Escape With Alila Bangsar - Special Edition
“Surprisingly different” - Alila’s mantra and with their hotel resorts generally a world away from inner city life, I’ve been asking “What for me, could possibly be so surprising about Bangsar?”. I came to realise, this isn’t the question I should be asking. Rather, as an expat; 20 minutes drive away, I should be asking “Where can I embark on a destination experience, feeling different whilst doing nothing really different at all”…
Before I can reach for the heavy timber doors of Alila’s entrance it swings open to a smiling face and a softly lit, vaulted lobby, with brass elevator doors effusing that incandescence. The concierge directs me to visit the sky-level lobby at the 41st floor “where somebody will be waiting” for me. The elevator doors open to reveal a similar open space, this time filled with natural light pouring in, through various large apertures or sliding in through wood panels — fusing a traditional Japanese and Norwegian style, burnished with Streamline Moderne. This was a truly dynamic timelessness. Naturally, this place is a magnet for the lens and so the first impressions I sent my wife were met with “Your daughter will be jealous of you!” and indeed my six year old couldn’t wait to ask me about my experience. Anyone enjoying the seating area of the lobby, tucked behind a pillar, foliage or stone feature, is perfectly framed for instagram, there’s always a delightful “coffee table” book at your finger tips to get you forgetting time above the hustle & bustle of the street; far below.
Anukaa, Host Supervisor, greets me, ready to smoothly process my check-in, right here in the middle of the lounge area, when we’re swiftly joined by Kamal Munasinghe, the General Manager who explains how Alila Hotels have come to redefine the urban retreat. Perched above the city, straddling Bangsar and Brickfields “Little India" Alila’s 143 guest rooms occupy 6 of the upper most floors of a mixed purpose building known as The Establishment - a monolith in an otherwise mainly 2 storey area. Wellbeing is an objective in Bangsar, a mecca for the health conscious creative thinker; it’s no wonder the lifestyle apparel brand Lululemon chose to open it’s only store; not far from Alila. Therefore, you can expect a program of yoga sessions utilising the architectural beauty and stunning vistas as the sun rises and set’s. If that is not enough for you, there is a yoga master located literally at the foot of the building.
From there I’m whisked me off to my room by Anukaa - comfortably skipping through the sky-level lobby in grey suede Common Projects sneakers and a light flannel suit; uniforms by Malaysian designer Silas Liew. Enthused; she guides me around my guest-room. Later on, General Manager Kamal explains the subtleties in their training, how the hosts deliver a personalised service, on how to read the guests’ needs without them ever having to ask.
I’m left to explore my Delux Studio, one of only 6 like it, with it’s spacious 55 sqm of white oak walls with Mondrian framing and a designer lighting system that cycles through your moods. The room should be a 360 degree experience, so you can pad through the warmly lit bathroom area; passing the shower room — a space large enough for anything you can image — or close off both sides so that you encapsulate the wardrobe too; a very useful functioning privacy. However, we are also invited to enjoy our stay just outside of our rooms, to a communal area on every guest-room floor, serviced by a dedicated butler, ensuring a highly personalised level of guest service. With jars of spiced tapioca chips, iced gem cookies that bring me back to my childhood and a fridge that’s kept topped up with juice and infused teas, I was meeting my fellow guests all the time as I pop by to nibble and rehydrate. This is all part of the experience of being connected to the whole hotel as if it were one’s own home — a “living” space.
So this is where interior design lovers, millennials and creatives alike come to stay or frequent. The Pool Bar; with it’s Waikiki feel, the Pacific Standard Bar - a 1950’s American cocktail bar and the Lido all come with that romantic vintage Hollywood charm. Curated by Proof & Company from Singapore who’s bars feature in the World's 50 Best Bars by Drinks International, they feature liquor by small bespoke producers from around the world but don’t worry about not being an aficionado, you’ll spot a bottle of Hennessy. Whilst Principle bartender Ruben Anandha and his team will guide you through your experience with smooth speak-easy attitude.
Descending to the pool area is like finding a closed cove or azure water basin on a volcanic island — with it’s grey tones of ceppo and balma stone and “tree-lined” with walnut wood; all elegantly finished with light-attracting touches of brass and populated by botanical house tropical greenery. Neri & Hu Design and Research, named EDIDA and ICONIC Designer of the Year for 2017; the architect team, are the designers of the new age of “body wealth” — fans of shopping at London’s Selfridges will be familiar with the signature design language of The Body Studio, a 3440 sqm of retail space dedicated to women’s body wear. I prefer the idea of relaxing by the pool; above the city with it’s uninterrupted views of KL’s skyline but if you crave a fully stacked gym — don’t worry, it’s there.
