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December 20, 2023

Regent Hong Kong: Iconic Hotel Shines After $1.2bn Revamp

The hotel will be the flagship for a revamped Regent brand as it aims for ultra-luxury market.

By Andrew Harris

It’s difficult to associate the slight, softly-spoken figure in front of me with anything glamorous, game-changing, or iconic. Framed into the huge picture window behind him, encapsulating a stunning perspective of Hong Kong Island as the burnt-orange sails of a junk are blown across Victoria Harbour like an autumn leaf, Chi Wing Lo looks and sounds like a spiritual guide.

Dressed in trademark head-to-toe white, he could easily be from one of the former British colony’s prolific movie offerings; proffering sage advice to Bruce Lee, perhaps, before despatching him off on another mission of manic kung fu chaos. But this self-effacing Hongkonger is more feng shui than kung fu and, as the designer of the newly unveiled Regent Hong Kong on Kowloon waterfront whose spectacular Presidential Suite we’re standing in, Chi Wing Lo most definitely is associated with something glamorous, game-changing and iconic.

Regent Hong Kong, host to four US presidents and reams of A-listers from Frank Sinatra to Brad Pitt, occupies an exalted position within Hong Kong’s collective consciousness. In a city replete with great hotels, it has its own place in the pantheon of the hospitality gods, albeit one largely lost in a fug of fond remembrances.

[See also: The 11 Best Restaurants in Hong Kong]

The lobby, simultaneously calming and stunning, exemplifies this dichotomy of design / ©Regent

The brainchild of legendary American hotelier, Robert Burns, who’d unveiled the first Regent in Waikiki in 1971, when it debuted in 1980 with a state-of-the-art swagger, it unleashed unprecedented levels of ultra-luxe service. With Burns soon joined by Adrian Zecha, mythical founder of the Aman chain, Regent Hong Kong became a byword for contemporary chic and one of the places to see and be seen in East Asia.

Several decades of shifting stewardships, most recently as an InterContinental, saw the property come full circle as IHG elevates Regent into its premium brand, and with the original name restored following a four-year, $1.2bn renovation, the property once again assumes the mantle of flagship. Over the next five years, beginning in Shanghai, another 11 Regents are planned, including in Bali, Santa Monica and Kyoto.

Stay

Occupying a prime position poking out from the Kowloon waterfront, if the Regent were any closer to Victoria Harbour, it would be in it. With the entrance secreted behind a discreetly tinkling feng shui fountain atop a steep palm-lined driveway, it’s only after several steps inside that the stunning cinemascope views are suddenly splayed out in a dramatic reveal.  

The hotel has 497 rooms, incorporating 130 suites, most with views of Victoria Harbour, that range across 17 floors, culminating in the Presidential Suite’s 7,000 sq ft of unrestrained opulence. With the capacity to expand from one to five bedrooms, a huge terrace encompassing its own infinity pool and furniture crafted in Chi Wing Lo’s own Milan atelier, this is undoubtedly one of the most coveted corners of style-infused sanctuary anywhere in Hong Kong.

[See also: Le Grand Mazarin: Contemporary Design Meets Parisian Heritage]

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Regent Hong Kong terrace
The Presidential Suite’s private terrace / ©Regent

By the 1980s, Hong Kong was basking in unrivaled dominance in a diverse array of commercial endeavors. Much of that moving and shaking found its way into the Regent’s Lobby Bar and Harbourside all-day dining venue, homes to countless done deals. Peering down into Harbourside from the Lobby Bar, it all seems to be as busy and buzzy as it ever was.

Along with the hexagonal pool on the third floor, one of the vestiges of the original Regent is the huge Hollywood-esque white marble sweeping staircase, the scene of countless wedding shots, leading up to the vast ballroom. It was, for a multigenerational moment in time, the go-to venue for Hong Kong’s functions, and a primary reason why, even now, the Regent maintains such an ingrained presence in the minds of so many Hongkongers.

At the opening party, attended by the city’s great and good, we huddled together in our tuxes like penguins in the face of that enduring Far Eastern tradition of turning up the aircon to Arctic levels. The locals, meanwhile, reveled in their newly reconvened headquarters of Hong Kong society. For them, the message was clear; the Regent, their Regent, was back.

[See also: The Yeatman Restaurant: Porto’s Premier Dining Destination]

Harbourside, the hotel’s all-day brasserie / ©Regent

Design

Chi Wing Lo’s re-envisioning of the Regent is characterized by supremely subtle understatement. This isn’t a loud building because it doesn’t need to be; the shape-shifting Victoria Harbour and skyline views outside the triple-height windows make more than enough visual noise. Inside, all is as calm, considered and as inscrutable, as Lo is himself.

