Tatler Checks Into...Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi
There are generally two types of travellers to the Maldives—those willing to embrace a (sometimes turbulent) seaplane ride across the vast Indian Ocean from the capital Male to secluded islands; and those who prefer to eschew that plane ride in favour of a calmer yacht transfer to a nearby resort.
If you belong to the latter ilk, the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi could be your dream destination. This luxurious resort that officially opened in the last quarter of 2019 is only a 30-minute boat ride away from the capital and offers no less an authentic experience from its more isolated competitors.
From the outset, it’s obvious the owners of the resort (the Hilton Group) are big on size. This Waldorf is currently the largest island in the Maldives; boasts the largest spa in the country; has an additional 30,000 sqm private island (for royalty, celebrities and anyone with US$65,000 a night to spare) that is currently the largest private island in the Maldives; offers villas that are the biggest in their respective categories among all the resorts, and has 11 celebrated restaurants on-site—making it the current resort in the Maldives with the most food choices.
The luxury yacht that picks you up at the Male International Airport is a harbinger of things to come and it foretells that your holiday is going to be a big, bold affair!
When you step onto the wooden decks at Ithaafushi, two things tell you that you’re at a Waldorf. One is the Peacock Alley bar that welcomes you at the hotel lobby – every Waldorf in the world has a Peacock Alley. The other is a huge sundial that sits in the gardens just outside the main lobby. The most recognisable feature of any Waldorf hotel in the world is its lobby that houses a clock, or an interpretation of it.
The Waldorf in New York has an ornate, four time-zone clock by Goldsmith’s Company of London. Its Bangkok counterpart houses an Art Deco clock-themed lattice created by designer Andre Fu. And here at the Maldives sits a majestic bronze sundial, one of the most ancient forms of a “clock”, engraved with patterns inspired by the symbols at the Friday mosque back at the capital.
Staring at it against the sunset, you get a sense of the respect the Maldivians have for the history of the land.
Do Not Disturb
“Do not disturb” is the mantra of this resort that seems to have been designed for guests who want to be left alone.
There’s a private island you can book. No, I’m not referring to one of those sand banks you can head out to for a picnic. This private island is more than 30,000 sqm large and is designed for a unique clientele that may come with a posse of friends, extended family, security detail and a household of nannies. The island has its own gym, spa and entertainment centre so you can let down your hair away from the glare of the public. All this, for a price tag of US$65,000 a night.
There’s also an isolated villa option called the Stella Maris villa that stands on its own, perched on the water, away from the main island. Only two people are allowed to occupy per villa (even though it’s large enough to house 10!) to ensure it remains quiet and secluded.
For the rest of us who like the buzz of the main island, it’s good to know that the Waldorf is now the hotel that offers the largest rooms in every category in the Maldives.
I spent a week in the two-bedroom Reef Villa and found it to be ideal for a family with grown-up children or a family travelling with helpers. The naming of this villa is misleading, though. You may think it is one villa with two bedrooms when really, it’s a vast compound with two separate villas. Children can retire early in their own villa while parents can have their privacy in the adjacent main villa.
If you suffer from separation anxiety and need the kids to be in the same villa, go for either the two-queen-bedded Villas (two beds in one villa) or the two-bedroom Beach Villa (two rooms within one villa). The options can be confusing so do clarify the villa configuration before booking.
The villas are more modern than rustic, which is a departure from the style of most Maldivian resorts. Pitched roofs, ceiling fans and other charming elements of island living remain but the technology within each villa makes city dwellers feel right at home.
Each “smart villa” offers you the ability to control every aircon, light and curtain from just one control panel on your iPad. What’s the big deal, you ask? Well consider this: You’re nicely tucked into bed when you realise you’ve left the lights on at the swimming pool deck. Not a problem, just tap on the iPad. Is aircon too cold in the middle of the night? Tap the iPad. Want to open the blinds in the morning while still lolling around in bed? Ipad. The convenience of having a smart control system cannot be overstated when it comes to sizeable villas where walking from one end to the other can count as exercise.
For starters, there is a butler who is attached to you throughout your entire stay and you reach him through a mobile phone given to you upon arrival that has him on speed dial.
Bespoke dining options is another plus. Let’s say you were feeling antisocial and wanted to dine under the stars in complete privacy. A dining table could be set up for you in the most unexpected of spots throughout the island.
