ROOM AT THE INN
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