meant merely to look beautiful. Luxury for today is simple. A hotel that works, with passionate staff.