Category Archives: Travel

Bay of Distinction

As a place where metallic winged giants once soared meters from the washing lines of people’s tenement apartments, and where an unpoliced mini-city formerly survived outside of society without law or order, the noisy, gritty and captivating Kowloon Bay is a little spot where the Hong Kong of old still lives on.

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Sightseeing with a Conscience – Ecotourism, Kota Kinabalu

Envisage – if you will – the tourism of the future, and no I don’t mean some Richard Branson utopian form of space tourism, I mean the kind of Star Trek tourism where you could beam yourself into another life for a day, Total Recall style. Imagine if science fiction came true and you could be just like Arnie – you could buy yourself a piece of memory revealing the idyllic escapade of a lifetime. There would be no environmental problems, no harmful detriments on society, not a centimeter of construction or pollution involved, and no greedy conglomerates to steal profit or culture from the locals. Welcome to the future, welcome to ecotourism.

Actually, in all honesty you can just go straight on imagining, because my allegorical metaphor isn’t specifically exact, but ecotourism does mange to alleviate some of these problems. I am sure most people have heard of ecotourism by now and it really is a love or hate concept. You either take the hedonistic ‘live life, screw the environment’ standpoint or stand on the opposing ‘bored of classical tourism, let’s have an authentic experience and save the environment at the same time’ side. I may refer to the latter stance sarcastically, but really whomever ecotourism attracts; the eventuality does more good than harm.

Continue reading Sightseeing with a Conscience – Ecotourism, Kota Kinabalu

Indian Chic – Lodha Fiorenza, at Goregaon in Mumbai

The ultra-hip global design firm, yoo, just recently launched their latest and one of their most audacious projects yet, Lodha Fiorenza, at Goregaon in Mumbai.

With India going from strength to strength every day and with many Indian luxury properties redefining luxury for the world, it was only a matter of time before yoo appeared in India. Founded by the world’s most celebrated designer, Philippe Starck, and one of the most influential property developers in Europe, international property entrepreneur John Hitchcox, the celebrity-aligned design company has names such as Kelly Hoppen, Marcel Wanders and Jade Jagger working for them.

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With experience spanning 33 different projects and 27 countries, yoo exists to help developer clients compete successfully in the property marketplace, by providing the very best in design, branding and marketing. Their latest foray in India is, fittingly, in Mumbai and it is also fittingly designed by Jade Jagger, the 39-year-old daughter of Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger.

Jagger has already designed homes in Morocco, properties in Turkey and apartments in New York, and her work is always respectful of the culture within which the project is located. This is undoubtedly the case with Lodha Fiorenza, which blends India’s rich and varied tradition with unique cultural elements from across the world and Jagger’s trademark style of relaxed luxury.

“I am absolutely delighted to be partnering with Lodha to design Lodha Fiorenza. I have always been inspired by the vivid colours and exotic textures of India; it’s been a wonderful experience to incorporate them in the design of Lodha Fiorenza – a perfect balance between luxury and comfort,” commented Jagger at the launch.

When completed in 2014 the primely-located position project will boast 452 apartments, across four buildings. Milano, the tallest of the four structures, is a 52-storey tower which will rise to a breathtaking height of 600 feet. The building will feature luxurious four bedroom residences and lavish duplex sky villas of just one per floor. Residents will get to enjoy such lavish facilities as a rooftop lounge, an observatory with stunning views of the Aarey colony and the Arabian Sea plus an infinity edge cantilevered swimming pool. The other three towers, Venizia, Sienna and Roma, offer stylish two, three, and four bedroom residences in the Jade Jagger for yoo style. All the homes will be fitted with the highest specifications and include lighting and sounds controls by iPad, German Poggenpohl kitchens, and Italian marble flooring.

Thailand’s Grape Adventure – The Thais That Vined

Situated a leisurely drive away from Bangkok are a handful of unique home-grown Thai wineries which have slowly been gaining praise with wine-drinkers around the globe and, despite the government’s strict stance on alcohol, things are looking better than ever for the budding local wine scene. 

