The Heart of Taipei
Eight years in the making and countless tweaks and upgrades later, the Mandarin Oriental, Taipei finally opened its doors last May. Jane Ngiam finds out why it’s worth paying top dollar at this oasis of luxury.
Perhaps you’ve heard about how every one of the 256 guest rooms and 46 suites is adorned with a chandelier. Or about its excellent restaurants at which Taiwanese ladies of leisure abandon their diets and spend hours catching up while watching the world go by. Much has also been said about the Grand Salon, otherwise known as the wedding chapel, where Taiwanese star David Tao was the first to hold his wedding last August.
All these were the hotly discussed highlights of this latest jewel in the Mandarin Oriental stable of luxury hotels, but when you’ve been a guest at the Mandarin Oriental, Taipei, the one thing you’ll remember above all is this—its peerless service.
For the city traveller who has seen, tasted and lived it all, it is indeed hard to be impressed by a hotel anymore. There’s always the next one which is more luxurious, has the most updated gizmo gadgets, boasts the best chefs you can find… in short, it’s getting increasingly difficult to differentiate one from the other and gain a loyal following of discerning clients.
That’s why, when I was invited to the Mandarin Oriental, Taipei, I arrived with much expectation and anticipation. Having stayed at Mandarin Oriental properties in Asian cities including Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai and Singapore, I was already privy to the luxury standards this hospitality brand had to offer. What would make this property different and better—and why did it take eight long years to build?
The answer lay, simply enough, in perfection.
“Building the hotel took just over four years as its layout and design are both quite complex. Following the completion of the construction, the actual outfitting also took a couple of years,” explains Luanne Li, director of communications for Mandarin Oriental, Taipei.
The Group also took its time ensuring that only the best—from interior designers to furnishings to the lighting fixtures in every space within the hotel—was used. All this took time to procure and put in place, and after securing the presence of Taiwanese star Brigitte Lin for its grand opening, the hotel finally launched.
The gorgeous and luxurious interiors of this hotel are definitely noteworthy. From hand-loomed fabrics covering the walls to custom-made settees in the lobby and sparkling chandeliers leading your eye up to the high ceilings, the weary traveller is at least revived by the cocooned comfort that these plush settings promise.
Many artists’ artworks are featured throughout the hotel, such as the lobby chandelier by Czech designer Tafana Dvorakov that rains down with 50,000 shimmering crystals. This chandelier alone weighs 1,400kg and took a whole year to design and install. In the Presidential Suite, a dramatic Tiffany-blue artwork that presides over the sitting room is actually a beaded three-dimensional installation artwork by South Korean artist Ran Hwang. A total of 1,700 art pieces, curated by art gallery Osage, are on display throughout the hotel.
Upon arrival, we are whisked directly to our rooms on the 17th floor for a private check-in. The concierge is unobtrusive, polite, and ready to assist with any requests. Along the way, queries about the hotel design and architecture are confidently answered—none of those “I’ll find out for you” replies that hark at inadequate training. One tip for travellers—ask for a room on the 17th floor where possible, not just for a better view but because the rooms on this level enjoy higher ceilings than those on others.
Once inside the 55sqm guest room, which is about 30 per cent larger than guest rooms in other hotels, the heavy front door and plush carpeting practically seal you off from the outside world. You’re on your own to play with the lighting (you can change it to six different settings at the touch of a button), soak in the marble tub with a selection of Diptyque or Acqua di Parma toiletries, watch your own videos through the Bang & Olufsen Soundbar, or enjoy the room service.
The unobtrusive service is topped only by the speed and discretion of any request. Upon checking in, we found the valet door loose and only mentioned it in passing to our companions during lunch. The service staff must have been paying attention, for when we returned to the room after the meal, the little issue had already been rectified.
When it comes to the personal touch, there’s no better place than The Spa to experience this. This chamber of relaxation in Taipei is the biggest spa of the Mandarin Oriental group in Asia. With 2,500sqft of space spread over two levels served by a private lift, it features 12 treatment rooms including four couple suites and two VIP suites. From the reception till the moment you drift off into dreamland during your treatment and awake to further rejuvenating treatments in the Jacuzzi or steam room, you’ll have your needs seen to by the attentive staff.
Speaking of dining, the Mandarin Oriental, Taipei has easily distinguished itself. Within weeks of its opening, The Jade Lounge on the ground floor quickly became the new afternoon tea hangout of Taipei’s high society and celebrities. Tables are booked at least two weeks in advance here—but of course, if you want to engage in star-spotting or catch up on society gossip, you’ll know which tables offer the best vantage points. Service here is intuitive and swift—we noted that the waitresses quickly laid napkins on the laps of ladies dressed in their fashionable thigh-skimming skirts, a discreet move for modesty at the low-seating sofas at some tables. No jostling of seat space with your precious Hermès Birkin bag here, either—your carriers and the day’s shopping are given their own little designated seating beside you. Ah, the little touches that show someone gave it thought!
At mealtime, expect to wait for a table at the popular Bencotto if you haven’t made reservations. The Italian restaurant is overseen by the amiable eye candy that is chef Mario Cittadini, who boasts a Michelin star to his name. For intimate corporate dinners or birthday celebrations, book the private room for the best view of the kitchen and which grants you the personal attention of chef Cittadini.
If you fancy Chinese cuisine, the elegant Cantonese restaurant Ya Ge offers delicious dim sum and a wide selection of dishes with a focus on locally-grown produce. Sprawled over the third floor of the hotel, Ya Ge also has 11 private dining rooms, and most come with an attached bathroom for even greater privacy and convenience. Those of us used to the cantankerous service at popular Cantonese restaurants will find none of it here; the staff speak in hushed, respectful tones, fill our teacups without spilling a drop, and generally execute their duties in the most invisible ways—yet always with a smile.
Guests of the hotel take breakfast in the elegantly appointed Café Un Deux Trois, which features French brasserie dining and is also open for lunch, tea and dinner. Ask for the cosy enclave seats along the bay windows, which afford more privacy and allow you to people-watch discreetly.
Don’t leave without paying a visit to The Mandarin Cake Shop, helmed by World Chocolate Master Frank Haasnoot. Staff will knowledgeably assist you with your selection of the mind-boggling macarons, truffles, cakes and tarts on display. Fans of Mandarin Oriental know that each of its hotels creates a food item unique to its locale, and in the case of this property, it’s the deliciously tart guava jam in pretty little jars that will make perfect gifts for family and friends.
Throughout our short stay, we only ventured out briefly to see the city and explore the sights that this humming metropolis had to offer. Wherever we went, the warmth and friendliness of the Taiwanese people were both refreshing and welcoming. It occurred to us that the staff at the Mandarin Oriental, Taipei were actually mascots for the real face of Taiwan—hospitable, generous, always ready to show off their beautiful home country to their guests.
When you think of it, anyone could—if they wanted to—build the most magnificent hotel and fill it with sparkling crystal, polished marble, lavish artwork, impressive digital enhancements and more. But for today’s time-starved, fickle and high-tech travellers, there’s something to be said about the human touch; that elusive element that money cannot buy because it’s not about the dollars and cents, but about sincerity and heart.
And that, perhaps, is the real secret of Mandarin Oriental, Taipei’s success.