Rosewood Hong Kong Scales To New Heights In Luxury...
By Terence Ronson, Hospitality Professional, Technology Consultant, Public Speaker and Inventor
Four minutes after they flung their doors wide open, we arrived at Hong Kong's newest hotel, the Rosewood Hong Kong, with a full entourage of hotel managers at the entrance enthusiastically welcoming their guests for the first time.
Located in "TST" as locals would say - meaning Tsim Sha Tsui which is at the very tip of the Kowloon peninsula, the Rosewood has a billion-dollar view of the sprawling metropolis and magnificent harbor front adjacent to a number of skyscrapers maximizing space to the fullest because of exceedingly high land costs. By default, it has automatically become a new Hong Kong landmark, and without doubt, a place of curiosity to both locals and other hoteliers, most especially from their comp set - Peninsula, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Upper House.
This 66- storey tower sits on ground once occupied by the New World Hotel - a namesake of the owning company - New World Development, one of Hong Kong's real estate conglomerates - founded by oligarch Cheng Yu-tong who died on September 29, 2016 (aged 91). Interesting fact - it is listed as 0017 in the Hong Kong stock market, an auspicious number. So, this property is on land that the Cheng family must consider hallowed for its family legacy.
Rosewood USA was taken over by New World in 2011 and its goal was to transition the New World brand to a luxury level akin to Four Seasons, and with the opening of this almost 400 - room property, time will tell if it has succeeded.
Now, in this second decade of the second millennium, the Hotel division is headed by granddaughter 38-year-old Sonia Cheng who as a millennial - will no doubt be desirous of attracting like-minded souls - well-to-do young Chinese which China is not short of, since they mint more billionaires per annum there than anywhere else. Another feather in the cap of the hotel and using the old adage - location, location, location, is its close proximity to the newly opened high-speed rail terminus with China, about five minutes away. I suspect the hotel will offer a limo service from there to its doors, no different from the luxurious Jaguar XJ which serves airport arrivals.
My interest for this project piqued when the hotel announced it was ready to accept bookings, and probably as one of the very first to do so, I made mine via the hotel's website on December 31st, 2018.
Since then, I have been regularly contacted by the Reservations team to confirm my ETA, exact names of guests for the booking (self and wife), and any preferences such as pillows and newspapers.
Making the booking was a fairly smooth process, with one of the conditions requiring pre- payment of the first of two nights I had reserved. I was given a timeline of three days to make payment - and a secure link provided to do so. Naturally, I fulfilled that request. Shortly after making the booking, I received an EDM from Marc Brugger - Managing Director thanking me for my booking, including the oft-repeated phrase "we look forward to warmly welcoming you to experience our residence in the city," message.
Six days before opening, Marc again wrote to me (using the eSurvey facilities of Cendyn) with an update on the Hotel facilities that will be available and requesting me to again update my preferences; I diligently replied.
In a conversation on the launch of this prestigious property, one hotelier declared, "I love it... it is good for Kowloon, we will no longer be on the dark side!!! That's great!."
As to the opening of the hotel itself, with two days to go, one Rosewood Exec told me "It's all hands-on deck" - and I have to say that statement comes as no surprise especially as this flagship hotel will be on home turf.
Sunday 17th March 2019 - Day 1
Today is D-day and as we sit in the CX lounge at Manila airport waiting to board our slightly delayed flight to Hong Kong, I cannot help but think there must be orderly pandemonium taking place as I write - with the GM, I imagine, standing in front of The Team, some likely selectively poached from various other hotels around town, using words of thanks and inspiration as "Well, today is The Day we've all been waiting for, and dreaming of. Your collective hard work has helped bring us to this momentous moment - and for that I cannot thank you enough. Now it's time to make it happen and deliver the dream we have all been working towards. So, with that in mind, let's get out there and make history etc. etc. - Thank you everyone." I wonder how close to the truth I am?
Now back to our journey, apparently, I was to have received an email a few days prior to arrival regarding pickup info for the complimentary limo that's included in my room rate - but three hours before my departing flight to Hong Kong, nothing was received - so I sent them a chaser. Eleven minutes after sending, I received an apologetic reply with the details of the meet and greet process.
