Malaysia’s capital is a heady mix. On one hand it’s high-rise and hi-tech, with mega shopping malls and glam rooftop cocktail bars. On the other it has vibrant markets, bustling street-food action and bumper-to-bumper cars. Between these two sides are pockets of lush green parkland – and a forest on the doorstep. And all of this operates in a state of constant sweltering heat and tropical humidity.
KL is not short of luxury hotels but the St Regis might just be the swishest so far. Opened only four months ago, in the fast-developing KL Sentral district, glamour oozes from every part of it. Arriving in the impressive lobby out of the soupy heat is like being dipped into a calm, cool breeze. Flanked by two enormous murals of polo players painstakingly carved from leather by artist Mark Evans it’s an impressive start and a nod to the hotel’s serious investment in art, the results of which are peppered throughout the property (look out for the enormous bronze sculpture of a horse by Fernando Botero in the Drawing Room; it is so large the hotel had to be constructed around it).
The rooms range from deluxe standards to full-on suites but even at entry level you are guaranteed the St Regis butler service – that’s a 24-hour service for packing and unpacking, garment pressing and refreshment delivery. Space is a key element here; the slightly out-of-the-action location means all the rooms are all generously sized.
Suites have huge bathrooms the highlight of which are the rainfall showers and stand-alone baths which sit in front of a room-length window with views over KL (don’t worry the view only goes one way!). The mini bars are a work of art in themselves, constructed out of huge steamer trunks and packed with everything you could possibly need, including a fancy coffee pod machine.
As you’d expect in a hotel this swank the food choices are pretty breathtaking. The jewel in the crown is the bagging of 3 Michelin-starred Japanese chef Takashi Saito in his first ever venture out of Tokyo, Taka by Sushi Saito. His restaurant is a beautiful traditional wooden, high-ceilinged space where guests sit around a huge hinoki wood counter and sushi is prepared in front of them.
Meals are served omakase-style so the diner entrusts the chef to serve whatever he wants to on the day. Saito, although based in Tokyo, is making quarterly visits to the St Regis to monitor the quality. Waiting lists are naturally quite long so it’s worth booking ahead when planning a trip.
The name of the hotel’s other main restaurant, The Brasserie, doesn’t really do it justice as this is no casual Parisian gaff. Chef Nicolas Le Toumelin heads up the kitchen taking French and Mediterranean classics and delivering them with a seriously skilled hand. Dishes such as roasted king crab with coriander and tomato and sea scallops with carrot mash and cauliflower pickles showcase his delicate touch.
The space reverts to a much more casual style for breakfast where, as well as familiar classics, you can try pimped-up local favourites such as nasi lemak (coconut rice with wagyu rending, quails eggs and king prawn sambal) or congee with shallots, preserved vegetables and spring onions.
The standout bar here is the Astor Bar – huge floor-to-ceiling wooden doors part dramatically to swish drinkers into an interior that could easily be an uptown New York gentleman’s club. It’s all dark wood-clad walls, polished brass, horsehair and leather seats, plus Austrian crystal chandeliers for a touch of shimmer and sparkle. You would feel a bit foolish ordering anything other than a very smart cocktail or a tumbler of whisky here. It’s that kind of place.
The St Regis has a pretty solid claim to be the place that invented the Bloody Mary. The story goes that bartender Fernand Petiot perfected the spicy drink in the first St Regis, in New York. Since then each of the brand’s subsequent hotels has crafted their own version of the drink. Here it is the Asam boi bloody mary, a potent mix of asam boi (a sour dried plum-infused vodka), calamansi juice, paprika and sarawak black pepper as well as the usual tomato juice.
For guests who want to completely wind down and embrace some of the spectacular natural habitat of Malaysia first-hand, the St Regis has just developed the Shirin Yoku or forest therapy programme alongside the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia.
This takes the form of a guided walk through the local regenerated tropical forest (about half an hour’s drive away), including a thrilling canopy walk suspended 30 metres above the ground. Guides work for the institute and know the forest intimately and, with over 1,500 plant species and 190 species of birds, it’s a real education in local nature.
Double rooms at The St. Regis Kuala Lumpur start from around £264, stregiskualalumpur.com
Written by Janine Ratcliffe, October 2016