It’s a late Sunday afternoon and a gingery orange hue slowly turns to a bloody red in the sky above miles of lush budding grape fields. Below, some fortunate individuals sit around a table covered in wine bottles, contentedly sampling a batch of matured grapes fresh from the latest harvest. If trite clichés had their way, this romantic scene would most likely be set in Bordeaux or Tuscany, but this is far from the case, as just beyond the table of wine-drinkers a full-grown elephant assisting with the grape-picking breaks the stereotype – and further on just over a hundred kilometers away from the wine fields is Bangkok, where the rush hour traffic scarcely percolates through busy streets whilst the wine bars and lounges begin to fill up as twilight sets in.

Wines are fairly new to the Bangkok drinking scene, but local taste buds have been maturing more rapidly in recent years as the city, and the country, quickly develops. Wine drinking is now de rigeur in Thai society and, in line with Asia’s burgeoning levels of wine consumption, just about every bar and hotel worth visiting in Bangkok now boasts an erudite selection of wine. This is the same story in other popular spots around the country as well. Official figures indicate current Thai wine consumption to be at 12-14 million liters per annum, and it has been growing at a steady rate of about 6.5% per year since the millennium.

There is a silent revolution taking place in the small but cozy local wine production scene as well, with many of the existing Thai wineries having garnered the respect of the international wine scene by securing numerous esteemed awards. Just back in June three Thai wine professionals passed the internationally-recognized Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Exam, and one of the local star wineries, GranMonte, was also recently awarded with 12 medals at prestigious competitions in France and the UK. However, wine-producing is probably the last thing one would associate Thailand with and, as the sommelier Siwat Thitipornwatthanakul from the Four Seasons Bangkok points out, “Thailand only has limited areas where grapes can be grown for wine making, and it also has geographical limitations.” Nevertheless, these geographical limitations do not run throughout the country and Thitipornwatthanakul adds, “I am confident that Thailand is the most successful wine-producing region within South East Asia.” This confidence is shared by many and some have even said Thai wineries are the best in Asia – although China is of course a close competitor. As Joe Sriwarin, the editor of Wine Today magazine (and one of the three who passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Exam), explains, “In Thailand, the producers are all millionaires who are passionate about wine, and when money is no objection there is no stopping them – no other wine-producing country in Asia is as unique as Thailand.”

This uniqueness is, in part, due to the geography of the country which causes the few select wineries that operate to run in the mountains around Thailand and the valleys in the northern part of the country where the weather is cooler. Although Thailand is a tropical country, these higher altitude areas provide a predominantly subtropical climate which is almost ideal for winemaking. Prayut Piangbunta, the director and chief winemaker from Khao Yai Winery – another of the leading Thai wineries – knows this more than any and he explains that, “Thailand is the only country in the Northern Hemisphere which has the same harvesting period as the South, and this creates a perfect environment for grapes to grow, with dry cool nights and warm sunny days.” Being close to the equator, Thailand’s latitudes fall between 10 and 20 degrees (in contrast to the typical old-world wine-making standard of 30 to 50) and, as one would imagine, this is not your average wine-producing environment – this is the world of ‘New Latitude Wine.’ Contrary to viticulturalist beliefs, Thailand wineries are perfectly capable of growing many types of grapes, though the subtropical climates are more suitable for grapes with high acidity. As Jirachai Sethisakko – the Group Wine Guru for Anantara – highlights, “The quality of Thai wines is comparable to mid-range Chilean wine and an entry-level Australian Shiraz.

In the industry everyone knows that Thailand has some of the most distinctive wineries in the industry, and the ideal grape-growing conditions even allow some wineries to produce two harvests a year. In this world of ‘New Latitude Wine’ the wine production season runs from November to March and harvesting takes place from January to late March. Labor is cheap and grape-picking often takes place at night to avoid the heat of the day. However, the exceptionality of the ‘New Latitude Wine’ world is not just limited to technical details. This is also a world where there are floating vineyards that workers must harvest by boat, and a world where elephants aid the grape-pickers – this is wine-making with a difference.

