Hotel Review: Hotel Tavinos Hamamatsucho, Tokyo

Disclaimer: In exchange for two nights in a Hollywood Double room, I am writing this review.  Photos are my own, and from the Hotel Tavinos Hamamatsucho.

Tokyo-based Fujita Kanko’s newest brand, Hotel Tavinos, was opened to the public on August 1st, 2019, in the Hamamatsucho neighborhood of the Japanese capital.

Hotel Tavinos Hamamatsucho is located close to the Asakusa and Oedo subway lines at Daimon station, the Tokyo monorail at Hamamatsucho station, and the Odaiba monorail at Takeshiba station.  Further benefiting those flying from/to Tokyo Narita and Tokyo Haneda, the Asakusa subway line at Daimon can take you nonstop to both airports. Additionally, nearby tourist spots include Shiba Park, Tokyo Tower, the Hama Rikyu Garden, and ferry piers.

It’s not particularly central to the usual tourist attractions, but given the excellent (though not 24-hours) public transit in Tokyo, guests are not more than a 25-minute train ride to the hotspots.  That said, staying somewhere as perpetually busy as Shinjuku or Shibuya might not be for everyone, so the quieter location can also be considered a positive.

In theory, the 188-room hotel was designed with millennials in mind, as it incorporates touchscreen maps in the lobby, borrows from manga in its room designs, and has a sleek, minimalist aesthetic.

But, how does this traveler feel about the property?

Ground Floor

My first impression was not good, for three main reasons.

One, I disdain hotels that lack lobbies on the ground floor.  At least, in this hotel, the same elevator can take you between the 2nd floor lobby, as opposed to transferring between elevator banks.  Think about it, if it’s a hotel created for a younger audience, why couldn’t we just check-in/check-out through an app, and completely avoid the lobby?

Two, there are no stairs that can be readily used.  Save for older Japanese business hotels, I’ve found this to be a common problem at other national (e.g. Toyoko Inn, APA) chains, too.

Hotel Tavinos Hamamatsucho Lobby 1

Hotel Tavinos Hamamatsucho Lobby 2

Three, I didn’t understand check-in.  Nobody greeted me, and once someone did, everything was (slowly) processed at the computer terminal next to the front desk.  What’s modern about that?  If someone still needs to be present, time will inevitably be wasted.

Free Luggage Storage

Since I was too early to check-in, I stored bags in the free luggage storage locker room.  However, it was mentioned to me that an add-value train card (such as Suica or Pasmo) was required to use the lockers, so fortunately I had a couple of them.  Again, I wish that both check-in/out and the lockers could take place on the ground floor.

Interactive Touchscreen Map

For those less familiar with Tokyo, there’s a giant interactive map on one of the lobby walls, available in Japanese, English, and Chinese.

After returning from another entertaining day in Tokyo, I went to the lobby to get my room key.  This time, a more cheerful woman helped me out, and explained that every morning, there are free snacks, mostly bread, water, and coffee, to enjoy.

Typical Hotel Rooms Corridor

Hollywood Double Room

The artist Roy Liechtenstein immediately came to mind after checking out the design of the Hollywood Double room.  It was very clean and compact- as Japanese hotel rooms tend to be – though with the large window in the center, it didn’t feel so limiting.  I wish that there had been a small refrigerator, and that the air conditioner didn’t aim directly for the bed, but overall, the room was comfortable.

Regarding the bathroom, I felt that it was slightly larger than the average Japanese chain, though didn’t have enough hooks.  Regardless, there was ample body soap, shampoo, and conditioner, and the water pressure was great.

In all, although I found some issues with my stay at the Hotel Tavinos Hamamatsucho, the room was clean, luggage storage was easy, and for those transiting to either Tokyo airport or a boat, the location is good.

In other news, the Tavinos brand plans to open a second hotel in Asakusa in May 2020, just in time for the Tokyo Olympics next summer.

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Restaurant Review: The Chocolate Buffet at The Sukhothai, Bangkok

Disclaimer: In exchange for two chocolate buffets, I am writing this review.

