When one stands at the Ozone Bar at the 118th floor of The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, which (if you don’t already know by now), is officially the highest watering hole in the world, at the highest hotel in the world, you get a true feeling of how tiny yet vibrant Hong Kong really is. During the day, everything looks like as if you are standing on top of a matchstick city, while during the night it looks like you are standing in the middle of a garden full of a billion Christmas trees twinkling in the far distance.
Opened on the 29th of March 2011, and occupying the top 17 floors of Hong Kong’s tallest building, the International Commerce Centre (ICC), The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong is your castle in the sky. The elevator that propels the guests to the arrival lobby at the 103rd floor takes exactly 53 seconds- that’s 9 metres per second to be precise. It’s not as fast as an aircraft taking off on rotation; nevertheless, it may still require you to swallow or even chew a candy to stop your ears popping. On a windy or rainy day, you can hear the wind whistling in the background as the lift goes up (or down).
If you ever wanted to experience what life is like above the clouds, and what it feels like to sleep in the clouds, then you have come to the right place. In fact, it’s more than that. Call me mad, but during my brief stay, I could not resist just sitting in my room and watching how quickly the weather went past me and it’s so good that you can see the weather coming towards you from a distance of over 15-20 miles in the horizon. What I am trying to say is that if you were on the ground, you would probably think that it’s a clear day, and you would have no warning or idea that in, say, half an hour it will start raining. Whereas if you are at 1,500 feet above the ground in your cosy room at The Ritz-Carlton you can easily see that it’s raining 20 miles away, and that rain is heading right towards you. A beautiful experience that makes you feel as if you are floating gently on the cloud tops.
All the 312 rooms and suites are designed to give you the ultimate in luxury and to make you feel special for whatever reason you are staying at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong. Whether it is for business or pleasure. Unlike other hotels, the distinguished service at The Ritz-Carlton comes with the best customer experience, and effectively everything that has to be superlative- there is no room for failure when guests are paying around 5000HKD (approx. 450GBP) per night for the privilege. At that point, it comes to the important part, which is the experience received rather than the height of the hotel.
The best part of the stay has to be the sleep. Lovely slumber and cosy 400-thread count bed linen with down feather pillows and throws (600-thread in the Club rooms and Suites). You just can’t beat the experience, and it’s so good that it makes you feel like you don’t want to get out of the bed.
Exceeding expectations, the rooms all are fitted with state-of-the-art facilities such as electronic blinds and curtains, 42-inch LCD television (17-inch LCD television in the marble bathroom), Blu-ray DVD player, i-pod docking station, both wired and wireless high-speed internet service, and the all important- Nespresso coffee making machine. Oh, and then there is the useful bedside clock which has an automatic light that comes on only when you pick it up- so you don’t have to get out of your bed to switch on the lights. Sometimes, the latest high-tech gadgets used at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong can even confuse the housekeeping staff. Like for example, the tiny ‘Do Not Disturb’ (DND) and ‘Please clean’ LED lights outside the doors that are neatly camouflaged inside a black glass panel. It’s a lovely invention that covers the minor but important details of what an experience should be like at a fine accommodation.
All the Suites have a telescope that overlooks to the Victoria Harbour and beyond. The views are just fascinating. On a clear day you can get spectacular views with the naked eye for as far places as Lantau Island, Lamma Island, the shores beyond Stanley on the far side of Hong Kong Island, Sha Tin and, even Clear Water Bay.
The old airport, Kai Tak, which closed down in 1997 after the British handover, is clearly visible with its runway (runway 31-13) and taxiway all intact even after all these years. In fact, airline pilots would who used to fly into Kai Tak would love The Ritz-Carlton. Standing at the Club Lounge and admiring the views is a treat because the view from the Club Lounge is the same (and from the same height of around 1,500 feet), at which planes would have started their final approach into Kai Tak. The old checkerboard in Kowloon is still very much visible along with Mongkok hill. I highly doubt that the guests residing at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong would have any requirement to take a helicopter tour of the city, as the views are perhaps better because sigh-seeing helicopters in Hong Kong normally fly at around 1000 feet (lower than the IFC!), whereas The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong is as mentioned, higher than that.
As you may imagine that for a hotel of this height, security and safety are two of the most important features that are looked at very closely by the staff. Even if, say, the fire alarm sensors pick up the slightest of smoke signals then it can set off the alarms fairly effortlessly (as it did when I was there). I was there during a moderate tropical typhoon (which is a common occurrence in Hong Kong), and interestingly enough it felt as if one is floating in the sky with the rain clouds. That whistling wind is so catchy to the ear.
