From a distance, the dual Hilton signs atop its two blocks on Orchard Road are double reminders that the brand is back and bent on travel with purpose. Hilton, which first came to Singapore half a century ago, took over the space previously occupied by Mandarin Orchard, undertook a S$150 million renovation during the pandemic and started welcoming guests this February. And what a welcome awaits those who have missed its “call-you-by-your-name” service.
The Hilton Singapore Orchard looks and feels warm, with colours and ideas that are connected to Singapore being a city in a forest. Nature does not need adornment; thus the green, brown, grey and black scheme that follows from the rooms to restaurants and other interiors has a natural balance that gives the whole space a quiet elegance.
Two things strike the guest immediately: the key card is made of wood and the room, which maximises space, is uncluttered and modern. If you are one of those who settles in by unpacking, the open wardrobe with full-length mirror in front will elicit a whoop. As for indefatigable shoppers, the first thing to do after coming back laden with bags is take everything out, try them on and hang them up and you’re ready for the rest of your stay.
Orchard Road was abundant with plantations in the 18th century and Hilton Singapore Orchard’s interior design is disctinctly connected to the country’s history and agricultural heritage. Monochromatic artwork in every room; botanical-inspired afternoon tea at Ginger.Lily; pictures of plants, flowers and spices gracing the walls of all-day dining restaurant Estate; a thriving herb garden at Osteria Mozza; and spaces bathed in natural light all emphasise the clean, refreshing feel of being with nature.
At Osteria Mozza, guests who crave or cannot wait to try Nancy Silverton’s famed dishes are in for an authentic experience. “We will showcase what we do here. We like to personalise a lot of the classics but not manipulate them so you don’t even taste what the original was,” says the American chef, in Singapore in May to prepare for the restaurant’s opening.
Chatterbox, known for local delights, and the two-Michelin-starred Shisen Hanten by Chen Kentaro complete the Hilton’s curated culinary line-up. When we dined at the latter two months ago, the 60-plus-year-old lady assigned to serve the media table was efficient and friendly. She counts among many long-serving staff from the Mandarin who migrated to the Hilton, continuing a tradition of professional yet personal service that has helped it build relationships with guests, whom the staff know by name.
“It’s our signature service — I know you by name,” says Alexandra Jaritz, Hilton’s senior vice-president for brand management, Asia Pacific. “You cannot underestimate the power of that. All those human connections with people over time make it feel like this is their second home.”
The brand’s people-first approach applies to its employees too. “We are there with the staff so they can be their best when in front of customers,” she adds.
Sustainability drives every decision at this ‘home’, where energy-efficient technology such as in-room motion, air-conditioning and light sensors and services accessed via smartphones enhance comfort and convenience. Carton packages that replaced plastic bottles of mineral water will soon be substituted by glasses for water from the hotel’s own filtration plant.
Avalon Collective, the designer for the rooms, meeting spaces and Ginger.Lily, minimised waste by keeping the Italian travertine stones that adorned the previous hotel and reusing them for the walls and floors on level five, where seven meeting rooms are located. Ginger.Lily, positioned to follow customer flow around the property and decorated with pretty dried blossoms of the plant, is an open invitation to enjoy artisanal cakes, savoury bites and craft cocktails concocted using native herbs, flowers and spices.
“Travel is now centred round wellness, and sustainability is a huge part of what customers are saying they want. What’s important is they want to see [efforts] being authentic,” Jaritz says. “We bring the mould of sustainability into how we run the company and [try to] really be authentic about it. Our strategy is travel with purpose.”
Orchard, past and present, translates into the hotel’s design, adds general manager Cedric Nubul. “We have really repositioned the brand and completely transformed the space to make it Hilton.”
There were dramatic changes in a lot of the assets and ambience, not just a tweaking to produce a flexible design with a local flavour. The rooms, infused with elements of the destination, were kept simple and minimalistic to ensure they stay classic and timeless, he explains.
Of course, the focal point of Hilton at Orchard is its prime spot in the city-state’s business, lifestyle, fashion and dining hub. You cannot help but notice the lavish shops lining both sides of the road, bedecked with the latest products from top-notch luxury brands. Each one is out to impress with displays born of clever, creative ideas that sometimes elicit a “Wow!”
If leisure is your thing, try people-watching outside Lucky Plaza, diagonally opposite the hotel. By the way, with luck and patience, you can find quality items at bargain prices in this old mall. It is the meeting point of foreign domestic workers every Sunday, who picnic on benches beside the bubble tea and food kiosks or take up pockets of ground space, to share food, photos and news from family.
On weekdays, it is fun to watch busy Singaporeans as they go about their business: The crowd differs from early morning to afternoon to night, when youngsters gather outside Mandarin Gallery, below the Hilton, to hang out and watch buskers perform.
A more active option is visiting the nearby Botanic Gardens, which promises IG moments with orchids named after Elton John, Jackie Chan, Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela and various other VIPs. For those travelling with junior, the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden is the place for young ’uns to play, discover and learn about plant life.
About a 15-minute stroll from the hotel is the National Museum, which opened on Stamford Road as the Raffles Library and Museum in 1849. A display currently on until July 31 — Dislocations: Memory and Meaning of the Fall of Singapore, 1942 — marks the 80th anniversary of the British Surrender. It will take visitors back to the colonial days and perhaps provoke interest in how a hilly area with rich soil came to be called Orchard by early settlers.
Truly, past and present sit comfortably in Hilton Singapore Orchard, the company’s largest hotel in Asia-Pacific, which will have another 446 rooms, making a total of 1,080, when its second tower opens next year. What will not change, as this brand that is always trying to evolve looks ahead, is its focus on being “part of the fabric of a community” that thrives on the vibrant attractions of its location.
This article first appeared on July 4, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.