Although a few Thai desserts come to mind, when I’m traveling to Bangkok, my mind is set on the spicy mains, the soups, and exotic juices.

However, if you’re in town for a while, sometimes you want to take a break from all of that delicious street food, and delve into the Western world of cakes, pastries, and…chocolate.

The Chocolate Buffet at The Sukhothai has been delighting patrons for more than 20 years.  It was the brainchild of Swiss-born Executive Pastry Chef Laurent Ganguillet, who jovially will prepare you whatever he can with his array of chocolate buttons from around the world…including Mexico, the native home of cacao.

Already booked a table?  Then let’s see what’s in store for you–

What have we here?  Cakes with passion fruit, chocolate-covered bananas, vanilla marshmallows, truffles, chocolate tarts, and much, much more!  Grab yourself a glass of milk, pace yourself, and grab another glass of milk.

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But we haven’t even seen the chef in action.

Wait for It.

Now we’re talking!  Chef, let’s start off a hot chocolate with cinnamon and almond shavings.

Beautiful!  But I’m also feeling a bit peckish.  What do you have in the food department?

Churros with chocolate fondue (no doubt paying homage to the chef’s Swiss roots)  and housemade whipped cream?  You shouldn’t have!

But, did you know that in Spain, churros are served with hot chocolate?

And just like that, I had another hot chocolate to my right…As well as a Thai Iced Tea, for when I needed a short break from the chocolate.

That said, in spite of its tempting name, The Chocolate Buffet isn’t just for the sweet tooth in you.

Preparing the blinis for my caviar plate

On the other side of the hall from the desserts were fruit, caviar, savory snacks, and canapés intended to be eaten alongside tea.  Overall, I’d stick with the sweets, but I did quite enjoy some tropical fruit, caviar, and a sampling of sushi.

Intrigued readers can visit the chocolate buffet every Friday – Sunday, between 14:00 and 17:00.  Now if you will excuse me, I have some hot chocolate demanding my attention.

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Restaurant Review: The House of Smooth Curry at The Athenee Hotel, Bangkok

Disclaimer: In exchange for a review, I was invited to lunch at The House of Smooth Curry.  Photos are both my own, and of the restaurant.

In Bangkok, one is never bereft of choices.  Hotels pop up left and right, street food is seldom more than a block or two away, and no matter which taxi you take, the driver will…often choose not to use the meter.

So many choices.

But, if you’re only in town for a few days, you don’t want to err in where you stay or eat, especially if trying different foods is one of your motivating factors.

Don’t worry, I’m here to help.

The House of Smooth Curry, located at The Athenee Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, could easily be added to your list.
The House of Smooth Curry reopened within the past two months after undergoing significant renovations.  Curiously, The Athenee Hotel was built on the site the former Kandhavas Palace; indeed, the main dining room was designed to evoke the 1920s-1930s residence of Princess Valaya Alongkorn.

The Athenee Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Bangkok

One of my favorite PR people, Ann at The Marcom Pro, as well as the affable and environmentally-conscious GM of The Athenee Hotel, Ms. Choo Leng Goh, joined for lunch.  The Executive Chef, Mr. Montri Jiratitankit, also stopped by to chat about how important his family was in inspiring him to cook.

As much as possible, The House of Smooth Curry tries to use sustainable, local, and regional ingredients.  Nearly 80% of the menu is organic, and many dishes were previously only spotted on royal menus, adding further uniqueness to the dining experience.

Hungry yet?

Let’s start things off right by ordering a Thai Iced Tea, which quite simply is black tea, milk, and sugar.

Thai pomegranate juice, non-oily prawn crackers, and roasted chili paste.

Poh Taek Talay, or soup with organic seabass, black tiger prawns and Hokkaido scallops, with galangal (has an earthy citrus flavor, and looks very similar to ginger) , tomatoes and basil.  It was a quality opening dish, as soups tend to be.  Light and welcoming, and generous with the amount of seafood.  Although it’s typically made spicy, I generally want it even spicier.  And this is Thailand, so prepare yourself for both types of heat!

