It was a tough assignment but someone had to do it: stay in three of Beijing's five-star hotels over three weekends. Here's what you can expect if you decide to splash out and treat your better half to a night at one of the capital's premier hotels: Raffles with updated colonial charm, its younger and brasher rival the Regent and the Kerry Center with its high-flyers' bar.
Entering the foyer of the 171-room Raffles Beijing Hotel, situated within skipping distance of the Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square, you half expect passing patrons to refer to each other as "old boy", or "old chap" and comment that they have been "jolly good" of late. Yep, this is a swank place that oozes British Colonial charm and it had me scouring the walls for stuffed animal heads and searching the closets for mustache combs and elephant guns. Checking in at the front desk, the concierge noted: "You both live in Beijing". Indeed we (myself and my lady friend) do live in the capital, although our smiles were met with a mixture of bemusement and slight suspicion. Why on earth would you fork out a King's Ransom to stay in a five-star hotel located in the city where you actually live?
Well, being a silly old romantic spendthrift with no conception of financial responsibility, getting a room priced at 1,700-plus yuan per night seemed like a swell idea at the time. I may be eating cornhusks for the next month but in the spirit of English stiff-upper-lip-ness, complaining about expenses is most ungallant.
Opulent with a capital "oh, my sweet Lord", our Executive Suite boasted a large marble bathroom, a separate sitting room and bedroom and even a card for a complimentary shoeshine. The two flat screen televisions featured more channels than Margaret Thatcher has hairs on her chin and the bed was big enough to sleep the Houston Rockets and their entire cheerleading team. A quick peruse through the room service menu proffered Bollinger (750 yuan) and platters of kalamata olives, pancetta and feta (200 yuan). Since we were letting Mr. American Express take care of the pesky account that was rising at the rate of knots, we decided to get both. "Smashing darling, what a splendid idea," I said to my lady friend who was getting jack of my faux aristocratic accent.
At East 33, one of several restaurants within the hotel, they were offering a seafood buffet that set us back 298 yuan per head. "Smashing darling, let's eat here, ha ha!" I said and booked a table for two. The buffet included lobster tail, prawns, scallops and grill. The meal price also included a non-stop flow of Chilean wine and so accordingly we made sure that "non-stop" meant just that. A swimming pool fill of Syrah, 19 lobsters, 5 cows and the Mediterranean basin's entire population of scallops later we were rolled out of East 33, into the refined quaffing quarters of the Writer's Bar. Here you can sip on the famed Singapore Sling, a cocktail invented by the barman Ngiam Tong Boon at the original Raffles Hotel in (funnily enough) Singapore.
As delicious a drink as the ol' Sling is, it doesn't taste so yummy with a 200-yuan cigar. I don't smoke, but then again the last time I spent this much money in a single day I drove something out of a showroom. "Smashing darling, let's suck on stogies," I said while ordering Johnnie Walker doubles at 200 yuan a pop.
Location: 33 East Chang'an Avenue, Dongcheng District.
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