Palace in the Sky: A Review Of The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong
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To The Point
In a city known for high-end luxury and a jam-packed skyline, The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong still finds a way to tower above it all. Pros: Delicious food, top-rate service and unlimited Dom Perignon brunch on Sunday mornings. Cons: Views are hit or miss depending on the weather, limited elite benefits and everything from rooms to food is outrageously expensive.
Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Preferred Guest and subsequent transition to the Bonvoy loyalty program has been fraught with challenges from Day One, both in terms of IT and customer support. While I’ve been #Bonvoyed a few times myself, I’m also still reveling in the good that came out of the merger, namely the limited-time ability to book top-tier Category 8 hotels for only 60,000 points a night (normally Category 7 pricing). I hit this deal hard, booking discounted stays at some of the nicest hotels in the Marriott portfolio, including The St. Regis New York, St. Regis Maldives, Al Maha resort in Dubai, and The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong.
Hong Kong was the last stop on this clearance-sale vacation list, and after this I have no choice but to acclimate to the new reality that is Marriott Bonvoy. I’ve had my eye on the Ritz-Carlton ever since my first trip to Hong Kong. Taking up the top 16 floors of the International Commerce Center, one of the world’s tallest buildings, it’s impossible not to notice The Ritz-Carlton, whether you’re passing through Hong Kong or simply looking at pictures. While I normally prefer to save my splurge hotels for beach or tropical destinations as opposed to a big city (who needs a fancy room if I’m going to be out all day exploring?), The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong ended up being a truly incredible experience, well worth every point and dollar I spent.
When my girlfriend and I decided to go to Hong Kong for Art Basel this year, The Ritz-Carlton was my first choice. We’d already stayed at several other Marriott hotels in both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, including the Mira Moon and Mira Hotel. We were able to book our two-night stay for exactly 120,000 Marriott points, worth $1,080 based on TPG’s valuations. The cash rates for these dates would have been $660 a night before taxes, so while this wasn’t the most aspirational redemption from a pure numbers perspective, I was still very happy with the deal we got.
Normally, a two-night stay at a Category 8 hotel like this would be a prime time to burn some of my Marriott Suite Night Awards, awarded as an elite choice benefit after crossing both the 50- and 75-night thresholds each year. Unfortunately, Ritz-Carlton is one of several brands where you can’t use these SNAs, meaning if I wanted an upgrade I’d have to hope there was one available when we arrived. I wasn’t too confident in my odds, between our late arrival (we ended up getting to the hotel around 2am) and the fact that properties around the city were fully booked for Art Basel.
One perk of staying in the tallest building in the city is that if you ever get lost, you can simply look upward and follow it like the North Star to get home. The Ritz-Carlton occupies floors 102 to 118 of the International Commerce Center on the southwestern tip of Kowloon, just a few blocks away from the Star Ferry terminal. More importantly, it’s connected to the Elements mall, which houses the Kowloon stop for both the MTR subway and the airport express train.
We took the airport express train on the way back, and if you plan on doing this, I strongly recommend calling the hotel in advance and asking for walking directions from the mall to the hotel and vice versa, as it can be a little confusing. The train took no more than 20 minutes and cost about $10 each. We arrived in Hong Kong well after the trains had stopped running, though, and both my girlfriend and I were having trouble with our Uber app, leaving a taxi as the only option. The line was ridiculously long for how late it was at night, but the ride was quick. It took about 30 minutes and cost around HK$230 ($30).
While we were traveling light for our weekend trip, I was a little surprised to see that there was no bellhop in the lobby to greet us. Yes, we arrived in the middle of the night, but I expect a hotel like this to have someone manning the door 24/7.
We entered through the “ground-floor” lobby, really the 9th floor of the building. There was a small pastry shop to the right.
There was also plenty of seating with great views out across the harbor.
We took the dedicated elevators straight up to the 103rd-floor lobby, eager to check in and get to bed as quickly as possible.
Despite it being the middle of the night, and us looking incredibly frazzled, having just gotten off the bumpiest flight I’ve taken in recent memory, our check-in experience was the epitome of class and professionalism. I of course inquired about a suite upgrade, and the agent made two separate phone calls before apologizing that the hotel had no suites available for the weekend and instead offering to upgrade us to a harbor-view room. While I normally hate hotels that try and use a mediocre view to sell you on an upgrade, the views from our room were one of the highlights of the stay and would have been worth paying extra for.