Gang Run Juan Neua, or spicy Pon Yang Kham beef curry with shrimp paste, onions and basil leaves.  Gang Run Juan Neua is one of the aforementioned meals not widely known outside of a culinary historian’s textbook.  In spite of having beef, it was also not overpowering, and the Thai basil leaves were a fragrant and pleasant addition to the meat-focused plate.

Saeng Wa Goong, spicy organic prawn salad with ginger, lemongrass, and mint, crispy catfish, and cashews.  So good!  Everything tasted so fresh, Thai flavors stole the spotlight, and did I mention I love seafood?  Now to find out the names of those edible flowers…

Gai Phad Takrai, or stir-fried organic chicken with lemongrass and chili, tied for my favorite non-dessert of the meal.  I would snack on this – with more chilies thrown in – everyday.  The chicken was tender, and its umami taste meshed well with the herbal citrus qualities of the lemongrass and the heat of the chilies.  Well done!

Also photographed is the beef curry listed above, and my other favorite dish, red chicken curry.  It was eaten too quickly that I couldn’t get a better photo.

Moving on to dessert–

Som Choon, mixed seasonal fruit (including litchi and longan) shaved ices with keffir lime peel.  After all of those bold flavor profiles, having a snack of some of what Thailand does best – tropical fruit – was timely and refreshing.  I will have to make a repeat visit to get the mango and mangosteen duo.

Kha Nom Kho Kathi Sod, or glutinous rice balls filled with shaved coconut and served in warm coconut milk.  This is another meal I would eat everyday, if I didn’t ever have to worry about the consequences. In spite of it being coconut-heavy, the flavors don’t overwhelm your palette.

Before learning about this dish, I would make a beeline to mango sticky rice, and the grilled bananas with caramel sauce.  Now that I know about this, I will have to diversify the ever-crowded dessert field.

Check out The House of Smooth Curry any day or everyday of the week.  They are from 12:00-14:30 and 18:00-22:30, and the dress code is smart casual.

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Event Review: 2019 New York Summer Fancy Food Show

The Specialty Food Association’s 2019 New York Summer Fancy Food Show took place at New York‘s Javits Center from 23 – 25 June.  The membership-based Specialty Food Association was established in 1952 to foster interest in specialty foods companies in the US, although currently there are vendors from all around the world.  The Fancy Food Show has been an annual event since 1954; furthermore, in the winter, San Francisco has hosted a smaller version of the expo for a number of years.

As I’ve done for the past five years, I will give a brief rundown of standout booths, or folks making foods that I was really craving at the time:

Contender for one of my favorite booths: Turkish Baklava

and sticking with the Turkish theme…

Dondurma refers to Turkish-style ice cream, but is chewy, doesn’t melt in the mouth, and is meant to be eaten like a slice of cake.

Avocado Leaf Tea, based in Temecula, California, USA, is one of the American pioneers in this market. The leaves naturally have many health benefits, and the tea itself is smooth, airy, and a bit earthy. Delicious stuff.

Seedly, a Long Island, NY, USA-based trail mix bar start-up, aims to blend seeds and pulses with Iranian influences.

Belgian butter is better

Sidekicks Salsa is a Cleveland, OH, USA-based company co-founded in 2013 by Danny, one of the friendliest people I encountered at the 2019 show.  He and his co-founder Jessie were very enthusiastic about their four different salsas – Garden Citrus Mild, Ohio Hot, You’ll Need a Cold Beer Extra Hot (with Thai bird’s eye chilies, some of my favorites), and SoGreen Salsa Verde.  Although their inclusion of honey in the recipe makes me scratch my noggin, I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the You’ll Need a Cold Beer Extra Hot, because I generally want to add a kick to my meals, but also long for the Southeast Asian influences that bird’s eye chilies impart.  You can find Sidekicks Salsas throughout the Midwest and Pittsburgh-area, or order them online at Green Bean.

