Even in Hong Kong, where business and residential skyscrapers feature prominently on travel brochures and postcards as national symbols, The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong takes vertical expansion to a new height. This luxury hotel stretches from the 102nd to the 118th floors of the International Commerce Centre in Kowloon, the most-populous district of Hong Kong. In what's already billed as the tallest hotel in the world, there's no room, bar or restaurant without a spectacular view of Victoria Harbour, the New Territories or the main Hong Kong island.
The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong – which opened officially on May 3 – is connected to the Kowloon metro station through a fancy shopping mall, allowing you to skip the outdoor masses if you wish – and drop in on Gucci or Prada.
Guests arrive on the ninth floor, then head to the check-in level on the 103rd floor. The elevator ride takes 52 seconds, roughly nine metres a second. But it's more than just an elevator; it's a gateway – a magic ride, even – to a world of refinement and culinary delight.
In a word: opulent. In two: inconspicuous consumption. The Ritz-Carlton's reputation as a luxury hotel brand is carefully maintained through a look that references Hong Kong's long history as a trading post and meeting place of East and West. This can be done subtly, as in hand-tufted wool and silk carpets with cartographic patterns or more noticeably, in The Lounge & Bar, an all-day dining outlet, which features a chandelier with 100,000 hand-made crystal pieces.
International design firm LTW Designworks created a colour palette that combines earth tones of light green, sand-yellow and brown with heavy use of striking black and ivory marble on walls and floors. Japan's SPIN Design Studio was contracted out to design all three interconnected main restaurants. Colour coding on the floor and wall cabinets demarcate space and cuisine.
Cutting-edge machines at the 24-hour gym – you can watch TV, tweet or check your Facebook while fat burning – are complemented by an infinity pool on the 118th floor and three Jacuzzis. The spa, operated by the British-based ESPA, offers great treatments; my recommendation is the two-hour advanced back, face and scalp treatment with hot stones. High-speed and wireless Internet are included in the room rates.
FOOD AND DRINKS
The Chocolate Library, an afternoon tea and chocolate emporium, is the place to visit for a midday indulgence. (Book in advance if you're staying on the weekend as locals flock to this spot, especia1/8lly on Sundays.) Start your evening with a drink at the Ozone Bar on the 118th floor where the clientele is largely local hipsters and visiting and expatriate business people. If it's not too hot or humid, sip your drinks on the terrace for views of Victoria Harbour. Of the three main restaurants on the 102nd floor, the Italian Tosca is my pick for its sophisticated twist on simple southern Italian cuisine (and knockout tiramisu). Start with the raw and cooked vegetable plate and give the grilled sea bass with potato and olives a try. Tin Lung Heen restaurant serves traditional Cantonese fare and is already drawing crowds for its dim sum feasts while The Lounge & Bar is an all-purpose (from breakfast to afternoon tea to before-midnight snacks) spot for a relatively more casual meal.
All 312 guest rooms are spacious and sumptuously decorated. It may take you a minute every night to remove the eight pillows on the king-size bed, but it'll be worth it when you crash on the firm but comfortable mattress or lean against the leather headboard while reading. Blinds and sheer curtains are controlled by buttons on side tables. The bathrooms, however, upstage the living space and are bigger than some hotel rooms I've slept in. Soak in the deep bathtub while watching the wall-mounted TV for relaxation, but for rejuvenation try the separate glass-door waterfall shower. Double sinks with orange Onex countertops come complete with luxury hair and hand products. Each room features an espresso machine and the honour bar offers every drink from pop to bubbly.
With numerous young and attractive local staff milling around and trying to act useful – sometimes that means pushing the up or down elevator buttons on your behalf – service can border on obsequious. Such attentive service may make you feel self-conscious at first, but it's amazing how quickly you get used to it and resent having to push your own buttons elsewhere. Such indignity. The service at the restaurants is more relaxed but professional and gracious. My waiter at Tosca answered every possible question I threw at him about the menu since I had some dietary restrictions. Checkout was fast, but staff takes business calls on their smart phones while processing paperwork, which can cause a delay.
If you can afford it or if someone else is paying for it, The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong is an ideal place for business or pleasure. Its far-from-the-madding-crowd vibe in the rooms, gym and spa – and, of course, its elevation – is balanced by lively bars and restaurants where well-heeled locals are starting to hang out. As with much else in the hotel, it's the best of both private and public worlds.
The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong
1 Austin Rd. W., Kowloon, Hong Kong; 852-2263-2263; ritzcarlton.com ; 321 rooms from $561. No eco-rating.
Special to The Globe and Mail