Upon exiting the restricted area of Hong Kong airport and entering Hall B, we were greeted by a Guest Relations officer (I suspect he had my photo) who escorted us to the area where we would board our limo. He then radioed the driver who was close by and we walked over to meet him.
Whilst expecting a Jaguar, we were informed that we'd in fact been upgraded to a Range Rover - no complaints from us - as it was equally luxurious. Both are produced by the same India-owned company.
The vehicle was plushily decked out in beige color leather with all the bells and whistles you'd expect from this premium class automobile. And oh yes - it had that desirous new car smell. Cold towels awaited us in the car as did bottles of Hildon water which one could imbibe out of crystal glasses and in case you were peckish, there was a packet of flavored nuts and some breath mints. The car was also equipped with a phone charging cable, wireless charger as well as mobile Wi-Fi.
The temperature was pleasantly set at 21c versus the 25c outside and ambient music playing in the background. The driver was very friendly and explained the facilities of the car, adding the journey would take about 30 minutes. Apart from some traffic during the last 10 minutes, it was a pleasant ride through the ever-changing environs in Hong Kong.
As we traversed the winding driveway and entered the porte-cochère we were greeted by a welcome committee to include various front-line staff, the MD (Marc Brugger) and Resident Manager (Alexander Lahmer). Absent was a red carpet - LOL.
We were then greeted by a staffer who knew us from another hotel (we'd obviously been profiled from the Arrival List) and who would later escort us to our waiting room. The Lobby area was quite busy, no doubt full of people curious about the facilities, guests checking-in, secret shoppers on reconnaissance missions, and well-wishers.
First impressions of the lobby - tastefully decorated - understated elegance - some character and a pleasant, welcoming space.
We were then whisked up to level 29 and our room - 2901. On the way out of the lift, we walked through an area called "the salon", a lounge-like set-up decked out with some fruit-infused water and a few munchies as well as various artworks where you could hold informal meetings with friends or business associates that you don't wish to take to your room or an F&B outlet. Apparently, each floor has one of these.
Initial impressions: welcoming - contemporary design - spacious and well laid out.
Digging deeper I observed there was no pen for the writing paper and the facial tissue box which surprisingly had no case, there was also no spare toilet roll, and the Mini bar price list and coffee menu were missing - but delivered on request by housekeeping. It was very thoughtful to have been given an additional power bar at the bedside - probably known by my needs from another hotel visit and the GRO who met us?
It seemed odd that the kettle was not connected to a power socket since the Nespresso machine was. This meant hunting around for one which we soon discovered behind some artwork on top of the cabinet. Perhaps this oversight was a lack of coordination between the ID and operations people. Having said that, the selection of Chinese Teas and Nespresso pods was excellent - and while my wife enjoyed the Jasmine Tea, I enjoyed the Indonesia coffee.
One side of the bed has a wall mounted - telescopic reading light, while the other had one located in the ceiling - so it projects down to your head and in fact produces a wide field of light rather than targeted. Not sure I liked that.
Blackout curtains silently glided down and the Roman blinds whilst impressive in form and function, will likely be a headache for housekeeping to clean when they become dusty.
The bathroom is a mix of chrome and mirrors - with a double vanity in opposite corners. I like that since it gives both I and my wife our own space and no fighting as to where each cosmetic bag sits. We designated who took which side by a peony flower being only one - so she got that side. One thing to point is that the sliding mirror-fronted door leading from the bedroom to the bathroom has a small crack on the bottom front left-hand side corner. Another is that both pump Hand soap dispensers had not been filled.
The hairdryer is visible and was one of the items pointed out to us during the quick room familiarization given as we checked in. There's also ample amenities and some new brands I've not seen before which allegedly were luxurious and at the same time environmentally friendly. However, please check the location of Shampoo, Conditioner and Body wash before removing your eye glasses and entering the double- sided shower. As is too often the case in hotels, labels are hard to identify. If you like bath tubs, one is located in the center of the bathroom and includes a tray table where you could rest a book, a tablet, mobile phone, candle or even a glass of bubbly. Bath accessories are stored in a glass box on an adjacent wall.
