Let’s face it: intercontinental travel ain’t what it used to be. The sheen of glamour that used to adhere to travel has systematically been stripped away by increasingly intrusive security measures and regulations. More than once as I have passed through airport security, forced to display my eclectic choice of cosmetics to the world in their little plastic bag and shuffling through the metal detector shoeless, coatless, beltless and holding up my jeans with one hand, the thought “never again” has crossed my mind. But as you walk into the airy double-volume lobby of Hong Kong’s Hotel ICON flooded with natural light, the pervasive scent of flowers, and smiling staff, the rigours of the journey fade away like mist before the morning sun. Suddenly thoughts of “never again” are replaced with thoughts of “I’m never going home”.
The Hotel ICON, a 5-star luxury design hotel, opened in 2011 in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong’s Kowloon peninsula. Although the hotel is Asian in its level of customer focus and philosophy, it has successfully blended both Asian and Western influences to create a sleek minimalist look with a restaurant and lounge designed by Sir Terence Conran, interiors by William Lim, and a suite by Vivienne Tam. But is is a luxury hotel with a difference. Apart from being a five-star hotel, it is also a teaching and research hotel built for the Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University School of Hotel and Tourism Management and wholly owned by the university. As such, it is able to focus fully on customer service excellence rather than keeping shareholders happy. Throughout the hotel there are over 100 well-chosen pieces of art curated by Freeman Lau to reflect Hong Kong’s vibrant spirit, some purely decorative (like the colourful backlit representation of the Hong Kong skyline in the elevators) and others functional (like the truly awe-inspiring sculptural wooden sofas in the lobby, designed by William Lim). It is also a hotel with major green credentials, nicely represented by the two massive vertical gardens of living plants in the lobby and The Green restaurant. But from the moment you arrive, it is their total focus on customer service that makes the biggest impression – as if somebody actually sat down and thought “hang on, never mind what’s easy for us – what do our guests really want?”. For a start, check-in is totally paperless, so no loitering at the front desk filling in endless forms. If you are in a club room, you are whisked directly up to the Club Lounge on the 28th floor where you can enjoy a glass of champagne and some canapés until you sign in as a guest on an iPad brought to you by staff. It’s tempting to stay there all afternoon, but eventually I reluctantly allowed staff to lead me to my room.
HOTEL ICON – THE ROOMS
What are my three favourite words in the world when I’m travelling? “We’ve upgraded you.” And so they had, from a standard Icon room to a Club 36 City and Harbour room. These are by no means the largest or fanciest rooms in the hotel (there are still Club 38 rooms and suites), but they remain super-impressive with a roomy 36 square metres and some super cute design elements. The look is sleek and masculine with dark colours and wood panelling, and I loved the curved wall and sliding door that screened the bathroom from the rest of the room. Here’s a short video clip to show you what you can pack into 36 square metres:
The bathroom has both a bath and a quirky elliptical shower cubicle – but most impressive of all was flatscreen TV mounted on the wall at the foot of the bath. The hotel wins bonus points for the generous toiletries kit which contained shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and bath/shower gel (all by Eau Fabuleuse by Leonard); shaving kit; dental kit with toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash; shower cap; cotton pads and bud; and a comb in a natty leather case, all in a branded Icon toiletries bag. There were also fluffy robes and slippers, as well as supersized fluffy bath sheets (I never understand hotels that do not supply bath sheets!) I also loved the circular in-mirror light both on the makeup mirror and the main bathroom mirror as hotel bathroom lighting is often dire enough to make make-up application a struggle. I loathe those wall-mounted hotel hairdryers that always burn your hand while failing to dry your hair and my heart sank when I saw one here. But the good news is that there was a second proper hairdryer in the wardrobe, which was a great touch.
Back in the bedroom, the bed is a king-size with fantastically tactile cotton percale linen and along the opposite wall you will find a desk area with all the outlets, connections and plugs you could need to get your work done. This is pretty standard for a hotel of this calibre – but what was more unusual was the gorgeous wooden box containing a comprehensive collection of stationery – marker pens, stapler, scissors, sticky tape – everything your heart could desire. Club rooms also contain a wireless printer – if you need to print a document, you simply e-mail it to a unique address and moments later it pops out of the printer in your room. Don’t you hate it when you travel and find that the in-room safe is too small to fit your laptop? No such worries here – the extra-roomy safe in the wardrobe drawer opens upwards and is large enough to fit a laptop comfortably.
