Category: Dining

Review: Millennium Hilton Bangkok

Rate: 108,000 points for 5 nights [pay 4, get the 5th night free]

Standard King – Room Booked; Executive King – Room Received

 

Introduction & Room

 

I am fond of the Millennium Hilton (MH). Rates are quite affordable, the views from the lounge are excellent, and it’s in an ideal location for most Bangkok tourists. Diamond treatment has historically been generous re: suite upgrades.  Sadly, I didn’t luck out, as the hotel sold out several days prior to arrival.  For reasons unexplained, a great deal of upper-end hotel inventory throughout Bangkok sold out for the week that I was in town.  I was limited to the statutory exec floor upgrade (I booked a standard king room, as usual). Unusually, the staff were pro-actively apologetic.

 

I was given a recently renovated room on an Executive-level floor.  The espresso machine and rainfall shower were appreciated. 

 

Location

 

The location evokes a love-it-or-hate-it from those who have stayed or are considering it.  It’s on the west side of the Chao Phraya and would require a taxi or BTS ride into the luxury shopping/restaurant/business/embassy district around Sukhumvit Rd. Having paid a visit to that district 3 years ago, I found it boring.  If I want expensive Western food, Starbucks, and luxury shopping, I’d rather freewheel around Singapore or Hong Kong.

 

On the other hand , the river gives access to the Palace, various temples, Khao San Rd & Thammasat University, Silom, Chinatown, and various riverside shopping and dining developments. Most of Bangkok’s must-sees are along the river. The premium and luxury leisure-oriented[i] properties tend to be here as well, including the MH, the Peninsula, the Anantara and the Mandarin Oriental.  The hotels are quite comfortable in terms of having excellent gyms, spas, and pools, so the properties can feel like an urban “resort.” I had been burning the candle at both ends in Bali getting some stuff done for clients, and I knew that my upcoming Chinese course would be taxing, so this was perfect for me.

Looking up river at the MH

The hotel’s own boat shuttles guests to the nearest BTS (metro railway) stop as well as Riverfire.  A public boat shuttles guests from the MH to the River City shopping mall.  One can walk/taxi to Silom, Chinatown (as well as points beyond), or they can catch the tourist and public boats going up and down the river.

Pool & Gym

 

The pool area tries to mimic a beach experience with large sheltered beds/couches (great for a couple) and setting sun loungers in a few inches of shallow water. The pool itself is significantly sheltered from overhead. This is often polarizing on Tripadvisor reviews, as some think the water would be a bit warmer if exposed to sun.  As a very pale ginger, I appreciated being able to swim in the shade and not increase my skin cancer risk. For those keen to light money on fire, two staff are on hand to fix you up with a US$10 fruit plate, $5 coffee, or a $6 beer served poolside. 

The Millennium Hilton Bangkok's Pool Area

One could say that the pool is dated in comparison with more contemporary infinity pool designs in this market segment, but I was happy with the comfortable furniture options (table & chairs, sun loungers, bean bag seating, and cabanas)

                                                                                                                                                                              

View from the pool

The adjacent gym is expansive with free weights, resistance machines, and numerous cardio machines.  A separate area downstairs is an open studio room if you need space for another routine (e.g. yoga, stretching, etc). Spa quality locker-rooms offer large a jacuzzi tub as well as dry-sauna and steam rooms in the men’s and women’s locker rooms. The facilities were in an immaculate state of repair, spotlessly clean, and spacious.  I developed  a great morning routine of setting the treadmill to show me courses of New Zealand before hitting the dry sauna

Dining

The Exec Lounge

 

The crown jewel of the property, the exec lounge view over Bangkok tends to wow visitors. The other guests found the view addicting, and guests often took full advantage of breakfast, afternoon tea, and evening cocktail services.

