It is not always possible to enjoy languorous holidays but, for most of us, business travel is par for the course. Ever since the word “bleisure” (a portmanteau of business and leisure) was coined, this concept of incorporating fun and enrichment as part of a work trip has been experiencing record growth in the industry. After all, it makes perfect sense (and is a bonus incentive) to enrich one’s life while serving the company. Recent industry estimates put the bleisure segment’s growth at 6% to 7% annually, although the post-pandemic boom resulting from the easing of travel restrictions might skyrocket that to double digits easily. So, if you happen to be in the vicinity of these exciting cities anytime soon, here are some suggestions for incorporating a cultural experience or indulging in a few hours of well-deserved pleasantry outside of boardrooms, airport lounges and hotel lobbies.
NEW YORK CITY
Eat: All the cool New Yorkers know that The Standard, High Line is the buzziest place to stay. Away from the kerfuffle of touristy Times Square and so close to the Hudson River that it is a shame not to start each work day with a run or power walk, this Meatpacking District darling attracts the artsy, swish crowd to be sure. But there is no reason why it cannot make a compelling corporate cocoon for your Big Apple business trip either. Hungry executives always opt for the Grill Cafe’s big Breakfast Sandwich, which comes with a chive omelette, chipotle aioli and a side of bacon, but the healthier (and no less delicious) option is the toasted granola served atop Greek yoghurt and perfectly caramelised bananas. If you come for lunch or dinner, be sure to admire the floor of the adjoining Standard Grill, which is adorned with 480,000 copper pennies.
See: If you are visiting before March 5, do not miss the final weeks of the seminal Edward Hopper exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which is almost next door to The Standard, High Line in the west of the city. If you are not familiar with his name, Hopper called New York home for close to six decades, a period that spanned his entire career as a mature artist and saw the city undergo the most tremendous change, with a record boom in building projects and development. The show offers one of the most comprehensive looks at Hopper’s oeuvre, beginning from early impressionist sketches and illustrations to evocative paintings of life in quite possibly the biggest of big cities then.
Stay: Although its origins are firmly entrenched in the art of the luxury bijou resort, the Aman group’s foray into city hotels (case in point, Aman Tokyo and the short-lived Aman New Delhi, now The Lodhi) is best represented by the shiny new Aman New York, which opened atop the Crown Building last September. Located within the tony zone of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, the century-old Beaux-Arts building enjoyed the genius touch of legendary architect Jean-Michel Gathy, the talent behind iconic luxury properties like One&Only Reethi Rah and Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives, and the Aman Canal Grande in Venice, Italy.
Once you get past the insanely strict doorman — only registered guests may pass, so don’t even think of using the excuse of popping by for a coffee at the Garden Terrace, though beautiful it may be (housed on the 14th level, it features a verdant 7,000 sq ft wraparound terrace filled with water features and fire pits) — step into a different world altogether, one that melds discreet Asian hospitality with every sensibility of modern luxury. If you wish to make the most of the cold weather before spring arrives, do know that each suite offers a functioning fireplace too, a first in New York City.
Pro tip: Singapore Airlines might offer the most comfortable and only non-stop 18-hour flight from Changi to JFK but regulars know that Qatar Airways is the route of choice as it lands at and takes off from JFK’s Terminal 8 — infinitely less chaotic and a breeze to clear immigration usually. If you have suffered the agony of a three-hour wait before, even if you were the first to disembark (there are no fast-track lanes, FYI), you would want to take serious note of this.
Eat: We raved about the exquisite and affordable degustation menus proffered by Idam, Alain Ducasse’s Doha outpost at the I M Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art, in our pages a month ago, so another suggestion to try while in this delightful city is Parisa, a palace-like jewel box of a restaurant in the heart of Souq Waqif. (There are two other branches in Qatar, at the Al Messila Resort & Spa and at The Ritz-Carlton Sharq Village, Doha but Souq Waqif is the flagship.) You would be instantly dazzled by the Persian restaurant’s mesmerising interiors that instantly transport you to the sheesh mahal (glass palace in Urdu) of any Mughal mansion. But once you have let your eyes drink their fill of the intricate mosaics, ornate chandeliers and thousands of tiny mirrored pieces that were handpicked from Iran and painstakingly assembled over three years, the food deserves undivided attention too.
Begin with borani-e-spinach, a dish of baked spinach mixed with yoghurt and freshly chopped garlic, or the classic Iranian salad of mast-o-khar (chopped cucumber with walnuts, raisins and yoghurt) before moving on to kufte anar (pomegranate meatballs), ereshk polow (basmati rice with barberries and saffron), khoresht bademjian (lamb with fried eggplant in tomato gravy) and kebabs. If you are dying to experience Parisa but have no plans to travel to or via Doha anytime soon, the restaurant has also opened at the Fairmont Tazi Palace in Tangier, Morocco and at the Bürgenstock Resort Lake Lucerne, Switzerland.
