In a frantic attempt to complete the IHG Accelerate challenge by 31 July 2018, the end of the promotion period, I had to clock two nights at any InterContinental properties across Asia Pacific or the Middle East.
Given that I’m not going to hop on a seven-hour flight to the Middle East for a stay, I began scouring this region. The cheapest InterContinental property in Asia Pacific turned out to be right next door: Kuala Lumpur.
I booked myself into the entry level room for two nights at the InterContinental Kuala Lumpur for a total of just under RM1,100 over two nights. The property has also offered a e-Upgrade option where you can opt for certain payable upgrades, which will be confirmed at check-in.
For this stay, apart from offering a paid room upgrade opportunity, the hotel also offered Club InterContinental access for RM150++ per person per day. Since I was going to stay alone, this is much more worth it than paying RM230++ for an upgrade to a Club InterContinental Room.
InterContinental Kuala Lumpur is located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur near Ampang Park, or a stone’s throw away from KLCC. The hotel is easily accessible from KL Sentral via the LRT, so travelling from the airport to the hotel is relatively fuss-free on public transport.
The 473-room property took on the InterContinental brand only in February 2011. Previously Hotel Nikko, the hotel was built in 1997, which explains the design of the hotel: a large front lawn lined up with flag poles and a large driveway; a voluminous lobby adorned with a giant and rather gaudy chandelier. Having said that, the hotel was renovated when InterContinental took over in 2011.
While this is touted as a five star hotel, the hotel had only rather standard amenities. Apart from meetings and conference venues, the hotel only had a 24-hour gym and a swimming pool for recreation. There’s an on-site spa, but beyond offering treatments, the spa did not have any relaxation facilities such as a jacuzzi or sauna.
Checking in was a breeze considering I arrived in the middle of the day. The check-in staff did acknowledge my IHG Rewards Club membership, and proactively offered an upgrade to the Grand Premier Room.
Of course, while that sounded awesome, a closer look at the website showed that the first three room types – Deluxe, Premier and Grand Premier – were all of the same size, and offered the same amenities. And Kuala Lumpur is not a city with a great cityscape, so view is definitely not worth any premium.
At 42 square metres, InterContinental Kuala Lumpur offers up a generous room size, consistent with other hotels built around the same time. The Grand Premier Room, later I found out, was more recently renovated than some of the lower tier rooms.
The room featured a rather standard layout, with an oversized King bed backed upon a beige soft panel against one side and the TV on the other. I believe the bed could take up to an entire family of two adults with two very small children.
The bed was rather firm to my liking, but the pillows were rather lacking in support. Both mornings I woke up with a slight neckache, which was a pity given that excellent bed.
The bathroom now has a see-through glass wall that looks into the room, a feature that I don’t quite understand especially for larger rooms like these. In smaller, newer hotel rooms, hotels often do this to make the room more spacious. But in this case, I don’t see any particular function for this except if you’ll like to watch TV while standing up in the bathtub.
Having said that, I appreciated the large bathroom. Arguably one of the better designed toilets, with the details put in sensibly. When else will you need a phone unless you run out of toilet paper while you are on the toilet?
The toiletries were from Agraria as well, similar to what is provided to all InterContinental properties around the world. The American brand markets itself as an aromatherapy brand, but I’m not too big a fan of their bath gels and shampoos as they feel rather watery and I ended up using half the bottle each time.
On level 26, certainly not as huge and definitely not as wonderfully designed as the Club InterContinental in Singapore. The decor is a little strange in my opinion, with large gaudy marble table tops and matching ugly chairs. The carpet was incredibly worn out too while the armchairs looked like they needed reupholstering.
The centrepiece of the lounge was a full marble countertop where food and drinks were placed throughout the day. Hanging above was an array of lights hung from an equally unappealing reflective metal piece. All in all, they looked like they were designed on a budget in the 1980s and never got refreshed.
As with other Club InterContinental, the lounge offers all-day refreshments, with a la carte breakfast, high tea and evening cocktails for guests to enjoy.
Right after checking in, I went to the lounge for the afternoon tea. The afternoon tea is available daily between 2.30pm to 4.30pm. Similar to InterContinental Singapore, there’s a three-tier afternoon tea set that’s served up, but you can also pick and choose from items if you are feeling peckish but don’t quite feel like a glutton.
Scones were delightful but a little too starchy, clotted cream was on point. The rest of the items were passable, but nowhere near memorable by KL standards, given that you could get incredibly delicious food anywhere.