 

As a diamond, I could take breakfast in the lounge or main restaurant, or both – if you wished to indulge your inner hobbit. The exec lounge spread included veggie and tamago/egg sushi, smoked meats and seafood (mackerel & salmon), eggs cooked to order + egg of the day, miso soup, Chinese-style fried rice, steamed dim sum (custard bao and red bean bao), sausage & bacon, breads, and various patisserie treats. (Note: the Asian breakfast items slant heavily Chinese, likely to accommodate the exploding number of Chinese tourists heading to Thailand)

Ready for breakfast at the Millennium Hilton Exec Lounge

 Outstanding mention goes to:  The egg benedict served on a waffle with smoked salmon was divine, and the MH’s in-house bakery does one of the best rye breads I have eaten west of San Francisco and east of Frankfurt (Germany).   As you’d expect, the ample fruit was of excellent quality.  This is Thailand, after all.

The Millennium Hilton Executive Lounge's waffle benedict

Afternoon tea: The lounge sourced its treats from the hotel’s main restaurant and Chinese restaurant. I found the scones to be quite good. I appreciated the decent quality (probably imported) jam and cream. Savory items include various rotating sandwiches (chicken salad, egg salad, cheese, salmon & cream cheese, etc) curry puffs, and quiches appeared.  Asian fusion cakes such as mango mousse and yuzu were present, in addition to Cantonese mango pudding (kudos to the onsite Chinese restaurant).

Millennium afternoon tea with scone and chopped dragonfruit

I often skip afternoon tea, as many hotel lounges phone it in with meagre, low quality, and sometimes outright stale carbs. This was practically Carbfest 2018, but I do let myself enjoy the really high-quality stuff. I have no shame in admitting how happy I was to get a decent chicken salad sandwich. [The last decent one I had was in December 2017 in Lexington, KY @ Tackhouse Coffee & Pub.]

 

Cocktail Hour: I noticed that since my last visit, the hotel switched a major beverage contract to Singha. In the past, I had Chang here. I prefer Singha. Also, the spirits in the cocktails have been upgraded from well to mid-shelf (e.g. Absolut for vodka cocktails). The wine won’t wow you, but the Chilean red was a very pleasant drink.

 

The food offerings included baguettes, a cheese plate (fine, but not exceptional according to a German couple I chatted with), fruit, crudites, and various Asian and western hot/cold canapes. Examples include: spicy fruit salad, Thai pork croquettes, duck salad shooters, and on a night with lots of kids, platters of chicken nuggets. Some carb was also present, such as pasta or fried rice.

Singha Beer in the millennium hilton executive lounge
Obligatory

Verdict: The food and beverage are of solid quality[ii] and blow a US Hilton out of the water. To do better, you’d need to hit up a luxury brand, e.g. St Regis, Conrad, Ritz-Carlton, Peninsula, W, et cetera.

 

Above all, the view wins. Enjoying a nice cocktail or cold beer watching the sun set and the lights turn on is profoundly relaxing.

View from the Millennium Hilton Bangkok Executive Lounge during sunset

Riverside Restaurant

 

The Riverside Café is the MH’s main restaurant offering buffet or a la carte options. I opted to do the buffet dinner for two nights, though I had an ace up my sleeve. Eatigo is a restaurant booking app in SE Asia and Hong Kong that allows diners to snag up to 50% off depending on the time they book.  The app requires all participating restaurants to offer at least one time slot per day at the 50% off rate. Thanks to this, I enjoyed two excellent dinners with sushi, oysters, and an amazing dessert bar for US$24 and earned Honors points, as I billed the dinner to my room. [Note: depending on who you ask, the value of points earned – considering elite bonuses and bonuses for paying with a Hilton Amex – can be worth as much as 25% of the overall dollars spent]

MANGO STICKY RICE!!!
Go ahead, judge me.

I ended up doing this on Tuesday when I arrived (incidentally would have been my late mother’s 60th birthday) and on Saturday night.

