Weekend wanderlust: 24 hours at Alila Bangsar
An alternate paradise
If you, like me, haven't set foot in Kuala Lumpur in years, you'll probably be floored at how rapidly the city has changed. From a slew of sleek, hip cafés in Bangsar to new threads by local designers, the KL of today is rife with tasteful hole in the walls and a deep undercurrent of creativity.
It comes as no surprise then, that boutique luxury hotel group Alila has chosen KL as the latest destination for its city hotel. This modern skyscraper is situated in the lively, millennial neighbourhood of Bangsar — a 15-minute drive from the manic buzz and tourist footprint that is downtown KL.
While most are familiar with Alila's resort hotels (cue: Bali and Goa), few of us are aware that the brand has also reinvented urban retreats. Alila Bangsar is a soaring haven of relaxation that brings a fresh state of luxury to the city sprawl of KL. Its 143 guestrooms occupy the top floors of a mixed-use development known as The Establishment, the first Alila in Malaysia is designed by internationally-renowned duo Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu of Neri&Hu (they also designed the Sulwhasoo flagship in South Korea and the Westin in Xi'an). With lush foliage and heaps of natural light flooding into the main lobby on the 41st floor, it feels like you've met your very own tropical oasis. There are intimate nooks and plush seats tucked away in corners for the privacy of all guests, making it the ideal space for curling up with a book.
How does one spend a weekend in KL? Some seek out the best banana leaf rice, while others hit the malls from morning till night. We spent it luxuriating in this fine bolthole. Let us recap how we made the best use of our 24 hours in Malaysia's capital city.
Check into Alila Bangsar. I was greeted by their general manager, Kamal Munasinghe, who warmly ushered me inside and up to the 41st floor. There was a personal touch about the entire process — no crowds, waiting, or mundane paperwork. After a quick chat at reception, I was led down to my room on the 35th floor, where the rest of the check-in formalities was done at the Living Room. This dedicated space on each floor feels like your personal living room, with dim lighting, calming music, and a selection of local snacks (think spicy tapioca chips and iced gem biscuits). After a quick tap and signature on the iPad, I was good to go.
My Deluxe Studio was a generous 55 square-metre pad, bigger than most hotel rooms I find myself in these days. Styled in a similar minimalist fashion as the hotel lobby, with a palette of black steel and warming wood, the rooms are a dream for creative and design enthusiasts. The best part of the room? Hands down, the 360-degree bathroom, where instead of a separate closed-door fit-out, it's an open concept area with glints of brass, pendant lighting and a shower area large enough for a party.
I'm getting hungry, and while I'm tempted to head out to run through the list of food suggestions from friends, I was also keen to try one of the restaurants at Alila Bangsar. I headed down to Botanica + Co, a stunning café — California vibes included — which serves up both Asian and international dishes. I ordered a nasi lemak, a decision I did not regret one bit. The breaded chicken cutlet was literally bigger than my face, and the rice had the perfect aromatic coconut flavour. Complete with sweet sambal, there was nothing more I could have wanted in that moment.
With the sun still beating strongly down on the city, the best place to be — in my opinion — is lazing by the pool. Alila Bangsar's outdoor pool resembles any luxury resort, with tropical-style landscaping, wide loungers, and a view of the city. Fancy a drink to go with your dip? The pool bar draws on retro favourites and delicious snacks employing the freshest of ingredients. This is also the ideal spot to watch the sunset later in the day.
If the pool is not your thing, pop in to the well-equipped gym where you can sweat it out in peace and comfort.
If you're celebrating an event, or want a break from local flavours, Entier is the place to be on a Saturday evening. This semi-fine dining French establishment, which doubles up as the hotel's breakfast room, is a celebration of nose to tail dining, where every possible part of the animal or vegetable is used. The cosy restaurant glows invitingly from afar — when you make a booking, request for a table with a view if possible.
With fine-dining economics, anyone will tell you to skip the carbs. But at Entier, the house-made sourdough with kombu butter is a luscious starter and a must-try. The bread is suitably crisp on the outside, and beautifully warm and fluffy on the inside. Chef Masashi Horiuchi (previously the sous chef at two Michelin-starred L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in London) helms Entier, bringing to the tables a passionate culinary style exemplifying French techniques and Japanese precision. The oxtail, wrapped like a mantou and doused in a slow-cooked consommé with spinach and ulam raja (a popular herb used in Malay cooking), is testimony to that meticulousness. Also try the platters of meat and seafood, designed for groups of four or more. Dessert is excellent here — the house-made beancurd, topped with Chantilly cream, goat's milk sorbet, and strawberry and rhubarb compote, is full of light textures and elevated Asian fusion flavours.
Looking for a nightcap? Pacific Standard, which exudes the old-world glamour of mid 20th century Los Angeles, focuses on quality cocktails and craft beverages. All bars at the hotel have been conceptualised by Proof & Company, a stellar collective of Asia's most respected bartenders and advocates of curated, artisanal spirits.
If there were ever a perfect morning, it would run as mine did at Alila Bangsar. A good 10 hours of sleep (while falling asleep to cable television the night before), followed by a hearty breakfast to kick off the day. I'm back at Entier, where the place is now transformed into a tranquil diner, where there is a communal continental breakfast spread for guests. I grab a couple of warm croissants and yoghurt, and order a breakfast set — there's Western, Malay and Chinese options — from their menu.
A late check-out can be requested, but I had to make an early afternoon flight. Will I be back? Without a doubt. I'd be more than ecstatic to make weekends in KL a weekly affair at this swanky new pad.
For more information or to make a booking, visit Alila Bangsar.