Before we could get to sleep, there was one item left on the agenda: making reservations at Tin Lung Heen, the two-Michelin-star Cantonese restaurant at the hotel, and the rooftop bar, Ozone, for both drinks and the Sunday morning Dom Perignon brunch. The agent at the desk was happy to help with all of our requests, and we even got a phone call the next morning to confirm our times. One thing that I found a little odd was that the agent didn’t seem to know what Art Basel was. His English was perfect, so I don’t think there was a language barrier. Not a big deal at all, but I’d expect the front-desk staff at one of the nicest hotels in the city to be aware of a festival that attracted almost 90,000 visitors from all over the world.
While I normally avoid Ritz-Carlton hotels due to their limited benefits for Marriott elites (and by that I mean I’ll pick a St. Regis, W or JW, all else being equal), we were offered two free-drink tickets to Ozone and a spa discount of HK$250 ($30) each. And with that, we were finally off to our room.
While I obviously would have preferred a suite upgrade, I was in love with this hotel from the minute we exited the elevators and turned down the hallway. You could smell the hotel’s signature black orchid scent wafting throughout the halls, and I loved the subtle yet sophisticated marble blocks identifying each room.
The entrance to our room was a small hallway with a mirror on one wall and the lighting and temperature control on the other. Every time you opened the door to your room, the drapes automatically opened (day or night) to give you views of the city below.
The bed was spacious and, given our late arrival, already had two chocolates waiting on it from that evening’s turndown service.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when hotels don’t put enough outlets near the bed, and I give Ritz-Carlton an eight out of 10 here. One side of the bed had two USB ports (and controls to open and close the blinds without moving), while the other side had a standard Hong Kong outlet. Ideally, I would’ve preferred USB ports on both sides, but this isn’t a huge deal.
There was a desk in the back corner of the room, which was great for both storage and working, and I appreciated the easy access to outlets and the Hong Kong adapter conveniently placed on the side.
Despite our late arrival, we were still able to get some absolutely stunning views of Hong Kong Island across the harbor.
We spent as much time as possible glued to the windows during our stay, but it was nice to see this view when we first arrived as a reference point. When we woke up on the first morning, the hotel was shrouded in fog so thick you couldn’t see a thing out the window. We honestly felt like we were floating in a cloud, and it was made all the more special having seen the views the previous night.
The minibar was between the entrance hallway and the bathroom, and it was absolutely packed. The Nespresso machine already had water in the back, a small but thoughtful touch that I appreciated even more the next morning. Throughout our stay, housekeeping noticed which flavor of pods we used and made sure to leave us a few extras. Tea was restocked daily.
The goodies were an impressive and eclectic mix, featuring everything from a black orchid-scented candle to small-batch gin, champagne-flavored gummy bears (yes, every bit as delicious as they sound) and more.
While I didn’t take anything from the fridge, the mini bottles of Belvedere vodka and Champagne Barons de Rothschild were a notable step up from what you’d find at most hotels.
But enough about expensive things I didn’t buy. On the other side of the minibar, running parallel to the entryway, was a short hallway leading to the bathroom with closets on either side. The bathroom featured a double sink, a large bathtub and plenty of mirrors all around.
There was a small tray at the back of the bathtub with a mother-of-pearl spoon, and while I was hoping for some caviar to go along with such a pretty spoon, there were only bath salts in the little container.
The shower and toilet were directly across from the sinks, separated by a thick dividing wall. The shower had both a rainfall setting and a regular shower head, and both the water pressure and the precision of the temperature control were perfect.
Toiletries were provided by Asprey, as is the norm at a Ritz-Carlton.
I liked these purple water products so much that I ended up getting a little savage with the amount I brought home with me. I hate to admit that this photo shows just one of two bags.
The bathroom also had a box featuring all the amenities you could need during your stay. None of them actually featured any Asprey branding, so I found the large purple boxes to be wasteful and unnecessary.
When the fog did clear up, the ledge by our window was one of the best places to be, as you could see the dense skyline across the harbor.
Food and Beverage
The free breakfast I receive at most Marriott properties as a Titanium elite member goes a long way toward offsetting the cost of the room or activities, but at a Ritz-Carlton you expect to pay full price for everything. Even if you’re getting your room free on points, it’s easy to rack up a massive bill dining at the hotel.
We slept in on our first day but woke up hungry. We couldn’t find a room-service menu anywhere in the room, which was probably a good thing, as we were eager to experience as much of the hotel’s fine dining as possible.
Other than Ozone, all of the hotel’s restaurants were a short escalator ride down from the main 103rd-floor lobby. You passed under brightly lit tapestries whether you were stopping at the caviar bar (yes, that’s a thing here) or enjoying fine Cantonese cuisine.
We went to Tosca for lunch, the hotel’s Italian restaurant. While I’m normally wary of a set menu, the beautiful design was irresistible, especially with the heavy fog that took away any sense of altitude (and most of the views).
Service started with a breadbasket and a small amuse-bouche of veggies and pesto mustard. The dish was simple yet fresh and flavorful, and as we poured over the menu, we certainly appreciated something clean to start with.