The walk-in wardrobe is located next to the bathroom and has an ample supply of hangers along with a built-in luggage rack that can accommodate one large suitcase. If like us, you travel "heavy" then a suitable space to lay out a second bag is just not there. We tried putting the bag in one of the cupboards using a stand-alone luggage rack, but the door would not close. Seems the only remaining option is to place it in the room itself - thereby spoiling the overall ambience.
For those that prefer to use an iron versus the hotel's pressing service, there is one in the room along with a full-size ironing board.
Lighting, curtain and climate controls are dotted around the room as are Master switches that instantly kill everything. For my part, I prefer a progressive shut down of lights with maybe a 15 second delay. Waking up in the night and looking for just the right switch to give enough lighting to make your way to the bathroom could be a challenge unless you completely familiarized yourself with switch locations or left the night light on - in all fairness, this problem is not unique to Rosewood Hong Kong.
For the techies and geeks - there are quite a few power sockets located around the room - most being easily accessible and conveniently placed are two international adaptors. Most sockets include USB power, and although there is a charging cable, there was no wireless charging or USB-C cable. Wireless streaming to the TV was a very simple process with support for Airplay and Chromecast. TV channel selection was comprehensive, and there is also a VOD section with free movies.
A little cable management would not go amiss in the toilet cubicle (exposed cable connector) and under the window-side bedside table - exposed excessive lengthy cables.
Next to the sofa in front of the harbor facing window is a hidden compartment - shown to us when we got into the room which houses a couple of power sockets, a LAN port, an HDMI socket for connecting to the TV and a couple of USB charging ports. Neither an HDMI or LAN cable were provided - but, I assume, one could ask Guest Services to borrow.
There is a very complete minibar with more than sufficient temptations ranging from vintage Rum, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosewood branded beers, Billecart Salmon Champagne, flavored coconut water, various infused shortbread cookies, milk and dark chocolate, power bars, hummus chips, mango chips, salted egg chips, nuts and the obligatory pot noodles.
If I have one gripe about the room, it is that there is no real place to work. No table that one could call a real desk - it's just a circular coffee table in front of a low-level sofa. Perhaps they don't expect their guests to be working while in residence, taking out a computer, making last minute changes to a PowerPoint or write lengthy tomes as I'm doing on my iPhone, but it's something I personally use on trips and miss, if not there. Call me old fashioned (even analog in that regard) - but in that sense I still use a hotel as a home away from home, or an office away from office. To resolve this issue, I positioned myself in the elegantly decorated Butterfly Lounge decked with art pieces by Damien Hirst. It is adjacent to the Butterfly Cake Shop which reminds me of a jewelry atelier - with cakes and pastries on offer looking like real (pastry) gems - especially the lemons...
The dark side....
To one side of the lobby is the "Dark Side" bar where we opted to have a nightcap to check out the band.
As we sat in the front row seats, we were served a complimentary welcome drink made of kombucha and other aromatic flavors, followed by saucers of olives and mixed glazed nuts with a chili kick. All were enjoyable.
Just after 8:30pm, the jazz duo comprising a Marilyn Monroe-esque singer, Kitty La Roar accompanied by Nick Shankland began their first-ever set at this newly opened venue. Unfortunately, they experienced some tech issues with the audio system which caused acoustic feedback and seemed to upset Nick the piano player - who also complained about the BGM which apparently could not be fully turned off until tomorrow. He then let out a "Jesus Christ!" comment, which was understandable, considering this was their opening set. Nick and Kitty who were flown in from Rosewood London, are here for the next three weeks.
If you are a lover of fine wines and rare spirits, then you'll feel at home here - just remember your Black card, especially if you want to order a glass of say Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon or aged Hibiki Whiskey. We called it a night at the end of the first set.
Back to the room...
Housekeeping did a nice job of turndown to include tidying up of bathroom amenities, however, they did not tidy up various charging cables to include the hotels own one, as some hotels normally do. Nor did they empty the Chinese tea pot which had tea leaves from early morning.
Absent was a turndown amenity - not even a chocolate, a flower or even a bookmark with some kind of inspirational message - as found in so many luxe hotels to give that extra personal touch before one calls it a day. I felt disappointed by this absence - but I do understand. As the saying goes, "service is more than a mint on the pillow".
Finally, as I lay in bed, I now have the chance to use the TV - however, it would have been better if it sat on a 2-3" thick plinth thereby raising it off the sideboard unit and giving a better and less obstructed view from the sofa that's located in front of the bed.
