Hotel Icon in lively Kowloon has brains and good looks in equal measures: owned by Hong Kong Polytechnic University, its attractions include sweeping harbour views, three excellent restaurants, and enough Chinese art to fill a gallery. Hong Kong Island is a 20-minute drive away, but you won’t miss it, thanks to Kowloon’s buzzing markets, edifying museums and on-trend boutiques.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability (latest check-out, 2pm). Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £193.61 (HK$1,848), including tax at 10 per cent.
Breakfast is excluded (HK$248 + 10% service charge a person from 1 March), but minibar soft drinks and snacks are free. Book a Club room and you'll get plenty of extras, including breakfast, cocktails and canapés, and late check-out.
The hotel boasts Asia's largest vertical indoor garden, designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc. The garden frames the Green café on the ground floor of the hotel, making for an unexpected green respite from Hong Kong's iconic concrete jungle.
At the hotel
Indoor garden, spa, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, minibar, bathrobes, slippers and Leonard toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
Ask for a room overlooking the harbour (on floors 23-27) for the best views. It's worth saving up for the perks of a Club room or suite, which have access to the Above & Beyond lounge on the 28th floor – meaning free breakfast, all day snacks and drinks, pre-dinner drinks and canapes. (It's also an excellent meeting space, if you have deals to close/media contacts to schmooze.) The Vivienne Tam suite is a stunner: an 80sq m sprawl on the 27th floor, decorated with stately Chinese antiques, a ceiling inspired by traditional grand Chinese houses, and clever contemporary pieces by Vivienne herself, an alumni of the PolyU. It's grand, for sure, but it's also cosy.
Eyeball Hong Kong’s harbour as you notch up laps in the hotel’s impressive ninth-floor outdoor pool: you can plan what to eat for lunch in one of the three restaurants as you slice through the water. The swimming pool will be closed for maintenance between 2 February and 8 February 2015.
Geek-chic glasses to blend in with the personable young graduates who make up some of the staff (we’re not talking bumbling interns). Don’t leave your negotiation skills at home: you’ll need them for bouts of bartering in the local markets.
Guests booked into a Club room or suite get to enjoy paperless check-in (and other perks) at a separate lounge on the 28th floor.
Kids are welcome. Babysitting is available on request, between 8am and 1pm. Cots can be added to rooms (free); additional beds are free for under-12s (HK$1,000 plus 10 per cent tax a night, for teens). Paper, pens and pencils can be provided.
We love the long private table adjacent to Above & Beyond's wine cellar for special occasions; sit closest to the chefs in the Market.
This is a stylish stay – staff are dressed to impress, thanks to uniforms by Hong Kong fashion darling, Barney Cheng – so leave loungewear at home. Support Hong Kong talent by wearing colour-pop threads by Day Dream Nation (www.daydream-nation.com).
You've got three to choose from here: Green, a casual ground-floor café that bakes the most delicious, feather-light cupcakes; the Market, inspired by old street food markets and designed with open spaces where you can interact with the amiable chefs, who rustle up local favourites, and, the main event: Above & Beyond. Here, Joseph Tse, formerly of Man Wah, creates refined Cantonese cuisine, including a smashing dim sum lunch. Since the dining room is set on the 28th floor, any meal here comes with a generous side of harbour views. The restaurant also has an impressive walk-in wine cellar, with lockers for private stores.
Pause for a drink in Green café and plot your own vertical garden.
Tipples are served in Green bar between 11am and 11pm Sun to Thurs; 11am–2am, Friday and Saturday. Buffet breakfast is available in the Market between 6.30am and 10.30am; American and Continental options are on offer in Green 7am–10am.
The 24-hour menu spans Cantonese classics and Western comfort food.
The hotel is located in Tsim Sha Tsui East, in Kowloon. Most people visiting Hong Kong stay on Hong Kong island; Kowloon (a short drive away) offers a different perspective: expect hustle and bustle, neon everything, crowds and authentic restaurants.
Hong Kong International Airport (www.hongkongairport.com) is 35km away, a 45-minute drive. Most of the world’s top international airlines fly to Hong Kong International Airport weekly, if not daily, and it regularly tops the charts in the ‘world’s best airport’ awards. Once you have landed, zoom into the city on the Airport Express train service – it takes about half an hour (www.mtr.com.hk).
Hung Hom is the nearest station (www.kcrc.com); Tsim Sha Tsui is the nearest Metro stop (www.mtr.com.hk). The Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) runs regular trains into and out of Hong Kong, as well as around the New Territories. Excellent in both value and efficiency, the MTR subway system is a great way to zip back and forth between Kowloon, Central and Causeway Bay.
It’s a 20-minute drive to Central Hong Kong; the hotel has plenty of parking spaces (HKD50 an hour). That said, you don't need a car here: roads get congested, and the public transport options are extensive and excellent.
Worth getting out of bed for
The Hong Kong Museum of Art is in Kowloon and well worth a trip for its big-name international exhibitions. Kowloon is also home to many of Hong Kong’s famous markets, including the famous Temple Street night market and the Ladies’ Market. Be sure to watch the harbourside Symphony of Lights, a spectacular daily light show that demonstrates Hong Kong’s way with neon. You’ll want to eat your way around Kowloon, too: trying food from the hawker stalls (the more mysterious-looking the food is, the better). The hotel shuttle will take you to the MTR station, if you want to explore further afield, or you can take the ferry over to Hong Kong Island. Since Hong Kong is famous for its tailors, it'd be a shame not to have a suit or dress made while you're here. Smith got new threads from Rocky's Fashions at Shop No.19, Ground Floor, Far East Mansion, 5-6 Middle Road, Kowloon; the clever tailor will even come and drop your new togs off at the hotel.