These differently-made wines are produced mainly southwest of Bangkok in the Chao Phraya Delta and the Hua Hin Hills, and in the north and northeastern parts of the country near Chailang Rai and the Khao Yai region, about 130-kilometers from Bangkok. The central wine hotspot is the area around Khao Yai National Park, where a cluster of the leading local wineries operate, and where almost 50% of local Thai wines are produced. Operating within close proximity of one another, many of these wineries also offer tours, lodging, restaurants, and other activities. Up in the northeast, for example, Village Farm Winery boasts a spa and a cliff-hanging swimming pool, whilst the PB Valley Khao Yai Winery vineyard offers resort-style accommodation and Siam Winery boasts a large Thai-inspired wooden pavilion designed by a former Norman Foster architect. For this reason the area has been loosely compared to Napa Valley in California and the enthusiastic atmosphere at local wineries could be compared to other wine scenes that were also once not so developed. As Nikki Visootha Lohitnavy – the Winemaker at the GranMonte winery – states, “It is kind of comparable to the 70’s when Napa was booming. Back then Napa wines competed with the French wines and won at the judgment of Paris. Now we are more or less winning the same all around the world.” However, the Thai wine scene is not quite yet ‘winning’ at a Charlie Sheen level yet and, as Siwat Thitipornwatthanakul from the Four Seasons Bangkok clarifies, “There are definitely opportunities for Thailand’s wine industry to grow. We still need more education in wine-making. Chile is a good example for us to look at, since it is a wine region with similarities to Thailand.”

Chile is the perfect yard post to measure the Thai wine scene against, since it is a young wine country with a similar climate that produces similar wines, and that also once lacked the education to create good wine and was plagued by tax problems. However, though Chilean alcohol taxes were dropped (and the wine Chilean industry subsequently saved) in the 1980s, excessively high taxes and a strict governmental stance on alcohol are hindering the growth of the local Thai wine scene. “The Thai government is very strict with alcohol advertising. Thailand wine deserves better and more publicity from local press but they cannot publish pictures of bottles or write about wine except for education,” says Joe Sriwarin, the editor of Wine Today magazine. In spite of everything though, the local Thai wines are doing extremely well outside of Thailand and, with Thai wines being undoubtedly some of the best to come out of Asia, the future nevertheless looks bright for this new world of newer New World wines.

Originally published in Turbojet Horizon Magazine, August 2011

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Coqoon Spa, Indigo Pearl, Phuket

With intentionally oxidised furnishings and features running throughout, this Bill Bensley-landscaped resort is guided by design and it would only make sense that their spa would follow suit. While there were already a whole bunch of quality treatments on offer, the design stakes of the spa increased two-fold this year, with the opening of the stunning Nest treatment suites which are, in essence, oversized Avatar-like nests suspended midair accessible only by a bridge. Branded as the Coqoon Spa, it is now one of the most distinctive spas in Thailand and the spa suites further secure this standing.

The surroundings for the treatments on offer include eight double rooms, six immaculately presented deluxe treatment rooms, plus a luxurious spa suite (complete with a private swimming pool, steam showers, a sauna, a Jacuzzi and a waterproof shower treatment table). There is also a beauty salon on hand for the more vainly inclined.

Drawing on timeless Asian herbal remedies, Coqoon Spa uses a perfect blend of specially selected ingredients and essential oils. Using Anne Sémonin branded products, the treatments and ingredients encourage harmony for all kinds of skin types.

Originally published in Kiosk Magazine, January 2012

Must-visits in Asia | KIOSK

These days it’s hard to keep track of all the new hotel openings in Asia, let alone around the rest of the world. Like mould growing in spring humidity, new launches are a dime a dozen and here we present you with a round-up of some of the best so far.

The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong
Ritz Carlton Hong KongSoaring 490 metres above Victoria Harbour, on the top floors of the fourth tallest building on the planet is the new Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong and the extraordinary hotel marks the beginning of a new era for Asian hospitality.