See: If you only have a few hours in Doha, just head over to Souq Waqif, the capital’s main marketplace and de facto first stop for all visitors. Its name means “the standing market” in Arabic and was founded over a hundred years ago on the site of a dried-up river bed called Wadi Musheireb. From its origins as a bartering ground for livestock and food for locals and Bedouins to today, where all manner of items may be purchased — including jewellery, Arabic herbs and spices, shawls, headscarves and tourist tat — Souq Waqif is a delightful place to while away what little time you may have here. If you are an unabashed culture vulture, then hail a taxi and make your way to the repurposed Fire Station next to the Al Bidda Park that is now home to incredible architecture and fascinating contemporary art.
Stay: While it is infinitely tempting to stay at the Fairmont Doha, which is housed in the iconic Katara Towers — unmissable due to its curved architecture that represents the crossed scimitars on the nation’s seal or for the more imaginative, a manta ray — our vote would go to the Mondrian instead. Its name already implies being inspired by the great Dutch artist Piet Mondrian but the talent that is so visibly showcased here is that of (also Dutch) designer Marcel Wanders. There’s a traditional Turkish hammam and luxe spa while the F&B offerings include Wolfgang Puck’s signature steakhouse CUT and an eponymous fine-dining room by celebrity Japanese chef Masaharu Morimoto. The Mondrian Doha is located in the West Bay Lagoon area, next to the Zig Zag Towers and within easy reach of all the sights as well as Al Dafna, the financial and commercial centre. Bleisure made easy!
Pro tip: If you can, try and manage a stay at the oldest and most historic hotel in the country — the Bismillah Hotel. Classical and traditionally beautiful, it dates back decades to when it was first built by Abdullah Al Thani, a wealthy merchant and aesthete. There are only two suites with ornamented balconies, so you need to book way in advance. Alternatively, visit the neighbouring Damasca One restaurant for good local food or a strong cup of coffee and imagine Doha as it was in bygone days. After, walk off the meal with a stroll to the nearby Al Shaykh mosque or the waterfront promenade at the Corniche.
Eat: Yes, we know Malaysians must have a roast duck and lobster noodle fix while in ol’ Blighty’s big city but there’s no harm taking the palate for a joyride either, is there? London has been in the grip of Italian fever for some time now, particularly after Tigrane Seydoux and Victor Lugger, two Frenchmen who love all things Italian, established the Big Mamma Group. While you might not know the holding company, you almost certainly would have heard of its restaurants. The wave began with Capri-inspired Gloria in Shoreditch, followed by Sicilian Circolo Popolare in Fitzrovia, Siena-style Ave Mario in Covent Garden and, most recently, Jacuzzi, which evokes Venice and its grand palazzi — but in High Street Kensington. The ID at all Big Mamma restos deserves as much attention as the food but Jacuzzi’s is particularly extravagant. How fitting, seeing as it is housed in a former bank.
See: It’s not always possible to get a big chunk of free time while on a business trip but, without tots or teens in tow, now is the chance to be absolutely indulgent. Yes, the plays and musicals of the West End are always a good bet but, for something different, did you know the British Museum offers crash courses in archaeology? A qualified archaeologist has your undivided attention for 5½ hours and, together, you get to unlock the secrets of the museum’s vast and extraordinary collection, from the world-famous Rosetta Stone to perhaps how ancient languages like Egyptian hieroglyphs and Sumerian cuneiform were decoded. This special experience runs on Saturdays and Sundays and usually needs a minimum of two participants. So, if your work trip spills over into the weekend (and you wish to avoid the pocket pitfalls of “accidentally” straying into Bicester Village), book early and drag your associate along for a day to remember.
Stay: Officially opening this week (Feb 21, to be precise) is London’s first art’otel. Located within the Norman Foster-designed Battersea Roof Gardens, stay at one of the 164 rooms designed by award-winning Spanish artist and interior designer Jaime Hayon and explore the new F&B offerings. One of the most anticipated is the skyline restaurant Joia, run by Michelin-starred Portuguese chef Henrique Sá Pessoa, on the hotel’s top floors. Joia will highlight the best of British and Iberian produce in the 15th-floor restaurant while the bar is on the 14th. The 16th floor, on the other hand, houses the rooftop pool which offers stunning 360-degree views across the Big Smoke and, of course, the iconic chimneys of Battersea Power Station.
Pro tip: If you love London looks, labels and luxury womenswear, Battersea Power Station is just the spot for a bit of retail therapy. Besides being a destination at which to while the whole day away (there’s art aplenty, a cinema and exciting dining options), the Pink Floyd-linked building is also home to the latest ME+EM boutique, a fashion house founded in 2009 by Clare Hornby. The London brand’s staples include perfectly-made wearables well worth investing in, such as a cheesecloth maxi dress, wide-legged twill trousers and tailored checked jackets. High standards of workmanship and wear-forever appeal at accessible prices. What’s not to like?
This article first appeared on Feb 20, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.