There’s something about Tokyo that makes it a lovely city to visit, and a luxury hotel in Shinjuku delivers the finest Japanese hospitalityu
“MADAM,” says Ohada-san, the staff at Keio Plaza Hotel’s Club Lounge, holding a food card from the buffet breakfast with “Bacon” written on it. “This is pork, okay? You cannot eat this.”
Call it intrusive or caring — whichever way you view it, that’s Japanese hospitality for you. As guests, they will do all they can to make sure that you are comfortable and that includes reminding what you can and cannot eat.
I am at Dominique Ansel Bakery in Omotesando a few days later, wanting to try the Frozen S’mores, the video went viral and is being enjoyed by more than half of the patrons when I walk in.
“The S’mores has gelatine inside. Pork gelatine. Are you okay with that?” asks the person behind the counter.
While it’s hard to wax lyrical about a city so busy and densely populated as Tokyo, I will always have a soft spot for Japan’s capital, and its soft-spoken and helpful people. And my stay at Keio Plaza Hotel is all I need to remind me why Tokyo is my most-loved Asian city.
THE VALUE OF LUXURY
It’s 11am. Following a bad flight from Kuala Lumpur and after episodes of stomachache and restroom hopping, the only thing I need is a place to rest. I arrive at the Club Lounge of Keio Plaza Hotel after an 80-minute train ride from Narita Airport to be greeted by smiling faces and ushered to my room, which I am told, is already waiting for me.
My Premier Grand room on the 37th floor is a piece of real estate heaven and all the lethargy I suffer throughout the flight vanishes when I step into the newly-furnished room. The room is very spacious by Tokyo’s standards, with a work desk, two single seaters and a side table, and still enough room to move around.
Amenities-wise, it ticks all the right boxes — a coffee machine, Japanese tea pot with cups, USB ports next to the bed to recharge your phones, automated toilet, pyjama and a breathtaking view of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
I am convinced that I am in heaven. I take a shower, change and the moment I lay down on what I call the Goldilocks bed — not too hard, not too soft — I sleep for three hours straight, something I don’t do when I go to a foreign city because I’m big on exploring. But when you are in heaven, the world can wait.
Breakfast is served at the Club Lounge and I request for Japanese set. There’s grilled salmon, rice, pickles and the best miso soup I have ever tasted in my life. It’s tasty without being too dense and while the miso taste is unmistakable, it isn’t like anything I have tried before.
Japanese breakfast is served on Arita porcelain, made in a region famed for its dinner ware. A little pamphlet is enclosed so diners can learn about the significance of porcelain and the meaning of the patterns and colours.
Keio Plaza Hotel, owned by Keio, which runs a railway line, is a luxury hotel that incorporates Japanese culture into its business. Every month, it holds an exhibition on Japanese culture at its lobby. In July, it was porcelain. In June, it was the Noh, the predecessor to performance art Kabuki, where actors wear masks instead of painting their faces.
The hotel organises tea ceremonies for patrons who’d like to learn about the traditional art. It also has sessions on learning how to wear the kimono and the yukata.
It even has Japanese suites — with tatami floors, traditional Japanese bath and folded mattresses that guests can sleep on. Even the windows of these rooms are traditional Japanese windows, making this a ryokan situated inside a modern building. Brilliant.
Where was I? Food, yes. Aside from the miso, I fall in love with its pumpkin soup served the next day. Super-smooth and creamy, it is just a lovely, simple dish done to understated perfection.
I come to realise that the hotel food is excellent. It doesn’t boast a wide variety but quality is on point. There’s green juice in the morning and an egg station where you can request for Eggs Benedict.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Located just minutes on foot from Shinjuku Station’s Central West exit, the bustling area is at the hotel’s doorstep. My usual dinner destination is the soba vending machine eatery where a hearty bowl of the Japanese noodle costs 430 yen, about RM16. There’s something about soba in Japan that tastes different than what I usually get here.
The Standing Sushi Bar is another favourite. There’s a standing space for 12 people and the chefs prepare your sushi in front of you. It’s the freshest sushi you can get, with the nori (seaweed) still crisp as you sink your teeth into it. Dinner for a small eater cost about RM25, quite reasonable considering Tokyo is an expensive city.
Oh, and did you know Shake Shack, the American establishment, is also in various locations in Tokyo? One is nestled at the far end of Shinjuku South, in front of homeware store Franc Franc and near Takashimaya. The outlet serves great burgers and excellent shakes for tourists wanting American food.
HARD TO LEAVE
I request for a 1pm check-out and had initially planned to go to Harajuku for a short spree. But at 9.30am, I realise that this piece of heaven doesn’t come often in Tokyo so I decided to stay in and savour my room.
I take a long, luxurious shower with the L’Occitane toiletries and wrap myself in the fluffy and super absorbent Imabari towel, a far cry from normal hotel towels. I notice the Japanese identities in the room — muted colours and Japanese paper making up its lampshade.
I appreciate the clean lines of the furnishing and the space. Ah, the space is the best bit of luxury. I can unpack my suitcase, lay my things on the carpeted floor and still have space to move. I lie on the bed and wonder how many people test the pillow to get the right hardness that tired travellers can fall asleep the minute they close their eyes.
At 1pm, I bid heaven goodbye. It isn’t easy but the sublime and luxurious experience, for a mere mortal like me, is priceless.
KEIO PLAZA HOTEL
2-2-1 Nishi-shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-8839 Japan
TEL +81 3 3344 0111
GETTING THERE From Narita Airport, take the Narita Express that runs every 30 minutes to Shinjuku Station (3,910 yen (RM152) one way, 4,000 yen round-trip). At the station, look for Central West Exit and the hotel is less than five minutes on foot.
STAY The new Premier Grand Floors, with 100 club rooms and 11 suites offer excellent rooms with great amenities. Spread over five floors, this is a new category of rooms introduced in December last year for discerning travellers.
EAT The Club Lounge offers excellent food, especially the Japanese breakfast set. Otherwise, the Western dishes are great too. There are two towers of the hotel, boasting 15 eateries and seven bars.
GO There’s a small park next to the Government Building where children skateboard on weekends and Tokyoites take leisurely stroll when the weather is cooler. Otherwise, if you are heading anywhere in the city, Shinjuku Station serves as a good base. Harajuku, for example, is just two stations away and Ueno, where the famous Ameyokocho market is located, is 16 via the Yamanote line.
HIGHS Excellent service — this is Japan, after all. Food quality is superb, room is exceptionally clean. There is not a single spot on the windows.
LOWS Nothing I can think of