At a measly 333 metres, the Rose Rayhaan in Dubai was the previous world’s tallest, and – for now at least – The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong now can proudly claim the title of the highest hotel in the world instead. The sweeping 360-degree panoramas are beyond comparison, with every one of the sleek modern-oriental-styled guestrooms featuring either views of Hong Kong’s outlying islands, Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, or, in some privileged cases, all of the above.

Ritz Carlton Hong KongThe Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong is a hotel that turns people into ants and buildings into structures of cards – a place where the world looks differently and where one literally stands above it all. The lobby sits on the 103rd floor, and the hotel continues its vertical climb to the highest bar in the world – the Ozone Bar on the 118th floor (which, yes, does have an outdoor terrace). Other food and beverage highlights include an all-day Lounge and Bar, a cute pastry shop, a Chinese restaurant called Tin Lung Heen, a south Italian-focused outlet called Tosca, plus a lounge called the Chocolate Library. There is also an 860-square-metre spa by ESPA, which comes complete with a glass-enclosed infinity pool, an LED screen ceiling, plus nine deluxe treatment rooms and two couples’ suites.

Location: International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Phone:             +852 2263 2263

Hansar Samui, Bophut Bay, Thailand

hansar%20samui%20poolThis exquisite little gem of a property is proving itself to be a charmer, entering in as easily the best hotel in Bophut Bay – if not the whole of Koh Samui itself.

While the property does not offer as much as mega luxury resorts, the select offerings on hand are of the highest quality. These top-notch offerings include a spacious spa, 74 comfortable and airy guestrooms, an open-air waterfront bar, a beach-side saltwater infinity pool, plus a well-equipped gym and what could easily be considered Samui’s best restaurant – H Bistro.

Although slightly cosily-sized at 8,862 square-metres, it is exactly this cosiness which makes the property so successful, with intimate public areas and a simple design keeping everything at guest’s fingertips. Arranged in an orderly U-shaped layout, the warm brick-coloured structures of the property have been expediently arranged around the garden-edged infinity pool at the centre of the resort, which can be reached within 30 seconds from anywhere on the property. In addition, every single one of the rooms unobstructedly looks onto the sea, with each boasting massive flat-screen televisions, centrepiece terrazzo bathtubs, teak floors, restful king-size four-poster beds and oversized glass-walled rainshowers as well.

Other highlights of the property include the generously sized treatment rooms of the Luxsa Spa and possibly one of the finest and most well-equipped restaurants in Samui, H Bistro, where fresh foods and molecularly enhanced dishes tantalise and exert a pull on one’s senses. Although newcomers on the scene, Hansar is managed by hospitality veterans Ativa, and as a result the service is second-to-none, with every one of the staff making guests feel like family. This superior service is another element that contributes to the subtle sense of working luxury that makes this place the diamond in the rough that it is.

Location: 101/28 Moo 1, Bophut, Koh Samui, Suratthani, Thailand 84320
Phone:             +66 7724 5511

W Retreat Koh Samui, Thailand
The overuse of words beginning with the letter ‘W’ employed at W Hotels around the world gets kind of galling after a while, but this is one annoyance we are willing to forgo at the W Retreat Koh Samui, which really is, by definition and design, whimsical and wonderful (*shudder*).

At the entrance one is greeted by interactive digital floor projections and a large architectural recreation of a lily pond complete with glowing psychedelic floating globules and sunken seats that look like oversized lotus flowers. From here on in a whole world of chicness awaits where quirky design features abound and create a serious sense of place. In the 75 colourful glass-walled pool villas red marshmallow-resembling light fixtures, modish asymmetrical ceiling fans and other playful eye candy combine to make an impact on the senses, whilst around the resort a number of alluring food and beverage outlets beckon and entice.

