Signage, as at some airports, can be overdone, and 99% of luxury hotels do not get all their signage right. But at Le Méridien, Seoul, the gal came across really memorable signs. Look, above, how every single item at the superb Chef’s Palette lunch buffet has a label that not only identifies the dish, even if a simple ingredient, but it also attributes the preparation. This makes the kitchen team member proud – all are elevated to the title ‘chef’ – and it helps the customer feel at home. Martijn Sax, the GM, says the idea came up when one of his golf partners, talking about the food, said how nice it would be to know who had prepared everything.
Chef’s Palette lunch includes a stylish glass of bubbly. My dishes of help-myself assorted salads followed by superb tempura, from the buffet, both rated 10/10 for look and taste. The design of the restaurant warranted the same, as the airy space has ample fixed buffet stations, at different heights, all the better to display the food. Last time I had seen this 1983-vintage hotel, by the way, it had been Ritz-Carlton. Apparently Jeon Yong Sin, CEO of its owner, Cheonwon Industry, wanted a change of brand, and was prepared to spend (Radu Cernia, GM of Ritz-Carlton Seoul, wanted to stay in town as his wife is Korean, so he has moved to J.W. Marriott Seoul, itself currently being renovated). The former Ritz-Carlton has accordingly been reflagged as Le Méridien, still in the Marriott family as it now turns out, and David Collins Studio has given it a completely new look.
This included removing a floor above what is now Chef’s Palette, hence the space is now double-height. Another real change is that the lobby is now like one giant catwalk, with lots of Hollywood about it. Art makes a statement – see Bloom, by Hee-Kyung Kim, known for her consistent theme of life energy. Look from the lobby level to one floor below and you can see into part of M Contemporary, which encompasses seven different art venues throughout the hotel. I am looking down into a gallery for pop-up exhibitions, currently called, indeed Hi-Pop, with several Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup cans – this is taken down April 15th, 2018, with an ode to Marc Chagall starting April 28th, 2018.
And yes, this is the level of quality that you find in this edgy hotel now. Even before you arrive you encounter a wow effect. Martijn Sax, on left, and Radu Cernia stand in front of Min-Ha Yang’s Gather + Build changing-colour artwork. Enter, and everywhere there are things to impress, including virtual golf that opens at six so you can have a pre-breakfast knock-up before heading to the Club Lounge, or Chef’s Palette.To me what is fascinating, however, is that since it got its new name in September 2017, the average room rate has gone up 23% and now Martijn Sax is determined to take this modern-luxury hotel’s TripAdvisor ranking up too. AND NOW SEE CHEF’S PALETTE