By David Armstrong
Not so long ago – 20 years, maximum – the world’s most populous metropolitan area had only a sprinkling of international name-brand hotels.
There were good hotels in Tokyo, to be sure (among them the venerable, Japanese-owned Imperial), but there were very few hotels run by high-end, big-name global brands. Among those that did exist, the Hilton Tokyo in the city’s Shinjuku district – which boasts the busiest railway station in the world – was probably the best-known.
International-brand, 5-star hotels began proliferating in Tokyo in the 1990s with the opening of the gorgeous, still-charming Park Hyatt Hotel in the Shinjuku district. More recently, other global brands such as Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La, Peninsula and Four Seasons have poured in, usually to the central-city Marunouchi and Ginza districts.
Hilton Worldwide’s Conrad Tokyo Hotel opened in July 2005, virtually on the lip of Tokyo Bay and about 20 minutes’ walk from Ginza’s gilt-edged shopping. I stayed at the Conrad for three nights in November 2010, while covering the return of major international air service at newly expanded Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND) and the growing coordination between American Airlines and Japan Airlines.
For years now, I have found Hilton-branded hotels to be consistently inconsistent. Generally speaking, its European and Asian hotels are ahead of the company’s North American properties when it comes to services and amenities. The Conrad Tokyo is one of the best anywhere, even within Hilton’s 5-star brand Conrad Hotels & Resorts. (All told, Hilton Worldwide has nine brands.)
The superb Conrad Tokyo occupies a glassy modern highrise just across a busy city street from the lovely Hamarikyu Garden, which has traditional wooden buildings, artfully landscaped grounds, pretty walking paths and hushed tea ceremonies. The fine madness of the bustling Tsukiji Fish Markets, ringed by inexpensive sushi joints, is another short walk away.
Accessed from the Conrad over Tokyo’s characteristic latticework of elevated walkways is Shiodome station, which puts the rest of the sprawling Japanese capital within reach by rail.
The 290-room Conrad provides a stylishly serene counterpoint to the uber-urbanism the visitor finds outside in the great city. The décor and interior design are impeccable, with the hotel’s lofty public spaces alternating with intimate snugs. Expansive windows bring in the sky and views of Tokyo Bay.
The hotel’s staff display the refinement and sensitivity of the best Asian hospitality. Swift banks of elevators whisk guests to their rooms, located on levels 28 through 37.
Guestrooms are large by traditional Tokyo standards – another change wrought by the introduction of global brands. Rooms come with wired Internet service and flat-screen televisions.
Guests wanting more services can use the well-appointed hotel business center. Guestroom bathrooms are plush and the beds comfortable, with the obligatory high-thread-count linens of a posh hotel. Rooms start at US$410.
The Conrad blends the comforts of a leisure-travel hotel and the functionality of a business hotel. This luxury property boasts a well-appointed Mizuki Spa, a 25-meter indoor pool and a fitness center. Two ballrooms, three banquet rooms and three meeting rooms for up to 450 are available.
Road warriors and sightseers alike will be pleased by the Conrad Tokyo’s food and beverage service. Although Tokyo – which has many thousands of restaurants, for every budget – is one of the world’s great food towns, time-pressed or just bone-weary travelers can dine and drink well without leaving the hotel.
Readers may be aware that the restaurants of Tokyo have earned the most Michelin stars of any city in the world, including Paris. Two of them belong to Conrad Tokyo restaurants: the one-Michelin-star China Blue – a contemporary Chinese restaurant, as befits its name – and the one-Michelin-star Gordon Ramsay at Conrad Tokyo, which turns out first-class pan-European cuisine.
I liked China Blue. I adored Gordon Ramsay at Conrad Tokyo. This surprised me. The British-born celebrity chef, a volatile staple of reality television in the United States, has often truck me from afar as a personality, more performer than chef.
Not so at this namesake hotel restaurant on the 28th floor, where Ramsay takes a turn in the kitchen from time to time, to assure quality control and introduce new dishes. It is one of the better up-market restaurants in town. That’s saying something in Tokyo, a city that has long since taken gastronomy to the level of fine art.
Rounding out the hotel’s dining, drinking and dancing menu is the Japanese restaurant Kazahana, the casual brasserie and breakfast spot Cerise by Gordon Ramsay and the nightclub Twenty Eight.
The Conrad Hotel Tokyo is located at 1-9-1 Higashi-Shinbashi, Minato-Ku, Tokyo 13 105-7337, Japan. Call +81-3-6388-8000 or visit www.Conrad.Hilton.com/Tokyo for more information and reservations.
David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist specializing in features, news and reviews about travel destinations, airports, airlines, hotels and resorts. He is the former tourism, aviation and international trade reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered tourism, movies, media and theater for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He is the author of five books and numerous travel articles for TheStreet.com, Travel + Leisure, Global Traveler, Napa Sonoma Magazine, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, Aviation.com and many others. He blogs at http://davidarmstrongontravel.blogspot.com.