These include the open kitchens, dramatic glass ceilings and vivid bright blue tones of The Kitchen Table; the raw wood, concrete, and glass elements of the beach-side Sip Bar and Namu Japanese restaurant; plus a healthful juice bar connected to the Away Spa (which boasts Asia’s first Thai/Mexican steam treatment facility). Being a W property, the exceptional design is matched by an exceptional location, which features two separate beaches that converge at a sandy tip. While villas scatter a hillside on one side off from the beachfront, there is a flat plain that stretches out on the other side, overlooked by the various levels of public areas that impressively cascade down the hillside. It is all just a day’s work for this hotel group of cool unconventionality.

Location: 4/1 Moo 1 Tambol Maenam, Surat Thani, Koh Samui, 84330 Thailand
Phone:             +66 7791 5999

Kerry Hotel, Pudong, Shanghai
The Kerry Hotel, Pudong, Shanghai is the first of a new luxury hotel brand from the Shangri-La group and, being a debut, the property is of course a real stunner. With first-rate facilities, spacious guestrooms, professional meeting and conference solutions, and some of the best food and beverage outlets in Shanghai, the brand new 31-storey hotel is quite a force to be reckoned with.

The hotel houses 574 plush guestrooms and suites, which all come with specially designed bar counters and high stools, plus massive flat-screen televisions, iPod docks, complimentary Internet, and marble bathrooms with glass-enclosed baths and shower cubicles. However, although faultless and perfectly fine, these guestrooms take second place to the forward-thinking food and beverage concepts on offer at the hotel. These include an eye-catching à la carte restaurant (COOK) with 11 live show kitchens, and a refined steakhouse (MEET) where one can choose a slab of meat from the dedicated ‘Ageing Room’ and have it carved up tableside by the in-house butcher. The Kerry Hotel is also the first hotel with its own craft brewery (BREW) where their own signature beers are brewed in-house by the resident alcoholic (I mean ‘brew master’). Other highlights of the property include an opulent Chinese restaurant with private dining rooms galore (Blossoms) and a 6,000 square-metre recreation destination spanning over three floors.

Location: No.1388 Hua Mu Road, Pudong, Shanghai 201204, China
Phone:             +86 21 6169 8888

Anantara Bangkok Sathorn, Thailand
Silently expanding at a swift pace, Anantara has grown to be a major player in the Asian hospitality industry. Now, after a decade of relaxing and pampering their guests, the comfort experts have opened their first true city hotel in Bangkok. Although most recognised for their resort-style accommodations – often with pool villas and verdant natural locations – their new Bangkok property refreshingly goes against the grain which they are normally used to.

However, this is not to say the property lacks the Anantara signature – it is in fact the opposite, with plenty of Thai-inspired ornaments running throughout and a massive outdoor pool and garden area set in between the two towering twin buildings that make up the property. Available for short- and long-term stays, their chic-looking accommodation offerings range from 40 square-metre rooms to 121 square-metre two-bedroom suites.

Some of the guestroom highlights include balconies with city or river views, plus oversized bathtubs and separate living and entertainment areas. The dining options on hand include Zin Bar, a refined and contemporary yet uniquely Anantara take on the lobby bar concept; Crust, a restaurant with its own wood-fire pizza oven serving up some of the best Italian pizzas in Bangkok; and 100°East, an outlet with indoor and outdoor seating with a refined interior marked by hardwood furniture and sensuous textiles.

Location: 36 Narathiwat-Ratchanakarin Road, Bangkok 10120, Thailand
Phone:             +66 2210 9000

Andara Resort & Villas, Phuket Thailand
Although not the newest property to have launched in Phuket, Andara is certainly one of the more luxurious and well-equipped resorts off the list of recent openings. Sited on a lush, gently-sloping hillside overlooking the picturesque waters of Kamala Bay on the pristine west coast of Phuket, the resort has an exclusive has-to-be-experienced feel about it.

