Room Service: Hotel Majestic, Kuala Lumpur
Colonial class with modern luxuries
Saturday 16 February 2013
Amid Malaysia's increasingly glassy, sky-scraping capital, the newly reopened Majestic hotel is a vestige of the city's colonial past.
When the hotel first opened in 1932, with the country under British rule, the Majestic was the centre of the city's social scene, the place where writers, singers, dignitaries and later film stars stayed or came to party. The hotel dwindled and closed in the 1980s and was nearly demolished before being saved under the antiquities act. It went on to house the National Art Gallery for a while (now relocated close to the National Theatre). It has just been renovated as part of the YTL Hotels stable (Pangkor Laut Resort, Cameron Highlands, Tanjong Jara and The Majestic Malacca), with a large, modern Tower Wing designed with business people and families in mind, a vast lobby with Art Deco stripes and a giant sparkling chandelier.
The hotel is protected as a national heritage site and celebrates its past (although the pith helmet-doffing doormen in white is perhaps a reference too far). The Thirties aesthetic runs throughout, but is most evident in the historic Majestic Wing. Here many original features, such as the grand staircase, have been restored. There are classy drawing rooms with dark wood floors and 1940s furniture, and a conservatory with 1,000 pink and white moth orchids. Downstairs is a small elegant screening room where guests can watch black and white classics. There's a gym, two open-air pools, a terrace garden for events and a grand ballroom. Gents are well catered for with a Truefitt & Hill's barber. The Smoke House has a cigar room, cards room and pool table.
The Colonial Café is similarly refined, with a retro menu – prawn cocktails, faggots and spotted dick – alongside Asian-influenced dishes such as Hainanese chicken chops or mee hailam (noodles in a rich sauce). A band or pianist play gentle jazz during lunch, dinner or a classy afternoon tea, and there's a large shiny bar where tuxedoed barmen knock up evening cocktails.
Contango is a vast buffet restaurant with chefs on hand to cook up fresh requests of Western, Japanese, Malay, Thai and other cuisines. There's an almost overwhelming selection, though milling around counters feels a little out of sync with the hotel's glamorous feel, as does dispensing your own wine from a machine.
Attached to the Majestic is the Majestic Spa, the design indebted to the Art Nouveau of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Willow Tea Rooms in his home town, Glasgow. In the absence of a Scottish option, I went for the spa's English Afternoon Tea treatment, which involved a cream and berry scrub, berry oil massage and a fragrant English rose facial.
It's 28 minutes from the airport on the KLIA Ekspres train to KL Sentral Station, where a car picked me up and dropped me three minutes away at the hotel – a service offered to all Majestic Wing guests. A complimentary shuttle bus runs every half-hour between the hotel and KL Sentral, and another shuttle goes to and from the Starhill Gallery shopping mall in Bukit Bintang.
The Majestic stands opposite the gleaming white 1910 railway station and within the "historical mile" with attractions including the National Planetarium, the National Mosque and Museum of Islamic Art, and the National Museum. Walk around the gently rolling Lake Garden Park where there's enough tree cover almost to forget the surrounding skyscrapers. From the upper floors of the hotel's Tower Wing, you can see the soaring Petronas Towers.
There are 300 rooms and suites, mostly in the new Tower Wing. They are more generous than many of the city's modern business hotels and more modern in design than the classic Majestic suites; for example, while Tower bathrooms have lots of glass, Majestic bathrooms are tiled in black and white and have claw-foot bathtubs.
The Majestic Wing, where I stayed, has only suites. They are bright, large, decorated unfussily in white, chocolate brown and autumnal tones, managing to balance a modern feel with the hotel's historical style. There's free Wi-Fi in both wings. I appreciated the simplicity of the technology in the Governor's Suite – I didn't need an engineering degree to work the shower, television or lights.
The bed was large, the room spacious, with a 46in television in the bedroom and another in the suite's comfy lounge. There are other perks to booking in the Majestic side, including complimentary minibar, a butler and airport transfers.
Hotel Majestic, 5 Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (00 603 2785 8000; www.majestickl.com).
Doubles start at 770 ringgits (£157) B&B in Tower Wing. Suites in Majestic Wing start at 1,259 ringgits (£257).
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