Which of the above foods do you really want to try?

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Hotel Review: The St. Regis Mexico City, Mexico

Disclaimer: In exchange for this hotel review, I received a one night-stay at The St. Regis Mexico City, Mexico in one of their Deluxe King rooms.

Located on Mexico City’s primary thoroughfare Paseo de la Reforma, in front of the Diana the Hunter fountain, Reforma district, The St. Regis Mexico City is also a less than fifteen minute walk from the Sevilla metro station.  The 31-story hotel boasts 189 guest rooms and suites; moreover, all rooms are smoke-free.  The immediate neighborhood doesn’t have much to offer, save for the excellent Chapultepec Park nearby.

Ground Floor Waiting Area with Access to Residences and Hotel Lobby

Generally, when I check-in to a hotel, I like to be able to do so right away at the main entrance.  However, at this hotel, you have to first ascend to the 3rd floor, from where there is a separate elevator bank to the rooms.  In this case, it wasn’t a problem, as elevators were efficient (they only stop at a few floors).

3rd Floor Main Lobby

Small but adequate business center, located next to the 3rd Floor Reception Area

Check-in was fast and courteous; when it was completed, I was introduced to my butler, Mario, who would also help in taking bags up to the room and unpacking them, pressing clothes, and preparing tea/coffee.  Omar, a room manager, was there to supervise Mario, and chatted with me about Lebanese/Syrian immigration to Mexico.

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A common theme at The St. Regis Mexico City seemed to be cleanliness.  The hallways, restaurant dining rooms, lobbies, and my guest room were all nearly spotless. 

My Deluxe King room had, among other things, a well-stocked minibar, Nespresso machine, very comfortable robe, even more comfortable bed, and an umbrella.  The shower unit had both a handheld and “rain” option, and the bathroom came with St. Regis-amenities by Laboratoire Remède.  Right by the guestroom door, I didn’t find that it was well-soundproofed, but as soon as I hit the relaxing bed, I passed out, in spite of the weekend revelers.

There was also a master control panel by the bed, for air conditioning, lighting, and DND (do not disturb).  However, it didn’t control the curtains, which I was slightly surprised about.  Nevertheless, I didn’t spend much time in the room – i.e. when in Mexico, eat everything! – so it also wasn’t a big deal.

Soon after taking a peek at my room, I went up to the 15th floor to inspect the indoor pool, gym – which was divided into two sections, and spa.  Coincidentally, there was also a children’s play area.

I’m not much for these activities, but I do enjoy the urban views.

After visiting the pool/gym area I went down to the St. Regis-original King Cole Bar.

Being a New Yorker, I have certainly walked by the storied St. Regis hotel, located at 55th St and 5th Ave.  However, until staying at The St. Regis Mexico City, I had no idea that the New York location might possibly have been the place where one of my favorite cocktails – the Bloody Mary (in Spanish, Sangrita Maria), fka Red Snapper – was created.

Another aspect of the hotel that I quickly noticed was that service on all fronts – food and beverage (f&b), room, guest help, concierge – was excellent.  Hotel staff weren’t just there to help sort out a problem, but they also wanted to chat about life in the capital, their favorite foods, and where else they have worked.  Service had a humanside, and I appreciated the chance to speak with a variety of employees about their life and the St. Regis.

Standing on the border between the King Cole Bar and Restaurant Diana

Back at the bar, I was eager to sit outside and enjoy the cool Mexico City nighttime temperatures.  However, a big no-no for me was that the outdoor terrace – which the King Cole Bar shares with Restaurant Diana- is that smoking was allowed.  Isn’t it a smoke-free hotel?  Consequently, I sat inside, which turned out to be fine.

In any event, let’s start checking out the food!

Above, we have a Sangrita Maria, guacamole with seasoned chapulines (grasshoppers), and a diverse set of totopos (tortilla chips).  Locally-inspired bar snacks, with one of my favorite drinks?  Count me in!

