Walking through the doors of The Upper House, life slows down a beat or two. The minuscule lobby is more like a decompression chamber to shed a little energy before taking a serene ride up an escalator designed to mimic a row of torrii gates. There is no front desk in the traditional sense because the “paper-less” checkin is handled in your room via an iPad.
Housing 117 guest rooms between the 38th and 47th floors of a building shared with the Marriott, The Upper House isn’t exactly a boutique hotel, and yet everything from the Andre Fu designed interior to the personalized service says otherwise. Despite its size and an occupancy rate of 92% during my stay, the halls of The House were virtually empty, giving me the feeling that I had the place all to myself.
During my tour of the hotel, my guide Michelle informed me that housekeeping is deliberately hidden from the guests. Sure enough, a mental rewind through my stay revealed that I hadn’t once seen someone in a maid uniform or even an errant pushcart loaded with towels. Curious how they pulled this off, I asked how they did it. “That’s a secret!”, she replied with a sly smile, implying that it was a trade secret that set them apart from their competition.
Indeed, there are many things that set The Upper House apart from their competition. Most notably, the beer, mineral water, juice and soft drinks are free! There are also mason jars filled with mini packs of almonds, M&Ms, Milano Cookies, and Mentos for you to snack on without having to worry about the bill upon checkout. That’s not all that’s free. There’s the wifi, espresso and even yoga classes on weekends.
Sure, these may seem like trivial amenities given rack rates that starts at $4,000 HKD (about $500 USD), but how many hotels can you name that don’t try to nickel and dime you after you’ve paid a handsome sum to stay in their boring beige rooms?
In a city where space = luxury, the guest rooms at The Upper House were made for royalty. Even the smallest Studio 70 room features 730sq ft of space to sprawl out in, not to mention a bathroom that gives you views over Hong Kong. Matte finished oak floors with generous use of oak veneer, and curvy commissioned sculptures from artisans all over Asia give the rooms a warm welcoming feel despite their large footprint. It’s the kind of room you don’t feel bad about lounging around in all day.
My only gripe with the room was the toilet. I know this sounds nit-picky, but hear me out. I don’t expect much from a toilet. It’s there to serve a very simple function. When choosing the toilet to install, they clearly prioritized design over function, either that or they planned to cater to Yao Ming sized clientele. My pork belly-fed size-33 bum isn’t small by any standard, and yet the gargantuan orifice on this toilet tried its best to swallow me. It makes me wonder how many small Asians these gaping latrines have swallowed over the years.
But alas I have to forgive them for this small lapse in judgement because every other aspect of the hotel was diligently thought out to make you feel at home. Remote controls open and close the curtains that cover wall-to-wall windows. Controls on either side of the mammoth bed turn off every light in the room so I didn’t have to spend my final waking moments fumbling around the room without my contacts looking for a hidden light switch. When the free beer had passed through my system around 3am, a quick glance to my nearest night stand revealed the warm glow of a night light button which provided just enough illumination to guide me to the toilet without searing my eyeballs with the blinding light of a thousand suns.
Even the elevators are a little different at The House. When one arrives, a hearty chime reminiscent of a manorly doorbell lets you know it’s there. When I first arrived and stepped into the elevator, I pressed the button for my floor and my finger instinctively searched for a close button. The doors closed before I was able to find it because there is no close button. I found myself mildly annoyed feeling like I’d just been robbed of a precious few tenths of a second.
But in a city with turbocharged escalators and moving walkways to get you somewhere just a few seconds faster, my initial annoyance soon turned to admiration for the level dedication to their ethos of slowing life down when you enter their doors. And you know what? By the time I left, I stopped hunting for the close button, content to simply ride the elevator, not control it.
The attention to detail spans to their restaurant on the top floor. Cafe Gray is spacious, taking advantage of the building’s angular shape to break up the large space without feeling cavernous. The service is prompt yet genuinely friendly, and most importantly the food is good. When I say “good” I don’t mean “good for a hotel restaurant”, I mean it’s good by any standard.
This probably has to do with the fact that it’s helmed by Gray Kunz, the celebrated chef of Lespinasse in New York during its heyday. Kunz, who grew up in Singapore to an Irish mother and Swiss father, is intimately familiar with both Eastern and Western cuisines. Ruth Reichl, perhaps said it best in her review of Lespinasse: “…as if he had an instinctive understanding of each of his ingredients. He combines them, coaxes new tastes from them and yet maintains such firm control that no single flavor ever dominates a dish.”
For breakfast one morning I had the Upper West Breakfast, which included two eggs poached to perfection on a slice of toast with the crusts neatly cut off. Impossibly crisp American bacon expertly straddled the line between crispy and burnt which juxtaposed char grilled English loin bacon, tender with a different kind of smoky. Even the tangy baked beans were delicious, served in a crusty grilled cup of cornbread. The meal was rounded out by a trio of citrus, each segment peeled and dressed with passion fruit, along with a wide assortment of breads and pastries.
What really blew me away though was the marmalade that came with the bread. It was mild, not too sweet and lacked all but a hint of bitterness. The black sparkle of vanilla beans balanced out the sharp citrus with a floral note that really showed Kunz’s technical mastery of ingredients.
Breakfast the next day was a stack of light fluffy chocolate chip and banana pancakes with a big scoop of maple butter. The chunks of melted dark chocolate added a slightly bitter note, keeping the dish from being too rich or cloying and the Ladyfinger bananas were bruléed with a thin crispy shell of caramelized sugar.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to have dinner there, but my experiences at breakfast and afternoon tea made me wish I had one more night to indulge in their winter prix fixe menu which included items such as a pumpkin velouté with lobster tartar and truffle roasted poullarde with a foie gras truffle jus.
While there are many mirages in the upscale hotel market, The Upper House is truly an urban oasis that offers a tranquil respite in a bustling metropolis.