It’s not always easy creating an atmosphere in a large, high-ceilinged space. Neither is it easy to predict what a continually transient clientele might want to eat and drink.
The Hilton London Heathrow T4 has set about mastering both challenges with aplomb.
The very nature of being in an airport means that the clientele are passing through rather than perhaps visiting your hotel F&B establishment for a ‘destination’ experience.
With a very convenient connecting tunnel to the terminal, the hotel takes the form of a big glass cube with rooms and walkways zigzagging across an atrium. And it’s not easy to create a cosy ambience in such a place. But the team at Hilton London Heathrow T4 have found a few ways.
At the back of the atrium, giant sail-like canvases form a semi-permanent rood for Aromi, the 140-seater restaurant offering authentic Mediterranean food with modern influences.
Fresh ingredients feature in all of the innovative dishes on the menu, whether it’s a traditional aperitivo feast for a group of friends or a staple meal from Greece, Italy or Spain.
Aromi also serves the hotel breakfasts to approximately 200 to 250 guests per day.
The centre of the atrium is populated by the Dancers Bar and Oscar’s Restaurant.
Oscar’s is open daily, from early morning till late evening, serving around 150 covers a day. It offers a varied international menu with more comforting club-style food like burgers, mac ‘n’ cheese, chicken tikka masala and slow-cooked sticky ribs.
There is also a new vegan menu serving dishes such as butternut squash and coconut soup, vegetable and tofu ramen and raspberry frangipane tart.
At the Dancers Bar (presumably named after the two giant dancing sculptures atop the bar), the focus is on cocktails.
There are, of course, the classics as well as signature creations such as the Terminal 4 (Ron Zacapa Centebario Sistema Solera 23 Years Old, port, Chambord, cranberry juice and freshly squeezed lime juice) or the Lost in Translation (Suntory Chita Whisky, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur and freshly-squeezed lemon juice).
The number of speciality beers and wines available is exceptional, while the menu boasts a martini collection, a ‘Gin Garden’, a champagne list and a large whiskey collection.
Finally, tucked just off the atrium, with glass windows showing off those outside what they are missing, is Zen Oriental.
Serving about 100 covers daily from à la carte and set menus, Zen Oriental offers modern Chinese and authentic oriental specialities in a formal dining atmosphere, with dishes including crispy and aromatic Szechuan duck and braised prawns with ginger and spring onion.
To find out more about the challenges of catering for a busy airport hotel, we caught up with Hilton London Heathrow T4 executive chef Phillip Clarke.
Why is it important for hotels to have so many different styles under one roof?
We pride ourselves on offering a globally inspired menu. The variety we offer guests is as vital for new visitors as it is for returning guests joining us on our culinary journey. We know from the feedback we receive, food plays a central role in the memory of guests when they visit; whether they are here on business or jetting off on holiday.
Do you think that is specifically important at Hilton Heathrow T4 because of the international travellers?
Yes, definitely. Our dining options are designed with our guests in mind; we want them to enjoy an exciting, globally inspired menu. We are also mindful we need cater for different preferences, and by having these three options available our guests are always able to find something that suits their palate.
Why is it important for each F&B concept to have its own name, branding and style?
It is important that each F&B concept has its own style and branding to distinguish what is on offer. We like to reinforce each restaurant’s personality via distinct logos and carefully thought-through contemporary interior design and dedicated teams with a thorough knowledge of each bespoke menu.
All our eateries deliver alternative specialities. We sought to ensure the style of each restaurant was appropriate for the cuisine, and for the restaurants to create individual and genuine guest experiences.
How important is it for the majority of the hotel’s F&B offer to be in the central atrium?
This is very important as it gives guests an awareness of what the hotel offers as soon as they arrive, as well as the opportunity to dine without searching around the hotel after a long flight.
Does Zen Oriental provide an extra premium feel because of its location, sealed off from the main atrium?
Zen Oriental is separate from the main atrium and its location allows visitors to enjoy the restaurant’s ambience, perfect whether dining alone or in a group. We like to think, however, it is the first-class dishes and attentive service for which we are renowned which give the premium feel and see visitors return time after time.
Using the noblest ingredients, favourite dishes are taken to a new level and we enjoy seeing our guests’ delight. We’re also proud to see Zen Oriental is just shy of the top ten on TripAdvisor, rated 12th out of a whopping 300 restaurants in the local area as of January 2019.
Are your clientele always travellers, or do you have locals come to use the restaurants and bars?
I’m delighted to say we have local visitors and we also attract guests from neighbouring hotels!
What is the conversion rate for overnight guests to become F&B customers?
For breakfast around 48%, through outlets 60%.
Do you have commercial partnerships, for example on promoted cocktails, or a specific type of tea served?
Yes, at Dancers Bar in the main atrium, we’ve partnered with Franklin & Sons, designing an exclusive cocktail menu using only the finest gins paired with their award-winning range of tonics. We also have Piacetto coffee in Oscar’s bar and Oranka juices at breakfast, as well as support from Camden brewery.
Do you still have to adapt to modern trends?
Yes, we need to make sure we are always adapting so that we can cater for everyone’s dietary requirements. Drawing from healthy dining trends with a focus on sustainability, we’ve just launched a vegan menu using locally sourced plant-based proteins including dishes such as shiitake gyozas, tabbouleh salad and a vegetable, beetroot and quinoa burger.
What are the biggest challenges F&B faces within an airport hotel?
Flight times – if you have a late arrival after a long flight all you want to do is check in and go to bed, therefore not using our outlets. Also, if you are checking out early for a morning flight, it’s unlikely you’ll take advantage of dining in the restaurant for breakfast.