What is this place? A hotel of 293 rooms and suites on the east bank of the Singapore River, in residential Robertson Quay, an area of tree-lined walkways and riverside alfresco dining that Hong Kong’s urban planners should take an amble through.
M Social? Is there any meaning to that name? There is, yes. The “M” stands for Millennium Hotels and Resorts, the owner of the property, and the concept behind the Philippe Starck-designed hotel is to get its guests to interact with one another, which means small bedrooms but a generously sized public area on the ground floor, one end of which faces out on to the river. Primarily a restaurant and bar (below), the ground floor also has a small pool table, a performance area and couches illuminated by dozens of lava lamps.
The walls are studded with artfully arranged tablets showing images curated by Starck and books (everything from new age self-help to classic literature, which guests are encouraged to take back to their rooms) are placed precisely on side tables throughout. Another nod to the socialising ethos comes courtesy of bench seating along lengthy imitation-marble tables that are illuminated from the inside.
The “neighbourhood map” that illustrates the paper wallet holding your room keys gives perhaps the best idea of the image the management is aiming to project. Having decided whether you’re “kinda bold”, “kinda easy” or “kinda peckish”, the diagram will take you to suggestions such as “OK, take our shuttle bus”, “take in the sights and its people at Clarke Quay” or “Ask our M’Bassadors for more recommendations”.
What those “m’bassadors” will also give you is a smartphone – called “handy” – to take around town, giving you access to the internet and free phone calls to 15 or so countries and territories, including Hong Kong.
What’s the restaurant like? Beast & Butterflies “melds” Asian and Western influences, but don’t call it fusion – it’s a “new blend of borderless cuisine”. The results are a bit of a mish-mash, including lobster porridge (Teochow-style rice porridge in crab broth with lobster and abalone), beef ichiban (soy-mirin-garlic-marinated United States wagyu beef, baked masala potato gratin and US asparagus) and the house “beast burger”.
The drinks are as imaginative and include the I’m Plum Not Phat (Cruzan Black Strap rum, ginger liqueur and sour plum) and the Social Butterfly, a vodka concoction served in a teapot. The accompanying snack is a plate of deep-fried spinach.
The food is tasty, the drinks delicious but the service is inattentive, a situation not helped by the fact the menu comes on a tablet and orders are placed, by the customer, on the same gadget. It is a system that is confusing (but perhaps wouldn’t be for someone smarter and hipper than I – or those with “a millennial mindset”, as the hotel bumf identifies its target audience).
And the accommodation? Upon arrival, guests are greeted by a red-shirted employee standing at a table with nothing but a couple of computer monitors on it. Upstairs, airy pop plays in the mood-lit corridors. Compact and comfortable is perhaps the best way to describe what lies behind the guest doors. Rooms – some with mezzanine beds (above) – are high-ceilinged but as small (or “cosy”) as 19 square metres, just enough space to fit in all the mod cons.
Anything else we should know? This M Social is the first of its kind, a blueprint set to be used in new hotels in Seoul, South Korea, and Sunnyvale, northern California. Being such a new property, taxi drivers still have trouble locating it. If your driver takes you instead to Studio M, do not fear, M Social is right around the corner. If, on the other hand, you are taken to the M Hotel, you’ll need to do a bit more explaining.
How much does a room cost? Prices start – for an Alcove Cosy room – at S$218 (HK$1,255), which includes a buffet breakfast at Beat & Butterflies. For more information, go to www.msocial.com.sg.