I asked for a flat white to go with the high tea, but disappointingly what came was more like a cafe au lait.
This is when I start to find the service a little awkward. The staff were all incredibly polite and attentive, but the presentation of food and beverage is pretty much awkward. The coffee I requested for came filled to the brim of the cup, which also means that the wait staff struggled not to spill anything while bringing it to me. The sparkling water that I asked for came at room temperature and a single ice cube, again filled right to the brim and I found myself trying not to spill any while lifting it off the table to bringing it to my lips.
In the evening, cocktail hours was from 5.30pm to 7.30pm. Similar to the other InterContinental hotels, the Club lounge serve up a selection of hot hor d’oeuvres, along with a light buffet spread of canapés, cut fruits and cakes.
I got there at a little over 6pm, and the lounge was well attended, but not filled to the brim. I ended up at one of the high benches as most of the choice tables were taken up.
What I thought was good effort on the hotel’s part was to have a theme each day. The first evening I was there, the food were essentially French, with a seafood skewer, some random beef cube and a mushroom tart. This was great, so I had a couple of servings through the evening along with the canapés and desserts.
The second evening was Japanese, with a trio of karaage items for the hot food, and other appetising selections such as spinach in sesame sauce, unagi with seaweed, cucumber and ponzu sauce as well as an assortment of sushi (it was just California maki and inari sushi). Even the desserts were Japanese themed, featuring mochi, azuki cakes and azuki matcha creme.
Having said that, the quality of food was acceptable. It wasn’t mind blowing, but palatable enough for you to waste a bit of calories. Be sure to leave space to venture out and get yourself a wonderful Malaysian dinner.
As a Club InterContinental guest, you get a choice of breakfast either at Serena Brasserie at the lobby, or at the Club InterContinental lounge.
I checked out Serena on the first day. Even before 9am, the restaurant was filled to the brim and there was a line outside waiting for tables. Not totally unexpected, given the size of the hotel. I was seated rather quickly given I was alone and the groups ahead of me were waiting for larger tables.
I usually have rather high expectations of Malaysian hotel breakfast buffets. In my opinion, they are always much better than the Singapore hotels. For instance, the made-to-order roti canai at Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang still lingers in my mind (and its imaginary tastebuds).
The variety of food at Serena Brasserie was pretty reasonable, with a splattering of offerings such as western options, to your local dishes such as congee with condiments, live cooking noodle station, dim sum and Indian curries. However, the quality was pretty dismal: while there’s a staff making roti canai, they were not cooked to order. It was more of a showroom, where he makes it, cuts it into smaller pieces and brings it out to one of the buffet tray.
The noodles were also incredibly underwhelming, lacking flavour in the soup base. The ingredients were pretty dubious too, and I had no idea what the balls were.
Above all, given the volume of guests, the trays often empty out quickly and the staff were slow in replenishing the food. I was staring at the empty tray of nasi lemak, with some remnants of rice left atop a banana leaf base, wondering if I should scrape the bottom of the tray.
The only thing worth eating in that place? The chicken siew mais. I probably had six.
The morning of the day I left, I decided to head up to the club lounge for my breakfast instead. As with other Club InterContinental lounges, it features a part buffet, part a la carte menu.
While the menu wasn’t extensive, it had a bit of everything: some local options, along with the usual western eggs and even lighter options.
Unsure of the portions, I decided to go for eggs first, done over easy. The single egg arrived slightly burnt, with two oily small tomatoes and some asparagus on the side.
Obviously a single egg is not going to fill me up. So after I was done with the egg, I ordered the pancakes. The serving was small, but totally unappetizing. For some reason, the pancakes came slightly cold and almost tasteless on its own. I gave up after one pancake.
The buffet spread was slightly better, especially the nonya kuehs. That kind of was the saving grace for me.
Overall the hotel is pretty underwhelming for an InterContinental property. The rooms are decent, but the quality of food and service is pretty much lacking. For a foodie city, the quality of food, both in the lounge and at the breakfast restaurant, has to go up several notches to attract people to want to spend time in the hotel, although one can argue that you shouldn’t be spending time in any hotel in KL.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the service is bad. What is lacking is the refinement in the service, particularly of the wait staff in the lounges. The staff were friendly, but when it comes to plating food, serving drinks, you could tell that they needed a lot more training.
While InterContinental Kuala Lumpur has got pretty good rooms and plenty of space to work with, the hotel will be hard pressed to compete with other properties in the city, especially if it wants to be a hotel of choice for business and premium leisure travellers alike.