There are 26 free-standing pool villas and 37 suites, each ranging in size from one to six bedrooms, spread across low-rise buildings layered up the hillside. Apart from the Thai-inspired ornamentation, the rooms feel more like well-equipped urban pads as opposed to accommodation in an island resort, with surround-sound Bose speakers in every room, exceptional kitchens outfitted with a shiny array of appliances, plus bathroom rainshowers and some of the most comfortable beds in Phuket. Other high points include Silk Restaurant and Bar (which fuses time-honoured techniques, fine local ingredients with a dash of contemporary flair), the large 40-metre infinity pool, the spacious spa, plus two of their own Italian-designed private motor yachts that are available for private charter.

Location: 15 Moo 6, Kamala Beach, Kathu, Phuket 83150, Thailand
Phone:             +66 7633 8777

Mandarin Oriental, Macau

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has always had a strong footing in this part of Asia and so this Macau property opened to a fanfare when it launched. Taking over from the old Mandarin Oriental Macau (now branded as the Grand Lapa Hotel), the new property is located on a prime spot on the waterfront – coming in as part of the massive One Central Macau development (which also houses residences managed by the Mandarin Oriental).

Being the hospitality veterans that they are, the hotel features Mandarin Oriental’s trademark fineness, which comes in alongside a modish design scheme that merges subtle inspirations from the territory’s European heritage with sleek interior decor. The 213 spacious rooms (including 26 suites and 1 presidential suite) come complete with such comforts as hydro massage-equipped showers, television-side bathtubs, iPod docks, yoga mats, Nespresso coffee machines, large flat-screen televisions, surround sound systems and stunning panoramas over the adjacent lake or harbour. On site also are a state-of-the-art Fitness Centre and an outdoor swimming pool, with these both being connected to the award-winning Spa at Mandarin Oriental.

As the only non-gaming, five-star hotel on the Macau Peninsula, the Mandarin Oriental, Macau places its focus on areas other than gambling and, as well as the spa, there are also convenient and exclusive meeting and conference facilities, plus a wide range of food and beverage outlets. These dining options include the Lobby Lounge, the Mandarin Oriental Cake Shop and the signature Vida Rica Restaurant and Bar, which boasts soaring columns and a double-height ceiling.

Location: Avenida Dr Sun Yat Sen, NAPE, Macau
Phone:             +853 8805 8888

Originally published in Kiosk Magazine, April 2012

St. Regis Bangkok

As far as luxury city hotels go, the new St. Regis Bangkok is pretty much as good as they get, with a world of well-appointed convenience and luxury on offer to guests lucky enough to stay here. This luxurious world is a world where every room gets complimentary well-made coffee and tea and on request at any time of the day; a world where every room category comes with its own on-call butler; and a world where high-class amenities appear alongside top food and beverage outlets and expedient business facilities.

The 176 guest rooms and 51 suites range from 45 to 250 square-metres, and all come equipped with DVD players, LCD televisions, a multimedia hub, wifi internet and floor to ceiling windows which bring unobstructed views of the city skyline into the rooms. Unique to Bangkok and pretty new to Asia as well is the St. Regis butler service, which is easily the highlight of the hotel.

The indulgent services on hand for all guests include packing and unpacking, garment pressing, bathtub preparation and beverage service as well. In addition to the refined service, there are also a collection of fine dining outlets serving up cuisines from all over the world ranging from Japanese at Zuma (imported from London and Hong Kong), Italian at JoJo (named after one of the founders, John Jacob Astor) and international at Viu (which offers sweeping views of Bangkok). There is also a wine bar, a poolside bar and the St Regis Bar. Recreational facilities include the first Elemis Spa (1 of 4 in the world) in Southeast Asia, an outdoor swimming pool and a gym.

If it is work guests are visiting for though, the hotel comes equally equipped for business as well as leisure. Equipped with the latest technology, the 1,515 square-metres of flexible meeting space ensure large and small business groups can be graciously accommodated at any given time, and the highlight of these is the elegant and sizeable 515 square-meter Astor Ballroom. There is also a designated business centre, plus plenty of parking spaces as well.