My girlfriend and I decided to split the beef carpaccio and burrata to start, and we each ordered an extra spicy Bloody Mary to accompany it. No matter how many times we say extra spicy, many places we’ve been to hold back. Tosca got it right, and that first peppery sip woke me up fast.
Next, we had the homemade gnocchi with shrimp and basil pesto. Our waiter was proud to tell us that the shrimp were flown in fresh from the chef’s hometown in … Sicily. My girlfriend and I honestly did a double take and had to call him back over to make sure we’d heard right. The dish was light and flavorful, with just the right amount of shrimp to complement what might be the best gnocchi I’ve ever had.
We both had the crispy pork belly for our main course. The portion size was small, but the meat was so rich and delicious that that’s probably a good thing.
We asked for two coffees to go to take to Art Basel with us, and while we hadn’t ordered any dessert, our server brought out a small plate of cookies and brownies for us to nibble on.
Saturday night was the star of the show, as we got to start our evening with drinks at Ozone, the world’s highest bar.
We took the elevator up to the 118th floor, where we were greeted at the reception desk and escorted down a narrow hallway to our seats.
First we were given a quick tour around, including the outdoor section for those wishing to relax in the comfort of low cloud cover.
The bar itself had a fun design, with a quasi-honeycomb pattern that felt much younger and more playful than you might expect from a classy hotel like this.
We each took one look at the menu and knew exactly what we wanted: the Ozone signature HK Skyline cocktail with 23-year-old rum, absinthe, Dom Perignon foam and lavender smoke. I didn’t think they’d let us redeem our drink vouchers (“good for one standard drink”) for a HK$340 ($45) cocktail, but our waiter said it wouldn’t be a problem. It took a while to prepare the drinks, and they were each brought out in bell jars to hold in the smoke as long as possible.
He waited until we were ready and, in one fell swoop, removed both covers at once. The smoke didn’t smell like lavender to me, more like applewood-smoked bacon, but it added a unique flavor to the drink. The Dom Perignon foam was delicious (I shed a tear thinking about how much Champange was wasted in the name of these drinks), and the cocktail underneath it all was actually delicious. The rum and absinthe were a perfect blend, and the various fruit flavors combined well without being too sweet or overpowering. The little rocks at the bottom of the plate, according to our waiter, represent what the rest of the buildings in Hong Kong look like when you’re up at Ozone.
Getting about $90 worth of drinks for free felt like a sign, so after we finished, we decided to save our appetite for our dinner at Tin Lung Heen that night. The restaurant was small and intimate, with no more than a dozen tables in total.
I especially appreciated the giant wine cellar and shelves full of baijiu, the dangerously strong Chinese liquor. The sculpture in the middle was even more beautiful after our server explained that Tin Lung Heen literally translates as “sky dragon restaurant.”
Almost immediately after sitting down, and before we were offered menus, water or towels (though those all arrived in short order) a waiter rolled around a cart of Champagne asking which we would like. The options ranged from Ruinart on the lower end all the way up to Dom Perignon and Krug at the higher end.
As I mentioned before, I’m not usually a fan of tasting menus, especially in Western restaurants. However, Chinese food is best eaten family-style, which is hard to do when you’re only two people, and this is one cuisine where I’m not as confident in my ability to order well off a diverse menu. At our waiters’ suggestion, we ordered a six-course affair that cost about $250 per person.
We started with a small amuse-bouche of pickled vegetables and a roasted chestnut, and with this and every course, our server did a great job explaining each of the different items on the plate.
Next up was a trio of the chef’s selections, including simmered abalone, barbecue pork belly and chilled pumpkin with caviar.
The waiters were generous about topping up our Champagne throughout the meal, and I loved getting to try so many different flavors in a single dish.
Next we were served pan-fried lobster with minced ginger and spring onions, and a lobster bisque on the side. Despite being breaded and fried, the lobster was incredibly flavorful, and the garlic and onion provided a complementary taste and texture.
Service was perfectly placed throughout and tailored to our needs. On one occasion, I saw the waiter coming to bring our next course, only to stop and turn around when he noticed my girlfriend was in the bathroom. The food arrived at our table about a minute after she returned, as warm as if it had just come off the stove.
The next dish was a steamed grouper filet with bird nest on top. Our waiter explained that this delicacy is eaten to promote clean skin and beauty, and that we should dip it in the sauce first. The fish cut like butter, and the bird nest was much more enjoyable after that explanation.
There was still one more main course to go, wok-fried wagyu beef in black pepper sauce with mushrooms. This was one of my favorite dishes of the meal (please don’t make me pick just one!), as the beef was cooked perfectly and the sharpness of the pepper was a great contrast to the light fish we’d just finished.
