Friday, 1 May 2009

The St Regis Singapore

It has been lightly reported in minor journals that the World is quietly progressing through a spot of financial upset. Apparently some smaller, mostly insignificant, corporations are at risk of marginal revisions to their growth trajectories.

Sitting in the back seat of the second car in a Bentley Continental Flying Spur convoy, carving through the sparklingly dew-laden early-morning streets of Singapore, chauffeur's cap on the dashboard and hotel’s logo finely embroidered on the rear of the baby-soft cream leather front seat headrests, it’s not immediately apparent that the foundations of capitalism are shaking around us.

The only sense of limitation is that these most finely-crafted of Crewe creations, each capable of 314kmh, are reined in to a maximum of 90kmh on even Singapore’s speediest stretches. Which is tedious.

Driver announces that we are seven minutes from the hotel, inaccurately as it transpires. Perhaps due to unexpected traffic-light phasing, arrival is 6 minutes 43 seconds later. Sloppy, I would say.

Now, why was the arguably off-pitch St Regis selected in the face of such exalted alternatives as the Mandarin Oriental or the Four Seasons, the garlanded Shangri-la Valley Wing, or even Singapore’s iconic Raffles Hotel? Why, having read a couple of merely very good, but not superlative, reviews of this most recent addition to the city-state hotel scene had I still decided to entrust them with the aged clan?

Well, for one, we’re all different, with different priorities and expectations, and reviews should always be read (are you listening?) circumspectly on that basis. Secondly and more importantly however, I have a theory about service provision. It’s not fashionable, and my much-published friends at Cornell, Cranfield and Harvard tend not to grab headlines with management books on the subject, but in my experience the single most important characteristic demanded by the vast majority of consumers is: reliability. The fact that there is so little satisfaction with general levels of service provision is a reflection of what I call ‘The Rarity of Reliability’. You heard it here first.

The books, of course, all talk about ‘excellence’ because we live in an age where marketing dictates that a message without superlatives is uncommercial. Well, excellent is not good enough for me – reliability first, then build to sustainable excellence.

Which is where Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., comes in. Few outside the industry have heard of the company, as they trade under non-corporate brands. Far more will recognise Sheraton, but the stable includes Westin, Four Points, Aloft, and W Hotels amongst others.

Each is tailored to appeal to a different demographic, or to sit more happily in a given geographic location and, right at the top of this carefully brand-managed tree sits St Regis.

Starwood makes no secret of the fact that they believe St Regis is a worthy competitor in the Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Mandarin and Peninsula stratosphere of hotel accommodation and, in many ways, they’re quite right. Certainly, from a room-rate point of view, there can be little to distinguish between them but, and this is only my experience to date, St Regis has a tendency towards the more individual, dare I say it: old-fashioned style of hospitality.

They’re definitely American, but rather more John Jacob Astor than George Walker Bush.

So, from the Four Points by Sheraton in Kamloops, British Columbia, to the Lanesborough in London, Starwood have proved in their dealings with me to be the most reliable of hotel operators. That I have an affinity with the grand and slightly more iconic style of hotel brings St Regis into sharper focus and, frankly, why would I spend my money with a company other than one which has done most to develop my loyalty over many years?

Just as well, then, that the St Regis Singapore had managed to open its doors a mere 15 months in advance of our arrival. Time enough, hopefully, to iron out any early kinks and ensure that everything on the snagging list has been attended to.


Sweeping onto the hotel forecourt, it might have been supposed that minor royalty or senior diplomats were expected and that we would be flagged to a side entrance to ensure no let or hindrance. Except that the retinue there-waiting was primed and prepared for nothing other than to welcome two claret Bentleys and their long haul cargo of self-loading freight.

Observe therefore, if you will, those members of the hotel staff visible in this hastily-taken snap, not forgetting those just out-of-shot ready to handle doors and luggage. Note also that, ever-so-slickly, a wheelchair was ready and waiting, despite no prior knowledge on the hotel’s part that one would be required.

At little after 7am, two adjoining rooms had been prepared and made available, at whose doors our Butler was on hand to add to the growing throng of gracious hosts. Inside, platters of breakfast pastries and freshly pulped juice, personal letters of welcome from management and the discreet presentation of a single piece of paper to sign as a check-in formality.

As the last of the staff completed their duties of haulage, explanation and welcome and ebbed away from the rooms, the huge, vault-like doors were clicked shut and a welcome peace, tranquillity and respite from hours of travel washed over this motley crew of pensioners and their passepartout.

Unlike many other properties in the chain, the Singapore edifice is brand-new and purpose-built, a shimmering collection of sky-bound towers and a Guggenheim-esque barrel clad in stainless steel. Its modernity seems in no way to compromise the obvious fact that this property is very much a hotel in the grand tradition – exemplified by contemporary sculpture backed by rare 19th Century Chinese silk wall-hangings.


