DoubleTree by Hilton JB in my momentous year

As this exciting year draws to an end I’m looking back with deep gratitude, at the strong working partnership I have with DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru, the hotel located at No. 12 Jalan Ngee Heng.

My place card on the table for a food preview event
It all started in early 2014 when I was invited to the hotel at its pre-opening stage while furniture and fixtures were being installed. Escorted by then General Manager, Simon McGrath, I had an interesting and most unforgettable tour of the hotel.

Simon led me through a maze of stairs and corridors, taking detours to the back-of-the-house and around the building to see various venues as the hotel was taking shape.

I shared his excitement as I visualized the elegance and sophistication in the building when the jobs were completed and the hotel was ready to open for business.

That was because I spent a large part of my childhood living with our grandparents at No. 154, situated opposite the hotel.

Our grandfather's house was across the road from the hotel,
at the top of the road, adjacent to the row of shops
Growing up here, I had never imagined that this old road could be reinvented and turned into a destination with contemporary style for a clientele of urbane tastes!

Our grandfather’s house was a double-storey bungalow with a badminton court in the compound, at the top of the road adjacent to the row of prewar shops.

In those days this row of double-storey shops used to house family-run Chinese provision stores, Indian laundries or dhoby, a coffee shop and a tinsmith while the upper floor were living quarters.

I explained to Simon that while this row of shops was preserved, grandfather’s house was demolished in 1977 to make way for the construction of Jalan Tun Abdul Razak.

The chefs in the Chinese kitchen at Makan Kitchen
All that was left of our family home was part of the driveway where an enterprising trader had set up his food-stall and expanded its premises over the years.

When DoubleTree by Hilton JB prepared to open its doors to welcome their first guests on July 1, I was invited for a trial stay along with other guests that included Hilton Honors members, the property owners and media representatives.

I remember receiving their signature giant chocolate chip cookie upon checking-in and how I was tasked with the responsibility to use the hotel facilities and experience the food outlets so as to provide constructive feedback in detailed forms.

This was how committed the hotel was to their hospitality brand.

Guest chef in action at the
Beijing La-Mian promotion
So after I sampled their food and interacted with the staff (and submitted those forms), I was glad the hotel took a serious view of my comments of their food quality, facilities and service standards and made the necessary adjustments to improve.

In 2011, I met young artist, Yap Hanzhen and challenged him to move from drawing animals and small creatures to sketching Johor Baru’s heritage buildings.

When his impressive sketches was exhibited in Landmark Mall, the building owner, the Daiman Group commissioned him to compile a collection of JB heritage buildings in a book.

The book entitled, Johor Bahru – My City, My Heritage, was launched at an event held in the DoubleTree by Hilton JB on 16 Jan 2015, as a helpful guide to hotel guests and visitors to JB to seek out these heritage buildings on a walking tour.

Hanzhen was also commissioned to provide a collection of his beautiful sketches, including his heritage buildings sketches, to decorate the walls of the hotel lobby, its corridors and Tosca, the Italian trattoria.

The happy chefs with a selection of specialties for
the Ramadan spread
In the next few months as Simon got acquainted with me and the local community through reading my blog, My Johor Stories (, we talked about how the hotel could contribute to the community as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programme.

Our discussions ultimately led to the hotel’s on-going partnership with the Johor Area Rehabilitation Organisation (JARO) and the refugee children education centres, an initiative of the Johor Baru chapter of Soroptomists International.

A section of the Food Store at the hotel’s lobby level, is dedicated to displaying a range of quality handicrafts by JARO’s artisans with disabilities, for sale as gifts and souvenirs.

Since my trial stay with the hotel, I have been back countless times for food-tasting events and celebrations as well as events hosted by other organisations at the hotel.

Gwen Chia [Left] and I enjoying the Tropical High Tea
Fast-forward to 2017, a momentous year for me when I started discussions on my book project on Jan 4 with my friend, Gwen Chia, over High Tea at the Axis Lounge.

I remember how we savoured elegant sandwiches, cakes and pastries presented with the Chocolate High Tea in between sips of Dilmah tea and talked about my book project with a heightened sense of excitement.