The last dish before dessert was a braised glutinous rice with crab claw and tomato. At this point in the meal, I was too full to eat a rice dish, though I made the mistake of taking a single bite, after which it was hard to exercise self-control and save room for dessert.
We begged our waiter for a quick breather before coming back to dessert, which consisted of chilled mango cream and a shredded coconut tart.
All in all, the meal was delicious, perfectly paced, and a great experience. Our servers were willing to stop and chat between courses instead of focusing too heavily on form over function. After dinner, he even suggested we take a few pictures down the mirror maze of a hallway connecting the restaurant to the Almas caviar bar.
Sunday morning was our last hurrah, as we returned to Ozone to try the bottomless Dom Perignon brunch.
The bar looked just as good in the light of day, thanks to the large windows and stained glass.
There was even a funky rock pattern on the outside terrace, on the parts you weren’t allowed to walk on.
The brunch itself was a buffet, but don’t let that fool you. We started at the extensive grill station, which featured everything from steak and lobster to lamb chops and delicious sausages.
We then quickly made our way over to the eggs Benedict at a waffle station, where we had our choice of three different flavors of hollandaise sauce.
There was also a fresh seafood station, and each table even had packaged scissors to help you through the shells.
There were cold cuts and salad options, including Iberico ham and three different kinds of smoked salmon.
There was also a sushi bar.
And there was a dedicated caviar station.
We had no problem finding something to eat.
Our waiter for brunch was the same one who’d served us at Ozone the night before, and it turned out he was the assistant manager of the bar and restaurant. He was incredibly friendly and insisted on topping us up again and again, even when we told him he might need to carry us back to our room if we had any more to drink.
He also snuck us rose Champagne, which normally costs extra.
Dessert was an equally impressive affair, with towers of pastries and cookies, each one more intricate and delicious than the next.
At the end of the day, none of our meals were cheap, though they weren’t outrageously expensive by Ritz-Carlton standards either. We ended up spending $200 to $300 per person per meal, though our meals included a two-Michelin-starred dinner and a bottomless Dom Perignon brunch. The food was all excellent, and there wasn’t a single bite I had that wasn’t worth it.
By far the greatest amenity at this hotel was the skyline view, which you could enjoy from most rooms as well as the hotel’s restaurants. Hong Kong is not known for its daily sun, though, and when you’re this high up in the clouds, bad weather means no views. The cloud cover was serene in its own way, but you had to block out time to make sure you saw what you wanted to see.
We spent Sunday morning before brunch at the hotel’s rooftop pool, which was also on the 118th floor (though it could only be accessed from the guest-room elevators, while Ozone had a dedicated elevator from the lobby). You had to walk through the gym to get to the pool, encouraging you to stop, work out and soak in all the views.
The pool had lounge chairs all around, a faux fireplace and free sandals you could borrow.
There was a large TV screen on the end, as well as a mirror on the ceiling to reflect it back. The TV cycled through everything from aerial shots of Hong Kong to tropical marine life that I’m guessing you wouldn’t find in Victoria Harbor.
Like most of the hotel, the pool was designed to maximize views. There was a shallow ledge running around the windows that you could stand or sit on for the perfect Instagram moment.
We got to the pool around 10am and asked the attendant if it would be possible for him to call Ozone and move our brunch reservation up by half an hour. He apologized that the restaurant wasn’t open yet, so we went to go soak in the outdoor hot tub.
A few moments later, he came up to us with a giddy smile on his face to say he was able to track down someone from Ozone and move our reservation up to noon. He looked genuinely proud of this accomplishment and did a cute half bow, half dab as he went back inside.
This was indicative of the service culture throughout our experience. While a hotel like The St. Regis New York exudes rigid class, the staff here felt like what you’d expect at a W Hotel instead — fun, personable, smiling from ear to ear every time they can help a guest.
Another example of this came when we were waiting for an Uber on Saturday. Our driver made a series of wrong turns trying to find the entrance to the hotel and was several minutes late. The bellhop noticed we were waiting a while, and after confirming that we had a car on the way, he joked about running down to the main road and dragging the car up with his bare hands. Meanwhile, I was wondering how much a ticket on China Eastern Flight 223 would cost me.
For every valid complaint you may have about Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong is a great reminder that when things are good, they’re great. This hotel was a steal at only 60,000 points a night, and while the on-site food is pricey, you won’t leave feeling disappointed. The service also blew me away, not just the end result of getting things done but in the way staff approached each guest interaction. Would I stay here again at 85,000 points a night? That’s a tougher question, given how many great Marriott properties there are in Hong Kong, but if you’re looking for a luxury getaway you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option in the city.
All photos, unless otherwise noted, by the author.
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