Feeling peckish? You’ve come to the right place. There is a Nespresso machine in the room as well as a kettle and a good selection of Taylor’s of Harrogate teas. Right by the coffee and tea station was a jar of Iced Gems and dried haw strips to snack on; and every evening when I got back to my room there was a fresh treat – one day it was macarons decorated with marshmallow flowers; another day it was choc-dipped strawberries. But best of all, the Hotel ICON offers a free mini bar. Yes, you read correctly. Free. Mini. Bar. You won’t get rip roaring drunk as it’s stocked with soft drinks, fruit juice, bottled water and one lone beer – but it’s free and it’s replenished daily. For midnight snackers it also contains Pringles, mini Snickers and Twix bars and healthy cereal bars. And once you have poured yourself a drink, step on over to the main attraction – the floor to ceiling windows through which you can lose yourself in the breathtaking view over the city and Victoria Harbour. Sink into the World’s Most Comfortable chair (the iconic Karuselli leather armchair designed in the 1960s by Finnish designer Yrjö Kukkapuro) and watch as the sun sets and the panorama before you becomes a sea of twinkling neon. Glamorous is an understatement.
And if you are feeling flush, you can always upgrade to the Club 65 of Club 85 Suites (65 and 85 square metres respectively) but for the ultimate in exclusivity I’d recommend the Vivienne Tam suite, personally designed by Tam, herself a graduate of the Polytechnic University. This 79 square metre suite is inspired by Tam’s own New York apartment with a similar minimalist and airy aesthetic, as well as similar furniture, plentiful wood finishes and a marble bathroom with floor to ceiling windows. The centerpiece of the sparse living room is a curvaceous red statement sofa by the Bouroullec brothers and a beautiful Japanese cherry wood table apparently carved from a single tree trunk. Tam has also accessorised the suite with an eclectic collection of Chinese artwork, most notably a Tam-designed Opera Girl portrtait made entirely of Swarovski crystals. But the real star is the view which floods in from the two glass walls of the living area.
HOTEL ICON – DINING
For most hotel guests, the day at Hotel ICON starts at The Market on the 2nd floor, so that’s where I started on our first morning. The restaurant is designed to evoke the classic wet markets of Hong Kong so there are marble slabs laden with cold meats, cheeses and smoked salmon alongside more classic options like fruit, cereals, excellent fresh juices and yoghurt as well as more unusual breakfast options like felafel and pita bread. But the real excitement takes place in the hot section: start off with a bowl of rice congee; go all full English with hash browns, crispy bacon and fried eggs; or do as I did and feast on excellent steamed dim sum with XO Sauce (probably the foodstuff I loved most on this trip!). If you are inclined to breakfast in Japanese style, excellent miso soup was also on order as well shoyu tamago (Japanese soy sauce boiled eggs). And if you still have room left, check out the beautiful sweet pastries and intriguing custards served in eggshell-shaped bowls.
If you are a Club room guest, you can also choose to have breakfast at Above & Beyond on the 28th floor. This is part of the same space where we had come to sip champagne during check-in the day before, comprising a bar, a lounge styled like a chic members club/library and a dining area. Although there is still a small buffet selection of cold meats, cereals, fruits and such, the menu here is a la carte rather than the buffet style of The Market. Let me assure you that there are few better ways to start your day in Hong Kong than seated at a table by a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Victoria Harbour and sipping on an excellent cappuccino! My sweet-toothed friend chose the beautiful fluffy pancakes with fresh berries, while I could not resist the lure of the eggs Benedict, given an unusual twist by the addition of fried black pudding. Above & Beyond also serves daily complimentary afternoon tea to Club room guests with an extensive array of sweet and savoury snacks; and at cocktail hour, Club gusts can return to enjoy complimentary cocktails and champagne together with excellent savoury canapés. Above & Beyond is also home to an elegant restaurant serving traditional Cantonese dishes, and our wonderful lunch there will be covered in a separate post.
If you are in the mood for something lighter and less formal, there is also The Green just off the main lobby. This light, airy space below a massive vertical garden serves as a coffee shop by day and a bar by night and is open from 07h00 until midnight daily.
