That feeling of dread after making a huge travel stuff up can ruin a holiday before it has even begun, and that clenched gut is what I had when we trudged into the reception at The Strings by InterContinental in Tokyo. I had been very unwell, and not my usual hyper-vigilant self in the check list process immediately prior to leaving home (in fact, check list? Phff!). I had left the voucher for our 14 day Japan Rail Passes in the filing cabinet at home. To quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: “Big mistake…HUGE!”
So the sense of relief in delivering myself into the kind and capable hands of Komiko in reception was palpable. She wrote out our selected train requests in Japanese to take to the JR office in case their customer service officer’s English was not fluent, and both the JR officer and I were eternally grateful! Specific train tickets booked and paid for all ready for our planned 10 day trip (with the refund of the cost of the voucher to sort out upon our return home), we walked the few hundred metres back to our hotel, happy that the actual tickets ended up being slightly cheaper than the pass.
The location was the first thing (after the service) that we appreciated about this hotel. We were right next to one of the train station hubs of Tokyo city, Shinagawa, which made the whole public transport thing so easy. And, of course, a big station with an office to sort out my particular mess was even more valued!
When we first arrived at the hotel that morning, we left our luggage to sort out our travel issues, so when we returned at 11am, the joy continued as they had a room ready for us, when check in was not until 3pm. This is not the first time an InterContinental has been so obliging, but it is always appreciated.
Our room was on the 31st floor and as a ‘deluxe’ was the bottom of the range at this particular InterContinental – the main difference being 32sqm in size rather than the 35sqm of the next one up. So we still have a gigantic bed with its down pillows, a lounge for relaxation, plenty of space and a flash bathroom (with all the bells and whistles of all Japanese loos, including a choice of toilet tissue!). We also discovered that the bath was great for a nice, long soak with its moulded back support – a thoughtful design feature. The décor of the room was a dark wood, with ecru and latte walls in textured wallpaper, accented by the mood lighting and similarly tinted soft furnishings.
Despite all the elements conducive to an excellent night’s sleep, my unwelcome and persistent illness prevented good rest on my part. So the next morning our helpful concierge, Komiko, looked up how to spell pseudoephedrine in Japanese, wrote instructions on paper, and rang the nearest pharmacy to see if it was in stock. This level of service should come as no surprise in a country where honour is taken in such service, and in a hotel brand that prides itself on outstanding customer satisfaction.
After a full day of exploring highlights of Tokyo, we returned to our Japanese home on the 31st floor ready to enjoy some of the many facilities of The Strings by InterContinental. We headed to the Bubbles Bar in the 27 metre high open atrium, the perfect place for an aperitif or to meet with friends and chat before dinner. Our timing was perfect for happy hour in a venue that specialises in sparkling wine, such a hardship! Half price Champagne? Why, yes, thank you! On offer was a Jean Louis Blanc de Blanc Brut, which was not an especially expensive choice, but it was an easy-to-drink drop. We resisted the temptation of the big white ceramic tub of Tattinger bottles awaiting their customers at the entrance.
We took a second flute of bubbles with us into The Dining Room, a few metres away over a traditional wooden bridge crossing the indoor pond. We were sat close to the view of the kitchen, where all the action was on show, but silent behind a glass window. Front row seats, in the theatrical kitchen. We were also near the sommelier’s room, where one wall was 5 metres in height of glass revealing enticing bottles from all over the world.
This restaurant offers a fusion Asian and European menu, with a lovely range to suit all palates. We ordered an entrée of sea kelp broth with vegetables, brown rice and mixed beans – ideal in terms of subtle flavours and temperature. We followed this with two sides to split: Roasted vegetables of pumpkin, green beans, eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, eryngii mushrooms; and sautéed eryngii mushrooms and broccoli (that was also topped with paper thin shaved pieces of garlic that had been individually toasted). The roast vegetable dish had the perfect amount of salt to taste – subtle and pure, as were the flavours of the vegetables themselves, cooked to al dente.
On a gigantic screen in the atrium in view of both the Bubbles Bar and The Dining Room was a projection of the key scenes from the films Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck and Casablanca. While the scenes were silent, there was an atmospheric soundtrack in the background of now iconic voices, such as a duet of Tony Bennett and Diana Krall. These voices and their accompaniment subtly drifted throughout the space, the perfect volume to be heard but not dominate.
Subsequent night’s rests were blissful, thanks to the assistance of Komiko providing the means to obtain medication. Being our first stop on our tour of Japan, The Strings by InterContinental set a very high bar for all the accommodation to follow. While I am sure that Japanese service will be outstanding throughout the country, the staff members at this particular hotel thrive in their jobs and are exemplary at what they do.
Accommodation: The Strings by InterContinental