of mulligatawny, music and memories

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she was the grand dame of the 1930s, a symbol of prestige and glamour, the place to be seen back in the day. for 51 years, she served guests - many of them prolific, some were royalty - in her stately colonial whitewashed premises before being converted into the national art gallery. when that shifted out, she lay abandoned, her grand doors closed and forgotten, as if sealing her fate. that would have been the case if ytl hotels did not take it upon themselves to revive this gem of a place and to give kl another colonial treasure after carcosa seri negara. its reopening last dec, as majestic hotel kuala lumpur, is meant to be what the raffles, peninsula and other majestic of the world represent in their respective cities: an icon of old world charm, luxury and honour.

architect zaidan tahir, who was also behind ytl's other heritage properties including majestic malacca and cameron highlands resort, spent seven patient years combing through archival documents and records to piece everything back together. the original building, now named majestic wing - has been recreated as faithfully as zaidan could find information on. the all-suites wing houses the hotel's main offerings: the colonial cafe, bar, tea lounge, drawing room, orchid conservatory and two separate buildings, one housing the majestic spa and the other, the gentleman's club-style smoke house. from the staff's uniform - crisp white jackets, mandarin collars and even pith helmets for the doormen all designed by edmund ser - to the rich brocade, velvet and leather furnishings with dark wo od panelling and the claw foot soaking tub in the suites, the majestic wing is like a living time capsule that transports one to victorian england. and what is more english than a spot of traditional afternoon tea, which can be enjoyed at the sunlit tea lounge, the more staidly drawing room or what is now the much sought-after (there's a two-month waiting list), inside the airy orchid conservatory where some 1,000 plants of the vibrant moth orchid reside. 

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accommodation some of the original 51 rooms have been combined to create more spatial comfort in the all-suites majestic wing. there are three categories, with colonial suites being the smallest and majestic suites considered the penthouse among them. the governor suite affords views of the historical mile, the main road where the hotel sits, the same view one would see from the spa pool. 

the decor complements the rest of the wing, and the bathroom is particularly nostalgic with its black and white diamond floor tiles and claw foot bath tub - ask your butler to draw up a bubble bath for you. but this is a modern hotel after all, so rain showers, led tvs and wifi connection are part of the package. it is however, a little surprising for a hotel of this calibre (it's malaysia's first entry into the leading hotels of the world list) to not provide a coffee machine in the suites - you get sachets of instant coffee - and that the turndown service is just that: your bedcovers folded down. 

guests of the majestic wing can enjoy free car transfer to anywhere within kl up till 11pm nightly, butler service - including garments pressing, breakfast served in your suite and any other needs you may have.  

the other half of the hotel is the 15-storey tower wing, a modern - but with art deco design elements - accompaniment with facilities like a fitness centre, swimming pool and kl's biggest ballroom.

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majestic spa the colonial influence is reflected well in the majestic spa's menu; treatments are tailored to embrace english ingredients and healing traditions. every session is preceded by the herb-infused gifts of the garden foot soak and scrub, and a scalp massage using rosemary hair tonic. the treatments read like a book of english fables - queen victoria's lavender, english afternoon tea (that includes a blueberry-and-cream body scrub that will make you feel like a scone) and the most luxe, the malay golden chersonese, which retraces the story of british explorer isabella lucy bird. post-treatment, take a dip in the lap pool fronting the spa and looking out to the ktm station across the road and the ktm headquarters next door - two of kl's most beautiful buildings dating back to the 1910s.

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smoke house while the spa caters to both sexes, it is undoubtedly the ladies who will make a beeline for it first whereas the men may be more drawn to big boys' toys galore, the smoke house. shoot some pool, light up in the cigar room, play a round in the card room, clean up at truefitt & hill's salon or simply relax in the lounge while veteran bartender john yap pours you a single malt, vintage cocktail or colonial classics like stengahs (half whisky, half soda) and gin pahit (gin with bitters). 

another offering in the smoke house is the screening room, which plays black & white films till about midnight daily, with leather armchairs and you can order a drink or food from the dining outlets to have here. besides entertaining guests while staying in the mood of the hotel, this mini cinema is also a tribute to a bit of the majestic's history: back in the 1960s, it was one of the first places in kl to have a television set, a black and white attraction that would be switched on from 6pm-11pm nightly for the enjoyment of guests. 

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colonial cafe you wouldn't feel out of place dressed in flapper fineries while tucking into near-forgotten classics such as mulligatawny soup (a spice-rich, creamy soup with minced meat of indian origins that were favoured by british officers stationed in india in the 18th century), old-fashioned faggots (meatballs made of mixed meat and offal over a bed of mash, dressed in a thick mace sauce) and spotted dick (a suet pudding with custard cream and berries). the soup is easy to enjoy, the faggots are moist and tender - and don't reek of the strong flavours that turn some people off offal - while the spotted dick, which of course looks nothing like its name, is a nice balance of textures and most importantly, not too sweet. 

or try the hainanese cuisine; at rm75++ each, the chicken chop and chicken rice have become famous in their own right. the former, using the yeoh family recipe, is a piece of crumbed, well-fried chicken with a gooey sweetish, ketchup-tasting sauce that we loved as kids. the chicken rice, rolled into balls, is quite a hearty portion that can easily be shared between two people. the condiments are well presented - a zesty chilli sauce, spicy minced ginger, thick soy sauce - and the rice is suitably fluffy. the chicken itself, though tender, doesn't have much natural sweetness. the set comes with a simple cabbage soup - a bowl of pure chicken stock would have hit the spot better. in short, the dishes are decent but not worth the hefty price tag.


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the overall experience when the hotel majestic first opened in 1932, it was one of the largest hotels in kl. of course, we have come a long way since then and coupled with the 'bigger is better' thinking, today's hotels' room count easily number in the hundreds. with just 35 suites and quaint lifestyle spaces, the majestic hotel kl is refreshingly cosy, intimate and personable all at once. it has the charms of a boutique property and the full amenities of bigger chain hotels.

chill in the tea lounge - where music veteran ooi eow jin plays evergreen classics during the day while the solianos jazz things up nightly - and you will feel as if you're simply relaxing in someone's home, albeit a stately, luxuriously furnished home with polite, polished service staff standing by to make your stay ever so comfortable.

 

the majestic hotel kuala lumpur 5 jalan sultan hishamuddin, kl tel +603 2785 8000 www.majestickl.com/

 

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