#review: Exploring Mandarin Oriental with a renewed perspective
By: Zaneta Cheng
November 9, 2022
A night at the Mandarin Oriental is much more than your standard staycation for those who call Hong Kong home. Zaneta Cheng spends a day exploring the storied hotel that has shaped the city it belongs to as much as the city has shaped it, and checks out with renewed perspective
Before we were all fans of the Mandarin Oriental, everyone’s favourite grande dame hotel this side of the harbour was known as The Mandarin. Built on the former lot of a very colonial-looking and even more colonial-sounding Queen’s Building on the waterfront, the hotel has been the apogee of luxury and leisure since it opened its doors almost six decades ago. Glitterati of every age and most nationalities that have landed in Hong Kong most likely set foot in its marble foyers and carpeted halls. Not much has changed over the years except for various refurbishments and updates – the Mandarin Oriental retains the stately quality of a bygone era.
Taking the lift up to one of the hotel’s harbour view suites, I’m cocooned in warm corridors with plush carpeting and bordered by the hotel’s signature black marble. It’s regal, and although I know I’m physically in Central, something about the dimly lit foyers on each floor, and the soft perfume that wafts gently and occasionally by, lends a transportive quality to the hotel due probably in no small part to its unique identity and legacy.
Opening the sturdy wooden door to the suite, I’m greeted with a large sitting room and study, overlooking Statue Square. It was once a parking lot, I’m told, but now the verdant green lawns and the stately cars pulling to a pause outside the Hong Kong Club bring a different vantage of the city.
I’m not quite sure how to feel because it’s strange to be in such an iconic hotel – to be looking at the city to which its identity is so tied, from the inside out, is a bizarre experience after having driven past it or eaten at its restaurants for so many years. Such are the benefits of a staycation, I reason to myself.
But first to the club for a spot of afternoon tea. After hotfooting across steaming pavements at the height of a balmy Hong Kong summer, the 23rd-floor enclave is the perfect midday retreat. Looking out over the blue skies and blue waters of the harbour, I immediately forget about the heat. Cloth napkins are laid swiftly and discreetly on laps and a three-tiered English confectionary tradition is placed on the table alongside the hotel’s signature scones and rose jam. Nothing more really needs to be said. The rose jam is unparalleled. Dolloping clotted cream on top of it, away from the busier Café Causette, is an added delight.
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A brief moment back to the suite to unpack. I head into the bedroom for a little exploration to see just how many ways the rooms are linked to one another. It’s cosy. The wood panelling that clads the bedroom and the living area gives the space a more intimate feeling, drawing away from the expanses of naturally lit spaces and white walls that have become the hallmark of 21st-century city décor. There’s a large bathtub that overlooks the harbour and Jardine House. There’s a collegiate quality with these closely spaced, semi-heritage buildings that have watched the city change and grow around them. I find two and a half large closets and decide to use them both – and then it’s off to The Aubrey for a pre-dinner drink.
The entry to the Japanese izakaya is lined with portraits. Decorated to resemble something of a home for a rather eccentric and avid traveller, it resembles an English den. Lit by the glow emitting from lamps dotted around the space, The Aubrey has a rather extensive food menu. And given its homage to Japonisme, a 19th-century art movement that saw heavy Japanese influences in Western art, the cocktail menu features a Japanese twist on classic drinks. Eschewing these, I go straight for a yuzu highball or two.
Then off to dinner at Man Wah. Both establishments occupy the 25th floor and while perhaps the view was not the main focus at The Aubrey, a switch over to the one-Michelin-star Chinese eatery shows off the nighttime skyline in all its glory. Lanterns hang above the azure blue panel-clad walls, framing the city whichever way the head turns.
Focusing on traditional Cantonese cuisine, Man Wah’s menu makes it hard to exercise restraint. Items like char siu and roast suckling pig hardly need recommendation. We order them as easily as breathing air. There’s braised pomelo skin paired with abalone as well as a rich chicken broth served with a cluster of bird’s nest. Given that both dishes contain foods that in Chinese tradition are said to have beautifying properties, they were off to a better start than most, but upon taste, the thick fragrant flavour of the chicken soup and the soft perfumed pomelo skin against their celebrated ingredient counterparts knocked the meal out of the park.
There is a wine pairing option for those who like their drink but those with a sweet tooth should probably plump for the tasting menu to enjoy, like I did, the spread of traditional pastries and sweet soups that come at the end. There’s red bean sweet paste alongside a trio of other treats. But because the Mandarin goes above and beyond, little dessert boxes come out with crystalline floral pudding, a personal favourite, and make for an excellent ending to the meal.
Once back in the room, it’s straight into the bath, which has been run by housekeeping half an hour before they estimated my dinner would end. The water temperature is perfect. There are rose petals. The twinkle of the Hong Kong skyline is in full force and spending the next hour ensconced in hot water and bubbles is a gift.
But it’s time to sleep because the next morning, I have before me the great responsibility of submitting myself to a HydraFacial. I head into the bedroom. Now warmly lit with marigold rays bouncing off of the wooden walls, it seems mere seconds pass between when my head hits the pillow and I’m awoken by my alarm.
As planned, I head to the salon, already feeling pretty good from a full night of deep sleep. The HydraFacial is one of a series of new spa and wellness options the Mandarin has sourced to give its clients the most up-to-date offering in the beauty space. It’s fast, it’s easy and there’s no downtime.
In the bright light of day, making my way out of the hotel, walking past its myriad antiques collected across every era of Chinese antiquity, it’s hard not to appreciate just how much the Mandarin has witnessed and bestowed upon its guests over the decades. And to wonder what this grande dame has in store next.