Despite the enormous height of the hotel, kudos has to be given to the designers and the architects to make sure that all the facilities are within easy reach by the guests. The Ritz-Carlton Spa and the Club Lounge are on the 116th floor, while the futuristic swimming pool, Gym and the Ozone bar are all on the 118th floor, and all the restaurants are located on either the 103rd or the 102nd floor. The Ritz-Carlton Spa by ESPA features 860 sq m/9,257 sq ft with nine deluxe treatment rooms and two couples’ suites, plus floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views. The facility redefines the Hong Kong spa experience with a personalised and caring service. Guests are welcomed by the sight of a massive crystal chandelier in the Spa reception that costs over USD$0.5 million.
Equally well, when it comes to presenting gastronomic delights, The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong certainly gives a new meaning to the phrase ‘dining with a view’ like no other. All of the three enormous restaurants on the 102nd floor are gifted with two-story windows that provide a flood of natural light. Acclaimed Japanese firm, Spin Design Studio, designed the restaraurants. The views become more romantic and dramatic at night time- no wonder why all the dining tables are always fully booked. All the restaurants also have private dining rooms to rent that come with sweeping views of Hong Kong, and into the horizon. The three restaurants are: Tosca, which presents authentic southern Italian cuisine as managed by Neapolitan Chef de Cuisine Vittorio Lucariello; Tin Lung Heen, which is Cantonese for Dragon in the Sky, costs HK$888 (£71), an auspicious number in Chinese culture for a prix-fixe dinner; and the Lounge & Bar where one can have their breakfast and admire the stunning views (weather permitting). The most interesting design feature of all has to be the highly illuminated walkways connecting the three main dining venues on the 102nd floor. The walkway panels are either gold, red, green, or blue- depending on the time of the day.
With its honeycomb theme interior, the Ozone bar is purely a chic bar that is designed for three things in mind: the views, the elegance (and there is plenty of that here), and the menu on offer. It has it all- the glamour, the looks, the food, the flamboyant architecture, and the jazzy staff to go with it. If you want to just down a few drinks and absorb the atmosphere that is designed to attract Hong Kong’s cashed-in crowed then it wouldn’t be a bad idea to tuck into the tasteful carte du jour. The interestingly hologram covered menu contains a wonderful selection of Western, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine (Oysters and Sushi dominate the front few pages), and an equally special selection of wines, cognacs and some exceedingly mind-blowing martinis. However, I would not mind drowning myself into a trademark moijito either. There are endless options from the wine list; well, that should not be a surprise when you have over 10,000 bottles of wine in store at any given time of the day...right?
Nevertheless, one thing is for sure, the fact that The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, is the highest hotel in the world, is of course, not the real guest experience. For sure, the height at which it’s placed is unquestionably a lure for the masses. However, the real experience and the notion that sets this hotel apart from the rest is The Ritz-Carlton personalised guest provision. One would anticipate nothing short of an exceptional customer service experience from a hotel that has over 30 percent of the 525 staff members having come from the old Ritz-Carlton that stood in Hong Kong Island’s Central district. Glimpses of the old Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong are still somewhat present in this new Ritz-Carlton, however with a twist. For example, the old Ritz-Carlton’s Italian restaurant was named Toscana; while here, they have renamed it ‘Tosca’. Then there are the minor but important details such as the traditional period English furniture, gilt-framed mirrors and the snug-like ambiance of a true five star quality product such as The Ritz-Carlton. The phrase ‘quality and quantity’ certainly fits the bill correctly at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong as it blends in both values with precision.
On that note-, interestingly enough there seems to have begun a ‘highest hotel in the world’ race between Shanghai and Hong Kong. Until March 2011, the Park Hyatt Shanghai was officially the highest hotel in the world. Now that title can be enjoyed for a few years by The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong before it goes back to Shanghai again in late 2014 when the J-Hotel (Jin Jiang Group), will be opened on top of the 623-meter Shanghai Tower. But for now, it’s about taking all the chances that you can and be as far removed away from life at street level as possible. The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong doesn’t disappointment in that category for the time being. Give it a go, and see if it exceeds your expectations by being pampered in sheer luxury and engage yourself in life at the castle above the clouds.
Laid out with generous space and a beautiful aroma on the 102nd floor of The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, Tosca provides the finest authentic southern Italian cuisine on this side of the Pacific Ocean. Beautifully designed and crafted by Japan’s Spin Design Studios, Tosca is actually a re-carnation of the old Toscana Restaurant that used to be situated at the old Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong. In actual fact, this is one hot restaurant to dine at as proved by the month-long-waiting list that has been long standing since the hotel opened! That includes practically the whole of Hong Kong’s who’s who.
