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Shortly after its first anniversary, the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, welcomed Andrew L. Urban and Louise Keller for 24 hours of indulgence. Unlike others in the famous chain, with their English gentleman’s club ambiance, this one is ultra modern and ultra high... the highest hotel in the world.

Sipping a champagne cocktail in the world’s highest bar gives you a lift even without a drink - at 118 floors above Hong Kong’s famous Victoria Harbour. My mistake was I forgot what I was drinking when it came to order a second. But while the colour of the cocktail changed, the basic contents seemed pretty similar – champagne. These are some of the signature drinks at Ozone, the bar with its own set of two lifts from the hotel lobby of the recently built Ritz-Carlton in West Kowloon. The lobby itself is on level 9, above the ballroom and function rooms, the hotel – from floors 102 to 118 - sharing this 490 metre tower with Morgan Stanley’s corporate offices.

"a funky look"

The Ozone has a funky look, with comfortable seating clusters as well as barstools. We chose an intimate lounge setting near the huge windows looking down over the harbour. Some people even eat here, choosing from the Asian tapas and Japanese specialities. We didn’t have the stomach space for it – having just indulged in a culinary opera at the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Tosca, on the 102nd floor.

The food is prepared in the open kitchen, where a dozen chefs in traditional white hats and aprons – none of that black gear here – bustle in choreographed chaos. The windows are floor to ceiling glass walls and that means two storeys high, since Tosca is a bit like an atrium. Striking aqua glass panels hold captive a set of glittering foil ‘wings’ that are matched with the two decorative fountains in the restaurant. The only colour splash is from the sets of four bordello red lampshades on the walls.

The watery theme is picked up in various details and the cool colour scheme creates a calm mood. Our own mood, however, was borderline manic as we read the 5-course degustation menu. Would we cope? We coped.

"If food could sing, this meal would have been a glorious aria "

If food could sing, this meal would have been a glorious aria, with all the drama of light and shade, texture and surprise. And it looked nothing like average Italian food. True, of the five courses one was based on pasta, but that didn’t look like pasta I’d ever met either. Four chubby tubes lay arranged in two rows on the plate in their light pink sauce; officially this was paccheri (the pasta) with a delicate tomato puree, spicy capocollo (cured pork slice) and Sardinian pecorino cheese foam. Yes, cheese foam.

Next was Maine lobster, bite size pieces sitting in a lemon broth with spinach – the flavours composing lyrically. And before the fat lady sang, they brought us stone baked lamb with tamarind, on a bed of miniature sweet and sour onions. 

The funky Ozone Bar

Now with all the variety of tastes and textures (and I haven’t dragged you through the entire meal), we would have been lost in the wine list, were it not for Leo, the assistant sommelier whose enthusiasm matches his wine knowledge. He guided us through the menu with perfectly matched wines, each a surprise, all Italian and ranging from a Northern region chardonnay of exceptional freshness to the lusty desert wine to go with the pineapple hazelnut crunch, mango gelato and coconut sauce. 

That’s why I had trouble remembering which champagne cocktail I had ordered at Ozone. We had only just landed in Hong Kong and were treated to a warm welcome by the ladies and gentlemen of the Ritz-Carlton, as they are referred to by the management. That’s how ‘old school’ this place is, just like the chefs’ whites, in contrast to the very ‘new school’ building (Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates of New York and Wong & Ouyang of Hong Kong) and its design (public areas by Singapore’s LTW Designworks, the bars and restaurants by Japan’s SPIN Design Studio and Wonderwall.) 

"float in the clouds"

But of course a hotel’s main purpose is to provide a bed for the night, with competition urging hotel operators to outbed each other – and not just in comfort or size. Our room on the 113th floor seems to float in the clouds, thanks in part to the hotel’s flared design, which makes its lower floors larger and the windows gently sloping inwards all the way up. If you have had enough of the exceptional views, the room is full of gadgets and gizmos, entertainment options and a bathroom with its own TV. Bang & Olufsen sound systems with iPod docking stations, and a Nespresso coffee machine are just some of the gadgets for the senses. Free WiFi and international cable TV, 42 inch flat screen LCD TVs are standard (growing to 55 inches for the suites).

Controls for lighting, air conditioning and curtains are commendably simple and practically positioned. But beyond the luxury fittings and tasteful designs, at the hotel’s heart is its dedication to personal service in the great tradition of the art of Eastern hospitality.

The Tin Lung Heen Restaurant

Speaking of art, the entire Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong is something of an art gallery with items featured in every area, in every room, in every public space. Spectacular blown glass vases of differing shapes adorn each room, and decorative panels line the corridors. The overall ambiance is built up with such items, almost unnoticed by the guest, unless like us you are looking with a beady eye.

After the first few hours of being impressed, I began to look for flaws, my journalistic cynicism tugging at my notepad. I even sent my obliging partner for a 60 minute Balinese massage and a 60 minute facial to the ethereal spa on the 116th floor, but no, she couldn’t fault that either. 

I did in fact find one flaw, though: the numbers on the lift buttons are hard to see (without my glasses).

"the chocolate tasting"

I already knew it would be hard to fault our lunch at the Tin Lung Heen, the Cantonese restaurant, because it had been distinguished with a Michelin star. Our lunch began at a window-side table 102 floors up, our table decorated by an extravagant chrysanthemum. We agreed to stick to the theme and took chrysanthemum tea, an unusual, relaxant brew ideal to settle things down. Our excitement thus under wraps, we began the dim sum degustation with steamed pork, prawn and then vegetables, each sublime. The star of the lunch was the pork bun, encased in a light, dry pastry case, which was accompanied by a dark, full flavoured Puerh tea ripened for 15 years.

Chocolate Tasting (Louise Keller photos)

In case you still think the Ritz-Carlton is short of culinary surprises, let us take you (verbally) to the chocolate tasting in café 103 (that makes it easy to remember which floor it’s on). Designed in association with Paris chocolatier Valrhona, this afternoon delight presented us with the opportunity to compare dark, milk and white chocolate samples from the Caribbean with some from the Dominican Republic, each with different coco content. Needless to say, there was a wonderful Muscato to match the chocolates.

We should have had a sauna, a gym session and a swim in the infinity pool on the 116th floor to assuage our guilt, but by the time we allowed for room service supper of a medium rare cheeseburger and (excellent) French fries, there just wasn’t time.

* Andrew & Louise were guests of the Ritz-Carlton, who also hosted their dinner at Tosca, but they paid for their own meal at the Tin Lung Heen, as well as the chocolate tasting, the spa treatment and room service.

First published in the Sun-Herald

Published July 5, 2012

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International Commercial Centre
1 Austin Rd
West Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2263 2263

Sample rates at June 2012:
Standard Deluxe Room: HK$4,400 (approx A$605)
Deluxe Harbour Room: HK$4,900 (A$674)
Deluxe Island Suite: HK$8,800 (A$1,210)

Getting there
Qantas and Cathay Pacific operate daily flights to Hong Kong.
Hotel limousine service or taxi from airport takes 25 minutes.

Staying there
Opened in March 2011, the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong has 312 rooms/suites; Club floor (116) offers 24 hour service, including 6 food and beverage presentations and concierge service.

More information:

Chocolate amuse-gueule in room comprising 'cotton bud' made of chocolate to scoop chocolate mousse extraordinaire decorated with gold-leaf

Room with a view

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