We’d visit Spoon by Alain Ducasse at the Intercontinental Hotel on Salisbury Road, Kowloon, for its ceiling alone, which is lined with, yup, spoons. Of course, any Ducasse dish is also worth travelling for. For a traditional Chinese experience, feast on dim sum amid red silk splendor at T’ang Court, at the Langham Hotel on Peking Road, Kowloon. Sultry Aqua has seriously enviable views of the city from its high-up perch and serves a variety of Italian and Japanese cuisine. Feast on a leisurely dinner of antipasti or sushi to draw out your evening in the twinkling city mood lighting.
A favourite tourist treat is afternoon tea in the opulent lobby of the Peninsula hotel on Salisbury Road.
He was wearing Timberlands.
Untied, nonchalant, seriously trendy Timberlands.
A work boot formally worn by tradesmen, but now favoured by the likes of Jay Z, they’re more often spied on celebrities, rappers and the Cool Clique rather that on the southern tips of a hotel doorman.
I make this unexpected discovery as we are shown through to the lobby of Hong Kong’s Hotel Icon in Kowloon, where Mr Smith and I have escaped for a four-day holiday.
‘He’s wearing Timberlands,’ I hiss into the ear of the blissfully unaware Mr Smith, who is more focused on the enormous vertical garden creeping up the right wall. And thus, the benchmark is set for our brief, albeit glorious stay at Hotel Icon: this place is cool.
Bags are taken, smiles are flashed, doors are opened. The charming staff in the cavernous, crisply cold foyer are a delightful oxymoron of old-school charm and new-school cool: the Timberlands, it would seem, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the savvy hospitality attitude of 21st-century Hong Kong. Moments later we are whisked high up to the executive check-in floor, where a sticky Mr Smith and I graciously accept beverages and sign away our lives on slick iPads. Swiftly and seamlessly we find ourselves in our room. Just like that.
After years of travelling, it seems almost a given to spend the first few hours in a new country arguing in broken English with a hotel receptionist about how yes, you need cutlery in your room, and no, you won’t throw it out the window. In comparison, this is so easy.
With a smug smirk playing at the corner of my mouth, we are led to our Club 36 Harbour View room. And what a room it is. Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re gonna do Hong Kong in style; this is where it’s at. Our boudoir, while not enormous, is beautiful. Sweeping views across the entire length of Kowloon – and across a short moat of sea – Hong Kong Island; a grandiose bathroom with a TV over the bath, an office space, surround sound speaker system, decadent (and free!) minibar, and the most divine bed I have ever felt. Do I jump up and down on it giggling hysterically? Yes. I do.
My initial awestruck reaction doesn’t wane over the two days we spend in Hotel Icon… if anything, my jaw just keeps dropping further and further to the floor until I am dragging it along behind me. Hotel Icon is truly a beacon of sleek, calm service that exists in stark comparison to the hot hustle of downtown Hong Kong.
On a roll after check-in, Mr Smith and I plot our first day: a quick scout of Kowloon’s Ladies’ Market, a spa session, some cocktails and dinner (how glad I am we’re not trekking the mangroves of Cambodia or hiking Mt Fuji – adventure holidays are fine for some, but the stress of finding a good quality fake Michael Kors bag before our 4pm massage is enough excitement for me.) So off we totter, wandering around in the humid air of downtown Hong Kong for a few hours before staggering back to the hotel for our pampering treatments.
Hong Kong is a city of paradoxes. In a single day you will be swept from the hot and heaving masses of fragrant marketplaces, with the endless swarm of traffic, people, noise and commotion, up to the soaring heights of chilled shopping malls, where luxury clothes and accessories sit quietly beside charming sales assistants. You cannot help but get caught up in the wonderful dichotomy between old and new Hong Kong. Centuries of tradition is intersected, almost violently, by Western modernity. McDonald’s sits rudely, loudly, among a sea of street stalls selling octopus or live crabs or chicken hearts. It is an overwhelming assault on the senses and a fabulous cross-junction.
That being said, as our massage awaits, I’m hailing cabs out of steaming downtown faster than calamari curls in a deep fryer. Marketplace HK is great, but a 90-minute massage session? That’s the ticket.
Hotel Icon’s Angsana Spa is heaven. We arrive, flustered from our shopping adventure, to be offered a selection of herbal teas to offset our choice of herbal aromatherapy scents, to offset our choice of herbal massage oils. We pick our scented path to the most divine 90 minutes of our lives, where a full body massage leaves us limp and dribbling through the hole in the massage table. Heaven has a new name: Angsana.
After regaining consciousness and cognitive repossession of our limbs, Mr Smith and I do what any sensible couple does on holiday – we go searching for cocktails. Before our trip, we have been told about a restaurant we just have to visit: Above & Beyond. Well, imagine our surprise when we discover Above & Beyond is literally just above and beyond… on the top floor of our building. Frocked up, we rock up to A&B around 7pm to the happiest news of all – cocktails are free for hotel guests between 6pm and 8pm. And not just cocktails, but hors d'oeuvres as well. Good hors d'oeuvres.
In a magical moment, our first day at Hotel Icon ends with Mr Smith and I sipping on a Singapore Sling, nibbling on banana leaf chicken and watching the twinkling lights of Hong Kong flash and bubble on the streets 28 floors below.
The best hotel reviews give you a tiny taste on the tip of your tongue of what your experience could be like. Hopefully, you have garnered some kind of understanding of what a complete experience Hotel Icon – and Hong Kong – is, with some mysteries still left uncovered (I haven’t even touched on the pool, or the breakfast buffet…).
Hong Kong, a tale of two cities – old meets new, luxury meets simplicity, east meets west, and where the doormen wear Timberlands. So spoil yourself, why don’t you?