As the restaurant comes alive in the evenings, the magnificent open kitchen leaves little space for errors as Neapolitan chef Vittorio Lucariello can be seen performing various types of culinary magical tricks with his team to present surprises. Whenever I go to a restaurant, I let the chef show off and ask them to put forward some of their latest creations. ‘What would you like to order, Mr. Singh?’ asked chef Lucarirllo, who loves Yoga on his days off and prefers to keeps his mind dancing in culinary thoughts. ‘Just surprise me, please’. I replied as I handed back the menu to Mr. Lucarirllo. indeed, that’s exactly what he did. The set of dishes that followed through were a sheer work of culinary art. Before I get to that I think its best that you know what the atmosphere is like on a typical evening at the Tosca. The ambiance is nice enough so that you can have a relaxing chat with your fellow dinars without having to shout, especially when the restaurant is at its full capacity. The point I am trying to get to is that even when the eatery is fully packed it is designed such that the huge two-floor high walls and double-glazed windows absorb the sound. If you are on a dinner date with your special one then it’s highly recommended that you take one of the window seats which offer breath-taking views across the whole of the city. Hong Kong sparkles at night, and dining at Tosca gives you the feeling that you are dining on a floating cloud. Either that, or the unusual feeling that you are dining inside a posh spacecraft! It’s an experience like no other restaurant can offer anywhere else in the whole of this city- and that is equally important as the presentation of the dish you are about to tuck into.
Each dish has a matching wine that goes with it- not that they tried to get a journalist drunk on the night, but because this is the trend that the vast majority of the high end market restaurants are operating on.
I commenced with a lovely presented dish of Alaska king crab accompanied with a healthy portion of avocado and cous cous salad with Sorrento citrus. The perfect thing about these three dishes was that you could hardly taste the oil or the spices in them. The strong flavours of the real ingredients such as the sea bass and the avocado. When food gets to this level of sophistication, its all about presentation, looks, and the architecture of the layout. Nothing short of sheer perfection should touch your tongue. You just gotta love the way the avocado jazzes up the taste buds on your tongue as you take each bite. The most important thing to remember is that the combination of every flavour within a dish, as well as the combination of the dish with the wine (in this case was Franciacorta Brut, Majolini) has to be exceptional to the minute perfection.
If health was a key question to the heart of each dish, then the answers would be beautiful provided by the taste of all the flavours of the next dish. A lovely brash of eggplant surrounded with an arse-kicking decoration of homemade ravioli with a dash of shellfish sauce. Bright yellow colours of the ravioli dominates the presence. Excuse the pun, but you know when Lucarirllo is on fire in his kitchen. Native Neapolitans would feel exceedingly homesick, and while tucking into their dish may (for a moment), even have an illusion that they are on the shores of Sorrento rather than at the highest Italian eatery in the world in Hong Kong. The accompanying wine was Pinot Grigio, Sot Lis Rivislsonzo Rive Alte Ronco del Gelso.
Those who are familiar with the Hong Kong culinary scene would be aware of the passion and delight with which Lucariello put his heart and mind into all his meals. Lucariello personally loves the toasted Frisella bread with preserved high quality tuna with capers, olives, tomato, and Mediterranean oregano.
Lucariello had one final surprise for me. Just as I made my way towards the open kitchen to take photos after finishing my grilled Mediterranean Sea bass, I managed to have a small chat about his work at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong. Understandably, it’s difficult to get hold of the great man during rush hour as he is running the action-packed show for his dinars. ‘Did you enjoy your surprise meal, Sir?’ he asked while pointing his highly prized hand at one of the sample dishes. ‘I did, thank you, Sir’. I replied. To which the chef responded with the words, ‘OK, watch this, now!’ Then amazingly out of nowhere, suddenly he got hold of an empty plate, and then quickly whisked some chocolate ice-cream mixture right in front of my eyes. He then blended it with some rum, and another secret ingredient. The result was a ridiculously delicious chocolate ice cream generously sprinkled with rich chocolate flakes. It was nothing short of being a gorgeous delight for the tongue. The ability to quickly think on your feet and be able to create something healthy, appetizing, and attractive to both the stomach and the the eye is a skill which not many chefs possess. I would say that the award-winning Lucariello even surpasses this. But then again, what else would I have expected from one of the best chefs around in Asia’s World city?
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