Hotel Imperial Kuala Lumpur
IT MAY be the third largest luxury hotel brand in the world, but The Luxury Collection is still an unfamiliar name in these parts. Originally launched in 1995, this premium brand under the Starwood Hotels & Resorts group is better known elsewhere for its chain of some 69 distinctive hotels and resorts, like The Gritti Palace in Venice, Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens and The Princeville in Hawaii.
Perhaps the fact that each of its establishments retains its individual name under The Luxury Collection banner makes a common identity harder to discern - especially when most of them are in Europe and the Americas.
In South-east Asia, only four hotels and resorts have made the cut. To qualify as a Luxury Collection hotel - and we are paraphrasing here - the property has to be unique, reflect the characteristics of its location and make it easy for guests to experience local flavours and gems.
The four are The Laguna Resort & Spa in Nusa Dua, Bali; Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit in Bangkok; Sheraton Grande Laguna in Phuket; and the latest addition, Hotel Imperial Kuala Lumpur (HIKL) on the Malaysian capital's Jalan Sultan Ismail.
Previously known as The Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur, HIKL started its US$12 million makeover in May last year, and is now properly transformed, with all the requisite bells and whistles - including a rich but contemporary interior decor featuring indigenous Malaysian wood carving and textile - befitting a luxury establishment.
Along with the new brand image are new rooms - it has 385 large executive rooms and suites with butler service on Club floors - a new lobby, spa and stylish US$1.5 million all-day dining restaurant, Essence.
Guests can also have afternoon tea at its Pavilions Court, Cantonese cuisine and dim sum at Celestial Court and authentic Italian food helmed by a new chef from Tuscany at the cosy Villa Danieli.
But of course, to be a hotel worthy of belonging to The Luxury Collection, it has to offer more than just the premium facilities and services that one already expects in today's luxury hotel chains.
Total experience: The US$12 million makeover has transformed Hotel Imperial Kuala Lumpur into a luxury brand with contemporary interior decor featuring indigenous Malaysian wood carving. The hotel has 385 large executive rooms and suites with butler service on Club floors, a new lobby, a spa and a stylish all-day dining restaurant, Essence
That X-factor, in HIKL's case, is its location right next to the hot and happening Asian Heritage Row - a stretch of pre-war shophouses on Jalan Doraisamy that are now home to lively clubs, bars, cafes and restaurants. Supper over a plate of Maggi goreng (fried instant noodles) at Buharry - an upgraded but still casual version of the Malaysian mamak eatery - will put you in a good position to check out the developing social scene in the city.
To prove that HIKL makes it easy for you to experience local flavours and gems, we were taken to the Jalan Imbi market for breakfast in 'true Malaysian style'. Here, you basically order from different stalls selling local cooked food, such as Malay nasi lemak and kuehs, Indian prata or Chinese you tiao, char siew noodles and innards soup.
But to top off the experience, get a table at Ah Weng Koh Hainan Tea which, we discovered, is the Malaysian kopitiam version of Seinfeld's soup Nazi. Like the scowling character who sells delicious soups in the American comedy, it's not easy to place your order of tea, coffee and kaya toast with the eccentric, middle-aged Chinese man who runs this place. He will not tolerate indecisiveness, has an acidic tongue and will even refuse to take any more orders from you simply because, well, you're making too many of them.
Of course, Kuala Lumpur offers more refined fare as well, and at the opposite end of the dining experience would be Bijan, a contemporary, award-winning bar and restaurant we were taken to for fine local Malay cuisine on Jalan Ceylon.
For the die-hard shopper, a monorail station just a short walking distance from HIKL will take you to the popular shopping area of Bukit Bintang - where you will find Pavilion, KL's newest high-end shopping centre - in just three stops.
So while you can obviously experience local flavours and highlights when staying at other KL hotels, where HIKL has done well is to offer itself as a total package that comes complete with luxury accommodation, attentive service and a good location. Such being the case, bring on more of The Luxury Collection, we say.
Hotel Imperial Kuala Lumpur is at Jalan Sultan Ismail, 50250 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tel: (60)(3) 2717 9900, website: luxurycollection.com/kualalumpur