If a 413-room hotel could ever be likened to a private home, then Rosewood Hong Kong looks to be just that—and it's not as much of a stretch as you might think.
MY CHAUFFEURED Jaguar XJ steers in off the street, ascends a cobblestoned arc, circles Henry Moore’s Three Piece Reclining Figure, Draped and rolls to a stop that offers a postcard view of Victoria Harbour. Welcome to Rosewood Hong Kong, a piece of the city, yet simultaneously apart from it. As I enter through an ornate bronze façade into a space that doesn’t look or feel like a hotel lobby—stop to study the beautiful Chinese stiched silk centerpiece—I’m whisked by my butler Della into a stealth elevator that takes silent seconds to ascend 28 floors. As soon as the doors open, she welcomes me to my room for the next two nights. She’s only partly kidding. From the 24th floor up, the open space between the lifts and the suites is set up in what the brochures call a guest salon, with dimmed lighting, carafes of fruit-infused water, tea or cocktails for the asking, comfortable loungers, books about Hong Kong that you’re meant to peruse—including Martin Booth’s excellent Gweilo—and something foreign in most corners of this always crowded, often chaotic city: an overwhelming sense of calm.
Open the door to a Grand Harbour Corner suite, its southwest angle taking in a sliver of Tsim Sha Tsui, that postcard shot of Hong Kong Island, the harbor and, beyond it, the outlying islands, and it’s difficult not to wax poetic about the hotel mere minutes into your stay. Now that the dust has settled after its March opening, Rosewood Hong Kong has already elicited a list of breathless modifiers. In the end, it’s a glimpse of what a hotel should be going forward. As butlers do, Della snaps me out of my fugue state to inform me of everything this suite can do. There is a day bar, but I shouldn’t confuse it with the night bar. The freestanding bath, with a wooden perch for my iPad, centers a sprawling mirrored room that should really come with its own road map. Behind the bathroom is a walk-in closet that is larger than many Hong Kong flats. I have my choice of three different sofas—one in a sitting area immediately outside my bedroom to go with the night bar, the other two in the adjoining living room. Hidden ports and outlets are everywhere. If I need anything else, the butler is a push-button away. Once Della has left, I count no fewer than 16 bottles of water around my suite, perfect in
the humid hairdryer that is Hong Kong in the summer.
My first morning, I head down for breakfast and the lift doors part to the hotel’s managing director Marc Brugger waiting to go in the other direction. He deadpans that he was waiting for me—but then finds he can’t help himself and picks up where Della left off, starting with details about the lobby. Each piece of this puzzle aims for comfort without forgoing quality. To one side is a separate area enclosed in oak-panel ceilings and coconut-wood columns with a front desk if needed, to the other a flower shop overflowing with natural colors and garden scents that envelop you on the way to the café. “Everything was designed with emotions involved. We tried to create layers of emotion,” Brugger explains in the limestonewalled lobby. “We don’t want it to be buzzing but do want it to be active.”
ROSEWOOD’S INITIAL Asian address was in Beijing, and it now has eight properties in the region, with another nine opening in the next few years. Besides being at the top end of the price scale, what makes the Hong Kong address stand out? Brugger, who also opened the Beijing property, has spent a lot of time thinking about just that. “Beijing is the first generation of Rosewood. This is the second. It is really the true expression of what the brand can and should be.”
In a city where space is always at a premium, Rosewood first conceived this project almost a decade ago. If there’s a downside, the East Kowloon location would be it, though the Victoria Dockside arts district has just opened—meaning there’s more on the map here than ever before. One of the first ideas was to remove typical hotel elements, Brugger says, to make the property feel more intimate. Then came the design. “Here, we flipped it over,” he says. Interior designer Tony Chi was brought on board before the architects, before there was an outline of a building. Chi also worked on Rosewood’s London property and points out that, if it is considered a city house, then Hong Kong is the country house. Um… Hand in the air, Brugger heads me off to explain. “What do we want the experience to be? Not to be a hotel but to embrace the experience, that feeling of what it would be like to be the guest of a private home or estate.” He says that there was a need to feel the building
had been here forever. “That, to me, was an opportunity to make it an instant classic.”
WRAPPED IN THAT VIEW of Hong Kong with everything at hand, it would be easy to order room service and never leave my suite. For his part, Chi is a proponent of the idea that design should be invisible. Maybe the best example of this is a Harbour View room. At 53 square meters, it feels anything but entry level, with twin sinks, a stand-alone bathtub, Loro Piano fine wool wall coverings—tactile features are everywhere in the hotel—and, most importantly, ample space to maneuver. Add the views—the hotel occupies 43 of 65 floors in the building— most will feel pampered. In all, 80 percent of the 322 rooms and 91 suites here face the harbor. “There is this sense that it is yours; there is a feeling that it belongs to you,” Brugger explains.
I never knew contemporary cha chaan teng to be a thing, but at Holt’s Café the Cantonese and Hong Kong-style Western comfort food scores big time. The stylish setting books out quickly and I would chalk this up to dishes such as the char siu pork that is best with a side of braised tofu, mushrooms and asparagus. Both are common orders around town but are rarely this mouthwatering. Don’t overlook the hot and sour lobster soup, a delicious twist on another local favorite.
Next to the café is The Butterfly Room, an airy space adorned with some vibrant works by Damien Hirst and beyond popular when it comes to afternoon tea. Later on in the evening, if something stronger is required, head to DarkSide—an inside joke for anyone who has ever lived in Hong Kong—with its extensive library of whiskies, cognacs and rums. I order a martini that comes with a tease when the waiter tells me to enjoy what looks like an olive. Instead, it’s a soft Japanese green peach that has absorbed the drink. Inclined to order a second, instead I get a primer at the not-so-secret, not-to-be-missed dark-spirit room that’s fronted by a chocolate table off to one corner.
The next day, I discover another gem. Tucked into a fifth-floor corner is The Legacy House, the hotel’s premium Chinese restaurant. Designed in dark woods and mod furnishings, it could be an historic nook in Beijing, aside from the sweep of Hong Kong Island out the window. Our lunch menu is pure Shunde cuisine, specific to Canton and the basis for Hong Kong’s local dishes. Deep-fried spicy beef; marinated cherry tomatoes with a kick of Chinese yellow wine; stewed clams in rice wine and chicken broth; rice noodle soup with garoupa; wok-fried milk with egg whites… I could go on aside from the fact that I have to check out.
Back in my suite, there’s a line drawing of some Hong Kong shop houses that stands out for its simplicity. In an age where five-star is too often equated with glitz, it’s these small touches that are worth remembering. Of course, there’s more to this sketch than initially meets the eye. It turns out that Tony Chi had his eye on this drawing and others like it longer than even he might have realized: he went to school with the artist, William Low. As you gaze out in the opposite direction towards the shiny streets of Hong Kong below, despite all the progress, somewhere down there, this scene still exists.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Most of the accommodation offers harbor views of the city; in the hotel's entry; in a Grand Harbour Corner suite. OPPOSITE: A hidden corner of Holt's Café.
ABOVE: A spacious Harbour View room. BELOW, FROM LEFT: The hotel's tea sommelier at work; an artistic twist at The Legacy House; soaking in a suite.
FROM TOP: That feeling that the hotel has a long history; Damian Hirst hangs in The Butterfly Room.