At the Grill bar, the signature cocktails are Marys. Again, Mandarin is ahead of the game because, let’s face it, martinis are a bit ubiquitous these days. Marys are where cocktails are going – brilliant mixes like the Red Snapper (the Paris original made with gin) or the Xex, with a Japanese wasabi shot. Conran has also designed a beautiful ceiling for the Grill, which is meant to look like scallop shells but, by a happy coincidence, looks more like a vast sea of Mandarin fans. And he has installed a signature crustacea altar, the like of which you have probably never seen, so that on the day of my visit I could have had my choice of snow crab, Maine lobster, Andaman prawns, Little Neck clams or Tasmanian black mussels, to say nothing of the 17 kinds of oyster, including varieties from Galway Bay in Ireland, Fanny Bay in British Columbia and Smoky Bay on the Eyre Peninsula in Southern Australia.
The Mandarin Cake Shop is a sort of Cartier for cakes, with utterly fabulous confections
For years the Grill has had legions of regulars and fans who regard it almost as their private dining room, so any change was going to evoke strong feelings, which is why the hotel regards it as a special success that the ‘new’ Grill has been particularly well received. And as if to reinforce the point, at the next table to us is a gentleman who, I am told, has been coming to the Grill to eat every weekday for the past 15 years, and here he is, back at his regular table after the renovation, happy as a sandboy with his tenderloin of beef and a glass of claret.
Meanwhile, if you want to shut out the daylight and enjoy relative seclusion, the Chinnery Bar carries on as it always has. It’s cosy and rather clubby, still the place to enjoy a single malt (there are 200 to choose from) and, if you’re so inclined, a plate of fish and chips or steak and kidney pie. Has the Chinnery gone under the knife? You would barely notice the change – but you know and I know it just feels somehow fresher.
We stop by the new Café Causette, formerly The Café, now relocated to the Mezzanine. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, because The Café, I gather, was originally called Causette when the hotel opened in 1963. And yet… and yet there have of course been changes. The old Café was, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit bog-standard hotel-coffee-shop – could have been anywhere from Bremen to Boca Raton – but the new restaurant is simply a joy. You enter via the Mandarin Cake Shop – a sort of Cartier for cakes, where utterly fabulous confections sit in glass cases like priceless museum pieces – and walk the walk along a line of tables bathed in light to where the room opens up to creamy marble, rattan and beautiful blond wood. It is delicious to look at.
The world and his wife – or boyfriend – seem to be lunching at Café Causette. It has that centre-of-the-universe feel about it. Staff are snap-to-it and the Asian and Mediterranean menus run happily in tandem. You can eat a Greek Salad, Vietnamese spring rolls, a club sandwich or a bowl of Singapore Laksa virtually round the clock, or just come in for a cup of coffee or a Coke, and no one bats an eyelid.
Meanwhile, I forgo the pleasure of breakfast in bed for at least two morning visits to the Clipper Lounge, which in my view offers the best breakfast buffet I have seen anywhere in more than 30 years of travelling, and where afternoon tea is taken as seriously as a state banquet.
I have heard the claim, often repeated though it may be apocryphal, that Mandarin Oriental’s restaurants will prepare any dish that has appeared on their menus in the last 30 years, should you desire it. But what could you possibly want that is not already on the menu? I suppose what they are trying to say is that MO has real restaurants staffed by real people, not by so-called celebrity chefs, or ogres, or automatons, who refuse to boil an egg or add salt or soy if it is not written in the rubric. In other words, ask and ye shall be given. Isn’t that what Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong has always been about – usually before you have even asked?