Waking up on the 48th floor of the Mandarin Oriental San Francisco, I turned on the television in time to see Andy Murray win Wimbledon on the 7th day of the 7th month, 77 years after the last British man to win the championship. It was an auspicious moment, and it was a spectacular location in which to see it.
The third tallest building from ground level in San Francisco, the Mandarin Oriental occupies the first three floors and the top 11 floors of 222 Sansome Street in the heart of the city’s Financial District, only a few blocks down from the TransAmerica Pyramid and close enough to California Street to hear the rattle of the cable cars. At the top of the skyscraper, glass-walled corridors lead to the 158 rooms that enjoy spectacular views across San Francisco.
Those on the west side see Nob Hill and the Golden Gate Bridge, while those on the east look out to the Embarcadero, the Bay Bridge and Oakland, with its cluster of cranes that reputedly inspired George Lucas to create the shape of the AT-AT machines in Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back. My room was on the north-east plane, so I could see the TransAmerica Pyramid, Alcatraz, Treasure Island, the Bay Bridge and the southern end of the Bay.
On the third floor, in muted tones of fawn and gold, is the spa, where the skilled hands of Joy worked wonders on my back in an Oriental Essence massage. It was genuinely one of the best massages I had ever had, and she was particularly good at communicating what she found and how I could lessen the knots in my shoulders.
After luxuriating in a bathroom decked out in chestnut-coloured Italian marble, I descended to the bar at Brasserie S&P for cocktails. The hotel specializes in G&Ts, mixing its own tonic flavours to go with a remarkable range of gins; I tried the strawberry and basil tonic with with Junipero gin and a ripe strawberry – which had quite a kick. San Francisco is home to several gin distilleries, and the award-winning Junipero gin is made by the Anchor Distilling Company (www.anchordistilling.com) on Potrero Hill, not far from the hotel. Anchor is part of the Anchor Brewers & Distillers, together with Berry Bros & Rudd in London, which shares their commitment to quality and artisanal techniques. In such a cosmopolitan and historic city, such a partnership seems fitting.
If I were to quibble with this hotel, I would say it is a shame that the achingly stylish restaurant and bar don’t have a view. It is wonderful to have vistas from the bedrooms, but dining on the ground floor, with only a glimpse of the street, is rather underwhelming, and there’s little to say that you’re in San Francisco. A view of the Golden Gate Bridge by night would make this a true destination restaurant – especially as the food is superb. My calamari was sweet and juicy, the duck pleasingly light yet full of flavour, and the butterscotch and Chantilly-cream pudding almost made up for the lack of scenery. The winelist even included my favourite wine, a Malbec from Cheval des Andes in Argentina, which I first tasted on a far-off summer’s evening at Ham Polo Club in London.
After an excellent night’s sleep that culminated in the aforementioned triumph at Wimbledon – it was certainly a relief to find that I hadn’t dreamt it – eggs Benedict for breakfast was delicious, although not quite up to the standard of the previous night’s fare with the limited amount of Hollandaise sauce being a little too lemony. But the tea, thankfully, was real tea by Jing, and half an hour watching the Emirates New Zealand boat prepare for the first race of the America’s Cup round robin (www.americascup.com) from my bedroom saw off the morning nicely.
The rooms are comfortable, the food delicious and the spa top notch, but the views make this hotel. It is a rare treat to see the city from such a height, especially now that post-9/11 fears have closed the observation deck on the 27th floor of the TransAmerica Pyramid. San Francisco is one of the most staggeringly beautiful cities in the world, and no hour is wasted in gazing upon it.
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