Travel: Nailing It
Samuel So takes my right foot in his hands, rests it on a towel in his lap, and reaches for his knives. The pedicurist’s tools—six shiny blades and one long toothpick-shaped implement arranged side by side like scalpels in a surgical suite—seem excessive. However, a cup of fragrant Chinese tea, presented to me by a staff member at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong’s salon, soothes my jangled nerves enough that I settle in and surrender to So. His technique, which his father originated at the hotel in 1989, involves examining the feet under clinical lamplight, then applying knives to the soles and chiseling away that which is unsightly.
So’s methods are among the many traditions that have survived a nine-month, $140 million renovation of the Mandarin Oriental, which reopened on Connaught Road in Hong Kong’s Central District last fall. At the 44-year-old establishment’s Captain’s Bar, located off the lobby, nothing has changed; white-jacketed servers still prepare drinks from behind the old wood and leather-trimmed bar. Upstairs, at the decades-old Mandarin Grill + Bar, oysters still can be enjoyed from the comfort of the restaurant’s original Pullman armchairs.
Nevertheless, the postrenovation Mandarin Oriental is very much a new hotel. Guests of the property, which opened as the Mandarin in 1963 and later merged with the Oriental Bangkok to form the chain, no longer step from their accommodations onto cramped balconies to watch the maritime traffic on Victoria Harbor. The hotel removed the platforms and replaced them with additional interior space and expansive windows, the latter of which frame tableaux of skycrapers and sea. For the first time in more than 40 years, patrons of the Mandarin Grill also can enjoy a view, of Hong Kong’s Statue Square. British designer Terence Conran’s refurbishment of the restaurant involved unmasking and enlarging its original windows, which the hotel had covered up in the mid-1960s.
On the 25th floor, in the space formerly occupied by Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Vong, not even the panorama of Hong Kong’s electric skyline will distract you from your plate at the newly opened Pierre restaurant. Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s creations include a creamy soup sprinkled with popcorn, and a petit four that seems to sizzle on the tongue. The degustation menu progresses through a series of succulent dishes served in small though satisfying portions.
The day after my pedicure, with my feet silky and unscathed, I enter the fitness center to work off my many courses at Pierre. I am eager to test my new feet on the treadmill at the gym, which is part of a new 22,600-square-foot Spa and Wellness Centre that spans three floors of the hotel. Six miles and several bottles of water later—a staff member replaces each container the instant I drain it—I feel like my old self, only refreshed.
Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong