Like they say, it’s the whole experience that counts and one feels a dramatic sense of arrival upon setting foot in the hotel entrance of the latest luxury hotel in Hong Kong that has set new benchmarks of excellence in design, restoration and conservation.
You can’t help but be awed by the splendour of the light-filled lobby with its hanging work of art by Korean artist Bahk Seon Ghi cascading from the ceiling. The attentive staff greet all arriving guests with courtesy and it’s a pleasant change from the hustle and bustle of the streets in Hong Kong.
The place is the historic Murray building which has been given a new lease of life. When we initially heard that the hotel was formerly a popular government office tower which had been turned into a luxury hotel, some doubts did pop into mind as to whether it would meet all the requirements of true luxury but the job done was exemplary. One couldn’t help but wonder how the different corners and sections of the building could be changed into inviting abodes for a stay but the designers and architects did a marvelous transformation.
When the Government made a decision to reimagine the iconic Murray building, it offered a unique opportunity to create something unexpected and remarkable, to those we were far-sighted. Having won the open Government tender, Wharf Hotels gave the mandate to Foster + Partners in November 2013 to take up the huge challenge of converting the Murray Building into a hotel as part of the Conserving Central Initiative. The Murray was one of eight historic landmarks under this plan and it can lay claim to holding almost 50 years of history.
The Murray, a Niccolo Hotel, is located in the heart of the city in Central Hong Kong. It is the latest addition to the luxury contemporary chic collection by Wharf Hotels. The Murray includes 336 sophisticated suites and guestrooms spanning 25 floors. Where spaces are scarce, in a destination like Hong Kong, it is wonderful that The Murray is able to offer some of the city’s most spacious accommodation choices with over 75% at 50sq m or larger.
It’s a beautiful dialogue between the old and the new that you experience here. British architect Ron Phillips who did the original design for the government office didn’t know that his visionary design would stand the test of time, going into the new millennium and even being bestowed a new identity to continue its legacy. “I am delighted to know that after nearly 50 years the Murray Building is to have a new life; that my design should so readily respond to the needs of a hotel is quite amazing,” says the retired architect who resides in the UK.
The task was not easy and it came with some conditions. There were rules such as that the existing external walls and features of the building, and the Old and Valuable Tree (OVT) within the site were all to be preserved. It was permitted that a new pavilion structure could be added but it had to follow the similar architectural language of the existing building.
The architects were not anything if not clever, talented and innovative. The award winning firm led by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Norman Foster embraced the challenge with gusto. The building was given a new lease of life while its sustainable credentials were enhanced and upgraded. The historic fabric of the building has been intervened with to bring it up to modern day environmental and technical standards but yet it hasn’t lost its priceless identity. The building’s geometry has also been taken advantage of to create uniquely oriented room layouts.
There certainly was something special about the rooms. They have an open and inviting feel with enough brightness to lift the spirits. You immediately feel at home and will just love the way it is thoughtfully laid out. It is in a historical restored building and you feel the heritage but none of the mustiness or “oldness” that you sometimes get in preserved buildings.
Look out of the window and the unique way it was and still is, gives a sort of warm breathtaking feel ... there is something different about the triangular shape that doesn’t expose you to direct sunlight, yet allows all the lovely qualities of enough light to make everything feel crisp and even energising in a subtle way. During the night, the lights outside from the surrounding buildings give another type of soothing ambience that the person staying there will appreciate. Phillips had designed the original building with windows meticulously oriented to avoid the intrusion of excessive sunlight, and when we were shown this aspect of the room, we couldn’t help but be amazed at how these windows still work in both a practical and aesthetic way to give the rooms an uncommon touch.
The way the beds are placed and the bathrooms fitted also make the visitors lack nothing. The natural fabrics which embellish the interiors, the stones, leathers and plush textiles create a sanctuary that is contemporary and chic. The tone is that of understated sophistication, done just right without the taint of trying too hard that you sometimes find at some establishments.
After a good rest, walk down to enjoy all the hotel has to offer. If it’s breakfast time, and if you are eating at the rooftop area, be ready to be utterly delighted. For one, when you walk in, you can see the skyscrapers around and the setting with the glass walls just spell unrivalled luxury, making you feel blessed that you can experience a moment like this. Breakfast tends to be a mixture of a delicious buffet spread and the main breakfast dish that you can order. A look at the tempting menu starts your digestive juices running in an anticipatory manner as you contemplate what to choose. Here, for the rooftop breakfast you will also be offered seasonal options of the freshest and tastiest ingredients to tempt your palate. In-between eating and chatting, do go out of the restaurant to the outdoor terrace to look at Hong Kong from high up above. The panaromic view is astounding. It is such a pleasant way to start your morning as you look forward to your next few days in Hong Kong, no matter whether it is for leisure or work.
For gourmands, there are five restaurants and bars led by a world-class culinary team to check out. There is a modern European restaurant, The Tai Pan; an elegant venue, the Garden Lounge; a Wall Street inspired bar in Murray Lane; the rooftop bar and restaurant — Popinjays, and the well-established Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant, Guo Fu Lou.
During the stay, one should also take a walk and go and see the Old and Valuable Tree (OVT). How lucky were we that we saw it during a time it was flowering in all its glory. Taking pictures around it was a delight and something one couldn’t resist. Everyone who passed by did the same thing. We found out that this part of the area was also partly accessible to the public and they could stroll around the walkway, should they want to do so.
As we wandered around the property, the many gorgeous sculptures caught our eyes too. Obviously much thought and expense had gone into these and there were pieces you felt fascinated to have had the chance to view. The Awilda’s White Head sculpture by Jaume Plensa was certainly an eye-catching masterpiece.
We also couldn’t help but spot the former driveway of the government office that was earlier mentioned to us, circling the building beneath the property’s welcoming three-storey arches. This one-of-a-kind space transforms into a semi-alfresco venue named The Arches. This area can host up to 350 guests and overlooks views of Hong Kong Park and St John’s Cathedral. Creating a new canvas, The Arches is obviously a stylish setting for fashion shows, luxury automative showcases, exhibitions, cocktail parties and social gatherings.
When in Hong Kong, try to not miss The Murray’s Signature Afternoon Tea at the Garden Lounge. There is an elegant atmosphere to enjoy and it’s a treat for the senses. The menu includes sweet and savoury light bites along with a curated offering of speciality teas by Zing. Obviously a favourite haunt of many of Hong Kong’s elite, well-dressed ladies could be seen sipping tea and enjoying a leisurely afternoon there.
The chilled-out vibe of the Murray Lane bar is inviting and it was obviously a popular place for the in-crowd which seemed to be soaking up the atmosphere. A vibrant addition to Hong Kong’s night scene in the heart of Central’s financial neighbourhood, we were told that an exceptional range of premium artisanal spirits, wines and craft beers along with refined small plates of bar favourites are offered here.
The Murray is within walking distance of famous tram rides which will take you up to The Peak, a major tourist attraction. There also are parks nearby including the Botanical Gardens from which you can see some white birds flying around, from the windows of your room, if you are observant enough. The MTR station is also a short walk away and taxis are reasonably easy to hail. Of course, limousines are also available for booking from The Murray, if you desire to do so.
All in all, if you appreciate class, The Murray is the place of choice to stay at when next in Hong Kong. Why keep going the the same old hotels again and again? Try this new addition to the luxury accommodation segment that promises to deliver all you can ask for and more in an unprecedented different manner. You’ll be playing a part in keeping heritage buildings relevant too.