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MO London to Fully Reopen in April

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The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London

[UPDATE: The guest rooms at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park will reopen on April 15th 2019 along with two new penthouse suites. The hotel is offering a ‘Be the First to Stay’ package available from 15 April to 30 June 2019. Priced from £659, inclusive of VAT, the promotion includes daily breakfast, a bottle of Champagne on arrival, plus a daily credit (ranging from £75 to £250 depending on the room or suite category booked) to be used in the new Spa, Mandarin Bar, The Rosebery or Bar Boulud.]

Opposite Harvey Nichols, around the corner from Sloane Street and down the road from Harrods, the Mandarin is a shopaholics’ dream. Check in to one of the newly refurbished Knightsbridge rooms and you’ll have a view of the designer mothership, Harvey Nicks, at all times.

The guest rooms and public spaces have been revamped by Joyce Wang, the designer responsible for The Landmark M.O. Hong Kong rooms and suites. Wang’s signature style of a light and contemporary take on 1930s glamour is much in evidence here. The designer has also taken inspiration from nearby Hyde Park with witty touches such as using horse hair as a feature in the hallway light fittings.

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The Mandarin Oriental Penthouse

The two new penthouse suites, the two bed Mandarin and the one bed Oriental have also been designed by Wang. The two suites can be interconnected to offer three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a private dining room, two kitchens, and expansive views of Hyde Park and the London skyline.

Fans of chef Daniel Boulud will be pleased to know Bar Boulud is still in residence at the hotel, a favourite with the well heeled Knightsbridge crowd mid or post shopping. As well as signature charcuterie and burgers, the restaurant has introduced French regional specialities which will change seasonally. For Spring it’s the Basque Country with dishes such as traditional tapas and monkfish tail wrapped in Bayonne ham with crush potatoes.

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Bar Boulud, MO London

 

The spa, redesigned by Adam H Tihany who is also responsible for the moody ground floor bar, reopened in December 2018.

https://www.mandarinoriental.com/london/hyde-park/luxury-hotel

[This piece was originally published in June 2018]

Update on the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park

 

[UPDATE: The Spa, Rosebery Room, Bar Boulud, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and the Mandarin Bar re opened on December 4th 2018. The guest rooms are expected to reopen in spring 2019.]

Opposite Harvey Nichols, around the corner from Sloane Street and down the road from Harrods, the Mandarin is a shopaholics’ dream. Check in to one of the newly refurbished Knightsbridge rooms and you’ll have a view of the designer mothership, Harvey Nicks, at all times.

Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London lobby 2017 Joyce Wang designed Lobby Lounge

The guest rooms and public spaces have been revamped by Joyce Wang, the designer responsible for The Landmark M.O. Hong Kong rooms and suites. Wang’s signature style of a light and contemporary take on 1930s glamour is much in evidence here. The designer has also taken inspiration from nearby Hyde Park with witty touches such as using horse hair as a feature in the hallway light fittings.

Fans of chef Daniel Boulud will be pleased to know Bar Boulud is still in residence at the hotel, a favourite with the well heeled Knightsbridge crowd mid or post shopping. As well as signature charcuterie and burgers, the restaurant has introduced French regional specialities which will change seasonally. For Spring it’s the Basque Country with dishes such as traditional tapas and monkfish tail wrapped in Bayonne ham with crush potatoes.

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Bar Boulud

The spa is due to reopen next month, redesigned by Adam H Tihany who is also responsible for the moody ground floor bar while two new penthouse suites will be revealed this July.

[This piece was originally published in June 2018]

66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA

Tel +44 20 7235 2000

Inside the Crazy Rich Asian’s Bachelorette Resort

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Royal Villa at Four Seasons Langkawi

 

[UPDATE: “Samsara Island”, setting for the film Crazy Rich Asian’s lavish hen weekend, was shot at the Four Seasons Langkawi in Malaysia. The interiors are currently being updated by the resort’s original designer Bill Bensley.]

Set between a white sandy beach and soaring limestone cliffs synonymous with the Malaysia archipelago, the Fours Seasons Langkawi has the luxury of never feeling crowded. Within 48 acres of luscious, landscaped grounds there are just 91 rooms.

With so much space to play with starchitect Bill Bensley has had a blast. Starting with a stunning Moorish-style series of reception spaces complete with torches and reflecting pools when you arrive. The attention to detail is impressive: everywhere you look, there’s something to swoon over.

After a refreshingly short transfer from the airport where we spot families of monkeys on the roadside, we are shown (via golf buggy) to an Upper Pavilion, one of four units in a Malaysian style wooden house. Our pavilion has a breezy wraparound terrace and a glimpse of the sea but the wow factor is the bathroom – including a huge terrazzo tub set in an alcove beneath a high domed ceiling.

