BACKGROUND The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur has a lauded 18-year history, but in January 2015 it began extensive renovations (it continued operating throughout) which lasted until March this year, when the new-look hotel was officially relaunched. A major change in design has seen it go from black marble opulence to a more modern, stylish aesthetic. The owner of the building, YTL Hotels, was heavily involved with the process.
WHERE IS IT? In the eastern Bukit Bintang area of KL’s Golden Triangle commercial and entertainment district. It’s surrounded by shopping malls, with a direct walkway connection to one of the city’s most upmarket malls, Starhill Gallery, and from there by covered walkway to the KLCC next to the Petronas Twin Towers.
The international airport is a 40-50 minute drive away mostly on excellent toll expressways.
WHAT’S IT LIKE? My hotel limo transfer turned out to be a Maserati Quattroporte – a hint of the hotel’s stylish new design concept. There are two entrances – one reserved for Club status guests for extra privacy and prestige.
The main entrance leads to a classy white marble lobby with mirrored check-in desk and a few sofas, but a short escalator ride to the first floor really reveals the Ritz’s bold new look: first you pass through a bright white, circular Gallery with a silver ceiling and a local artist’s work on the walls, before walking through the lush Lounge to the lift area.
The décor involves a variety of colours, textures and patterns – wooden flooring is covered by rugs under each seating area; plush sofas share space with dark-wood easy chairs, there are waist-high tables and low coffee tables, while the colour palette is at times warm and earthy, or cool and breezy.
If this sounds like a potential design mess, fear not – somehow it all works together, creating a classic but contemporary atmosphere that had me casting my gaze around with interest whenever I walked through the hotel.
THE ROOM There are 364 guestrooms shared between the hotel’s two towers, including five suite types (one-, two- and three-bedroom suites, a Ritz-Carlton suite and Penthouse suite). Deluxe rooms are 40 sqm, while Executive rooms are 45 sqm.
I was in a one-bedroom suite at the end of what are quite narrow corridors for a large hotel. The door opened straight into the living area, which was spacious and light. At the far side by the window was an L-shaped sofa and coffee table facing a huge 55-inch flatscreen TV, with shelves holding a range of magazines and photo books. A door led to a washroom behind the sofa. The work table was against the wall close to the main door; narrow but useable, it benefited from a very comfortable modern desk chair on wheels, and three wall-mounted universal plugs were in exactly the right place above the desktop.
A large round table and chairs, and a sideboard with a capsule coffee/tea machine completed the room’s furnishings – together with warm yellow lighting, it had a homely feel, not overstated but comfortable and elegant.
More of the same was in the good-sized bedroom, with another large TV, jacket stand, excellent king-size bed and small vanity table between the walk-in wardrobe (home to the safe and ironing amenities) on one side and bathroom on the other.
The latter was an unusual L shape, with the toilet stall and shower stall through doors on the left, the mirror and sink on the right and a bathtub at the far end. Everything was in gleaming white marble – I liked its idiosyncrasy a lot, even though it had no window.
My only two complaints were these: firstly, almost every time I walked to my room, either one or both of the doors to the two service rooms on my floor (containing towels, sheets, etc) had been left open – the insides were not very neat – and often a vacuum cleaner was left standing in the corridor. This should not happen (often) in a luxury hotel.
Second, and understanding that this is beyond the hotel’s control, on both Friday and Saturday night a karaoke party or bar in a nearby open-air location blared very loud and truly appalling music/singing (read out of tune and rhythm) from 9pm until midnight. It filled my suite – even ear plugs did not help – and when you’re getting up at 5.30am for a flight this can be extremely annoying, to say the least! (I have since learned that it was a special performance for the Hungry Ghost Festival, and not a regular occurrence.)
MEETING FACILITIES The ground, second and third floors are home to 15 meeting and conference rooms plus a banquet hall – a total of 1,714 sqm of event space. The Ritz-Carlton’s unique Chef-on-Call Service and a multilingual Conference Concierge team are available.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS Four of the five F&B options are located on Level 1. Unusually, they are designed in a broadly open-plan manner without doors, so you transition between each as you make your way through the hotel.
The Cobalt Room, an attractive, cavernous area with curving booths and tables, is where the extensive breakfast buffet is served; next to that is the smaller Patisserie, where light lunches and pastries are available; you then have the long Lobby Lounge with comfortable, high-backed sofas and easy chairs around low tables, which offers an extravagant afternoon tea set that is famed throughout the city.
The Library is a side room off the Lounge where dinner is served – the menu changes every evening according to the ingredients the chef has sourced that day. Lining the walls on three sides are thousands of books that guests are free to browse – it’s a genteel, sophisticated place to dine, and the food was excellent when I dined there. A dedicated Smoke Room is down a curving corridor near the lifts at one end of the Lounge.
On Level 2 is Li Yen Cantonese restaurant – it has yet to be renovated and is traditional Chinese in style, but it remains very popular both for dinner and dim sum lunches (its head chef is from Hong Kong). Lastly, the Club Lounge bucks the current trend for top-floor locations with a view, instead being found on the ground floor next to the Club entrance – it does indeed have a “clubby” feel, offering the usual executive breakfast, snacks and evening cocktail sessions in a pleasant, quiet environment.
LEISURE FACILITIES There are two swimming pools on the fourth floor, one for all guests and a slimmer version next to the Spa Village – ostensibly only for use by spa-goers, though many guests use both (the spa pool is better for swimming laps). The large 24-hour gym is also on this level – the Fitness Centre changing rooms each sport a steam room and sauna.
The Spa Village – YTL’s own brand – offers treatments that combine traditional Malay techniques with both Chinese medicine and Indian practices. As part of a three-hour session I had a full-body massage, exfoliating body scrub and head oil massage, followed by 15 minutes in a steam room, then an open-air shower and soak in a milk bath in the treatment room’s pebbled garden area – an exceptional experience. A beauty salon and product retail store are also found here.
VERDICT Creating a unique identity that appeals to the majority is not so easy in today’s hospitality sector, but Ritz-Carlton has succeeded in Kuala Lumpur. The hotel has a real sense of style, which, combined with high levels of comfort, excellent food and dining options and a great location, earn it high praise.
PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in September start from RM1,399 (US$348), including taxes and surcharges, for a one-bedroom suite with Club access.
CONTACT 168 Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur, 55100; tel +60 3 2142 8000; ritzcarlton.com