After 7pm I’m encouraged to catch the sunset anywhere along the entire east flank of the hotel sky-lobby to poolside but I have dinner booked at Botanica + Co; on the ground floor situated between Alila and Establishment. I rarely eat western food these days, so I take the occasion to indulge in the Wagyu Beef Burger with its house-made bun and fries (although these hearty numbers I’d call “chips” back in Blighty). As I start with the Bo+Co House Salad - mesclun with Japanese cucumber, edamame and pomegranate - I’m warned about the size of the portions by the waiter. Boy! By the time I reach desert, I’ve just about spoilt my appetite. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t finish my plate. For Alila hotels, adopting EarthCheck operating standards, integrating the natural, physical and cultural elements of their environments — I felt I wasn’t doing my part. However, as I looked around me; the portions made sense, I noticed groups of young people in the act of sharing and thought to myself “I could really use a six year old carnivore named Mia, right now!”I leave to walk it off and whilst Little India’s Brickfields is just a 10-minute walk behind, instead, I head over to Bangsar by crossing the footbridge linking Alila to the LRT which is a scenic 15-minute ride away from KLCC. After a 20-minute walk I arrive to meet friends at Ganga Café on Lorong Kurau; a little stretch of restaurants, cafés and bars where local artists, fashion and media types like to hang out. Alternatively, during the day you could hang out nearby at APW Bangsar, a creative workspace and collective of places to dine, whilst updating your instagram in this attractive mixed-use converted industrial space, that was once a commercial printing factory. APW and in particular one of it’s residents PULP — an artisan coffee house — is an affiliate of Alila’s program of lifestyle activities tailored to individual interests across five themes — Cultural Learning (love of history and artisanship), Conscious Living (wellness, environs and community), Active Spirits (outdoor sporting pursuits), Culinary Arts (cooking school and food trails) and Couple Celebration.
Unfortunately for me on a Monday evening the Pacific Standard Bar is closed, so I grab some iced infused tea from my floor’s lounge, unwind with some jazz from my room’s IPTV and enjoy my warmly lit 360 degree bathroom, before hitting the soft Indian cotton sheets.Breakfast at Alila is held in Entier, the same architectural language of the lobby extends through here, infused with the essence of Paris’ Oberkampf area. I opt for the vegetarian breakfast after last night’s indulgence — a psychological panacea at the very least — its Indian fusion sets the tone for my wander through Brickfields’ Little India. As part of their personal service, Alila offers a chauffeur service to KL Sentral, Mid Valley City or Bangsar Village - popular destinations for retail therapy and entertainment.My last experience; back at Entier, is lunch, where I’m met with Chef Masashi Horiuchi’s dry sense of humour, “My Condolences!”…I quickly realise he means the football! England have come 4th in the World Cup and Chef Masashi is well acquainted with that feeling of the England’s defeat and the subsequent nation’s reactions — having spent the last five years as Sous Chef at two Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in London.
I get that feeling of good company and sharing — at the heart of Entier (Entier—an old French word meaning “whole” or “entire”); the french culinary expression of joie de vivre. The main menu offers a delectable repertoire of authentic French fare featuring seasonal produce and fresh ingredients. As part of the nose-to-tail approach, select dishes will highlight a specific part of the animal or vegetable as the star of the dish.The bread served is not just an accompaniment but a pre-course experience —naturally in house baked and fresh from the oven — the sourdough (Pain au Levain) with kombu butter was warm, light, crisp and fluffy. The Marinated and Sautéed Baby Cuttlefish - heirloom tomato, house-made stracciatella cheese and herbs, had that Japanese execution I recognise, whilst the Escargot Pasta —burgundy butter, semi-dried cherry tomato and whole wheat pasta had a hearty french attitude that brought me back to Lille. The absolute delight was the 70% Single Origin Pahang Chocolate - chocolate cardamom ice-cream and brownie desert, delicate morsels of differing chocolate experiences; elegantly cut through by wood sorrel and dill flowers.
Chef Masashi sees Entier as “fun dining” instead of the formal French style of fine dining with crisp table linen and waiters in sharply pressed suits. Tay Hui Ying of Platform Hospitality Group (the group behind Entier and Botanica + Co) explains the concept that they’re trying to convey to Malaysians about french dining (and indeed “Le Roast Boeuf” English, I should think), with the dinner menu indicating the size of the portions. This is to preserve the integrity of the cut and ingredients and to encourage diners to share their meal — something I’m so used to doing with my family, as my young daughter’s pallet might actually surpass mine, soon enough.
As Alila’s Marketing & Communications Manager, Kanchana Ganglani invites me to view the open top of The Lido area and 360 degree views of KL, I’ve reached the summit of my first experience at Alila Bangsar, it seems as though it’s just the start of Two Roads Hospitality’s exciting re-writing of urban retreats. With all the competition on the horizon, is the sky the limit? For me, anyway, it’s back down to earth…or the chic ground floor lobby at least.