ROOM AT THE INN

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - JANE NI­CHOLLS

If you tend to size up a new ac­quain­tance by ob­serv­ing how well they treat hos­pi­tal­ity staff, you’ll be happy to be firm friends with the Palace Ho­tel Tokyo. Its ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and gen­eral man­ager Masaru Watan­abe started here as a bell­boy, and when the ho­tel was closed in 2009 to be razed and re­built, more than half of the staff re­turned when it re­opened three years later.

Sweetly so­cia­ble friend­li­ness is wo­ven like a sparkly thread through the Palace Ho­tel’s lux­ury grandeur, sug­gest­ing that it’s as fine a place to work as it is to stay. This is by de­sign as omote­nashi, Ja­panese hos­pi­tal­ity, is part of the lo­cally owned ho­tel’s stated vi­sion. The mastery is that it’s easy and warm, never over­done.

An at­ten­dant tells me about her visit to Syd­ney as she lays out tow­els and slip­pers and in­forms me that the pool is a gen­er­ous 20m long. One of the Club Lounge staff tells me that it’s yuzu, a prized cit­rus fruit, that del­i­cately flavours the rice crack­ers I’m en­joy­ing with the som­me­lier-se­lected cham­pagne served in the lounge each evening. She then shows me a photo of a squat golden yuzu. At Tat­sumi, the six-seat tem­pura bar, the smil­ing chef po­si­tions two tiny river fish, ayu, stand­ing on their fried fins for me to pho­to­graph.

Tra­di­tion­ally a busi­ness ho­tel favoured by well-heeled Ja­panese ex­ec­u­tives, the new Palace Ho­tel has set out to cap­ture more in­ter­na­tional tourists and fe­male guests. It backed it­self all the way, re­duc­ing the num­ber of gue­strooms from about 400 to 290 to in­crease the lay­outs, and tak­ing the leap to add a pre­cious bal­cony to more than half of the in­ven­tory.

The splen­did views over the greenery of the Im­pe­rial Palace gar­dens and plaza and across to a dis­tant line of sky­scrapers (es­pe­cially pretty at night) surely made that de­ci­sion eas­ier. The soft-toned ac­com­mo­da­tion is gor­geous and glass-walled bath­rooms (screen­ing op­tions for the mod­est) mean you can re­cline in the tub and still see the sky.

Soar­ing win­dows through­out the ho­tel make you feel as if you’re part of those glo­ri­ous sur­rounds, even when you’re in­side. In the main en­trance, they frame a maple tree, cre­at­ing an­other art­work to join the ho­tel’s gar­den of ac­tual art, which in­cludes about 1000 orig­i­nal pieces. The pool and gym’s wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows look out to the Im­pe­rial Palace gar­dens, beck­on­ing guests to head out­side and run the 5km track around the perime­ter. You’ll need to do that, be­cause the food at the Palace is a des­ti­na­tion in it­self.

Among the 10 restau­rants and bars is the Grand Kitchen, with al­fresco din­ing avail­able right on the royal moat, com­plete with re­gal white swans. Ja­panese restau­rant Wadakura fea­tures sea­sonal kaiseki menus in its main din­ing room, with a net­work of other cuisines — sushi, tep­pa­nyaki and that tiny tem­pura bar — in pri­vate ar­eas. Add Crown, a renowned French restau­rant, and Am­ber Palace for Chi­nese. All have dis­tinc­tive, ex­quis­ite in­te­rior de­sign.

Sub­tle, re­spect­ful links to the Im­pe­rial Palace and the orig­i­nal ho­tel abound. The aji stone in the walls by the en­trance mir­ror those of the walls be­side the palace moat. Tiles pre­served from the ho­tel’s last in­car­na­tion dec­o­rate the walls down to the base­ment ar­cade and the Royal Bar re­tains the orig­i­nal 1960s counter, made fa­mous when tended by a bar­man known as Mr Mar­tini.

From the Club Lounge to that sur­pris­ing base­ment, the Palace Ho­tel Tokyo is a bento box of delights.

Jane Ni­cholls was a guest of Lead­ing Ho­tels of the World.

A deluxe gue­stroom, above left; Palace Ho­tel Tokyo, above; the 20m pool, above right

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