Conventional wisdom says that beggars can’t be choosers, but in Israel they can certainly have chutzpa. Thus when the PR people for the Waldorf Astoria invited me to spend a night on the house so that I could report on the amenities of Jerusalem’s newest luxury hotel, my response was that I would accept only if they would put me in the presidential suite. Prima donna? No. The reasoning was simple. The Waldorf Astoria is part of the Hilton Worldwide chain and is located across the street from the David Citadel, which was originally managed by Hilton, which at the time had hosted me in that hotel’s presidential suite.
Making that point to people in the hotel industry required no further argument, so we struck a deal for the presidential suite, which is actually one of two suites: the Palace on the eighth floor and the Noble on the ninth.
The two are almost identical, with floor space in the Palace a little larger but without the benefit of the wrap-around balcony of the Noble suite. Depending on the season, the cost of staying in either suite is in the range of $5,000 per night. Happily, I was given the Noble suite, which gave me access to the balcony and the chance to go out into the night air to see the urban panorama of the Jerusalem skyline and to enjoy the breeze.
The suite was situated right next to the small double-door hallway that contained an elevator bank with four elevators operated only by electronic smart cards, guaranteeing the safety and security of guests.
The staff at the hotel have been trained to greet guests with a smile and to be pleasantly rather than stiffly courteous.
Guest relations manager Amira Lauer, who greeted me upon my arrival and escorted me to the suite, had a dazzling smile. When I told her that she could make a lot of money doing toothpaste commercials, she admitted that her husband was a dentist.
A person staying for one night can only sample the amenities but not really enjoy them to the full because there isn’t enough time to absorb them all. I gave the sauna a miss but couldn’t resist the Jacuzzi or the shower in the unusually spacious shower stall.
One of the things I love about luxury hotels is that most have deep bathtubs, and the one at the Waldorf Astoria was almost too deep for me. There was a television screen above the tub, and a smaller one was embedded in the mirror above the double sinks. There was also a TV in the living room and in the bedroom. The bathroom suite had an additional room with a frosted glass door that allowed for privacy in the toilet. The room also contained a bidet.
The bathroom area, with its Italian marble floor, was long, and the Jacuzzi was set on a pedestal, creating a sense of drama almost akin to some sacred ritual. The towels, which were much more plentiful than at most hotels, were large, fluffy and soft, adding to the lush aura.
The spacious bedroom had a bed just under queen size. There was an upholstered bench at the foot, a chaise longue in the corner, and lots of storage space for items that go in drawers. There was also a white orchid and a wooden tray bearing exquisite handmade chocolates.
The bed was the most comfortable I had ever slept in anywhere in the world. The base was hard, but it felt like there was a duvet under the pure cotton sheet. I found out later that it was a mattress cover imported from the United States and was informed that nothing of that quality was available in Israel.
The hallway outside the bedroom and the bathroom led to a dressing room with wall-to-wall closets, a tall chest of drawers and a vanity table.
Next to the dressing room was a kitchen equipped with tea and coffee makers, as well as a service for 12 of dishes, glassware and cutlery. But there was no stove or toaster oven.
The dining-room area had a magnificent table with semicircular corners, surrounded by 10 well-padded chairs. The fruit tray atop the moss green tablecloth contained a variety of fresh fruits.
The public space in this very long suite had no room dividers. In the center, opposite the entrance, was a large desk with three chairs. Farther on was the living room with two couches of different designs, an armchair and several round coffee tables. Refreshments such as assorted cookies, chocolates, nuts, olives, other munchies, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages were strategically placed throughout, with a varied array of beverage glasses. The hallway in front of the desk had a closet for coats and hats, as well as a separate toilet area.
Even those who can easily afford to stay in such a suite have a tendency to take home the toiletries, shoe bags and laundry bags supplied by the hotel. At the Waldorf Astoria, guests are treated to a kitbag with essential toiletries for him and a cardboard box of two skincare creams for her by Ahava, plus Ferragamo shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and shower gel.
My stay included dinner and breakfast.
The fact that the hotel’s two restaurants are located in open areas on both sides of the breathtaking lobby, with its various settings of furniture, its glorious flowers, its fountain and its sense of the elegantly exotic, makes dining an added pleasure because the environment is so inviting.
Dinner was a delight – so much so that I even broke my diet. Initially, I was given a menu from which I wanted to order liver pâté (NIS 79), which is one of my favorites, and medallions of lamb (NIS 182) as a main course. But before either could arrive, executive chef Itzik Mizrachi Barak, who until two months ago was executive chef at the rival David Citadel Hotel, came to my table and said, “Let’s pamper you a little.”
So I let the chef decide what might appeal to my palate. In the meantime, I munched on the crunchy warm bread and tasty dips that had been brought to my table. Who could resist? The apple juice I ordered was freshly made, with some of the pulp still in the glass.
Barak’s first choice for me was barbounia.
It was beautifully textured, lightly fried to the palest golden brown, but too bland. Next was a chicken consommé with tiny caramelized onions, which gave it a slightly sweet flavor. Swimming in the soup were tagliatelli and some tiny mushrooms.
This dish was definitely a success, being both light and hearty at the same time. Next was sea bass, which was fresh and tasty. After that came a medallion of entrecote steak with baby baked potatoes, diced beetroot, pea pods, a sliver of potato puree and one thinly sliced potato chip. The steak was thick, juicy and excellent.
Barak then went off duty, and the waitress asked me if I wanted anything else. I was still hankering for the liver pâté and had no room for the lamb, so I asked for the liver. It tasted almost exactly like my mother’s – and she was a superb cook.
Throughout the meal, I was approached by a wine waiter, a soft-drink waiter, two waitresses, the marketing manager, the maître d’ and, of course, Barak, who all wanted to make sure that I was satisfied. I noticed that nearly every table had its own waiter or waitress, which is rare in most Israeli restaurants.
The menu was quite extensive. The starters included roasted pumpkin soup (NIS 48), salmon gravlax (NIS 72), tuna, sea bream and salmon ceviche (NIS 68) and beef carpaccio (NIS 78).
The most expensive of the main courses was the beef steak on the bone (NIS 286), but taking into account that it’s 700 grams, which very few people have a large enough appetite to consume, it was really not that expensive in relation to the other items, which included veal chops and red lentil ravioli (NIS 82), duck two ways (NIS 129), pan-seared chicken breast (NIS 86), ribeye steak 300 grams (NIS 178) and spring chicken (NIS 155).
While dinner had been delightful, I could not enthuse to the same extent about the breakfast the following morning.
Whereas I had been overwhelmed with service the previous evening, I was all but ignored at breakfast. The buffet breakfast (NIS 144) was plentiful and varied, but I never got the chance to order an omelet or eggs Benedict because no staff member approached my table to ask if I wanted anything. As someone who seldom eats breakfast but who discovered due to kosher limitations that smoked salmon on pineapple or watermelon is very tasty, that’s what I usually have even in a kosher hotel like the Waldorf Astoria. It was disappointing to see that the pineapple was blemished with brown spots. This was something quite unexpected in a hotel of this standard.
The service at breakfast was less than one gets in a three-star hotel and so different from the overabundance of service at dinner. Still, considering that I was going straight home, where there is no service at all, it was almost appropriate to end the luxury slumber party on a low note to bring me back to Earth. The writer was a guest of the hotel.