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Upper Pavilion Bathroom

 

For a Crazy Rich Asian experience (hopefully without the toxic friends) book a Beach Villa (pics below) or the Royal Villa in a secluded spot right on the sand – where Araminta Lee’s hen weekend was filmed.

 

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The resorts’ three restaurants cover Malaysian, Italian and Western cuisine between them. All three overlook the sea but the prettiest is Ikan Ikan, housed in a traditional Malaysian wooden villa. While all the restaurants serve dinner, only Serai is open for breakfast and the Kelapa Grill open for lunch. Many guests opt for in room dining, especially if they’ve booked a beach villa.

Cleverly, families are booked into one side of the resort (close to the children’s swimming pool and kid’s club) and couples into the other – near the adult’s only pool and a delightful bar where the best spot is a swing seat overlooking the beach.

 

Adult Quiet Pool Pic: Ken Seet

Adult Quiet Pool Pic: Ken Seet

 

Most of our stay is spent at the adult swimming pool – a long (bigger than Olympic size) infinity pool punctuated by fountains. From our cabana we look out to the trademark verdant outcrops that jut out the Andaman sea and slink in for a dip in the pool via private steps.

 

Adult Pool Cabana Pic: Ken Seet

Adult Pool Cabana Pic: Ken Seet

 

A few forays are made to the superb Geo Spa which plays beautifully on Langkawi’s status as a UNESCO Geopark. From the spacious treatment pavilions, each set over water, we get a dramatic close up view of the limestone cliffs. As well as being stunningly designed, the spa offers more interesting and better executed treatments than most.

 

Geo Spa treatment room Pic: Ken Seet

Geo Spa treatment room Pic: Ken Seet

 

If you’re an active type, there are plenty of water and adventure sports on offer from paddle boarding to rock climbing. We’re tempted away from the resort just once, by a boat trip straight from the Four Season’s beach to the nearby mangroves. As well as the entertaining commentary of our guide, Aidi, (“Africa has the big five, we have the little five,”) our reward is the sight of kites, sea eagles and families of monkeys – the latter lining the banks of “monkey alley” and taking a cheeky look at us as we glide by.

 

FS mangroves

A version of this piece was originally published by BA Highlife in 2014

[UPDATE: Four Seasons Langkawi has launched the Escape to Paradise promotion inspired by Crazy Rich Asians the movie. It includes a 20 percent saving on the Bed and Breakfast package, with rates starting at USD 680 onwards, daily buffet breakfast at Serai for up to two adults, and round-trip transfers between the airport and the Resort. To book call reservations on Tel: (60) 4 950 8888.]

 

How to Holiday like a Crazy Rich Asian

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SkyPark Infinity Pool at Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Sarah Jessica Parker once remarked that New York was the fifth star of Sex and the City, similar could be said of Singapore in the Crazy Rich Asians movie. Not only does the Lion City hold its own among the ensemble cast that includes Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Contance Wu and Michelle Yeoh, it’s a veritable scene stealer.

Based on the book by Kevin Kwan the film is about a young American Chinese woman, Rachel Chu, visiting the home land of her fellow Chinese New Yorker boyfriend, Nicholas Young, and discovering his family and friends are part of the super rich Singapore elite.  The small, tropical city state dazzles in sweeping shots of the Marina Bay area and skyline although most of the movie was filmed in neighbouring Malaysia (sometimes masquerading as Singapore or New York).

You won’t find Tyersall Park, Nick’s grandmother’s estate, in Singapore for example. The location is two heritage houses, Carcosa Seri Negara,  in the botanical gardens in Kuala Lumpur . The mahjong showdown between Rachel and Nick’s mother was filmed in Penang and the beach scenes on Langkawi. Here’s where to find them all:

Raffles Hotel Singapore

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Raffles lobby and Drawing Room

 

Of course Nick Young “the Prince Harry of Asia” takes his girlfriend Rachel to stay at the grandest hotel in town: Raffles. Their scenes were shot in the Drawing Room above the lobby and the Sarkies Suite, one of the hotel’s two presidential suites named after the original owners and where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stayed. And when Nick’s mother visits him there they stand on the private verandah overlooking the Palm Court. The suite costs upwards of £5,000 per night plus 17 per cent taxes but you can’t check in just yet – Raffles is currently closed until early 2019 [Update: Raffles is now taking booking for August 2019 onwards].

 

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Nick (Henry Golding) and Rachel (Constance Wu) at the Sarkies Suite Raffles

 

It should be worth the wait though, a major refurb is underway which promises to keep the old world glamour while adding modern amenities and tech. One big change is that the spectacular lobby which was previously only accessible to hotel residents will become a new lounge area where afternoon tea will be served to non guests. Restaurants overseen by the much Michelin starred Anne Sophie Pic and Alain Ducasse are also opening.