For travellers who now make destination decisions based on the sustainable practices of a resort, you’d be glad to know that the Waldorf has its own bottling plant on site that distils an average of 3,000 litres of water a week for villa consumption. The resort also generates hot water for guest villas by cleverly harnessing and recycling the excess heat produced from the main power generations, thereby doing away with additional boilers.
Food and Drink
In this department, the Waldorf gets top billing in my books. It is rare to hear someone say they would return to a beach resort because of its food but the Waldorf could make it a first, with the efforts it has put into developing its food establishments and executing the singular vision of Chef Vijayakant Shanmugam, its Director of Culinary who believes, “It’s not about creating new menus; It’s about making that one menu perfect.”
Not only are the various restaurants helmed by chefs that hail from the country of the cuisine, but the décor of every restaurant has also been carefully curated by interior designers (mainly Stickman Tribe, an international boutique studio) to ensure your experience goes beyond what is on the table.
Admittedly, when I first read that there was a speciality Chinese restaurant that served a “signature Peking duck”, I was ready to be disappointed. How good could an imported drake be in the middle of the Indian Ocean? I stood corrected.
The Peking duck at Li Long served in thin pancakes with sweet sauce, could easily have come from a top Chinese restaurant in Singapore or Hong Kong.
The meat was succulent, tender and imbued with a smokiness that only a brick wood-fired oven could achieve. I bravely ordered the xiao long bao and again, was impressed. Each dumpling was expertly folded and filled with rich stock that I could hardly believe came from a restaurant at a Maldivian resort.
A stunning 800kg chinoiserie-style bell hangs as a centrepiece in the main dining hall against the backdrop of delicate floral walls, ceilings and chinaware. Li Long is designed to look like a Shanghainese noble residence and its interiors are as much a feast for your eyes as its food is.
The restaurant that gives Li Long a run for its money is Yasmeen that serves Levant cuisine in a setting that resembles that of an old Arabian village. It is fascinating to find out that the artefacts and antiques that line the walls of the restaurant are the real deal, from 400-year-old wooden doors to ancient cooking utensils to natural sea sponges used for bathing in the old days.
This historical ambience sets you up for a heightened experience when your mezzes arrive. A must-order is the Mouajanat Mix (the Middle Eastern version of tapas) that includes the flavourful Kibbeh and Sambousik Soujouk. The Tabbouleh and Baba Ganoush is one of the best I’ve had but I recommend you order the humble hummus, not only because it is delicious but also because of what it has endured getting to your table.
Chef Vijay shares, “The Yasmeen chefs come from all over the Middle East, from Lebanon to Syria. You won’t believe the number of debates we’ve had in the kitchen about how hummus is supposed to taste like. Everyone has his own opinion and we’ve done a lot of experimenting!”
Assuming you stay for a minimum of three days at the Waldorf, that would give you plenty of time to try the other food establishments. Here’s what should be on your itinerary and why:
If you like Asian food, the authenticity of the noodle soups here would make you feel right at home. The miso cod ramen comes with a toe-curling lobster broth. The Vietnamese beef pho tastes like the real stuff from the street but with an upgrade that includes wagyu beef slices and handmade beef balls.
The Ledge by Dave Pynt
This Australian barbecue restaurant by Dave Pynt (of Singapore’s Burnt Ends) is like an upmarket surfer’s joint, with its modern rustic interior and rock playlist. Its open brick oven delivers a wagyu beef burger par none – juicy and charred to perfection. The Grissini and Ikura appetizer is a must, as is the grilled octopus and whole lobster that taste great because they’re freshly caught right here.
Singaporeans would remember this restaurant that was once at the Hilton. Well, it’s back and fully embracing its garden-to-table roots in an eclectic, bohemian setting. The Organic Meatball and Braised Endive Soup was comforting in its simplicity while the Seared Maldivian Yellow Fin Tuna Salad was complex in flavours and is just the kind of light lunch one might desire under the hot sun.
The most extravagant menu on the island comes from Terra and it’s worth the price tag. Nestled among the tree branches are seven individual bamboo dining rooms shaped like bird nests. There you will feed on the finest ingredients that can be brought or found in the Maldives (Miyazaki Wagyu Beef A4, anyone?). The degustation menu here changes periodically so ask for the current one prior to your visit.
Breakfast is an occasion here. If you’re having it at Tasting Table, reach for the Bellavaire yoghurt in the fridge. It’s an artisanal brand only yoghurt connoisseurs recognise. The Au Lait Entier is classic, of course, but the Figue Cannelle is a must-have.
If having breakfast in your room, ask for the floating breakfast baskets. They’re novel and perfect for more Instagram pictures!
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