The high life in Hong Kong
The sanctuary-style Upper House is the ideal urban retreat
HOTEL rooms with banks of identical switches and remote- controlled gadgets to perform simple tasks such as turning off the lights and opening the curtains can induce stress in even the most patient of travellers.
Michelle, my bright-as-a-button guest services assistant, is talking me through my expansive Studio 80 room at The Upper House in the Admiralty District of Hong Kong Island, and so far there have been no nasty hi-tech surprises (although she did check me in by iPad).
Picture windows with clear views of the famous Peak? Yes. A bathroom the size of a day spa with an oversized, limestone-clad tub and walk-in rainshower? You bet. Free maxi-bar (a far more exciting version of the usual mini-bar, featuring bottomless jars of M&Ms, nuts and cookies, and free beverages other than wine)? Just to your left, madam. Loo with sensible lever flush instead of one of those frustrating scenarios in which I must wave my arms near an infra-red sensor and hope for the best? Of course.
But something is missing. Looking around my eyrie on level 39 — as Michelle opens the wardrobe doors to reveal enough space to host a small party, points out the television screen cunningly disguised as a mirror in the bathroom and walks me through the dressing room I’ve always wanted — I notice there is not a shred of paperwork. No brochures or folders cluttering the streamlined surfaces and no hotel compendium, my usual go-to source of important information, from room-service menus and the location of the nearest chemist to the correct number to dial for an outside line. I’m starting to feel unsettled.
Michelle slides out a thin drawer in the desk to reveal an iPod Touch. On it, she assures me, is everything I need to know about the hotel, its surrounds and virtually any peripheral issue of interest, from how to order a wake-up call and summon a dentist to accessing typhoon updates.
Entertainment is covered, too; Michelle plays some music from the pre-programmed catalogue through the surround-sound speakers in the enormous LCD TV attached to my bedroom wall. I make a note to avoid the iPod’s in-room shopping section, through which much of what I see can be purchased online, lest I end up with multiple sets of 400-thread-count bed linen and a dozen king-sized feather toppers. (Such slip-ups can be dealt with swiftly. I can check on the iPod how much I’ve clocked up on my bill at any time.)
While the 117-room Upper House has its foundations firmly in the future (in addition to its paperless philosophy, the hotel’s guest vehicles are fuelfriendly Lexus hybrids), much of its charm lies in the time-honoured traditions of comfort and hospitality.
Guestrooms in The Upper House, named after its lofty position in the Pacific Place commercial, retail and hospitality complex above Queensway and the historic Wanchai district, are said to be among the largest in Hong Kong. Myguestroom feels more like an up-to-the-minute private apartment than a standard hotel space.
Hong Kong-born designer Andre Fu, sought after for his sleek transformations of upmarket department stores, affluent residences, restaurants and art spaces, made this his first hotel project (in 2009). By combining lavish artistic touches with tasteful, minimalist interiors in clay, earth and wood tones, he has created a tranquil, harmonious retreat.
More than 300 commissioned works of art — including a 10-storey metal wall sculpture by Japanese artist Hirotoshi Sawada that spans a 40m-high atrium like a shimmering vertical sea — lend a dramatic flourish.
The Upper House is the second luxury property from Swire Hotels (which also owns the unique Opposite House in Beijing). The distinctive Bedonia stone facade by designer Thomas Heatherwick conjures a sense of arrival before guests enter through a towering nickel door flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows. You are then transported via a dimly lit escalator lined with bamboo lamps to the light-filled lobby located on level six. This small space opens on to a ‘‘secret garden’’, a rare but welcoming indoor-outdoor area in this highrise territory.
Guestrooms in four categories — two sizes of studio, 21 suites and two penthouses — occupy levels 38 to 48. A level higher, glamorous restaurant Cafe Gray Deluxe, a bar and a separate lounge, command excellent views of Victoria Harbour. And no expense has been spared in the fitout, down to the thoughtful padded window frames in the restrooms designed to protect the heads of guests, such as myself, who lean in too close for a better view of Hong Kong Island and the city’s twinkling lights.
The whip-sharp young concierge team is a fount of knowledge, regularly supplying me with recommendations for noodle shops and designer boutiques, and offering transport tips. Getting around is a cinch; just across Pacific Place and through the labyrinthine shopping complex featuring myriad luxury brands, is the entrance to Admiralty MTR Station.
Sometimes, though, a night in is what’s needed. Lying on the bed, gazing at The Peak, my thoughts turn to dinner. After a lavish meal at Cafe Gray Deluxe the previous evening, I want something light and restorative. With some trepidation, I get out the iPod and scroll through the room-service menu. A few touches later, I hope that I have ordered a plate of Hainan chicken rice with steamed brassica, ginger, sweet chilli and soy. But my checkered history with new technology means I’m not holding my breath.
Two minutes later, the shrill tone of the telephone pierces the air. It’s a member of the room-service team confirming the order. Soon, a smiling assistant is arranging my dinner tray.
The Upper House bills itself as ‘‘a small luxury hotel full of surprises’’. Lying in whisper-quiet, zen-like surrounds in the heart of one of Asia’s busiest cities, having finally mastered new technology, I can’t argue with that. Michelle Rowe was a guest of The Upper House and Cathay Pacific Airways.
Clockwise from left, a Studio 80 room offers dramatic views of The Peak; the well-appointed restroom at Cafe Gray Deluxe; The Upper House’s distinctive stone facade; the well-provisioned lounge on level 49