 

The Fullerton Hotel

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The Fullerton Hotel

 

If you can’t wait until next year to make your trip you could book the Fullerton Hotel instead. This handsome columned building (formerly the post office HQ) on the river and near the bay crops up as a back drop throughout Crazy Rich Asians. Most notably in two key scenes between Nick and Rachel and Nick’s elegant cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) and her husband.

 

Newton Food Centre

Any film set in Singapore has to feature hawker centres, outdoor food courts with stalls selling a medley of Asian street cuisines that the city is famous for. Kwan’s novel has Nick scorning Newton Food Centre as “only for expats and tourists” and championing Lau Pa Sat instead. Ironically though it’s the latter with its easy location next to the Central Business District (CBD) and charming Victorian wrought iron structure that is usually dismissed this way by Singaporeans. And Newton is the actual location for the street food fest in the film that’s had critics salivating.

 

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Newton Food Centre

Foodies’ favourites are Maxwell and East Coast centres but hawker food guru KF Seetoh, author of the Makansutra guide, rates many a stall at Newton as well. Seetoh recommends Hup Kee Fried Oyster Omelette, Kwee Heng Duck Noodle, Kwang Kee Teochew Fish Porridge, Bee Heng Popiah, Soon Wah Fishball Kway Teow Mee (for fishball noodles) and Chong Pang Huat for barbecued chicken wings.

The travel tissue packs in the Crazy Rich Asians scene are authentic. Locals always take them to the hawker centres not only to use as napkins but also to reserve a table. And if you’re thinking how unlikely it seems for UHNWIs to eat here, literally everyone in Singapore does – or they send their maid and driver to pick up.

Four Seasons Langkawi

 

Four Seasons Langkawi

Royal Beach Villa at the Four Seasons Langkawi

 

It girl Araminta Lee’s lavish hen do on “Samsara Island” was in reality filmed on Malaysia’s Langkawi. More specifically at the stunning, Bill Bensley designed, Four Seasons which is set between a white sandy beach and soaring limestone cliffs synonymous with the Malaysian archipelago. You’ll need to book the Royal Beach Villa if you want one of the enviable pads Araminta stayed in.

The spa here is even more gorgeous than shown in the film: the spacious treatment pavilions are set over water and have a dramatic close up view of the limestone cliffs.

 

Chijmes

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Araminta Lee walks down the aisle in Chijmes Hall

 

Across the road from Raffles this colonial era compound (strangely spelt due to Singaporeans’ love of acronyms but pronounced Chimes) was variously a convent and a school and in its most recent incarnation is populated with F&B outlets. At its heart, the 19th century gothic chapel renamed Chijmes Hall and now turned into a function space is the location for glamorous couple Colin Khoo and Araminta Lee’s society nuptials, “the event of the century”.

The white wedding cake architecture, shown as backdrop to the red carpet arrival of the guests in the film,  is worth a look but while you’re here don’t miss Whitegrass, one of Singapore’s truly outstanding restaurants. Chef Sam Aisbett fuses ingredients from his home country of Australia as well as Japan with some Asian flavours to create a fantastic contemporary menu.

 

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Australian jade tiger abalone with three treasures at Whitegrass

 

Bukit Pasoh Road

This picturesque stretch in Tanjong Pagar, part of Chinatown, is lined with preserved Peranakan shophouses making a photogenic al fresco meeting point for Rachel and her college friend Peik Lin. The actual spot is the terrace outside Humpback seafood restaurant, across the road from The Reading Room (a coffee house by day and bar by night).

 

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A few doors down is The Straits Clan one of Singapore’s new breed of private members clubs housed in the attractive building that was until recently the New Majestic Hotel. Although members only, its street facing Straits Cafe is open to the public. Bukit Pasoh used to be known as “the street of clans” and this slice of heritage Singapore makes a welcome change for anyone suffering shopping mall fatigue.

 

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The Straits Clan, Bukit Pasoh Road

 

The Blue Mansion, George Town

While the exterior implies it’s on Ang Siang Hill in Singapore, that exquisite courtyard setting where Nick’s ice maiden mother played by Michelle Yeoh meets Rachel over the traditional Chinese game mahjong is actually in Malaysia. George Town, the capital of Penang province, is a picturesque little place filled with brightly painted “shop houses” with shuttered windows.

The Blue Mansion

Among them you’ll find the grander Cheong Fatt Sze Mansion, named after the 19thcentury tycoon who lived there (14, Leith Street, George Town +604 262 0006). Also known as The Blue Mansion, this scene of the mahjong showdown is a boutique hotel (rooms from £100 per night) so you can check in and enjoy the mansion when all the day trippers have gone.