For longer-staying guests and those in the know there are also super-luxe residences at the top of building the hotel which are frequented and inhabited by the upper crust of Bangkok. It is no wonder that these types visit the property though, as the design is incomparable. Overseen by the leading New York-based Brennan Beer Gorman Architects with interior design by Studioaria, the property was designed as a contemporary abstract monolith and it features emotion-injected motifs and detailing. If one is in Bangkok on business or simply looking to impress a client, one could do a lot worse.

Originally published in South China Morning Post, September 2011

Wonderfully Unconventional – W Retreat Koh Samui

The overuse of words beginning with the letter ‘W’ employed at W Hotels around the world gets kind of galling after a while, but this is one annoyance we are willing to forgo at the W Retreat Koh Samui, which really is, by definition and design, whimsical and wonderful (*shudder*). At the entrance one is greeted by interactive digital floor projections and a large architectural recreation of a lily pond complete with glowing psychedelic floating globules and sunken seats that look like over-sized lotus flowers. From here on in a whole world of chicness awaits where quirky design features abound and create a serious sense of place. In the 75 colourful glass-walled pool villas red marshmallow-resembling light fixtures, modish asymmetrical ceiling fans and other playful eye candy combine to make an impact on the senses, whilst around the resort a number of alluring food and beverage outlets beckon and entice. These include the open kitchens, dramatic glass ceilings and vivid bright blue tones of The Kitchen Table; the raw wood, concrete, and glass elements of the beach-side Sip Bar and Namu Japanese restaurant; plus a healthful juice bar connected to the Away Spa (which boasts Asia’s first Thai/Mexican steam treatment facility). Being a W property, the exceptional design is matched by an exceptional location, which features two separate beaches that converge at a sandy tip. While villas scatter a hillside on one side off from the beachfront, there is a flat plain that stretches out on the other side, overlooked by the various levels of public areas that impressively cascade down the hillside. It is all just a day’s work for this hotel group of cool unconventionality.

Originally published in Today’s Living magazine, May 2010

Gentrifying Dining – 208 Duecento Otto

Although it’s been happening for a while, 208 Duecento Otto officially secures Sheung Wan’s position as the trendy gentrified dining extension to Lang Kwai Fong and Soho, and when one experiences the idiosyncratic interior one can see why the official transformation of a district can rest on a single restaurant.

208 Duecento Otto is the kind of restaurant that makes us design addicts happy at Today’s Living. Although the design is stunning, this time we are impressed with more than just the aesthetics as the story behind the restaurant is just as appealing, and the people who put the hard work into the restaurant are just as deserving as the designers. Originally a two-storey frozen meat storage warehouse at the end of Hollywood Road, the Singaporean founder of JIA Boutique Hotels – Yenn Wong – decided to build on the success of her eccentric Philippe Starck designed hotel and, combining an attention-grabbing design scheme with a New York-style Italian-American bill of fare, this captivating restaurant was born.

208 duecento ottoThe main district-changing factor of 208 Duecento Otto is the eye-popping design of the place, with an attention to style and detail running inside and even out. As the first overseas project by a Turkish design firm called Autoban, the interior is a spectacular bohemian work of art, and it is clear to see this design firm won’t be strangers abroad after this. The exterior is marked by a striking intentionally-oxidized rustic-looking iron frame, which somewhat resembles an oversized Louis Vuitton suitcase. This is appropriate; given that Chef Vinny Lauria’s cooking style has been defined as “a New York interpretation of rustic Italian cuisine.” Inside the rusticness continues in the spacious bar area on the ground floor where sophisticated walnut wood squared panels decorate the ceiling and flooring, and somehow complement the blue and white ceramic wall tiling, which also bring in an extra touch of orientalism. Some dramatic overhanging lights stand out as well, appearing alongside gorgeous textured wooden tables, a slick marble bar counter, refined leather bar stools and old-looking holed stairs, which have a slightly nautical feel about them. Upstairs, there is more of a sophisticated ambience, with the walnut wood ceiling and flooring continuing alongside more ceramic tiles, but here they are complemented by some leather sofas, an authentic wood-fired Napoletana pizza oven (specially imported from Naples), and a spot of natural light coming in from the large window out the front.

