In our September issue, we had an illuminating conversation with BLINK group co-founder and architect Clint Nagata about his aesthetic philosophy and his ‘placemaking’ approach to design. The hotels that he designed tend to be steeped in the stories of the locales they’re in: elegant halls with cornices made of wood native to the region, walls adorned with coloured patterns and textures informed by a country’s artistic history or lobby centrepieces in the form of glass sculptures that evoke the corals found off the coast. In planning how visitors might move in a hotel, he evokes the habits of nomads or merchants in these locales from centuries past. It’s a mix of art, design thinking, history and anthropology.
It’s a lot to factor in before you even sit at the drafting table, but Clint has never been interested in designing soulless hotels. You’ll see it in some of the hotels that he and his firm BLINK Design Group have designed, a stellar list that includes the W Dubai, JW Marriott Khao Lak, Six Senses Uluwatu and Roku Kyoto. BLINK is one of the foremost names in hotel and resort design because their portfolio features establishments with an elegant, distinctive genius loci.
Their latest work is The Regent Phu Quoc, a resplendent resort in the pristine southwestern beaches of the Vietnamese island. It bears all the hallmarks of Clint’s design philosophy, a collection of ideas and sensibilities termed as ‘placemaking’, while also living up to the standards of a Regent hotel, a brand that, for over fifty years, has been known for creating vacation spots defined by combining local culture, discernment, modern creature comforts and timeless luxury.
Clint has proven that luxury does not have to be ostentatious, but there’s something in this particular project that feels like the co-founder of BLINK Design Group is at the peak, or at least near the peak, of his creative mastery. The Regent Phu Quoc is a highly refined reflection of the island and its unique culture and history. It stands out from the other resorts that dot the island’s coastline, and indeed, stands out from other Regent resorts as well. The resort truly evokes an authentic Vietnamese influence and enhances the natural tropical beauty of its surroundings.
Guests are greeted as soon as they alight from their shuttle (The Regent Phu Quoc provides pickup services from Phu Quoc International Airport in cool black SUVs), and ushered towards the lobby by friendly staff. The service here is impeccable, but one would expect no less from a Regent establishment.
The arrival corridor reminds us of the aesthetic sensibilities of Clint’s friend Jaya Ibrahim, a pioneer of Asian design who adhered to straight lines and symmetry. It’s something Clint has adopted and mastered, as white walls and gilded fixtures beautifully frame a gorgeous floral centrepiece. You can see similarities in BLINK’s other recent works, such as the Roku Kyoto and the JW Marriott Khao Lak. “I’m quite keen on accesses and symmetry to create a sense of luxury,” Clint notes, but adds, “We’ve evolved to incorporate elements of asymmetry to make things interesting.”
This idea of symmetry continues as you enter the lobby lounge and the reception area. The symmetry isn’t just achieved in the construction of these places. It continues with the landscaping, as verdant flora and placid water features extend the sense of tranquility that defines the arrival experience.
The resort was split into two types of rooms: the sky villas, one-bedroom apartment suites, each with its own individual plunge pool and an option for another bedroom ensuite, and the villas, ground-level units that can have up to three bedrooms in the form of adjoining villas. For either option, guests can choose to book one bedroom or, expand to two or three to accommodate larger groups of friends or family. The only exception are the spacious beach pool suites – the four units that look out to the beach – which has one bedroom with a king-sized bed, an in-villa courtyard and an opulent bathroom.
“The brief was to have all the rooms look towards the sea,” said Clint. “The complexity is the number of keys, the number of rooms that are actually here. Three hundred. And most of them are villas, so you can imagine having to squeeze all that into the space and make the architecture to go away.”
It is in this that Clint and BLINK group show why they’re highly sought after by resort developers: their ability to make the most of their space and incorporate the hotel into the environment. “We wanted to show landscape and nature, rather than roofs and buildings,” said Clint, “so even in a relatively dense property such as this, you do feel like you’re in a resort of a much bigger scale.”
In each room, Clint incorporates Vietnamese influences. He once said that he did not want his hotels to look similar to one another. They should be a reflection of their location, and the history and culture that comes with it. This is the aforementioned philosophy of ‘placemaking’, and the rooms in The Regent Phu Quoc are ennobled by this approach.
The art and decor that adorn the rooms – curated by Clint and BLINK Design Group – are handcrafted by Vietnamese artists and artisans. They include thread-work landscapes, lacquer vases, traditional handmade pottery and ceramic sculptures.
The rooms have everything you need to unwind in a villa. Plush couches are at the heart of every living room, facing large flat-screen televisions. Adjoined to the living room is a well-stocked pantry – or kitchen, in the larger villas and suites – stocked with everything you need from beer to milk, from crisps to fair-trade chocolates. The beds are comfortable – and you get to handpick your pillows to meet the needs of your comfort. They’re indeed sanctuaries in their own right.
But it’s the bathroom that’s truly a bastion of creature comforts. Most rooms feature a shower and a gorgeous, ergonomically designed matte black bathtub, with an accompanying array of bath salts to melt your troubles away. With its generous use of space, you could find yourself spending hours in quiet bathtub-based contemplation.
