Majestic Hotel Malaysia: Majesty's pleasure

COLONIAL CLASS: The Orchid Conservatory.
COLONIAL CLASS: The Orchid Conservatory.

Aras Sobooti has my head tilted back and a blade at my throat. In any other circumstance this situation may be disconcerting, but here in the barber's chair of Truefitt & Hill it is a pleasurable close shave that is coming up.

Sobooti's hand is sure and steady as he pushes the cut-throat through the rich shaving cream, dabbed on with a traditional badger-hair brush.

London-headquartered Truefitt & Hill is the oldest barber shop chain in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records, and this old-fashioned hot-towel wet shave is one of its most enduring treatments.

MAJESTIC MALAYSIA: Majestic's swimming pool.
MAJESTIC MALAYSIA: Majestic's swimming pool.

I'm at the restored colonial-style Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, which has taken the barber-shop brand into its 1930s-era Smoke House, modelled on a gentlemen's club with a bespoke tailor, a cigar room, a small movie room screening black-and-white classics, and a bar with billiard table.

The hotel reopened just over a year ago, and so good is its colonial ambience and restoration at the hands of the YTL Hotels group, it has been compared with the style and elegance of Raffles in Singapore and the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok.

Bellboys wearing pith helmets, white shirts, shorts and long socks wait in the heat in the driveway to open doors and carry luggage.

Inside, there are 47 suites in the whitewashed five-storey Majestic Wing, each serviced by butlers.

My art deco-furnished suite has a separate bedroom and lounge. There are soft carpets, plantation shutters, comfortable sofas and armchairs, a large writing desk, a rain shower and a clawfoot bath on black-and-white tiles.

Surprisingly, one night I return to the suite to find the bath drawn by the butler with soapy bubbles billowing to the brim over the steaming-hot water, candles flickering and a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket within handy reach of the tub.

The hotel originally opened in 1932 and was a Kuala Lumpur landmark, hosting glamorous social events and celebrities, among them actor David Niven and author Graham Greene. It closed in 1983, to be taken over by the National Art Gallery.

The YTL's in-house magazine reports that an auction took place to get rid of the hotel's furnishings to make way for the gallery.

As it went through its death throes, rubbish was strewn throughout the hotel and piled up under its gold-leaf domed ceiling, which is now the centrepiece of the dark-wood-panelled main bar where the resident pianist plays in tuxedo. Humphrey Bogart would approve.

The vintage cocktail list includes punches and fizzes, as well as the hotel's signature drink, the "Code 55 and 2 Bulat", named after an incident at the bar many decades ago when a disgruntled wife confronted her cheating husband and mistress and asked a barman for a Colt 55 and two bullets. The barman was puzzled, thinking she was asking for a cocktail.

High teas are also served, in the adjacent Colonial Cafe, or you can take your scones and cream in the Orchid Conservatory, a glass atrium with space for about 15 people among thousands of orchids.

But there is more to this hotel than first meets the eye. It has a split personality.

There is also a new 15-storey tower wing, with 253 modern rooms, ballroom and gymnasium.

The Contango restaurant, in this new section, is an example of made-to-order buffet dining at its highest quality, with an ethnic mix including Malay, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and a churrasco grill.

And upstairs in the tower wing rooms, you can not only soak in a tub full of bubbles after the buffet, but you can watch television on the wall-mounted bathroom screen. If you drop the remote control into the water it doesn't matter, because it's waterproof.

The writer was a guest of the Majestic Hotel and travelled courtesy of AirAsiaX.


WHERE Majestic Hotel, 5 Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, Kuala Lumpur.

HOW MUCH Rooms in the Majestic Wing from 735MYR ($262) a night.

TOP MARKS The Majestic Spa, with the "English Afternoon Tea" treatment including a blackberry and cream scrub.

BLACK MARK Busy roads dominate the neighbourhood. Take a taxi, or the hotel's shuttle bus, for a quick getaway to attractions such as the shopping district of Bukit Bintang.

DON'T MISS The old wing for colonial charm.