First Look -- Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg

The biggest buzz in Russia's burgeoning hotel scene this week is the debut of the Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg, the brand's first property in the country, which opened its doors on Sunday after a major renovation from the private apartment building known as the "House with Lions" into a five-star hotel.

There's plenty of history to go around at the hotel: The triangular building was originally conceived in 1817 by Auguste Montferrand as the private address of the city's elite close to the Winter Palace. During the renovation, the original concept and aesthetic was studied and many elements were maintained. Neo-classic materials were acquired from across Europe (like gilt mirrors and marble fixtures) to keep the ambiance in sync.

The hotel has several dining options: In the Tea Lounge, styled as a winter garden filled with trees and flowers, guests can try traditional Russian specialities, while locals (in turn) can opt for modern interpretations of old favorites. The Olivier Salad is made with chicken or quail and crayfish; Siberian venison is smoked and served as a carpaccio with marinated foie gras and beet root dressing; and the international classic Beef Stroganoff is revisited, layering the meat over truffled mashed potatoes. Caviar – the “Tsar’s favorite pearls” – is served with traditional condiments and blini. Afternoon Tea has a distinctly Russian flavor, with sweets ranging from pistachio financier to opera cake and vatrushka. 

We hear that Xander Bar, named for Tsar Alexander I (who reigned at the time of the palace’s construction), is reminiscent of a private club with library and double-sided fireplace. Zakuski (appetizers) are complemented by a choice of dozens of Russian and international vodkas, and several vodka tasting flights are offered. (Top tip: When selecting from the caviar menu, connoisseurs may wish to opt for the Prestige Cuvee Cristal Champagne, created by Louis Roederer for Tsar Alexander II in 1876.)

Looking ahead, the hotel will open Sintoho (pictured above), an Asian restaurant named for Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong (three of the destinations inspiring the eatery's cuisine). We hear it will have an open sushi counter, and that the signature dishes will be wild salmon tartare with avocado salsa relish, crispy skin and sambal; and Singapore-style king crab legs in chilli sauce with egg.  Cocktails will include everything from the classic Singapore Sling to a Hong Kong Fuey, as well as a range of sakes, beers and teas.  A semi-private teppanyaki grill room will host private events for up to eight guests.

And later this year, Michelin-starred Executive Chef Andrea Accordi will open Percorso, an Italian restaurant that will have top views of St. Issac’s Cathedral. Dishes will include strozzapreti with Mediterranean seaweed, clams, calamari and tuna; and his anatra, a whole spit-roasted duck with citrus glaze and cherry and pink pepper compote.  There will be several private dining opportunities, with the option for the host to consult with the Chef on a bespoke family-style Italian menu, including selections from Percorso’s international wine cellar.

In late 2013, Four Seasons will open the Luceo Spa, which will have just eight treatment rooms including a deluxe couple’s suite with private lounge. There will also be a salon, a 24-hour fitness center and, topping off the four-level Spa complex, a glass-topped year-round pool. (Tip: We hear the Russian-style sauna comes with birch branches to invigorate the skin.)

And while the spa isn't officially open yet, the Hotel’s first guests can get a preview of what’s to come in the Luceo Spa Suites or in the privacy of their own room, beginning with the signature Luceo Aromatherapy Massage featuring traditional Russian massage techniques using Santa Maria Novella's Four Seasons oils. In addition to massages, facials and the Royal Body Scrub are also available in this preview period. Spa brand ila has created a new product collection infused with amber exclusively for Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace.

The opening of the first Four Seasons in Russia will soon be followed by the second. In 2014, Four Seasons Hotel Moscow will open in Manezhnaya Square, right next to the entrance gates of Red Square with views of the Kremlin, Duma and Saint Basil's Cathedral. This hotel will be a recreation of the Hotel Moskva from the 1930s, with an identical facade constructed on the site of the original building, which was demolished in 2002.  Inside, the hotel will have 175 rooms and suites; two restaurants (and a tea lounge, bar and poolside cafe); a spa and indoor pool as well as event and meeting spaces.