When I first visited Hong Kong, I hated it. I was 15 years old, so during the flight over there, I had naturally elected to watch the maximum possible number of movies I could – about five-and-a-half, as it goes – while consuming as much free Coke and salted peanuts as possible. On arrival, my jetlagged head was about as dense with fog as Victoria harbour. It was summer: the air was steam-room humid, and we were forced to restrict our movements solely to venues with air-conditioning. This included our base, the Mandarin Oriental – a hotel so stuffy that the humidity was the least of its worries.
But to judge one of the most exciting cities in the world from the perspective of a pubescent teenage boy would be as myopic as, well, a pubescent teenage boy.
I’m happy to report that returning as an adult was a totally different affair. First, I have now perfected the long-haul flight. Despite the best efforts of Air New Zealand’s comprehensive personal entertainment system, and its staggering selection of prestige wines, I forced my head down as soon as the seat belt sign was off. And, thanks to the genuine lie-flat bed, duck-down duvet and a fistful of diazepam, I’d arrived in Hong Kong before you could say ‘Phooey’.
At this point, the Four Seasons kicked in. Stay in this harbour-front hotel, and you’ll find the five-star service reaches far beyond its extensive grounds. As you depart the plane, an in-airport handler will pick you up the moment you step onto the gangway. He’ll whisk you past all the riff-raff on one of those beepy golf karts normally reserved for the elderly and Americans who are too fat to walk. This is particularly nifty as the airport and the queue for immigration are both vast. While you queue, your attendant will race round the other side, your luggage barcode memorised (“I was a baggage handler for 20 years before I started handling humans”), and have it trolley-loaded and ready to roll to your car.
The meandering drive from the airport sweeps through verdant valleys and over vertiginous bridges, before Hong Kong Island unfolds like a giant tapestry. It has to be the most impressive introduction to a city – especially from inside one of the Four Seasons’ chauffeur-driven S-Classes. As it was their winter (akin to a fresh summer morning in Britain), there was none of the mugginess that so blighted my first experience of the city.
On arrival at the hotel there’s no checking in: they already know your name and you’re shown to your room immediately. Book a suite, and you’re also given access to the executive club. A brilliant concept that has been adopted by several top-flight hotels where you have your own exclusive bolthole within the hotel where you can tuck into complimentary champagne, fresh nibbles and some of the best views of Kowloon you’ll find.
Although Hong Kong has shaken off many of its colonial ties, there still exists a strong club culture. It’s reflected in the personal service, where everybody knows your name, even the cleaners. Talking of cleaners, I’ve never noticed such attention to detail in that department. We had left our iPad in the room during the day; on returning we noticed it had been placed on the desk with a poly-wrapped microfibre cloth next to it. A note read: “With respect for your privacy, please find a screen-cleaning cloth for your convenience.” Now, that is impressive cleaning. I half expected to find my shoes polished, too – which, it turns out, they will do if you leave them outside of your door in the ‘shoe cleaning’ bag.
This attention to detail is happily matched by the culinary department. The hotel hosts not one but two three-Michelin starred restaurants (the only hotel in the world to boast such an accolade): Caprice and Lung King Heen. Forgive me, but I wasn’t going to fly half way across the world for French food, so dinner at Lung King Heen (‘View of the Dragon’) was top of my list. In 2008, Chan Yan Tak became the first Chinese chef in history to be awarded three Michelin stars. And for good reason: his delicacies have as much in common with your local Chinese take-away as an F1 car does with a Ford Focus. The dim sum still makes me salivate just thinking about it. The barbecue pork in a rich-glazed dumpling was like a fluffy savoury doughnut, delicious with the homemade chilli soy (“Try a bit, if you do not like it, do not have any more”, the waitress helpfully suggested.) The steamed lobster and scallop dumplings came on neat little wooden cradles with latticed bases. These allow you to dunk the dim sum into the sauces depending on your preferred submersion depth – it was food theatre, but with purpose.
From the more substantial dishes, the baked crab was my highlight, but my wife insists the honey-glazed sea bass beat it. One thing we didn’t debate was the wine: this was one area where we were willing to defer to the French – Xavier Monnot, to be exact, and his mesmerising meursault ‘Les Chevaliers’ 2009.
Your food choices aren’t restricted to fine dining. The ground floor Lounge is a lively place for breakfast of any origin: the diverse offerings include wok-fried noodles and rice congee with beef (Hong Kong), broiled cod, miso soup and pickled vegetables (Japan), or bacon and fried eggs (Bethnal Green).
Positioned on the border of the financial district and Soho there’s plenty to see – and eat – nearby, too. The location is ideal for exploring the city – with the harbour, luxury shopping malls and parks all on its doorstep.
After a day pounding the pavements – from the broiling streets of Kowloon markets, to the peaceful heights of Victoria Peak Garden – there’s no better place to relax than the Four Seasons spa. The suites are like relaxation apartments: a personal steam room; king size-bath with waterfall shower overhead; day bed and flatscreen TV; a snack room antechamber; heck, even the air seems to be infused with vanilla and lavender. All of this, and you get a harbour view most hotels would kill for.
If I could have seen my future self when I was a 15-year-old boy, I wouldn’t have believed it. And not just because I didn’t think I’d be seen dead in a spa, but because I didn’t think I’d ever even return to Hong Kong – let alone like it when I got there. It’s amazing what age, experience and a suite in the Four Seasons can do to shift your perspective.
Air New Zealand flies to Hong Kong from £529. If you can plump for business class then you’ll be treated to the best mattress in the air, a wine list you’d expect in a Mayfair restaurant and a goody box that “even trumps Virgin Upper Class” according to the editor’s wife.
Prices at the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong for a deluxe peak view room start at HK$4500 (+10% service charge); reservations: +852 3196 8333; email@example.com; fourseasons.com