If you’d rather soak in a larger water body, most villas and suites have private pools. With this (and room service), you could enjoy almost all the amenities of the resort without ever having to leave your villa.
But it is worth paying a visit to the main pool, simply to take in its breathtaking design and architecture. Using locally sourced fabrics, taking cues from Vietnamese influences and utilising symmetry once again, Clint has created a truly luxurious space. The pool is perhaps The Regent Phu Quoc’s most Instagrammable spot. But for those of us who don’t go on vacations for the sake of social media, the pool is its own sanctuary, where one can take a swim in cool waters before drying off on large daybeds, cocktail in hand.
The Epicurean Retreats
No Regent establishment would be complete without a world-class restaurant or two, and The Regent Phu Quoc is no different. Just next to the main pool is Rice Market, the establishment’s main restaurant. The breakfast buffet here is a truly grand assortment of options from Western-style cold cuts, to Vietnamese staples, Asian delights and continental offerings. For lunch and dinner, we recommend the beef pho – simple, authentic, yet brimming with flavour. The thin beef slices lend flavour to the broth, which itself is a slightly salty but overall delicious experience, especially with the choices of vegetables and garnishes presented before one begins slurping.
The other restaurant is Ocean Club, nestled between the resort’s main pool and the beach. Here, the specialty is seafood, with their menu boasting two options for seafood towers – chilled or barbecued. Both were fantastic, but the coco cilantro sauce upon the white fish (it differs depending on the catch of the day) in the barbecue seafood tower was truly amazing.
Our eyes tended to drift to Ocean Club’s bar, which features a marble backdrop – Clint was keen to ensure that it was specifically cut to continue the theme of symmetry within the restaurant.
There is a third restaurant as well, a Salon de Beouf that features the finest beef cuts and the freshest sushi at its Omakase counter. This third restaurant is Oku. The Omakase is helmed by Chef Andy Huynh, formerly of world-renowned Nobu Restaurants, having served in Nobu establishments in Las Vegas, San Diego and Nassau. Diners get to choose between a 10-course or 6-course experience, plus a compelling serving of Chef Andy’s anecdotes of his past experiences and his adventures with food.
A hidden door at the side of Oku leads you to the resort’s (not-so) secret speakeasy, Bar Jade. This hidden gem evokes the feeling of luxury trains that use to travel across Indochina. The ambience is amazing, but we equally love the thematic menu, in which each drink is named after different gemstones. The spinel, for example, contains Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, D.O.M Bénédictine herbal liqueur ,Strawberry Infused Aperol and adds a touch of mystery with bitter herbal smoke. The presentation is delightful, the drink is intoxicating in the best way possible.
Purists don’t have to be alarmed. Bar Jade makes the classics as well – and they make it really well. We enjoyed a truly remarkable negroni – strong, bittersweet (but leans deliciously towards sweet), in a deep, rich red-brown colour.
The Regent Club
One of the highlights of The Regent Phu Quoc is The Regent Club, an exclusive lounge at the top of the Sky Wing of the resort. It boasts incredible views inside and outside. Inside, Clint has mostly utilised materials and design motifs native to Vietnam, capturing a sense of place unique to Vietnam’s natural environment, culture and history. Even the tiling is reminiscent of European influences on early 20th century Vietnamese municipal buildings.
But it’s the impeccable, bespoke service at The Regent Club that truly makes it worth the upgrade. Here, you get a personal mixologist, and a food menu that, should you want it, has plenty of off-menu offerings. In more ways than one, The Regent Club, the highest point in the The Regent Phu Quoc, truly elevates your experience.
But what resort is complete without its own in-house spa? The Regent Phu Quoc spa, named simply as The Spa, is hidden away one floor below the lobby, a getaway within a getaway, and offers traditional and new age treatments, as well as an exclusive pedicure and manicure experience by renowned podiatrist Bastien Gonzalez.
At Bastien’s Pedi:Mani:Cure Studio within The Spa, he draws upon his extensive professional expertise and experience, curating and designing a selection of unique treatments that brings together well-being, health and beauty.
Also worth checking out are the Quartz Sand therapies which, according to esoteric wellness literature, has vibrational properties that realigns one’s energies. This is further strengthened through the use of Himalayan singing bowls, whose various harmonies bring heightened states of relaxation to its receiver.
Couples can also bask in each other’s presence as they receive their treatments in specially designed Couples Rooms, designed for privacy as well as shared wellness experiences.
Our final verdict on The Regent Phu Quoc?
From a design perspective, The Regent Phu Quoc is truly a dazzling gem set upon the pristine white sands of the Vietnamese island. And its design informs its creature comforts, which are world class to say the least. It is to the point that one might not even want to leave the resort. Don’t get us wrong – Phu Quoc in itself is a truly charming island. Its vibrant night markets, street side bars and ocean-based small businesses remind us of Bali in the 90s. But The Regent Phu Quoc has everything one would need for a complete vacation. All in all, it is truly the perfect destination for a Vietnamese villeggiatura.
Book a stay at The Regent Phu Quoc here.