Welcome, said Clemens Hoerth, who somehow, some years ago, got diverted from medical studies to coming into hospitality (he is now GM of the luxury Mandarin Oriental, Guangzhou). The hotel is majority owned by Hong Kong’s massive Swire Properties, who somehow appointed Tony Chi as lead designer. The gal was particularly fascinated by others’ designs. The tree in the hotel’s entrance, above, is by Shi Jinsong, born in Hubei province in 1969, who believes in combining manmade with natural (think of it as a move away from immediate daily life to a more broadly-spiritual realm). The banks of moss that are prominent on the 25-floor’s fourth floor are definitely natural, though apparently the green stuff, imported from New Zealand, has been fitted, as if a shower cap, atop styrofoam shapes.
There is moss at the entrance to Ebony restaurant, a lovely indoor-outdoor space with a jutting out glass appendage, Jin, which specialises in different gins. Tony Chi is among the best when it comes to restaurant designers, he was obviously in his element doing Ebony, a lovely space with floor of the same Manchurian Ash used throughout the 263-room hotel, and, here, full-wall windows looking into the lush terrace outside. We drank Francis Ford Coppola’s 2009 Director’s Cut Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, Zinfandel, and I started with a superb salmon crudo with avocado dressing and bits of fennel. I do recommend the hotel’s own dry-aged Snow Dragon beef, from Dalian – Clemens Hoerth says food reputation is a considerable pull when hiring.
When it comes to attracting guests, especially 35-45 year old Chinese hipsters, the adjacent shopping mall is a considerable draw – it is big brands. I know, I wandered into it, and then found a nearby flight of stone steps up to a terrace atop the mall (good exercise, before heading into the hotel’s gym, which has 60 local members). More than ever these days top hotels know they must keep their fitness facilities open 24/7: on a time-zone change from Europe to China, for instance, it is not unusual to wake up about two o’clock (a.m., I mean) for several days. It is also helpful, for the same reason, to have Club lounges round the clock: the 24th floor Club lounge here, by the way, is more like a gentleman’s club with really comfy leather seating, and plenty of small-select areas for conversations that are not overheard.
I had been given, on arrival, three paper maps, one for jogging, one for the local, one for the entire province – this was really thoughtful. In fact I also needed a fourth map, how to find my way round my little room, the 2,500 sq ft Mandarin Suite. Tony Chi has – as you can see in the video below – designed this as a rich aristocrat’s private house, with a breakfast room, a dining room for eight, an enormous living room with a Bang & Olufsen television that must have been 60 inches diagonally, at least. Add an inner corridor, a kitchen, an office, a large bedroom (and a walk in closet almost as big) and a gigantic bathroom, and you will understand that it was a little lonely for one person. But I loved the antique furniture, and the bed – and this whole luxury hotel, thanks to its super people. Now watch the video of the Mandarin Suite, below.