One of the biggest challenges for international luxury hotels in China is without a doubt to assure that their staff speaks English. Especially in provincial towns – although it seems odd for Westerners to call megacities like Hangzhou (杭州) that way – only very few hotel managers seem to be aware of that topic. The reasons are obvious: predominantly domestic customers, less qualified applicants than demanded and a general high fluctuation seem to impinge on the motivation to serve international clients as professional as they would deserve it. Nevertheless, in a long term these hotels run the risk of demolishing the high-profile image of the international brands they represent.
The Four Seasons Hangzhou is different, and its General Manager Rudolf van Dijk seems to be relieved by the compliments we delivered personally during our visit. “We are very selective regarding our personnel decisions. While recruiting for the hotel opening more than two years ago we probably accepted one applicant out of ten.” What exactly is the qualification the Dutch is searching for? “I prefer ‘fresh’ people, with no experience in the hospitality business at all. We train our people by ourselves, and we are searching for specific characters.”
I did not only find the staff of this hotel outstanding
, but everything around it. The location is unique. Situated right at the history-charged West Lake, this world heritage treasure can easily be experienced by foot or by hired hotel-bicycles. Moreover, the Four Seasons Hangzhou is a truly leisure resort. There is no multi-floor-building slated to spoil as many (business) people as possible. This hotel is really exclusive, and its venues are split into several low structured buildings amidst an inviting green park.
There is no need for the hotel to drop their guest’s names in the press, like other houses in the West started to do a long time ago. It is obvious that the Chinese elite, be it politicians, actors or well known business people thankfully accept the possibility to stay in one of the exclusive villas inside the property. Besides these over-the-top-choices the hotel offers an exclusive amount of 78 guest rooms, five of which are classified as suites. I did not get a room with view of the West Lake, although such exist, nevertheless I absolutely enjoyed my stay from the first moment when I entered the “room”, which consisted of a hallway, a spacious bath room with a free-standing bath tub, a bed room with a couch, a hidden ample TV screen and a desk and, finally, a roofed balcony.
The architecture in the whole property is defined as “Jing Nan”, a traditional regional style with pagoda-like roofs which used to be popular during the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties. The resort consists of a couple of rather small-scale buildings that are linked by walkways, which lead through pleasant water gardens. Also the interior design seems highly deliberated. I especially loved the spa facilities. The treatment was great, but I was blown away by the atmospheric design by Bensley Design Studios & Concept Saphyr. In a perfect way it fulfills the approach of a contemporary interpretation of Chinese traditions by using natural materials and including water flows.
And then there is this great food venue called the Jin Sha restaurant. Jin Sha means “Golden Beach”, and refers to a historic place near the hotel. The Jin Sha restaurant is the spot where the idea to start this blog was born. To us – my dear friend Stefan Tauchhammer and me – in that very special moment it appeared as the most perfect epitome of luxury in contemporary China. The cuisine is defined as Shanghainese and Cantonese with local influences.
Executive Chef Tan Chwee Chan designs his dishes in a creative way, reminding on the optical pleasures you find in the French haute cuisine. The plate with appetizers was a good start, both visually and flavorfully. It consisting of delicious bits of sweet glutinous rice in a lotus root, half of a tea smoked egg that was topped with some caviar and topping pea starch noodle rolls with vegetables and sesame, and honey barbecued pork. It was followed by a cod fish soup with mushrooms and ham, a steamed crab claw on egg white and sea urchin sauce, and furthermore a cube of braised pork belly that came with an abalone on its side.
I guess I gave some good reasons to stay there for a while.