HOTEL ICON – LEISURE
I am not always the biggest fan of going to gym, but having seen photos of the Hotel ICON’s gym, I made sure I packed my trainers this time! Situated on the 9th floor rooftop and overlooking the city on one side and the outdoor pool on the other, it is without a doubt the best hotel gym I have ever set foot in. The blue mosaic tiles reflect the blue of the pool, sky and harbour; and the airy juice bar at the entrance is a perfect place to relax post-workout. Inside the gym, the cardio and weight equipment was state-of-the art – I fell deeply in love with the newest Concept II indoor rower that I have ever had the pleasure of rowing on. Running on the treadmill was also a lot less painful with a view over the pool and Hong KOn skyline to distract you, as well as a touch-screen in front of you allowing you to check e-mails and surf the net. If all gyms were more like this, I’d go all the time! I also love the fact that, mindful of the fact that many of their guests may be jet-lagged, the gym is open 24 hours, so if you can’t sleep at 03h00, there’s always a treadmill to distract you.
Something else that I packed as soon as I had checked out the Hotel Icon’s website was my bikini. The hotel’s temperature-controlled outdoor pool is on the 9th floor adjacent to the gym and boasts fluffy towels, comfy pool loungers, and a killer view over Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong island. Coming back to the hotel after a day of Hong Kong’s sticky humidity and being able to take a dip in the pool was like a little piece of heaven. I even made sure that I managed to fit in an hour’s lounging on the sun loungers, and I’d highly recommend this to anybody staying at the hotel. The pool itself is great for swimming laps, or just to dip into and cool off.
There are few things that I love more than a spa treatment and often the hotels I stay in have wonderful spas – but by the time I get back to the hotel from sightseeing, they are often closed for the day. Not so at the Hotel Icon… The Angsana Spa by Banyan Tree, also on the 9th floor adjacent to the gym and pool, stays open until midnight each night, meaning you can enjoy a full day’s sightseeing or business, have dinner, and then still fit in a spa treatment before bed. The spa is run by Angsana which is well known for their luxury spas throughout the world and all therapists are trained at and accredited by the Banyan Tree Spa Academy in Thailand. The spa comprises three singles and one VIP double treatment room which houses not only two treatment beds but also a private jacuzzi with a view over the city. I chose to have a post-dinner 90-minute anti-ageing facial and I have to say that it was one of the most relaxing treatments I have ever had – I definitely dozed off! Apart from that, their innovative combination of warm and cold therapies left my skin feeling absolutely glowing with health – all wrinkles banished and straight to bed for me!
Probably my favourite aspect of the Hotel Icon’s commitment to customer service is the concept of the Timeless Lounge. You know that annoying gap between when you arrive at the hotel and when your room is ready for check-in? Or the even worse gap after you’ve checked out and before you leave for the airport, when you feel like come sort of refugee, repacking your suitcase in the hotel lobby and trying to get changed in the lobby restrooms? Forget all that at Hotel Icon, as they have introduced the forward-thinking concept of the Timeless Lounge, a private lounge on the 9th floor available to guests before or after check-in/check-out. The lounge is quiet, stylish and features comfortable armchairs ideal for napping, complimentary Nespresso coffee, Taylors of Harrogate teas, fridges stocked with soft drinks, magazines, newspapers and free wifi. Access to the timeless lounge also includes access to the gym, spa and pool, meaning you can do as I did and spend your final hours in Hong Kong swimming at dusk, showering in the roomy health club showers and arriving at the plane as fresh as a daisy, not frazzled and sweaty. And if that does not endear you to the Hotel Icon forever, nothing will.
We flew to Hong Kong very comfortably on Cathay Pacific which flies five times daily to Hong Kong from London Heathrow – prices to fly to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific start at £589. To book your flights, visit www.cathaypacific.co.uk.
Club 36 rooms like the one I stayed in start at a (very reasonable for a 5-star hotel) £183 per night, or £170 for an Icon room that does not include all the facilities I mentioned above. For more information and booking, visit www.hotel-icon.com.
17 Science Museum Road
Tsim Sha Tsui East
GOOD TO KNOW
For more information on visiting Hong Kong and things to do in Hong Kong, visit the Hong Kong Tourist Board website.
DISCLOSURE: I travelled to Hong Kong and stayed at the Hotel Icon as a guest of the Hong Kong Tourist board but received no further remuneration to write this post and all opinions are my own.