A Harvard-educated, multidisciplinarian, long established in Milan as a successful furniture designer, he lives in Athens with his Greek wife and two children, all architects. He describes his life there as an ongoing Big Fat Greek Wedding, though on the day we meet he seems to have sidestepped into Crazy Rich Asians.

Aside from the studded wooden entrance doors, the push from the billionaire owners for Forbidden City referencing was met with a polite pushback. “I never want to be flashy”, he explains. “No dragons, no gold, no phoenix.”

While he may eschew brash Chinese restaurant symbolism, there is nevertheless a quintessentially Chinese underpinning to his work. Squares and circles, representing the harmonious balance of heaven and earth, are embedded into the Regent’s ultra-clean-lined design palette.

The lobby, simultaneously calming and stunning, exemplifies this dichotomy of design. A colonnade of 16 walls of glass bricks made in the ancient Chinese liu li style leads to a huge onyx reception desk behind which is a pulsating 50-foot-long digital installation by Hong Kong artist Hung Keung. Check-in, elsewhere a process, here becomes an immersive experience.

Rooms and suites are a meticulous amalgamation of organic materials, where wood, marble and granite coalesce into a seemingly simple yet seductively sensual statement of expertly conceived contemporary design. You won’t find any art on the walls, but when you open the blinds to be confronted by Hong Kong Island lit up like the world’s biggest Christmas tree, you’ll understand why.

Dine

In addition to Harbourside and the Lobby Lounge, dining options include the Steakhouse, in situ since the hotel’s inception. Steakhouses, ubiquitous in the 1980s, occupy a tenuous position in our newfound vegan and pescatarian culinary landscape, but for carnivorous cravings in need of satiation, this is the place to be. Specialist cuts including wagyu from renowned Japanese producer Toriyama, and Mayura station in South Australia where cossetted cows are hand-fed chocolate, make this a mecca for meat eaters.

A revitalized branch of Nobu, previously with the InterContinental, returns, though the jewel in the Regent’s gastronomic crown is its two-Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant, Lai Ching Heen. Also regaining its original name meaning, Regent Scenic Pavilion, the refined atmosphere of what is undoubtedly one of the most revered Cantonese dining destinations in the world, is a sensorial delight.

Lai Ching Heen, the hotel’s two-Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant / ©Regent

A spectacular long corridor of carved jade conveys diners into a dining room enveloped in timeless luxury. Executive chef, Lau Yiu Fai, with the restaurant since its 1984 opening, proffers a stupendous showcase of Cantonese cuisine with dishes such as steamed lobster with crabmeat and whole abalone in oyster jus. There’s even a tea sommelier.

Melbourne’s Bar Studio, responsible for some eye-catching work across Australia and Asia, in addition to Harbourside and the Steakhouse, also designed the quintessentially chic Qura Bar. Stacked full of rare and obscure libations, it’s guaranteed to keep the most discerning of drinkers glued to their barstools.

Explore

With the 135-year-old Star ferries that chug back and forth to Hong Kong Island just a short stroll away, and the Museum of Art equally accessible, guests are already in the middle of much of what Hong Kong has to offer. In the 1980s, Tsim Sha Tsui, the area around the Regent, evolved into a fashionable enclave with which the hotel became synonymous.

With the 2019 opening next door, of the vast $2.6bn K11 Musea mall, billed as the “world’s first Museum-Retail concept”, now joined by a resurgent Regent, this harborside area aspires, once again, to be the beating heart of what for many is still East Asia’s most magical metropolis.

K11 Musea, an intriguing amalgamation of art installations and luxury outlets also incorporates a bustling waterside walkway, the Avenue Of The Stars. Running right in front of the hotel, it was recently commandeered by Pharrell Williams as the runway for his Louis Vuitton show.

Regent Hong Kong opening ceremony
The opening ceremony, complete with acrobatic dancers dangling from wires / ©Regent

After the inaugural dinner, hordes of black-tie guests watched open-mouthed as acrobatic dancers dangling from wires running down the outside of the building, delivered a showstopping spectacle on the other side of the huge windows.

Chi Wing Lo’s predilection for subtlety and restraint looked set to remain ungratified, though his understated sophistication, now discreetly draped right across the hotel, provides the perfect backdrop for such outbursts of flamboyance.

As the city searches for its mojo in the wake of all the recent upheavals and a drop-off in international visitors, Regent Hong Kong clearly remains undeterred in its determination to reprise its former role as Tsim Sha Tsui’s epicentre of elegance.

Presidential suite from  $21,500 per night, hongkong.regenthotels.com

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