Supertree Grove at Gardens By the Bay

Supertrees

 

Colin and Araminta’s Gatsbyesque evening wedding reception was held at Singapore’s man made, multi million dollar Gardens By the Bay amid the Supertrees. And night time is really the only time to visit these man made, multi-million dollar gardens (the outdoor sites are open until 2am). During the day the Supertree Grove is punishingly hot so arrive in the evening when the extraordinary “tree” structures – between 25 and 50 metres tall and covered with plants – are illuminated and the delightfully OTT music and light show takes place at 7.45pm and 8.45pm nightly.

 

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Eleanor Young (played by Michelle Yeoh) at the Supertree Grove

 

Make a booking for dinner at Pollen in the nearby Flower Dome with its Mediterranean climate and associated flora. The pretty setting and excellent mod Med cooking aside, the beauty of dining here is that you can walk around the Dome after all the visitors have gone at 9pm.

 

Marina Bay Sands SkyPark

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Infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands hotel

 

Sweeping vistas of Singapore’s Marina Bay area and Marina Bay Sands hotel, the building that looks like a ship marooned on top of three skyscrapers, abound in the film and the finale was shot around the hotel’s SkyPark infinity pool on the 57th floor.

Whatever you do don’t buy a ticket to the SkyPark observation deck – you won’t get anywhere near the swimming pool. Access to the pool area requires a room key card so to swim in the pool (and take that obligatory selfie with the skyscrapers as a backdrop) you’ll need to check into the hotel but is it worth it? The vast scale of MBS attracts large tour groups and the infinity pool, like many Insta famous locations, is always jam packed. Even or especially at night.

Better to have a cocktail at adjacent Ce La Vi which serves one of the best Singapore Slings in the city and has a panoramic view of Singapore’s skyline. To overlook the infinity pool you’ll need to be in The Sky Deck area of the Club Lounge (not to be confused with the Sky Bar). If you want fireworks thrown in, coincide your visit with the Formula One Night Race (September 16th this year) or National Day (August 9th).

 

 

 

Raymond Blanc Gardening School launches Japanese Garden Course at Le Manoir

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The Japanese Tea Garden at Le Manoir

When chef Raymond Blanc bought the manor house and grounds in the English countryside which he transformed into Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons two Michelin starred restaurant and luxury hotel, the first thing he did was create a vegetable garden. Having grown up helping his mother grow produce at their family home in France he wanted to recreate the “living larder” of his childhood.

Thirty years on the grounds have flourished and encompass vegetable, salad and herb gardens, apple orchards and a mushroom “valley”. This year [2017] Blanc has responded to requests from guests and opened a gardening school – the first to be set in a hotel.

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Raymond Blanc

The link between the kitchen and garden at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is palpable. On the front of the dining menu, namechecked alongside the chefs is Anne Marie Owens, Head Gardener. “The admiration I have for gardeners is beyond measure,” says Blanc. “The gardens are an essential part of Belmond Le Manoir – you will spend as much time in the garden as you will at the table.”

Looking at the menu itself, whether it’s fresh apple juice at breakfast, herbs and salads in a side dish or vegetables as the star such as the signature Beetroot Terrine; as much produce as possible is garnered from the grounds. Head Chef Gary Jones has a walk about every Tuesday and comes up with a “picking list” of produce and at 8am every day the chefs take it in turns to attend the cropping with the gardeners.

Chefs are also encouraged to take some time out in the gardens before service and many can be found in the Japanese Tea Garden. Blanc was inspired to create the garden following a visit to Japan. Working with landscaper and gardener Robert Ketchell, who studied in Japan, he learned that gardens are both an art form and healing space that can help with the stress.

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Produce at the Raymond Blanc Gardening School

Set in a handsome glasshouse in Le Manoir’s grounds, The Raymond Blanc Gardening School offers half day and full day hands on courses including growing your own vegetables, mushrooms, micro herbs and edible flowers as well as classes for children. Instruction is given by Le Manoir’s own gardeners as well as visiting experts and the courses are tailored to the season, in keeping with the hotel’s ethos.

This summer sees the introduction of the Japanese Garden course. Guests will also get the chance to take a walk around the Japanese Tea Garden with Ketchell to find out about the traditions and practices involved with creating a Japanese garden.

 

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A suite at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons

For the ultimate horticultural experience, book one of the hotel’s Garden Suites for your stay – the theme of each room is reflected in the plants and flowers enveloping your private terrace. Paradise.

[UPDATE: The Japanese Garden course at Belmond Le Manoir takes place on 21 August 2018 and costs £235 per person. The day includes tea and coffee on arrival, materials and guidance to create a ‘trayscape’ garden and lunch with accompanying wines, coffee and petit fours.]

https://www.belmond.com/hotels/europe/uk/oxfordshire/belmond-le-manoir-aux-quat-saisons/

A version of this piece was originally published by the Robb Report Singapore

 

 

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