Stylebible, Travel, Hong Kong - Mon April 4, 2011

Hotel Review: The Upper House, Hong Kong

The Upper House takes you away from the madding crowds and wraps you in cotton wool. It’s a very Zen experience: the local architect has clearly gone for the Japanese look, marrying smooth marble and wooden surfaces and floors with unobtrusive lighting. From the view of the studio suites on floor 41 the view of the tree-shrouded Peak, which looms above Hong Kong Island, is breathtaking. As the light percolates slowly over Hong Kong harbour in the morning it pours into the room like golden treacle, slowing waking you up.

If sunlight isn’t your bag, not to worry. The surprisingly (for any hotel) easy-to-use buttons and gadgets open and close the main curtains and the shade curtains, and dim the bathroom windows, giving you perfect privacy as you lounge, loofah in hand, in the vast porcelain bath, letting the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong drip off you and drain away.

One of the greatest parts about the hotel is, indeed, the way you feel extracted from the mayhem of Hong Kong’s streets. You hear…nothing. No taxis honking or building sites – none of this working city’s specialties. No hoovers neighbouring rooms or cleaning trollies clattering in the trollies. One feels as it one is vacuum-wrapped, cocooned in an environment all of your own making.

But the clever thing is – this is a cocoon of Swire’s making. Swire, one of the great British-Asian trading houses or ‘hongs’, a fragment of Empire established in 1816, is stil hugely active in the region. It owns shipping and infrastructure across Asia but notably in Hong Kong where it owns a huge swathe of the city’s financial heart.

The Upper House, part of its sprawling portfolio, is testament to its ability to build really good things that last. Occupying the higher floors of a building also occupied, lower down, by the JW Marriott, the hotel perches atop a valuable sliver of Swire’s own empire. The glossy Pacific Place mall, now in its second decade of ownership and showing no sign of fading, is owned by Swire, as is much of the urban infrastructure of central Hong Kong. It owns shipping rights, the vaunted airline Cathay Pacific, and even Coca-Cola bottling rights in Hong Kong and mainland China. (And, yes, Coca-Cola is just one of the little minibar temptations provided gratis at Upper House).

Behind this subtext sits the fact that Swire knows what it’s doing. It knows, where to situate a hotel (the Upper House, equidistant to every key boardroom and high-end restaurant and shopping outlet in Hong Kong, epitomises the phrase ‘location, location, location’). Moreover one feels, in the Upper House, as if you are getting a finely honed level of customer service. The staff don’t get in your way. They are ever-present, to sure, like hydrogen and oxygen, but they only appear when they are needed, as if by magic.

The first night I arrived I found a flask of hot milk and a selection of big, crumbly cookies. When I slept, I slept soundly, any noise baffled by the super-thick windows and doors. (For a light sleeper this was a blessing).

Touches both little and big are everywhere. Gadgets are easy to use rather than mind-bogglingly complex, as they are in some places. A single button silences the television and dims all the lights. In the main desk – a proper one that allows you to spread out when you need to work – an iPod contains all useful hotel information including local amenities and allows you, at the touch of a button, to contact reception or order room service. Japanese Zen touches are everywhere, from the clean-lined marble surfaces and the lack of unnecessary clutter. You don’t bump into the furniture or fall over footstools – the rooms are filled with every possible convenience and luxury, but you don’t feel overwhelmed by unnecessary and often unwelcome ‘choice’. The entire endeavour is a testament to the interior organisation skills of local designer Andre Fu.

If you are eating out, the restaurant on the 49th floor, Cafe Gray Deluxe, is a gem, a ‘grand restaurant’ overlooking Victoria Harbour and hosted by celebrated chef Gray Kunz. A 14-metre long open kitchen and sweeping bar attracts Hong Kong’s gliterrati, celebrities and money-makers like moths to a flame. And the food is fab. A friend, on finding that I was staying here opined: ‘Ooh you lucky thing. They do good the best breakfasts at Upper House’. The evening choice – fish, game, meat, fruits, vegetables, dishes from the West and the East, and fusion specialties – isn’t too shabby either.

Nothing at the Upper House disappoints. This, for a regular hotel-dweller, is a surprise. But perhaps it shouldn’t be. Swire tends to get things right, employing the best managers and staff, and relying on their expertise. Upper House should be a model for other hotels, but it prefers to remain slightly incognito, a quietly professional, supremely comfortable and exquisitely attractive place to stay in this crazy and intoxicatingly creative city. The Upper House takes you away from the madding crowds but keeps you a few seconds away from the city’s beating heart. It’s a little gem in a wonderful rough diamond of a city, and I cannot recommend highly enough.

Rates for the Stay Longer package start from £523 per night and are valid for 4 night’s consecutive stay or a maximum of 8 nights. The offer is valid until 31st December 2011. Advance booking is required and is applicable to the Upper Suite only.

Rooms start from £260 per night –

The Upper House, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong
For more information visit, or call  +852 3968 1111


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