Hotel Review: The Peninsula
Published: May 2009
Accommodation is often one of the priciest parts of any trip and sometimes you don’t get what you paid for; you’re promised character and get shoddiness or pay for intimacy and end up with small and pokey! On the other hand, some properties are worth crossing the world for…
In his first visit to one of Britain’s most popular hotel chains, GARETH DAVIS is pleasantly surprised and impressed.
THE PENINSULA, CHICAGO
Chicago still battles old ghosts. The city that for many summons up images of Mob rule, murder, and shady speak easies is actually one of North America’s most liveable cities; a glorious place of broad vistas, greenery and a magnificent lakeside location where the best of 20th century architecture stumbles to a halt at golden beaches and blue waters. As you can tell I LOVE Chicago, and I’ve everything crossed for its 2016 Olympic bid, the result of which will be announced this October. Chicago is one place which could definitely benefit from being centre stage.
And centre stage in Chicago as far as I’m concerned is The Peninsula. One of the luxury Hong Kong hotel chain’s 3 North American properties (the others are New York and Beverly Hills), this Peninsula is all that a top drawer hotel should be and it perfectly showcases the wonderful city it calls home. It’s a joy to be able to give a whole hearted thumbs up to 5* property that deserves its place in the firmament. Sure, a negative review can generate a lorra laughs but once in a while it’s nice to be…well, nice – and impressed.
Serenity is the key note, whether it’s the airy first floor lobby or the soaring lobby restaurant with its pillars and plants. The odd design detail hearkens back to the Age of Deco like the frieze behind reception and there are Far Eastern accents in the two colossal lions guarding the main entrance. Fen Shui’s obviously had a field day.
The rooms are equally bright and stylish in the properties warm signature tones of coffee, beige, toffee, and teak. They’re also utterly practical and by that I mean everything “works” – from the hairdryer through the shoe horn to the plasma widescreens. The property has been undergoing a refurb with new carpeting, drapes, 42’ tellies, and i-pod docking stations. Maintenance is always for me the alpha to omega of a good hotel and four years on from my first visit, The Peninsula looks as sprightly and as dashing as ever – flawless.
Classy complimentary WiFi is available in every room – other international 5* chains take note, and hang your heads in shame! Beds are gorgeously comfy and the attention to detail is thrilling. For example, I always like to have a bottle of wine on the go in my room which I sip at whilst working. Every day this was put on fresh ice. My trousers slung carelessly on the floor were folded. And the iron and board I had delivered came with spray starch and nice smelly ironing water. Ok, so It sounds like I’m in love and maybe I am. The fact is one is reduced to reporting on minutiae such as yes, the towels could be a bit fluffier, and the toilet paper could be a little less insubstantial. Let’s leave it at that.
Facilities range from a Far Eastern themed spa which Conde Nast has voted No. 2 in North America through a bar and 3 restaurants. The bar is a grown up dark wood space; like film noir, it’s more lit by shadows than light. Not a good place for reading admittedly but a great sofa space with a real fire at its heart. My only gripe would be the nibbles on offer; ne of those trays that look as if they’ve been filled with whatever happens to be left; the odd Chinese cracker, a few wasabi nuts and shards of indeterminate debris.
Shanghai Terrace is the showcase for Eastern cuisine, offering delicacies like kobe beef and bird’s nest soup, plus a great urban terrace that’s open from May through the summer. Pierrot Gourmet is the most relaxed eating venue, focusing on French influence cuisine with an interesting bent for Alsace. The tarte flambees are great. It’s situated on the corner at street level, a favourite with locals who pop by to pick up coffee and muffin in the morning or unwind over a newspaper. Lunches are busy.
The star eatery at The Peninsula is Avenues, presided over by chef Curtis Duffy, previously of Chicago’s most respected fine dining restaurant Charlie Trotter’s. Curtis is responsible for garnering top ratings for Avenues, 4 stars from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Magazine. On offer, he has 3 tasting menus; 4 courses at $75, 9 at $115 and a monster 17 at $140. Well, bring on the beast I say.
The room itself is beautifully appointed. The words are carefully chosen as there is nothing modish, du jour or de trop about this venue. It’s class with a capital K. It almost has the quality of a dining room onboard an old cruise liner. The night I visited, the diners matched the surroundings. I noticed couples that didn’t say a word to one another.
My 17 dish voyage was an eventful one. Halfway through I shifted seats to sit at the bar. Here you can watch Curtis at work in an open kitchen and chat to him. How it doesn’t put him off is beyond me. I didn’t stay too long. As the old saying goes, if you can’t stand the heat… It was a tad warm. Highlights of my degustation included a King Crab dish where the crab sat in a cucumber broth in a bowl surmounted by a clear tuile spotted with steelhead roe, like gazing at a fish through ice. A stunning English pea dish showcased peas in all their glory from freeze dried through creamy soup to delicate pea shoots; stunning!
The sheer flair of Curtis’ cooking left me winded but it’s interesting to note that his multi-ingredient (as many as 17 in one dish) creations are in direct contrast to contemporary culinary styles this side of the pond. Here the emphasis is on simple, clean flavours, I have to say I err towards the latter. Halfway through my tasting, my palate gave up the ghost and by the time the 4 desserts arrived, I don’t think I was “tasting” anything. In retrospect, I think one of the shorter menus would have worked better.
These are tough times on the old wallet and there’s no hiding the fact that The Peninsula is as good and as pricey as it gets; rack rates start at $550. But the property’s introduced some nice touches to encourage custom. Tuesday nights at Avenues have been BYOB. You bring a favourite wine, and the sommelier will match it to the perfect dish. Just the kind of attention to detail and care for the customer I would expect from a property that for me is quite simply the best.
Hotel Review: The Peninsula
Gareth has been with TRAVEL CHANNEL since its launch in 1994. He has produced and presented on TRAVEL LIVE and THE TRAVEL BUG, produced ESSENTIAL... and reports on TRAVEL TODAY. He is a regular contributor to the website. In 2010 he produced the hit series THE HOLIDAY SHOW which he also co-presented with Ginny Buckley. Gareth’s passions are history, culture, food & drink.
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