What to Expect From a Chengdu Luxury Hotel
During our first trip to China in 2009, I was entirely overwhelmed by the experience of traveling in China. Despite our flashpacking budget back then, we stayed at Western chain hotels, just to have some sort of comfort and familiarity. For our recent visit to China, though, I wanted more. I wanted a great experience, great food, and a little bit of luxury. And, we found it at a relative new Chengdu luxury hotel.
Through our recent luxury travel experiences, we’ve learned what to expect from a luxury hotel. A well appointed room, a decadent lobby, well trained staff.
But, when traveling in China, I wasn’t sure if the same rules applied. Sure, we’ve stayed in luxury hotels in nearby Macau and Hong Kong. But, mainland China, well, that’s another story. Traveling in China is hard, so I expect a luxury hotel in Chengdu to eliminate the stress of China.
And, Niccolo Hotel did just that.
The hotel prides itself on incorporating some truly unique artwork from both local and international artists. After walking in through the glass enclosed tea lounge, artwork surrounded us. Niccolo touts its “contemporary urban chic” decor, but I don’t care what they call it. It’s impressive.
The most notable artwork was “Beijing Girl” by Zhang Xiang Ming. Her deep, soulful eyes greeted us each time we walked through the lobby.
Of course Niccolo Chengdu offered well appointed rooms, with luxury amenities and a comfortable bed.
But, what really set the hotel apart was the service, and the food. Niccolo Chengdu helped to arrange our visit to see the pandas, the Leshan Buddha, and a Chengdu food tour. In fact, we explored a lot of the Sichuan dining scene in Chengdu. But, we also ate some great meals right there in the Niccolo Chengdu. Because unlike hotel dining in the US, Asian luxury hotels offer some amazing dining experiences.
Yue Hin at Niccolo Chengdu
We arrived in Chengdu and didn’t even need to leave the hotel to experience local Sichuan food. At Niccolo Chengdu’s Yue Hin, we indulged in a tasting menu with about a dozen different dishes. We started with cold dishes, including a smoked fish and a ridiculously spicy cucumber skin. A series of hot dishes started to arrive at the table, so many that we quickly ran out of space on our table.
One of the more unique presentations included a deceptively simple double boiled pine mushroom soup with pork and chicken. Served in a tea pot, over a tea light candle, the soup came with a small Chinese style tea cup. I say deceptively simple as the soup was nothing more than a chicken broth, but packed such rich and condensed flavors.
A second soup involved a large vat of poached fish with mushrooms. More creamy, this soup tasted good. But the individual tea pot of broth stole the show on the soup front.
I’ve now eaten abalone multiple times in the last several months, particularly during some of our fancy Cantonese meals in Hong Kong. At Yue Hin, steamed abalone was served in a pea broth. It tasted tender and well prepared, but abalone is still not something I understand, or really get. It looked pretty though.
The highlights of the main course for me, though, were the Sichuan dishes. Dishes included one of my all time favorites, stir-fried chicken with Sichuan chili peppers. This dish should be served with the amount of chili peppers vastly outweighing the amount of chicken. It should leave the lips tingling. It did not disappoint.
And, a Sichuan style meat ball was loaded with a home-made pepper powder. It was similar to a five spice powder, but with the addition of Sichuan chilies.
At the end of the hot dishes, the server brought out what was described in the menu as “Vegetables Big Platter.” And, that is just what arrived. But the presentation was stunning, with each slice of vegetable laid across the plate to form a fan design. Bird’s nest and saffron trimmed the edges.
Then, the main courses arrived. No, all of the platters of food that covered every inch of our table were not enough. And, they were not even our main courses. A three tiered platter of dim sum arrived, including a goose pastry shaped like a swan, with little doughy panda bears on guard at each end. A wild mushroom steamed dumpling was topped with truffles. And a steamed bun, filled with mushroom and gravy, was made to look like a mushroom itself.
And, if this was not enough, a poached rice with lobster soup finished the meal. The Cantonese inspired soup seemed similar to something we’ve eaten in Hong Kong. For this version, the toasted rice was sprinkled into the soup table side, leaving the soup bubbling and popping from the rice.
Just as I felt the zipper to my dress start to give, dessert arrived. A large fried sesame ball, similar to a typical dim sum dish, was hallowed out and filled with a sweet almond cream along with bird’s nest. It was served alongside a unique presentation of two healthy juices, to aid in digestion, of course served in two test tubes.
This was exactly what I had hoped from a Chengdu luxury hotel, and something entirely different from our first experience travelling in China. With impeccable service, I felt spoiled, right from the start. And, I was stuffed.
Entrees at Yue Hin start as low as $10, with speciality dishes obviously being more.
Check out our YouTube video on what to eat in Chengdu:
Niccolo Kitchen at Niccolo Chengdu
One of the reasons why I love traveling with friends is that it means we can try so many more dishes when we eat. Normally, Eric and I are limited to 3 or 4 dishes. But if there are six people at a table eating family style, we get to taste everything! It’s why we were able to taste so many different dishes at Yue Hin. And, our dinner at Niccolo Kitchen felt as though we ate every thing on the menu. And, the menu is about 8 pages long.