At one point in my conversation with one of the waiters, I mentioned that the next day, I would have to leave the hotel before lunch, since I was meeting friends.  Just then, he suggested that I try one of the more famous The St. Regis Mexico City meals, an avocado pizza, baked at the Jean-Georges Vongerichten concept restaurant J&G Grill:

All that was missing was…another sangrita maria.

As for the J&G Grill, I was there the next morning from 06:30 until about 10:00, talking with Cesar, the f&b manager, Alberto, the head chef, and other restaurant staff.  In fact, the J&G Grill isn’t generally open for breakfast (lunch and dinner, yes); though, since it was Mother’s Day, they had a special morning buffet.  (Restaurant Diana is the standard breakfast buffet and Sunday brunch restaurant, that also offer lunch and dinner.)

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While Cesar and I were talking about Mexico City, every once in a while Chef Alberto would stop by, suggesting various dishes to try.  (It might be time to say that thus far, my three favorite countries for food – tied for first place – are Japan, Turkey, and Mexico.  In other words, when I’m in Mexico, and a chef is asking me “what would you like to try next?,” I get that child in a candy store feeling.)

So, what’s next?

OK, I cheated a bit.  Lately, I’ve been trying to recreate the classic New York breakfast – Novy (smoked salmon) with cream cheese on a bagel -wherever I go.  To “localize” it a bit, I added avocadoes.  Yep, I’m already sold.

Next up, refried pinto beans with cotija cheese, eggs with chorizo verde (hailing from the nearby city of Toluca), and chilaquiles, basically warmed-up tortilla chips doused in salsa roja (red chile sauce), topped with onion and crema.  I could eat that green chorizo everyday, but then I’d have to…exercise.

One of the late-morning dishes was eggs with machaca (dried beef, popular in the north of the country), avocado, refried pinto beans again, and salsa roja.  Just another in a long line of delicious Mexican meals, all due to the expertise of Alberto and his kitchen staff.

After becoming completely stuffed, I had to check-out, again at the 3rd floor lobby.  The process was anything but, and after about thirty seconds, I was already in the elevator, awaiting the reunion with my friends.  Overall, this was one of the better stays I have had in recent memory, with everything from staff hospitality and maintenance of public spaces and my room to quality and taste of food being on-point.  Thank you again St. Regis Mexico City for such a pleasant stay!

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Hotel Review: Conrad Centennial Singapore

Disclaimer: In exchange for this hotel review, I received a one night-stay in Singapore in one of the Conrad Centennial Singapore’s Executive Twin rooms.

Rarely have I stayed at a hotel where nearly everything was enjoyable.  By and large, I’d have to say the 487-room, 25-suite Conrad Centennial Singapore – located a stone’s throw from the Suntec City shopping and convention complex – scored very high marks.

Though I don’t recall a single employee once holding the door for my colleague and I, once we were checked-in, staff were quite pleasant and eager to help.

The owner of the hotel incorporated into the lobby design the five elements of feng shui— water, fire, earth, metal, and wood.  In this photo, one can imaginatively count three of those attributes; the (red) representing fire in the sculpture, a drop of water causing “waves” into the lobby floor, and up above, the metallic “Christmas tree.”

Nik, one of the hotel manager, gave us a tour of the property.  She was charismatic, very easy to chat with, and seemed like a genuinely fun person to be around.

Although my colleague and I had a swift check-in downstairs, being that we had an Executive floor room, we could have also checked-in on the 31st floor.  In my opinion, one cool feature about the Conrad Centennial is that they have two Executive Lounges; the one for guests of all ages, placed right next to the pool on the 4th floor, and the 31st floor lounge for guests 12 and up.

4th Floor Executive Lounge Bar

Hotel Pool with Cabanas

31st Floor Executive Lounge

Guests staying in Executive Level rooms also can have a buffet breakfast, afternoon tea, evening drinks with hors d’oeuvres, and are able to use the 5th floor business center for two hours per day, among other amenities.  Personally, I didn’t avail myself of the meals in either lounge, because my colleague and I had our hearts set on the main hotel buffet restaurant Oscar’s.  More on the food later!