Vast expanses of marble floor are crafted in the most ancient manner and yet seem to display a lightness and finesse that suits their avowedly 21st century setting.


Carpets seem at first-glance to be of traditional luxury, but closer inspection reveals frankly remarkable detail and even, in the case of that draping the grand staircase, the most discreet LEDs embedded in the weave of the treads and risers, twinkling ever so slightly.

Ceilings and internal windows in the public areas pay homage to the art of the glass-stainer and metal-worker,

- with stunning chandeliers and light-fittings sailing in the manner of vitreous galleons beneath celestial support.

You’ll have guessed by now that I rather like this hotel.

Grand Deluxe Rooms are spacious and well-appointed, incorporating a Bose sound system and with a media interface discreetly located beneath a flap in the writing desk – through which an iPod or USB connection can be made.

The entrance lobby to the room plays host to a comprehensive bar housed in an elegant sideboard and, reflecting the juxtaposition of the modern and the traditional in the public areas, the otherwise genteel guestrooms are also home to such features as clear acrylic occasional tables, polished metal lampshades and contemporary glass lamp stands.


The bathrooms, similarly, combine chandeliers, polished wood and centrepiece free-standing baths, with the very latest LCD televisions built in to expansive mirrors and massaging multi-jet showers.

And our view looks across to the Shangri-La.


Dining in the hotel is spread between the lobby lounge Drawing Room, the large main restaurant, Brasserie des Saveurs - with dancing fountains beyond its floor to ceiling windows, an open-kitchened Italian, La Brezza, and the upper-floor Yan Ting Chinese. The Astor Bar is an atmospheric spot for an aperitif or one-for-the road, but Decanter represents the hotel’s principal destination for the discerning imbiber, with 1500 wine labels available and daily tastings for hotel guests.


Breakfast and Afternoon Tea arguably vie for the accolade of most-notable culinary features of the hotel however, both of which are served in the grand surroundings of Brasserie des Saveurs.

Breakfast is a particularly happy combination of cold buffets with seemingly never-ending selections of cereals, fruits, charcuterie, patisserie and the like, which are laid out with abundant choice but careful quantity, so that they are constantly freshened and replenished. Cooked options are offered a la carte, ensuring the highest quality. Uniquely in my experience, the hotel also offers amuse bouches at breakfast and, throughout service, there are regular offerings of breakfast canap├ęs brought to table – a most memorable addition to the norm.


Afternoon tea is also a hybrid affair. Hot selections of quiches and pastries, or Dim Sum, are delivered direct from the kitchen, along with sandwiches, wraps and generously proportioned scones. Cakes and confectionery are displayed on a tiered cascade from which only modesty and the need to be able to walk afterwards can prevent the diner from ensuring his or her rapid removal to the nearest bariatric ward.


Indeed, this level of consumption renders the hotel’s fitness facilities essential, and the gym is a well-featured space with regular attendance by staff to ensure supplies of headphones, water and towels are maintained both at the entrance and at each individual machine. Polished apples are also available for a fast fructose hit.


The gym sits between the spa and the outside pool which, whilst far from vast, has been intelligently designed to allow both laps and paddling –

- with a selection of day beds and sun beds alongside, including some which are partially submerged for stress-free toe-cooling in the equatorial heat.

Staff are on hand to dispense iced water and chilled facecloths, and dainty fruit kebabs.


Indeed the staff members, as is so often the case, were the real icing on this Starwood cake. Undoubtedly professional and trained to exacting standards, the over-riding impression is of a group of people who are exceedingly proud of their place of employment.

The ex-Four Seasons doorman, fulsome in his praise of his former employer, could barely disguise his delight in having secured his new position.

A Receptionist, Starwood Graduate and member of the team since opening, could not have been a more enthusiastic ambassador for the property, whilst all the time maintaining an air of calm assurance that reminds one that these people are not mere service-providers. They are those who, in Bombay and Islamabad most recently, are our first line of defence as hotel guests – and we benefit from far more than mere smiles and help with our bags in times of challenge. Were there to be flood or fire, tempest or terror, I have to say that I would feel immensely secure in the care of these people – and that, with a family in tow, is a priceless comfort.

More banally however, I was immensely impressed by (and grateful for) the staff’s ability to handle a relatively complicated booking, which had to be amended on a couple of occasions pre-arrival, and their discretion in dealing with the check-out process and looking after MCC and FCC who were to depart on a slightly later flight than GCC and I. I might also, finally, add that I considered the value for money, under the circumstances, to be absolutely exceptional.

Final Verdict for the St Regis Singapore: 9.0/10. The staff were wonderful, the location peaceful but still accessible with Singapore’s cheap and plentiful cabs, the guest rooms luxuriously comfortable and the hotel in general elegant and detailed, impressive yet unintimidating. A fine contemporary interpretation of a grand city hotel.

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