 

Some dinner highlights: delicious salmon, butterfish, and tamago/egg nigiri sushi, butterfish & Hamachi sashimi, decadent mango prawn curry & other thai delights, and all-you-can-gorge mango sticky rice.  Cheese lovers will likely enjoy being unleashed in the adjoining cheese room, featuring cheesy temptations from around the world.  Overall, I noted a raw bar (prawn/oysters), Thai, Japanese (sushi, sashimi, tempura), Indian, Western/European, dessert (western & Thai + ice cream & mango sticky rice), and the cheese room.

Dessert Buffet, Thai Section
The Cheese Room

 

I took breakfast downstairs for research purposes one morning. It was also overwhelming like dinner. Japanese maki rolls, Chinese dim sum, massive egg station, a panoply of local and imported fruit, breads and pastries left and right, breakfast meats, and other treats were all available for your delectation.The staff brought me a special mini cupcake with an edible (white chocolate?) placard recognizing my diamond membership. If the amazing spread didn’t give you “we’re not in Kansas anymore,” this little bit of recognition would have done it.

MINE

Yuan Chinese restaurant

 

Not wanting to leave you, dear reader, in the lurch, I opted one day to try out the Chinese restaurant’s dim sum a la carte buffet. Once again, I eatigo’ed myself a 50% discount.  The format: they give you a menu. You order whatever you want to your heart’s content. Beyond the standard fare of har gau (shrimp dumplings) and char siu bao (Cantonese BBQ pork buns), I decided to indulge in mango crab spring rolls, foie gras xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), and lobster dumplings with gold leaf.  To wash it down, I had a couple of pots of chrysanthemum tea (teas/soda are included). This meal went down as one of my best $18 (circa THB600) ever spent. Don’t worry, I got my Honors points, as well. 

360 Lounge

 

On my last night in town, I was meeting someone I knew from the co-working spot in Ubud who was passing through. At the end, I suggested a visit to the panoramic view bar at the hotel, the 360 Lounge. The drinks here were 500 baht (US$15) or so, but the cocktails were delicious. It won’t surprise you, but I went for a mango-based beverage. Of the various cities I’ve been too, Bangkok has an attractive skyline to look out over.

 

Summary

 

It’s safe to say that I enjoyed my time here and would return. Overall, it’s a great property regardless of whether you just need a bed to crash on in-between exploring or are looking for a more relaxing experience.

 

[i] While most are familiar with the hierarchy of 1-5 star hotels, there are separate hierarchies within the 4.5 – 5 star range. One can discern a difference between a business and leisure property. The Conrad Hong Kong is very different from the Conrad Koh Samui property, while a boutique private island resort in French Polynesia is another beast altogether, despite all three properties being 5 star. The MH is really an odd hybrid: the hardware is “premium business,” but the location is more suited to tourists than biz travelers.

[ii] Some quibble that the food is geared towards appetizer/amuse bouche portions. 

Hotel Review: Island Pacific Hong Kong

Rate: US$109.90/nt (hotwire)

 

22 June – 24 June

 

Hello from the other side (of Hong Kong)!

 

My time at this hotel was originally all that I had allotted myself for seeing HK and my friends here. I booked this room to be relatively close to a friend in Sheung Wan and the others in Central. The only minor nuisance was that this super-secret “we tell you the exact hotel after booking” Hotwire rate was available via ctrip. -_-

 

Nevertheless, great plan: near friends, on a weekend. In a hilarious twist of fate, one friend ended up being out of HK at this time, another didn’t have weekends free, and another’s career here makes the week a much better time to visit.  On the other hand, the visa processing had to wait until I arrive in Phuket on the 24th. A certain document usually only requested for long-term study visas seems to be an unstated required document for my short-term one (or perhaps for US passport holders) as per the limited, terse feedback from a colleague’s recommended agent.

 

C’est la guerre.

 

I arrived at the hotel on Friday at half-past noon. By the standards of a hotel guest checking in on a third party, bottom-dollar rate, this is incorrigible. US hotels, in my experience, are relatively non-accommodating barring elite status. Even with diamond status with Hilton, the verbiage is enough to make me wonder if the room assigned early was worth the sacrifice of the world’s last unicorn.