Pastiera Napoletana Of course with such a spectacular design scheme it would be a crime if the food failed to make an impression as well, and luckily the Italian-American fare it does not even come close to disappointment. Overseen by Chef Vinny Lauria, formerly a cook at Mario Batali’s famous Babbo inNew York City, there is a home-made vibe to the food, with every dish prepared on-the-spot using the freshest ingredients available. Apart from the pizzas and antipasti, these are not your generic dishes, with many of the items featuring top-quality ingredients and a signature touch of creative flair, much like the rest of the restaurant.

Originally published in Today’s Living magazine, August 2010

Ozone, Ritz Carlton Hong Kong

Unless you’ve been reading censored news, you’ve probably heard about Ritz Carlton’s return to Hong Kong, and the crowning glory of the hotel is Ozone, the highest (and quite possibly one of the most stylish) bars in the world.

Ritz Carlton Hong KongThe Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has been pretty busy of late. After the 2008 closure of their elegant property in Central the group went silent for a while both here in the city and the region, but now they have returned with a palpable bang, as The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong and their latest properties have shown. Recently the brand has changed their positioning in the market slightly and a slight shift in their design philosophy and service evolution has emerged across their stunning portfolio (particularly in the newer properties). Up on the top floor of The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, Ozone is a testament to this fact, with the bar and light eatery boasting top-notch service and a conspicuously eye-goggling design scheme.

While the ICC is sadly not the highest building in the world, Ozone is, vertically speaking, the highest bar in the world – period. This alone is reason enough to visit the 118th floor venue, but thankfully this is not the only incentive, with the stunning views complemented by top-quality drinks and food, fine service, plus a stunning interior. The interior design was overseen by Masamichi Katayama and his self-owned company Wonderwall Inc., a design company with a difference that has an incredible catalog of exclusive interiors which includes impressive store spaces designed for Bape, Uniqlo and I.T, plus a Tokyo restaurant interior for Harrods, a Parisian restaurant called Collette and more. Although Wonderwall Inc. is anything but typical, their typical atypical design style can be seen all over Ozone, with playful contemporary plastic features appearing alongside first-rate materials and creative atmosphere-building gilding. There is a distinct Alice-in-Wonderland vibe about the whole interior, which was created around the theme of an ‘Edenic Experiment’ – “a man-made environment of nature in an imaginary world,” as the designer overview states. In other words, blown-up inspirations of nature can be seen everywhere, from the dim neon color-changing forest-like entrance through to the beehive-resembling ceilings and marble-shaped bamboo.

Ozone-Ritz-Carlton-Hong-KongAfter being zoomed up to Ozone in an elevator which reaches ear-popping speeds of nine meters per second, one is greeted by an atmospheric entrance area, where layered mirror ceilings, curtain-shaped walls and rock-resembling floor patterns tease and tantalize one’s expectations before entry. Once inside one is greeted by an eccentric white pillar which resembles oversized stacked marshmallows and acts as a visual centerpiece. Further in the interchanging neon colors continue to shine out along the ceiling, where they are complemented by beehive-like ceilings, geometric shapes and flower petal patterns on the walls below. The beehive shapes run behind the bar as well where they take on a web-like appearance. Along from the main bar is a sushi bar, and things get taken down a notch here, where a whitewashed marble counter is matched by marble bamboo-shaped pillars behind. In the main dining area the hive ceiling continues, but globular bubble light fittings add a different touch here. Outside, in the semi-al fresco area where 12-foot walls of glass offer panoramas of the city, there is another bar, and this one takes on an iceberg appearance. Various bar tables correspond with the white ice theme while a few rattan seats and bar stools provide a nice place to admire the view from.

Of course all this perfection would not be complete without a good selection of food and drink, and luckily, Ozone does not disappoint in this area either. Covered with custom-made holograms, the menus contain wonders such as wines that hover around the $100’000 mark, custom-made cocktails and signature drinks, plus a fine selection of sushi, sashimi, tapas, tempura and caviar.

Originally published in Today’s Living magazine, July 2010