Four Seasons Beijing opens doors
The Four Seasons Beijing officially opened its doors to the public yesterday in the city's slick and sprawling Chaoyang district.
General manager Sanjiv Hulugalle says it's strategically located to be close to the city's business and embassy centres as well as the capital's popular shopping and entertainment hub Sanlitun, and the Caochangdi and 798 art districts. "We are expecting 50 per cent business travellers and 50 per cent leisure guests here.
"In Beijing, there are many top-class luxury hotels, so competition is one of our biggest challenges," adds Hulugalle, who had only seven months to prepare from his arrival in Beijing to the launch date.
When we visit the Beijing branch - one of three Four Seasons openings in China this autumn, including one in Shanghai's Pudong district and another in Guangzhou - it is still in the soft opening phase.
The interior, designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates, is a fairly homogenous five-star chain design, except paired with details such as the giant works of modern Chinese art, and understated dark wooden furniture with Chinese motifs. The entrance features the chain's name spelled out in fresh greenery on a large vertical garden wall.
The usual Four Seasons perks (hi-tech amenities, soft carpet, fluffy white slippers and bathrobes, big comfy beds) are found in all 313 rooms and 66 suites. These line the corridors overlooking an atrium adorned with a vertiginous "butterfly wall" featuring silver butterflies fluttering their way up. The so-called "palace in the sky" - a 7,848 sq ft Imperial Suite, taking up the entire 27th floor - will be open by the end of the year.
The Chinese restaurant, Cai Yi Xuan, offers predominantly Cantonese food, so for Hongkongers at least, the hotel's major draw is likely to be its Italian restaurant, Mio. Designed to attract wealthy locals looking to impress as well as international guests, the interior is suitably ornate, and features an open kitchen where a handful of chefs are at work.
Leading them is Italian chef, Marco Calenzo, from Florence. The 30-year-old has worked in several Michelin-star restaurants, including Tuscany's Arnolfo Restaurant and as an executive sous chef in London, where he worked beside three-Michelin-star chef Heinz Beck.
This is his first stint in China, and he asks us what we think of the seven-course tasting menu he has prepared. The food is both authentic and inventive. There's a tasty tomato water risotto served with rocket pesto and yellowfin tuna. A small roulette of lamb comes adorned with a delicate, crispy black olive crust and fresh artichokes. But the highlight is the agnolotti carbonara, silky soft dumplings that explode in the mouth, filled with a dreamy, light pecorino zabaglione - a sort of Italian tribute to Shanghai's xiaolongbao. Tuscan wines come recommended by a knowledgeable and effusive sommelier, while dessert is Calenzo's twist on a tiramisu, which comes with potent little black cubes of espresso jelly.
Breakfast at the classy Opus Lounge consists of a rather modest buffet - presumably to be expanded once the hotel fills up - but there are also à la carte options, and the staff leap to attention for any special requests.
Also yet to open are the hotel's spa, sunlit indoor pool and adjacent whirlpool, which are due for completion by end of this month.
There was, understandably, still the odd detail that needed finalising when we stayed: there were no children's television channels, for example, and only a handful of English-language children's DVDs available on request. But these minor gripes were more than offset by the staff's eagerness to help. Each person we dealt with urged us to give them feedback, and apologised sincerely for any temporary gaps in service.
For a five-star chain, in fact, it's a surprisingly child-friendly place. Thoughtful touches include children's toothbrushes, or the way slippers are carefully laid out to match every family member's foot size. Elaborate surprise snacks awaited us twice a day in our room - these ranged from prosciutto and olives for us, to two little tables with a full cupcake decorating set for the children, complete with mini aprons, fondant, butter icing and rolling pins.
It doesn't have the charm of a hutong courtyard hotel, so if you're craving a taste of old Beijing, this probably isn't the place. But while the new Four Seasons is a reflection of the capital's new, sophisticated face, it definitely retains the amiable spirit the locals are known for.