 

This room is classically Hong Kong Island-sized: small. When put down, my bags turned the narrow path from the door to the bed into a maze.

While the furnishings and fittings are in good condition, the décor is quite dated. It reminds me, pre-renovation, of an apartment property my grandparents bought (for upmarket old people): dimly lit, carpet, vague gold and wood tones, green marble in the bathroom. I can’t remember when I last saw an analog thermostat in a business hotel.

 

The bar is quite popular here, as the enormous television is perfect for the World Cup viewing.

 

The gym is roughly closet sized, with four cardio machines and a multi-use-weight-thing. The presence of the pool somewhat makes up for the sad workout facilities.

pool at the island pacific hotel,hong kong

I did wander down to the Thai Seafood Dinner buffet, which was HK$450, less 30% hotel guest discount, +10% service charge (roughly $350). I quite enjoyed the food, and I got to tick off a “did a hotel buffet” off the list, for considerably less than I am accustomed to seeing. In TST, Causeway Bay, and Central, the rate would be $550-800’ish for dinner.

Shot of dinner at the island pacific thai food buffet

What I am most grateful to the hotel for is a chance to rejuvenate. I had been at my computer quite a bit, out walking/running for 10mi/15km per day in a humid 31C/87F, and partied like a rockstar banker with a friend in Lan Kwai Fong over the week. I needed a long sleep. The comfortable bed did the trick.

 

The Sai Ying Pun MTR stop is quite close by, only a couple minutes’ walk from the hotel front door. The local area contains many small eateries, convenience stores, and a grocer.

 

Summary: This room is small, but comfortable. There are better values in HK – definitely if you’re willing/able to go to Kowloon side.

Picture of inari sushi and fresh salad

My Hosts Threw a Dinner Party: ‘Twas Lit

As I was tapping away at my keyboard, my host Hiro-san told me that a friend was coming from his home area – Toyama. This friend was going to bring freshly caught local fish and treat us to a sashimi dinner. I asked Hiro, “what fish is your area famous for?” 

 

“Buri (yellowtail/Hamachi) and aji (horse mackerel).”

 

Well butter my biscuits, err, teriyaki my chicken. Those are my favorite sushi/sashimi fish. Ever.

 

On the day, I realized that showing up empty-handed with an appetite rivalling the Sarlacc would be in poor taste. The Friend, Masa-san, turned up early in the day in time for the fish to arrive from Toyama. A crate of flying fish, aji, and the buri was in front of me – fresh caught the morning before and couriered to Tokyo. They smelled faintly of a sea breeze and looked incredible versus the fish I’d see at a US market.

 

 Knowing that Hiro-san would furnish the sake and Masa-san the fish, I opted to wander through the nearby Matsuya Department Store’s food halls in search of a dessert. The cream cakes seemed intensely heavy given the amount of sake and seafood we’d be having. A suitably sized lemon “Baumkuchen” (Forest Cake in German – basically a ring cake) presented itself. Marvelous. That would be a light treat to finish off what was promising to be a heavily-laden dinner table.

 

Our night began with a beer toast (when in Rome Tokyo!) and a kampei to Masa-san who’d be preparing the fish. The other guests furnished fruit, onirigi (rice balls), Scotch eggs (!!!), salad, BBQ chicken, and teriyaki bacon over the course of the night.

Masa-san joining us for a bit

 

Sparkling wine appeared, and Masa-san got down to work on the flying fish, doing a preparation of curing the sashimi in seaweed and putting it in the fridge. It would be ready when we forgot about it, he said. In the meantime, there was bubbly to attend to.

The master at work!

 

Hiro-san’s wife Erica had prepared inari-zushi – sushi rice packed in a bean curd pocket. Her variant used a special recipe of her mother’s that incorporated shrimp, green onion, and a little more mirin for a slightly sweet touch. They made for a delicious appetizer.