Gwen and I had no idea how the project would unfold but looking back now, I’m ever grateful for the amazing series of events and the goodwill and generosity of friends and business partners, in particular the DoubleTree by Hilton JB.

Incidentally on July 12, just two days before my book launch, Gwen and I kept our date for a most delightful time together with High Tea at DoubleTree by Hilton JB (again!) this time with a Tropical High Tea and Tea Drop tea.

Executive Chef Jaffery Othman
Throughout the year, I was invited to the hotel for various food previews including the Lunar New Year food promotion, the Beijing La-Mian and the Ramadan buffet at Makan Kitchen.

While I was working on my book project, I still found time to dine with friends and our choice was usually the DoubleTree by Hilton JB.

The interactive setting in the Makan Kitchen and the range of quality food in its menu, not just for festive seasons or during promotions but also on ordinary days, make dining a pleasure here.

In April I was at Makan Kitchen again for dinner with former schoolmates to celebrate the birthday of Stella, a former classmate who was visiting from the UK and in July, I was there for lunch to celebrate Irene’s birthday with a group from Singapore.

[I’m always grateful at how the Indian kitchen obliges my request to cook a small portion of curry – without coconut milk – for me!]

As my book project made steady progress, it crossed my mind to hold the book launch event in this hotel. It would mean a lot to me because the hotel was situated across the road from where I grew up at our grandfather’s house.

Simon McGrath [Left] making his speech
and introducing Daniel Alcaraz
To find out if it was possible, I wrote to the hotel with a request and I soon received a favourable reply:  Yes! The date and time I requested for was approved!

After this confirmation, the next message I received from the hotel stated that General Manager, Simon McGrath, offered to sponsor the venue as well as light refreshments!

I responded to this generous offer with an email to express my appreciation to Simon and his gracious reply read:

We are most happy to support your book launch, which is a further reaffirmation of the relationship we have enjoyed with you since the pre-opening of the hotel. We share your passion for the heritage of Johor and the stories that support the fabric of its history.”

While I was overjoyed with the hotel’s generous sponsorship, I was however, saddened to learn that Simon had a new job appointment within the Hilton Group and was leaving JB before my book launch event.

I joined guests at Tosca on 28 June for an event to bid farewell to Simon and his wife, Pat. As we wished him every success in his new appointment, we also welcomed his replacement, Daniel Alcaraz.

With Daniel Alcaraz at my book launch event
As a frequent diner at the hotel, I’m familiar with the fare at Tosca. I’ve also had the privilege to be the happy recipient of the culinary adventures of Executive Chef, Jaffery Othman, who often enjoy whipping up ‘something-special-outside-the-menu’ for me.

When Chef Jaffery invited me over to Tosca Trattoria Italiana for a preview of their Grilled Tomahawk Steaks, I didn’t know who else was expected to join me. I was then pleasantly surprised when the place next to me at the table was reserved for the GM!

It turned out to be a most delightful dinner, skillfully prepared and presented by Chef Jaffery. While dining with Daniel, I had the opportunity to get to know him and to share with him, helpful tips to find his way around his newly adopted home.

The hotel’s friendship and goodwill that started with Simon continued with Daniel and I deeply appreciated how their team worked together on July 15 to give me the support for a successful book launch event.

My book is available at MPH Bookstores nationwide
and online via
Even my event guests and readers commented that the venue for my book launch was significant and deeply sentimental to me as the hotel was situated across the road from where I grew up at our grandfather’s house!

My book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage shot to the Number One spot in the MPH Non-Fiction Bestseller list on the week it was launched and stayed on the Bestsellers list for consecutive weeks. In October 2017, my book was still on the MPH Non-Fiction Monthly Bestsellers list.

As I’m looking back to the preceding months in my momentous 2017, it is clear that the DoubleTree by Hilton JB played a special role in the events that unfolded since my first discussion with Gwen about my book project over High Tea in the hotel.

My deepest gratitude to DoubleTree by Hilton JB, for your friendship, support and partnership. THANK YOU.

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