New heights of extravagance

New heights of extravagance

Creature comforts … the Ritz-Carlton’s Tin Lung Heen restaurant. The hotel’s Ozone is the world’s highest bar.

Well tended by the ladies and gentlemen of Hong Kong’s Ritz-Carlton, Andrew L. Urban searches for flaws among the clouds.

Sipping a champagne cocktail in the world’s highest bar, at 118 floors above Hong Kong’s famous Victoria Harbour, gives you a lift. My mistake was I forgot what I was drinking when it came to order a second. But while the colour of the cocktail changed, the basic contents seemed pretty similar – champagne. These are some of the signature drinks at Ozone, the bar with its own set of two lifts from the hotel lobby of the recently built Ritz-Carlton in West Kowloon. The lobby itself is on level 9, above the ballroom and function rooms, the hotel – from floors 102 to 118 – sharing this 490-metre tower with Morgan Stanley’s corporate offices.

The Ozone has a funky look, with comfortable seating clusters as well as bar stools. We choose an intimate lounge setting near the huge windows looking down over the harbour. Some people are eating, choosing from the Asian tapas and Japanese specialities.

We didn’t have the stomach space for it – having just indulged in a culinary opera at the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Tosca, on the 102nd floor. The food is prepared in the open kitchen, where a dozen chefs in traditional white hats and aprons – none of that black gear here – bustle in choreographed chaos. The outer walls are floor-to-ceiling glass and that means two storeys high, since Tosca is a bit like an atrium.

Striking aqua glass panels hold captive a set of glittering foil “wings” that are matched with the two decorative fountains in the restaurant. The only colour splash is from the sets of four bordello-red lampshades on the walls.

The watery theme is picked up in various details and the cool colour scheme creates a calm mood. Our own mood, however, was borderline manic as we read the five-course degustation menu. Would we cope? We coped.

If food could sing, this meal would have been an aria, with all the drama of light and shade, texture and surprise. And it looked nothing like average Italian food. True, of the five courses, one was based on pasta, but didn’t look like pasta I’d ever met. Four chubby tubes lay arranged in two rows on the plate in their light pink sauce; officially this was paccheri (the pasta) with a delicate tomato puree, spicy capocollo (cured pork slice) and Sardinian pecorino cheese foam. Yes, cheese foam.

Next was Maine lobster, bite-size pieces sitting in a lemon broth with spinach. And before the fat lady sang, they brought us stone-baked lamb with tamarind, on a bed of miniature sweet-and-sour onions.

With all the variety of tastes and textures (and I haven’t dragged you through the entire meal), we would have been lost in the wine list, were it not for Leo, the assistant sommelier whose enthusiasm matches his wine knowledge. He guided us through the menu with perfectly matched wines, each a surprise, all Italian and ranging from a northern-region chardonnay to the lusty dessert wine to go with the pineapple hazelnut crunch, mango gelato and coconut sauce. That’s why I had trouble remembering which champagne cocktail I had ordered at Ozone.

We had only just landed in Hong Kong and were treated to a warm welcome by the ladies and gentlemen of the Ritz-Carlton, as they are referred to by the management. That’s how “old-school” this place is, just like the chefs’ whites, in contrast to the “new-school” building (Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates of New York and Wong & Ouyang of Hong Kong) and its design (public areas by Singapore’s LTW Designworks, the bars and restaurants by Japan’s SPIN Design Studio and Wonderwall).

But, of course, a hotel’s main purpose is to provide a bed for the night, with competition urging hotel operators to outbed each other – and not just in comfort or size. Our room on the 113th floor seems to float in the clouds, thanks in part to the hotel’s flared design, which makes its lower floors larger and the windows gently sloping inwards from floor to ceiling. If you have had enough of the exceptional views, the room is full of gadgets and gizmos, entertainment options and even a bathroom with its own television.

Controls for lighting, airconditioning and curtains are commendably simple and practically positioned. But beyond the luxury fittings and tasteful designs, there is no doubt that at the hotel’s heart is its dedication to personal service in the great tradition of the art of Eastern hospitality.

Speaking of art, the entire Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong is something of an art gallery, with items featured in every area, in every room, in every public space. Spectacular blown-glass vases of differing shapes adorn each room, and decorative panels line the corridors.

After the first few hours of being impressed, I began to look for flaws, my journalistic cynicism tugging at my notepad. I even sent my obliging partner to the ethereal spa on the 116th floor for a 60-minute Balinese massage and a 60-minute facial, but no, she couldn’t fault that either.

I did, in fact, find one flaw – the numbers on the lift buttons are hard to see (without my glasses).

I already knew it would be hard to fault our lunch at Tin Lung Heen, the Cantonese restaurant, because it had been distinguished with a Michelin star. Our lunch began at a window-side table 102 floors up, our table decorated with an extravagant chrysanthemum. We agreed to stick to the theme and took chrysanthemum tea, an unusual, relaxant brew ideal to settle things down. Our excitement thus under wraps, we began the dim sum degustation with steamed pork, prawn and then vegetables, each sublime. The star of the lunch was the pork bun, encased in a light, dry pastry case, which was accompanied by a dark, full-flavoured Puerh tea ripened for 15 years.

In case you still think the Ritz-Carlton is short of culinary surprises, let us take you (verbally) to the chocolate tasting in Cafe 103 (that makes it easy to remember which floor it’s on). Designed in association with Paris chocolatier Valrhona, this afternoon delight presented us with the opportunity to compare dark, milk and white chocolate samples from the Caribbean with some from the Dominican Republic, each with different cocoa content. Needless to say, there was a wonderful Moscato to match the chocolates.

We should have had a sauna, a gym session and a swim in the infinity pool on the 116th floor to assuage our guilt, but by the time we allowed for room-service supper of a medium-rare cheeseburger and (excellent) French fries, there just wasn’t time.

The writer stayed courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton.

Trip notes

Where International Commercial Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon, Hong Kong. +852 2263 2263, ritzcarlton苏州美甲培训学校/hongkong.

How much From $HK4400 ($560) for a standard deluxe room.

Top marks Impeccable service and attention to detail.

Black mark Cafe 103 lacks charm and ambience.

Don’t miss Drinks at Ozone, level 118.

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