Ever entered a space where all your senses are engaged simultaneously? It is the sort of place that stops you in your tracks and forces you, with a gentle caress, to take in all that it has to offer.
For a moment, for a very brief moment, you will forget where you are. But then the bustling activity around hits you, and you realise that you have stepped into the newly refurbished F&B space of Hilton Kuala Lumpur.
Redesigned with the future in mind, the space in what has been called the hotel's "dining wing" has been utilised to the utmost. Wherever space is available, even if it's a negative space underneath a staircase, something new has been added and, immediately, akin to an oasis, the space comes to life and a new sort of energy emanates.
It's a little like being in a park or a forest, just that instead of gargantuan trees, you have pillars shooting to the heavens and instead of Sang Kancil galloping about merrily, you have royalty, business executives and families bustling about.
Talking about the redesign exercise recently, Markus Schueller, the vice president of Hilton Asia Pacific's F&B Operations, says the concept brief was done nearly two years ago, so it was crucial to envision conditions in the future.
"We had to think ahead and see what would be relevant in the market not just today but what will be relevant in the market when you actually open and operate five or 10 years down the road. You must be able to understand where the market is today but take that vision into the future to see what will happen," Schueller explains in an interview at the hotel.
With Hilton KL, as with Hilton hotels worldwide, the concept was to create destinations that will attract the local market. "This required a total rethink of the local market and what is relevant to consumers here. And we no longer wanted to have the typical hotel bar or hotel restaurant. It's not just a new lick of paint or new chairs and tables. Those days are over for us. We wanted to create destinations," Schueller says.
Helming the redesign venture was Shafee Sajari of Acid (Avalon Collective Interior Design), a Singapore based design firm that won the pitch back in 2011. Of course, as with all works of art, a spark of inspiration or a visit from a Muse is paramount. And this came, surprisingly, from the traffic madness just outside the Hilton juxtaposed with the trees and tranquil homes further across from the hotel, says Shafee.
"We sat down in the lobby lounge one day and looked out the window. We saw the craziness of the traffic in the evening and the tranquillity of the wooded area where the beautiful homes are. We said 'Gosh, it's two big contrasts side by side' and we thought we could give another dimension to that, where you can observe both in this urban park idea. So you're indoors yet you are in this park that we have created. That was the impetus," shares Shafee, who is Acid's creative director.
Two years later, the results of that spark of inspiration are breathtaking. Proof lies in Vasco's, a new all-day-dining restaurant with an alfresco feel and interactive show kitchens. The entire space teems with natural motifs with a touch of modernity - it feels like entering a futuristic park or an extraterrestrial jungle.
Towering organic silhouettes, inspired by the branches of a giant tree, climb from the floor and spread across the ceiling. One feels like one is dining under a canopy. Luminous buffet pods spring up here and there, designed to entertain diners with what the hotel calls "culinary theatre".
But the most breathtaking feature is the immense custom-made light installation in the form of a series of bamboo-like cylindrical tubes hanging over the Asian buffet.
"Vasco's is actually the epicentre of the urban park concept. It is seamless and has no corners at a right angle. So you discover places as you weave and navigate around the pods. And there are so many details and features that we have included in the concept to make the place atmospheric," Shafee enthuses.
With this transformation, Daniel Welk, Hilton KL's general manager, hopes the hotel will retain its reputation for being the dining and entertainment destination in the city.
"This is all about being a destination. It's not about going to a restaurant; it's about enjoying the food and feeling comfortable. For example, at Vasco's we have the different buffet pods in the redesigned space creating a culinary exploration.
"This is the sort of experience we want to return to because, one, it's great food and, two, the design and the ambience is fitting with the actual DNA that we are trying to deliver. The edge we have over the other dining outlets in KL is making our customers feel comfortable," Welk says.
So whether you are a business executive with investors to entertain or a family scouring the cityscape for a unique dining experience, you might want to try out the Hilton KL. With the concrete jungle that is our capital city getting ever more frantic, the urban park concept the hotel has adopted could prove to be a much needed escape.
Here are Hilton Kuala Lumpur's three newly redesigned and renamed restaurants, each offering a different culinary experience.
Vasco's (formerly Sudu) offers Asian and Western buffet spreads. The highlights are a wood burning oven that delivers crispy, thin-crust pizzas, an authentic tandoor clay oven, and a special rotisserie for roasted chicken. Vasco's also offers an a la carte menu that includes everything from local hawker food to Mediterranean Roast Chicken with Baby Spinach. A true culinary exploration.
Graze (formerly Senses) now serves authentic European cuisine featuring the best seasonal produce. The menu is refreshed regularly to keep things fresh and exciting. One of the restaurant's specials is the Garlic Thyme Roast Chicken with Ruby Roseval Potatoes and Button Mushrooms, a made-to-order dish served in the earthenware container it is cooked in.
Chambers Bar and Grill (formerly Vintage Bank Wine & Cigar) now caters to meat lovers who want to sink their teeth into beautifully aged prime cuts. Most of the meat is hung and dry-aged from 14 to 36 days in the climate controlled Himalayan salt-tile dry-ageing cabinet. And if an entire steak is too big for you, opt for the prime cut skewers as a main course. Top that with a glass of wine and you will be in heaven.