Monday 18th March 2019 - Day 2
My wife and I both awoke with sore lower backs because we felt the bed was too soft, even though we were given posturepedic pillows. Upon expressing this, the housekeeping staff removed the comforter lining the mattress to make the bed firmer.
The Demi-buffet included a veritable cornucopia of delights ranging from Balik Salmon, cheeses, all manner of breads and various fruits, cold cuts and cereals.
The a la carte menu features local delights such as Lo Bak Go and a Dim Sum Basket and they are all served with delicious in-house made XO sauce. Regrettably, at this stage, it's not for retail sale.
Service is attentive and friendly, and when added to the great selection of preserves, one cannot help walkaway satiated.
Two choices presented themselves, either go back to Holt's where we had breakfast, or try out the Chinese Restaurant - Legacy House. After being told the restaurant was fully booked at 6:30 pm, we took a chance as walk-ins and were happily admitted to-dine after much deliberation among restaurant staff. It was an intriguing situation as the restaurant was empty.
After placing our orders for drinks - the vodka martini was delightful with a green plum substituting an olive - it was suggested that whilst there is an extensive menu, we should select the Shounde items since these were the specialty of the house, as was the fresh seafood.
Once we'd studied the twenty plus page menu, we placed our order for a selection of roasted, fried, steamed, boiled and BBQ'd items. Since the restaurant was empty, the food started to appear quite quickly, and each dish was well prepared and quite tasty. One dish was presented to us as "the best in Hong Kong" and I have to say after tasting it, that the statement is a little too subjective.
We did encounter a few issues during the dinner with one being that the table was too small to accommodate all the ordered items, and secondly, that the service was either overly attentive with wait staff wanting to clean away an empty dish as soon as we put down our chopsticks, or that no one came to refill our water glasses and had to pour the water ourselves. Not a big deal, but something that should have been done.
Overall the meal was good and topped off nicely by the pomelo, mango and sago dessert. But considering the price point, this would most likely be somewhere you'd go for that "special occasion" - or a chance to flex the corporate card to impress a client.
Returning to the room after housekeeping had done their thing, we noticed the turndown amenity - a large orange colored bowl that reminded me of a giant M&M on one side of the bed containing two chocolates nestling on sugar crystals. We only realized this as there were now two of them - they were closed and initially we had thought it was just object d'art. Nice touch but we'd have missed it altogether if we were not observant.
Tuesday 19th March 2019 - Day 3
The Second Night
This was relatively uneventful - this time sleeping with the night light on so as to guide our way to the toilet.
Leaving the room temperature set at 22c made us feel somewhat uncomfortable - so at almost 4am we reduced it to 20c to have some increased airflow. The overnight set back temperatures may need to be looked at.
Highlights included Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and a variety of baked goods.
Disappointingly when my plate was removed and some sauce drips were left on the table, no one bothered to clean it up even thought at least four staffers saw it to include some supervisors. My used cutlery which was egg stained was lifted off the plate and put down on the table. Common sense and training would have dictated that the table should have been cleaned and cutlery replaced - it took a prompt from us to make that happen.
Pretty straightforward. Had to inquire what was meant by the 10% "Package surcharge" on my folio and this was explained to me that in HKG there is no tax, but this is a kind of Service Charge like you find in restaurants.
Settlement was completed and receipt presented in an envelope. The clerk asked if I enjoyed my stay and also made sure to check that the safety box was emptied. She then walked me out of the doors as I waited for my Uber to arrive.
One of the people we interacted quite a few times in the lobby and various public areas was the Resident Manager - Alexander Lahmer who was charming and helpful. As we bumped into him in the elevator, he said, "At some point you have to open the hotel - you do the very best you can to get to this point, but you know deep down there will be issues, and it's how you deal with those when they arrive that counts."
I could not have put it any better myself...
Good Luck Team Rosewood!
Terence Ronson is the Managing Director of Pertlink Limited. Now residing in Manila after almost two decades in Hong Kong, Terence launched his diversified hospitality career as a chef, later holding various general management positions with well-known hotels in the UK and Asia. In the mid-80s he developed his penchant for technology, and in 2000 started Pertlink Ltd.More from Terence Ronson