 

At this point, the sake came out. It was a balanced (between floral and dry) daiginjo (top quality) that had been specially bottled as a gift for when Hiro and Erica had opened Chapter Two back in March. Erica also started taking a collection of ¥1000 (US$9.12) per person to help cover Masa-san’s costs. Given what I saw in that box, I gladly chipped in.

 

Hiro displaying a bottle of Chapter 2 sake
Hiro-san and the Chapter 2 sake

And now it was aji-time! Aji is rather uncommon stateside, but it’s a sushi bar standard here in Japan. It tends to be inexpensive (¥150-200 per order at a normal-ish place). My guess is that it’s a nutritional goldmine considering its protein and fat content, while the small size of the fish means that it would be very low mercury (relative to a tuna). Yes, this is what I ponder during a party. 

Picture of inari sushi and fresh salad

For our next course in our Japanese dinner party adventure, Masa-san grilled a couple of the aji.  As great as the sashimi was, the cold-water richness of the aji really came through when pan fried with a wee bit of salt.  

 

The texture and taste were sublime – melt-in-the-mouth goodness with a freshness that you don’t find at Samurai Sushi & Steakhouse in Strip Mall, America. It emerged later in the night that when all was said and done, the aji was the crowd favorite.

 

At around 8:30 p.m., Nishi-san arrives bearing the Scotch eggs and teriyaki bacon. Total bro. Immediately, I like this guy. After a number of drinks, he complimented myself and another American Kevin on our wisdom in not rushing to get married. Oh, how I restrained myself, my reader. I didn’t feel like interrupting Masa-san (who lived in the Bay Area) to help with the idiomatic translation of “In the gay world, why buy the pig when it’s practically begging you indulge yourself for free?”

 

TERIYAKI BACON
TERIYKAI BACON

 

Having narrowly avoided traumatizing Nishi-san and Kevin, the buri was ready. Ah, buri. We go way back. I’ve been responsible for the demise of many of this fish’s kin over the years. Again, it’s a textural marvel.  Notably, this buri is wild-caught. In the US, yellowtail/hamachi is farmed. I found the wild caught buri of tonight to be of a firmer, meatier texture as opposed to the more buttery imported, farmed hamachi. 

Nishi-san giving Kevin (both left) and me the facts of life.

 

Oh the happy plateau. Masa-san took a quick break to enjoy some food, and Erica produced a bottle of nigori (unfiltered) sake after hearing that I wanted to try it. I had mentioned this to Masa-san when he was questioning me on my experience with Japanese food much earlier in the day. I was in full bashful mode at the thoughtfulness.   It speaks volumes of Hiro and Erica’s thoughtfulness. 

 

So, I sipped the nigori and was regaled with tales from Hiro and Erica’s guests – including two volunteer teachers who taught in Gabon, pre-war Syria, and Djibouti. I rapidly concluded that Hiro and Erica have interesting friends.

 

The fun soon continued when Masa took some leftover buri and produced a full-grilled version as well as aburi (seared) sashimi. Had I managed to go to heaven without the messy dying bit! I thought so.

 

To go with it, the final item was a bowl of fish soup (the soup having a heavy pour of sake in it) passed around the table, each of us taking a draught as if it were the Holy Grail. 

 

Three fish soup at the end of the night
Finale Soup

 

Finally, it was dessert time. My cake and Kevin’s cherries disappeared right quick. This wasn’t surprising, as both were delicious. Seeing that the mass of plates, glasses, and chopsticks in quantities more commonly seen in a military mess hall, I decided that Erica and one of the other ladies who attended could use some extra manpower in the cleanup, which they appreciated. 

 

By 12:45, I was a dead man, not even walking. I had been up since 5 AM, so I bid everyone goodnight (oyasumi) and marveled at my awesome, unplanned night.

Categories: Digital Nomad Dining Food