By Rory Winston
No, this was not that Hong Kong – not the ‘made in Hong Kong’ stuck ignominiously on the back of a trinket; not the one dreamt up by a child who watched Enter the Dragon and mistakenly believed he could intimidate the school bully by pretending to be Bruce Lee. This was another Hong Kong – the one made partially comprehensible by Wong Kar-wai, the one extolled for haute cuisine, the one I was not fated to see until a recent excursion landed me in the lobby of the renowned Mandarin Oriental. I write ‘renowned’ because the Hong Kong Mandarin Oriental is not just one in the line of five star luxury hotels but the paradigm on which the iconic MO brand had been built.
Like a modernist interpretation of a Yuntai temple crossed with a Ming dynasty tower, the elegant but stern façade of the hotel is a gateway between Victoria Harbour and the city. That this 430 roomed property should be positioned between China and the island, the island and the West - while simultaneously occupying the very grounds on which the Queen’s Building (a symbol of the British Empire) once stood - is emblematic of the hotel’s poignancy.
With walnut paneling, lavish drapes and king sized beds boasting duck feather pillows, the rooms – along with their travertine stone and black forest Chinese marble bathrooms (each with both bath and walk-in shower) - are a haven from the outside world as much as they are a place from which to view change. Putting on my complimentary silk kimono, I looked out over the bustling city – a manageable series of neatly placed skyscrapers discretely elbowing their way between the sea and the mountainous terrain looming in the distance.
But this was no Dickensian Tale of Two – or even three - Cities. This was a Bildungsroman for hedonists, one that measured several cultures in length and many centuries in breath. The varied dining venues told an important part of the story. Overlooking the historic Statue Square and Chater Garden, stood the Mandarin Bar and Grill’. Its dominant theme: a white lily floral on the central banquette that echoes the outer world like an idealized version of the same. Overseen by Chef Uwe Opocensky, the Michelin star establishment put the finest organic ingredients and seasonal produce in the service of reinterpreted grill classics. With Welsh Mallard Duck and fresh Sea Bass, the restaurant is a well-orchestrated culinary rhapsody while its menu reads like a libretto in molecular gastronomy.
Of course, when it came to true culinary wizardry, little compares with the two Michelin starred Pierre, situated on the 25th floor. Here Pierre Gagnaire elicits the best in French cuisine within a seductively regal environment. Like the charcoal, cherry and blue fabrics playing off the silver and crystal motifs, the dishes evoke both drama and simplicity in equal measure. From the Oscietra caviar quenelle to the Corolla of scallops with cuttlefish and sea urchin, there is a growing sense of excitement throughout the courses. By the time of the doe with juniper berries arrive for the crescendo, one can easily understand that Hong Kong has always been an arena for competing civilizations.
Still, the different possibilities in dining hardly end here. Man Wah, a Michelin starred Cantonese restaurant headed by Chef Man-Sing Lee, educates patrons on regional specialties. With cinematic flair, truly succulent dim sum is juxtaposed with a tantalizing backdrop of original silk paintings and birdcages for ceiling lamps. The result: a restaurant that is clearly as much for the eyes as it is for the palate.
If you ever wanted to watch a world class culinary performer from backstage, there’s always the Krug Room where patrons see Opocensky create brilliant meals in an intimate train carriage environment. The venue possesses the largest Krug selection of champagnes outside France proper. But whether one goes to Café Causette, the long established local haunt Clipper Lounge or the more sequestered The Chinnery, the experience is one that is bound to make even the most discerning Westerner understand that ‘Hong Kong’ and ‘authenticity’ are far from conflicting terms.
With a state of the art spa and fitness centre, Jacuzzi, ice fountain, Chinese herbal steam room, indoor swimming pool, hydrotherapy pool, sauna and, of course, the ever present tea lounge, MO’s range of options would have satisfied even the great Emperor Ying Zheng. With special treatments – like Imperial Jade ritual, Aromatherapy, Bamboo Massages –dating back through the Qin Dynasty, the formula is bound to keep blood flowing to skin and brain alike.
So what was the M.O. for MO? Simple: ‘the best in ancient tradition meets the best in contemporary luxury.’ As cultural reevaluations are concerned, the Mandarin Oriental had done a job on me. From here on in, the phrase ‘made in Hong Kong’ is more likely to conjure images of French bubbly than baubles.
5 Connaught Road,
Central Hong Kong
+852 2522 0111