First, let’s visit the room:

A welcome surprise of macarons, camouflaged chocolates, and fruitFor me, two of the most important aspects in a room are controllable air conditioning units without a musty, smoky smell- at least in this part of the world – and suitable internet speeds.  Both passed the test with flying colors.  And check out the view!…

Never mind those competitors in the foreground, the Conrad Centennial clearly has the superior views!

The dual shower heads were a bit finicky at first, but the pressure was quite nice.

Ultimately, the room was very comfortable, and came with the requisite robes and slippers.  My one main gripe is that I only noticed one rubbish bin, in the bathroom.  Perhaps it was a small oversight on housekeeping’s part?  It also would’ve been nice to be able to open a window, but the hotel erred on the side of safety, which is fair enough.

On another positive note, whenever I called to get something replenished/ordered room service, it was quickly actioned and attended to.  I don’t always have the best success with room service, but the Conrad Centennial did it well.

Speaking of eating…

The Conrad Centennial has a few eating choices. Golden Peony serves Cantonese food with a Singaporean touch, and counts a celebrity chef among its crew. The Terrace is the fast option, with sandwiches, baked goods, and coffee.

Then we have the Lobby Lounge, specializing in gin-based cocktails.  I tried something called Death’s Door, because the menu mentioned that it had a spicy finish:But for us, we were keen on Oscar’s, the international, all-day buffet/á la carte restaurant.

For lunch, Yanping, the hotel’s Director of Marketing and Communications, joined us.  He was another amicable member of the hotel staff, cordial, and eager to please.  Nik, Yanping, and Senior, a Les Clefs d’Or Concierge member, all appeared to me as if they were truly happy to be working at the Conrad Centennial.  Kudos to the hotel HR team!

All of that reading is making me hungry.  What is for lunch?

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However, due to both my colleague and Yanping not having much of an appetite, I greatly benefited from their ordering.  Each dish tasted clean, with a variety of flavors, and warped me throughout South and Southeast Asia with every bite.

So, they’ve got the á la carte thing down pat.  But how about the lunch buffet on the following day?

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Needless to say, just about all of the foods we tried were quite tasty.  That said, service was rather slow, in spite of us sitting right next to a few waiters.  The restaurant wasn’t even that busy for the majority of the time we were there, so I was a bit disappointed in the service.  Nevertheless, I went back for seconds for many of the dishes…and I’m still feeling full one week later.

If you’re looking for a reliable, clean hotel with mostly friendly staff and good eats, I’d highly recommend the Conrad Centennial Singapore.

(Review photos courtesy of Adam Wynn)

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Hotel Review: Raffles Jakarta, Indonesia

Disclaimer: In exchange for a one night’s stay in the Raffles Room with dinner at the Raffles Jakarta, I am writing this review.

My colleague was interested in visiting the Indonesian megalopolis, so as a former resident, I was glad to show him around.  On previous visits, I would stay closer to the main tourist drag, also known as Jalan Thamrin.  However, what better way to explore more of the city than to choose a new neighborhood?  Hence, I bring you, the Raffles Jakarta, part of the Singaporean Raffles hotel enterprise.

Located in the commercial and shopping district known as Kuningan, the hotel also forms part of the Ciputra World mall and dining complex.  Due to travel issues, we arrived in the early evening, but we were very glad to be leaving the crazy traffic for the welcoming calm of the Raffles Jakarta.


After passing through the harmless security check at the front (it’s the standard for nice hotels and shopping centers in Jakarta), the first thing I noticed about the lobby – and the hotel in general – was that it was warm.  I’m not staying at a hotel in this part of the world expecting the temperature to be on par with the outside temperature at the time of the day!

Also, I found some of the works of art – curated by the hotel owner, Ciputra and his family – to be unappealing and lewd.  One of the bellhops also pointed out that many things also had a golden hue, as if to signify wealth.  That was another tacky choice on the part of the owner…but being familiar with East Asia, I wasn’t at all surprised.

