Is there a more competitive hospitality market anywhere on earth?
New York as a whole is obviously no shrinking violet, but the hotels standing along Central Park South read like a guide to global hospitality.
Everybody who is anybody is here, and to come out on top, you have to be the best.
Mandarin Oriental – towering 280 feet above ground level – is certainly up to the task, having redefined the luxury experience in Manhattan.
At street level the hotel is part of a four-story retail complex, home to Time Warner’s world headquarters, the Jazz at Lincoln Centre, and a host of exclusive shops.
Rising from this base are two crystalline buildings, with the Mandarin Oriental located in the north building, spanning floors 35-54.
It certainly makes for an impressive arrival.
Whisked to the 35th-floor Sky Lobby during a fleeting visit earlier this month, I was overawed by the views – a dramatic panorama of Central Park and Manhattan.
Since its completion in 2003, the property has slowly but surely shifted the tourism centre of gravity toward this corner of the park, with hundreds of sightseers now bustling below in the sunshine.
Once you have drunk in the views, for an hour or so, there is plenty more on offer in the lobby, with the space currently being refurbished for the arrival of The Aviary NYC.
Coming to Mandarin Oriental following a deal with the widely-acclaimed Alinea Group, the new location will reflect the core principles of their Chicago flagship while taking inspiration from the historically-rich cocktail culture of New York City.
Comprising 90 seats, guests will be offered an interactive experience, featuring an open kitchen where inventive cocktails and small food plates will be masterminded by chefs and bartenders.
In the adjacent space, The Office will provide a speakeasy-style cloister.
With a further 40 seats, it will feature a world-class rare spirits collection, classic cocktails, and an entirely different food menu from The Aviary.
“Given our location in the heart of one of the world’s premier culinary destinations, it is extremely exciting to collaborate with these talented restaurateurs and introduce The Aviary concept to Mandarin Oriental, New York,” explained Susanne Hatje, general manager at Mandarin Oriental, New York.
Work is set to be complete in the summer – providing the perfect excuse to visit.
After another quick glance out the window, check in is as smooth as can be, and it is time to head upstairs.
Back in the lift and it takes only a moment to reach the rooms.
The property, the flag-ship hotel from the brand in the Americas, is home to just 244 guestrooms and suites, with each offering views over Central Park or the Hudson River.
The colour scheme in the standard rooms – which are anything but standard – is ivory with blue accents, while the furniture is inspired by pieces from the 1940s.
Of course there are large televisions, leather finished hardwood desks, an extensive mini-bar, and a deep, comfortable bed.
A chaise lounge placed to allow views over the cityscape is also an indulgent touch.
The bathrooms feature Spanish marble in soft beige and a cherry vanity with Italian granite, while many feature soaking tubs situated with views out of the windows.
The feeling throughout is of being connected to the city, which is visible below, but at the same time a world away, on an island of quiet sophistication.
On the corners of each floor, the hotel hosts one- and two-bedroom suites.
Each offers views over Central Park, the Hudson River or the Manhattan skyline, and has been conceived to reflect New York life throughout the course of a day: at sunrise, dusk and night.
Designed by architecture firm HOK, the 42 suites blend a modern interpretation of Mandarin Oriental’s Asian flair with a luxurious, residential aesthetic.
Even further up the luxury ladder, the Oriental Suite and the Presidential Suite, both offer all of the above, but are decorated with Asian artefacts and artwork.
These vast spaces include antique textiles, paintings and a 250-year-old parchment calligraphy book featuring Chinese characters conveying a story of happiness and good fortune.
The carved figures accompanying the book are ornaments from furnishings of the same period.
Some of the finest accommodations anywhere in the world.
For a stylish breakfast or sophisticated evening meal, Asiate, on the 35th floor, is a must during any stay at Mandarin Oriental, New York.
I was invited to experience the tasting menu during my visit – and it is easy to see why the location is ranked as one of the best in the city.
Settled in a two man booth for the night, it was easy to forget the restaurant was there.
Menu hghlights include basted Hudson Valley foie gras with 64˚ duck egg, porcini and turnip; Arctic Sea char with Romanesco, Kalamata and grapefruit; and Duo of Grass-Fed Wagyu Tenderloin with bone marrow, sweet potato and piquillo pepper.
The menu is complemented by an extensive wine list, featuring classic bottlings as well as more eclectic and little-known wineries, all drawn from a gleaming floor-to-ceiling glass cabinet which displays 3,000 bottles at the Asiate entrance.
At breakfast, guests can enjoy the morning sun coming through the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows while indulging in a selection of healthy, yet hearty dining options.
With wellness being such an important element to the Mandarin Oriental brand, it is no surprise to discover the New York property has one of only two five-star spas in the city.
Honouring the eastern heritage of the brand, the spa offers holistic rejuvenation in a tranquil, meditative setting.
Within the spa is a 6,000 square-foot fitness centre, offering a range of state-of-the-art cardiovascular and kinesis weight training equipment, plus a 75-foot lap pool bathed in natural sunlight from floor-to-ceiling windows with spectacular Hudson River views.
Given the limitations on space in New York, the pool comes as a particularly welcome surprise, a warm, tranquil place from which to gaze down upon the city.
Mandarin Oriental, New York also features a 6,000 square-foot pillar-less ballroom with three walls of windows providing stunning views overlooking Central Park, along with three additional rooms for executive meetings.
However, the feeling is more suited to smaller, social functions, with the hotel acting as a wonderful backdrop to that special day.
High season is during early summer and Christmas periods, while rates might fall slightly in January and August – making these great times to visit for those on a budget.
But with a property this good, who needs an excuse?
Getting to New York:
Wondering how to get to New York?
For travellers from the UK, the Delta and Virgin Atlantic partnership offers nine flights a day between London Heathrow and New York.
Eight of these are to New York-JFK with one to Newark.
These flights are timed for business passengers, with regular morning flights from Heathrow and evening flights departing every 30 to 60 minutes.
Fares start at £397 for seats in the Main Cabin, while starting at £2,092 for Delta One, inclusive of all taxes.
Customers can book via the official website.
For more information on visiting the city head over to the official NYC & Company website.
The five-star Mandarin Oriental, New York redefines the hotel experience in Manhattan.
Its design and unique location in the Time Warner Centre coupled with the brand’s legendary hospitality makes it one of the city’s most distinct and sophisticated hotels.
Find out more on the official website.