Niccolo Kitchen serves an international menu. Despite this, almost everything we ate offered some element of, minimally, Asian influences, but often Sichuan influences. It started with a Sichuan spicy lobster pizza, which included miniature mountains of diced Sichuan pepper sprinkled on each slice. It was easily the spiciest pizza I’ve eaten in a very long time.
A former chef from Niccolo developed their NK Cheeseburger. Based on an In-n-Out burger, it’s served complete with sauteed onions, and special sauce. Although not Asian inspired, for an expat living in Asia, the burger tasted pretty spot on, down to the bun. French fries accompanied the burger, but I made sure to order the special basket of spicy Sichuan pepper fries. The spice of the pepper mixed perfectly with the tangy ketchup. I never let that basket of fries out of my sight.
And, not to cater too much to the pescatarian friend in our group, we indulged in NK’s Meat Lovers’ Delight. The platter included some of the most tender and juicy lamb chops, grilled chicken, and soy marinated short ribs. Presented in a large cast iron pan, the server placed this mountain of meat directly in front of Eric, most likely intentionally.
Before we even made a dent in our mega meat platter, the server delivered over one kilo of fresh whole prawns in spicy Sichuan seasonings. We all tried our best to make it through the dishes. But, once again, I left dinner stuffed.
At Niccolo Kitchen, dishes start around $10. Not surprisingly, the Meat Lovers’s Delight is around $60, but serves two to three people. Desserts at Niccolo Kitchen start around $6. Considering the quality of the food, the prices were entirely reasonable for a Chengdu luxury hotel.
Afternoon Tea at Niccolo Chengdu
I am infatuated with the notion of afternoon tea.
Niccolo Chengdu’s Tea Lounge is beautiful, with tall ceilings, glass walls, contemporary decor. Each and every table had a squishy little teddy bar to enjoy tea with. It might be a little gimmicky, but I loved sitting with a teddy by my side while eating scones and cream and cucumber sandwiches. I felt like a little girl playing dress up. This is why I am so infatuated with afternoon tea.
Eric chose a white tea, Bai Hao Yin Zhen, solely because it translated to “the pretty lady tea.” I tried not to point out that he wore a salmon colored shirt and green pants, while drinking pretty lady tea. I went traditional and stuck with the green tea from the local mountains. The selection of finger sandwiches complemented the tea, and it all felt very elegant. Again, entirely different from our experience in China in 2009.
The Tea Lounge at Niccolo Chengdu serves high tea each afternoon, from 1-5 pm. The tea set costs around $40 for 2 people, with tea priced separately depending the specific tea ordered.
Check out our YouTube video of what to do in Chengdu:
Eating French Food at a Chengdu Luxury Hotel
I never thought I would be eating French food in China. It was, of course, not the reason why we were traveling to Chengdu. Our trip focused on spicy Sichuan food. But, Niccolo Hotel had a visiting chef from Xiamen, China, in for a promotion the week we were in Chengdu. And, the chef just happened to be from France. This is how we ended up eating French food in Chengdu.
Having met with Chef Olivier early in the day, he promised us frogs legs. I am used to eating Asian style frogs legs, mostly in Vietnam. They are often deep fried and seasoned with garlic, chili, and lemongrass. During our French river cruise, we ate a whole frog in a creamy sauce with tomato and pepper. But, Chef Olivier’s version was Provencale style, layered with tomatoes and juicy green peppers.
Along with the frogs legs, we enjoyed an escargot that rivaled some of the escargot we enjoyed in Lyon, France. This version included hunks of ham in a creamy sauce. The escargot itself tasted tender and juicy.
The server then arrived with one of our main courses, a giant cast iron pan with two rather large confit duck legs, served with sautéed potatoes and fresh carrots. Some miscommunication with the server seemed to imply that we were about to receive two portions of confit. In the end, they served two portions in the one pan. Thank goodness because as Eric began to carve up the Flintstone-sized duck legs, two large platters of beef bourguignon arrived. Tender pieces of beef stewed in burgundy wine served over a fresh hand made pasta.
But, this was not all. These were just our “starter mains.” The real main course arrived in the form of an oversized vat of bouillabaisse from Marseille. The bouillabaisse we just tried during our French river cruise was much lighter than this Marseille version. Here, the bouillabaisse teemed with an entire slow poached fish, enormous mussels, prawns, crab, and more. Stick a chopstick in me. I was done.
Once dessert arrived, particularly because it was our last day in Chengdu, I was, once again cumulatively stuffed. The occupational hazards of being a food travel blogger. But, I managed to make room for a spice topped creme brûlée, and a icy nougat with raspberry coulis.
I am not familiar enough with French cuisine to know how authentic this meal was. All I know is that it tasted amazing, and the food well prepared. I would expect nothing less from a luxury hotel, even if we were eating French food in China.
Listen to our food travel podcast where we spoke with French Chef Olivier.
Chef Olivier’s special French dinner was served at Niccolo Kitchen, alongside the regular menu. Prices were comparable to regular entree prices.
All in I was super thrilled with our Chengdu luxury hotel experience, and everything that Niccolo Chengdu offered. It was our first time staying with the brand, and I am excited to see what they are going to do in the future.