Elevator Bank

Though, I must say that all public areas, as well as the room and main dining room were very clean and well-maintained.

At check-in, we were introduced to our butler, which I wasn’t expecting.  That said, my preferred level of service is “let me ask you when I need something”, as opposed to “contact me if you think I need something.”  Anyway, we were told that the butler could unpack our bags, make us tea and coffee, polish our shoes, and press clothes.  Nice touch, just like at its flagship Singapore property (or so I’ve read).

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The room was spotless, hospitable, and spacious.  I wish that I had more time, because it was one of the three highlights of the Raffles Jakarta.  The shower had good pressure, the wifi never cut out (which is still an issue in Jakarta/Indonesia), and the robe…I should have asked to buy one!  Different color, of course…the Raffles Room was also quiet, and had nice views of the surrounding Kuningan area, as well as the Sudirman central business district (I apologize, as I accidentally deleted those photos).

Before eating, I wanted to check out the pool; that peaceful area turned out to be the second highlight of the Raffles Jakarta:

Although the water was a bit cool, in the steamy Jakarta climate, it was a brief but delectable swim.  It was around closing time, so no one was at the pool, which might’ve added to my positive opinion of the space, but for that moment, I felt blissfully removed from the giant city at the hotel’s doorstep.

Now, let’s finally move on to the food, at the Arts Café

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On second thought, let’s move away from the food.  It was mostly disappointing, save for the local and Western desserts, which were actually surprisingly tasty.

The “show kitchen,” in which three different dishes are churned out on a daily basis, were almost flavorless across the board, and the Peking duck lacked the best part, the duck skin, as well as had very small portions.  To sum up the buffet, if it didn’t have to be cooked, it was good.  If it was a dessert, it was good.  Anything else, give it a pass.

Though, more irritating was the service.  At first, a waiter would stop by our table, asking if we needed water or anything from the show kitchen.  However, after about fifteen minutes, two different tables of business people (i.e. in suits) were seated, and all of the servers’ attention shifted to them.  I tend to think there was an elitist air about the Arts Café that was also diffuse among lobby staff.

But, it’s also time to move on to the third highlight (of three) at the Raffles Jakarta, The Writers Bar.  The name evokes the colonial era in Singapore, when authors such as W. Somerset Maugham might have been sipping a cocktail while contemplating their next opus.  It is located next to the main hotel entrance, and often has a pianist in tow.

Though I’m not a big drinker, I like to sample local/regional ingredients where possible.  You might be thinking, but Jakarta’s the largest Muslim city in the world’s most populous Muslim country?!  Yes, but calm down.  It’s a very open, cosmopolitan place, with international business people, and a significant Indonesian-Christian population, too.  With that out of the way, let’s have a look at the menu…

Novita, one of the affable and pleasant waitresses, was telling us about house specialties, in addition to imploring us to try the Jakarta Sling.  I’m a big fan of passion fruit, but had mixed feelings about the star anise; nevertheless, the combination went well.  So well, in fact that I drank it all before remembering to get a photo if it.

No matter, for I also tried the Bramble.  The lead bartender, Rick, and Novita came over with their bar trolley to make the drink:

The Bramble has a base of gin, with Javanese mulberries and citrus juice.

Bramble cocktail

The Writers Bar was a nice place to spend a couple of years, relaxing (without the ubiquitous-in-Indonesia kretek, or clove cigarette smoke made it that much better), and chatting with bar staff.  They also have an outdoor section for smokers, and a small library with books about Ciputra and Raffles lore.

All in all, I’d return to the Raffles Jakarta for the room, The Writers Bar, and the pool.  Whereas there was a hint of smugness in the air, that all but disappeared in the The Writers Bar.  I’d also like to especially thank Novita, Rick, and the rest of the bar personnel for their kind and attentive service, and the staff who helped us to our room.

(Review photos courtesy of Adam Wynn)

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