Life’s a Beach

31st March 2008 (Last Updated March 31st, 2008 18:30)

With a hundred years in the Brazilian restaurant trade, the Fasano family recently moved into the hotel industry. Claire Rigby visits the group's latest offering – the Hotel Fasano, a stone’s throw from Rio de Janeiro’s legendary Ipanema beach.

Life’s a Beach

Despite a signature Starck reception which sees drapes divide up the space, antique Rio maps, classic 1960s Brazilian furniture and a pair of Havaiana flip-flops for every guest ensure that the overall feel is quintessentially Brazilian.

Less than five years ago the Fasano family opened its first hotel, in São Paulo. There are more in the pipeline, including one in Punta del Este. But, for now, the group is basking in the success of its newest addition – The Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro, which was six months old in February 2007.

The hotel has 81 guest rooms and ten suites, a gym, a pool and a beach service operation and is home to Fasano Al Mare, a world-class Italian seafood restaurant, as well as a hip nightspot called Londra.

“The surroundings are infused with the cool sound of bossa nova, accompanied by the gentle cha-cha-cha of the barman’s cocktail shaker.”

An intimate, dimly lit bar that showcases international DJs, Londra adds a touch of rock ’n’ roll glamour to the hotel’s sophisticated aesthetic, marrying Philippe Starck’s playful chic with the cool, eclectic style of Fasano’s own visionary, Rogério Fasano.

Its location between a pair of oddly angled streets gives it spectacular views along Ipanema beach, at its most dazzling from the poolside bar located on the top floor. One edge of the infinity pool spills into the sea, while the other is cast against the dark, looming beauty of the city’s trademark black rocks.

Facing inland, a faraway Christ stretches his arms over the city. The surroundings are infused with the cool sound of bossa nova, accompanied by the gentle cha-cha-cha of the barman’s cocktail shaker. What to do with the fact that Rio’s extravagant beauty stares you in the face every time you look outside? Fasano’s answer is to keep it centre-stage.

Consider the vista from the ocean-view room verandas. A pair of elegant wooden chairs are silhouetted against the horizon as Starck’s mirrored walls elevate each balcony into a work of art, drawing the outside in and tripling the view – even deftly remixing it, so that opposite ends of the long bay appear to sit side by side.

Inside the room, another pair of Starck mirrors work a little less well. Long and asymmetric, they are hung either side of the bed, itself at an angle to the room but in perfect alignment with the horizon. Because the room is narrow, it’s difficult to get an uninterrupted full-length reflection of myself, something I’d like to be able to do before joining the lithe people up at the pool. I stray a little too close to the window and find a jolly looking taxi driver parked in the street below gazing up at me in – I hope – admiration.

After discovering the windows’ voile nets, dense white blackouts and silver shantung drapes, I remind myself that the all-glass balcony is not one-way glass. It’s a tiny moment of discord in an otherwise startlingly well-conceived hotel that strikes note after perfect note, particularly in terms of its elegant, capable service.

KILLING WITH KINDNESS

The serene atmosphere is one of general manager Cristiana Kastrup’s favourite aspects of the hotel.

“It’s the understated luxury and warmth the hotel projects. It’s not pretentious at all. It’s warm and it’s sophisticated. It fits in so well with Rio and I think that’s perceived by our guests immediately.” A carioca (Rio native) herself, Kastrup attributes the hotel’s ethos to Rogério Fasano, the brand’s hands-on mastermind.

“His vision is of a very traditional hotel with impeccable service and extreme attention to detail and warmth, without invading our guests’ privacy. The whole process, at every level, is approved by him and lived by him – we’re very much a reflection of his vision of service.”

“Its location between a pair of oddly angled streets gives it spectacular views along Ipanema beach.”

Kastrup, who has many years of management experience – first at Ritz-Carlton, where she spent the first thirteen years of her career, and then at Hyatt – exudes a cool, classy competence that, clearly, has much to do with the mood of elegant efficiency pervading the hotel.

Achieving that in Rio has been difficult at times, she admits. “Rio has beautiful hotels, but it doesn’t have the cutting-edge service São Paulo does in terms of stores, hotels and restaurants.” With many guests from Brazil’s fast-moving capital and Europe, plus a growing corporate weekday trade, it was imperative that the Fasano reproduce the level of service of its São Paulo sister.

“We struggled a little bit at first,” says Kastrup. “We tried to replicate the way we were training in São Paulo, but we had to go back to some basics here in Rio. It’s a beach city – people are naturally more relaxed, and they have a wonderful warmth. But, when it comes to following things the same way every time and being absolutely thorough, we have to constantly retrain, repeating things again and again and making sure that there’s depth in every single process.”

Repetition, she says, is the name of the game in the hotel business; and that means constant training, including role plays and mock scenarios. “My primary focus is on developing and coaching the staff,” she says. “Even the simplest things in the hotel trade have to be correctly trained, from posture and tone of voice to the way you receive a guest, set down a plate or turn down a bed. Everything is about the detail.”

“It’s a beach city – people are naturally more relaxed, and they have a wonderful warmth.”

Key parts of Kastrup’s day are her walk-throughs and staff briefings, held first thing in the morning and again at 3pm, when she takes the pulse of the entire hotel and keeps an eye out for any trouble brewing.

“You have to know what’s happening and what your staff’s expectations are,” she says.

“You’re not doing your job right if you don’t know that the food in the cafeteria finished at 2 o’clock instead of 3, or that half of the staff didn’t get the meat, or that people are tired.”

In turn, empowering her staff to do whatever is necessary, using their common sense, to make a guest happy no matter how demanding that guest might be is, she says, one of the secrets of flawless service. “We train our employees on dealing with conflict and in knowing how to turn a difficult situation around. We call it killing with kindness.”

As well as fostering a genuine desire in staff to ensure that guests are kept content, repetition, yet again, is crucial. “It’s stressful at the front desk,” says Kastrup, “but in that moment of stress, if we’ve freshly spoken about how to deal with difficult situations, the employee will be that much stronger and able to handle the pressure.”