I Wanna Rock!
Updated: May 5
This article is special travel feature and my entire experience at the hotel was sponsored.
As a kid, I’ve always loved going to Hard Rock Cafe Kuala Lumpur. What was there not to like? The cheeseburgers satisfied my tastebuds, the crayons and colouring paper combo given to kids kept me entertained and the balloon I got on the Sundays that my father decided to bring the whole family in practically sealed the deal. Not to mention all the cool guitars and memorabilia proudly adorned throughout the restaurant that came from famous musicians that I would grow up to idolise and whose music would shape and define my formative years as a teenager and subsequently my music tastes as an adult.
Most importantly, Hard Rock Cafe became a place where I have memories of having hearty American food with my family, just as Jake’s was the place to go for steak for my family back in the day.
So, when I was approached to do a travel, experiential review of Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast, I was intrigued to see if the same magic that I harboured for Hard Rock Cafe could be replicated. Unfortunately, I learned that Hard Rock Hotels do not necessarily have Hard Rock Cafes. While my dreams of relaxing next to a cosy pool with beer in one hand and a bacon cheeseburger in the other may have been dampened, I accepted the offer. Because I love hard rock, I wanted to experience a fraction of the rock star life.
The drive from KL to Desaru Coast (I left at around eight in the morning) was pretty smooth, and it took me about four hours to reach the hotel. Accompanying me on the ride down were the kick-ass tunes of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Mötley Crüe, Dire Straits and Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name a few. Needless to say, I was pumped.
(The photos above are official photos from the hotel)
The hotel itself is a fairly new property, opening in the tail end of 2019 when the world didn’t even know what the words “Covid-19” meant. Despite being in Desaru Coast, the hotel isn’t actually situated by the beach. Hotel guests may be surprised to find out that the resort is located adjacent to the Adventure Waterpark Desaru Coast, which is a plus if you intend to visit the attraction and somewhat of a drawback if you don’t, as the noise from the waterpark may be unwanted if you‘re looking for some quiet downtown.
With that being said, you kind of know what you’re getting into when you opt to stay at a Hard Rock property. I mean, it’s in the name. You’re there to have an rockin’ good time, not a quiet frolic in a a secluded private beach. Throughout my three day, two night stay there, it’s safe to say that the day yielded much more noise than the night.
(An overcast afternoon calls for piña coladas by the pool)
As for the look of the hotel itself, the resort sports a neutral white and brown tropical vibe that although seems safe, is broken up by the resort’s clever use of colour in the rooms and other social spots throughout the property. I especially dig the purple used in the rooms and suites, the Rock Royalty executive lounge, and at other spots around the hotel, as if the colour itself is a subtle homage to the late Prince.
It should be mentioned that I did go to the waterpark on my second day there, and I’ve got to admit that I had fun there despite it being relatively small with basic rides and slides. I spent roughly two and a half to three hours at the waterpark and managed to ride 85 per cent of the major attractions at least two to three times before ending my time there with a Magnum classic and returning to the hotel.
I stayed on the highest floor (sixth) of the hotel’s right wing in what was called a Rock Royalty room, where I had complimentary access to the executive lounge mere steps away from me. The check-in process was also done here, away from the main lobby, for that added privacy and comfort.
What does access to the Rock Royalty lounge bring? Well, for starters, there’s a small selection of breakfast items, afternoon treats and sundowners available throughout the morning, afternoon and early evening. During my stay, I nibbled on a small selection of breakfast items at the Rock Royalty lounge, such as sautéed mushrooms and cheeses, and even had pre-dinner cocktails on my second night there. Thankfully, they had my favourite cocktail on the menu, and since it was complimentary, I imbibed in a few glasses before the hunger set.
My room was fairly spacious, with a balcony facing the waterpark and a shower instead of a bathtub. I’m a showerhead 95 per cent of the time, so I like to have baths during my vacations, if you know what I mean. There’s nothing quite like soaking in a warm bath with a phone in one hand, a glass of whisky in the other and hard rock blaring in the room, am I right? But alas, no harm, no foul.
One nice touch that I enjoyed as one who loves hard rock was that there was already a punchy playlist christening the room from the moment I checked in emanating from a Bose Solo 5 sound bar.
Seeing how I planned to relax in the room on the first day after driving down, it was nice to know that the rooms were cosy and warm. I’d even brought my PlayStation controller with me so I could game remotely in my room on my iPad if I wasn’t feeling up to exploring. Which did come in handy on my first night when I decided to try the hotel’s in-room dining options. But, more on that later.
I sleep on a very firm mattress made of coconut husk and a fine layer of latex at home due to a slipped disc I had many years ago in my early twenties. Because of that, I’m pretty used to firm mattresses, and I’m not a fan of overly soft pillows and mattresses that sink you in the longer you stay on them. Fortunately, Hard Rock’s bed setup was neither too firm nor soft, and it was comfortable enough for me to sleep like a rock. This is what the hotel franchise calls its signature breeding style, as the website tells me that beds at the hotel sport a 300-thread count bed linen. I’m no bed expert, but I can safely say that I felt well-rested after each night’s rest.
I chose to accept a stay at the Hard Rock Hotel due to the nostalgic value of Hard Rock Cafe. But I quickly had to throw my expectations out the window soon after I arrived and was told that the hotel part of the brand didn’t necessarily house the cafe division. As such, there was no Hard Rock Cafe at the hotel.
Instead, Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast sports four F&B destinations excluding the Rock Royalty lounge – The Elephant & The Butterfly (modern Mexican), Sessions (all-day local and international dining), GMT +8 (lobby bar with live music), and Constant Grind (cafe). Seeing how I planned to relax in the room on the first day after driving down, it was nice to know that the rooms were cosy and warm. I’d even brought my PlayStation controller with me so I could game remotely in my room on my iPad if I wasn’t feeling up to exploring. Which did come in handy on my first night when I decided to try the hotel’s in-room dining options. But, more on that later.
The Elephant & The Butterfly
Famished after the drive down and only surviving on black coffee in the tank, I looked forward to get lunch at the restaurant.
At the hotel’s modern Mexican restaurant, The Elephant & The Butterfly, I ordered a selection of dishes that struck a chord with me – sopa de tortilla (tortilla soup), buffalo drummettes, a prawn tortilla snack that was a seasonal menu item, the restaurant’s signature Mexican burger and a seafood main called salmon quetzal.
The sopa de tortilla may not have been a looker, but it was pretty hearty, made using chicken, onion, tomato, cheese and fried tortilla strips, hence the name. It was adequately spiced and I enjoyed the tortilla crunch I wished was more abundant.
The drummettes, on the other hand, were quite disappointing. The drummettes lacked heat and flavour, despite saying it had hot sauce on the menu. I guess the chicken either didn’t spend enough time being seasoned or the seasoning ratio was off.
The prawn tortillas, however, made up for it, featuring refried beans, guacamole, a touch of salsa, prawns and some corn. Salty and savoury with just a hint of tanginess that undoubtedly came from lime.
Determined to feed my nostalgia, I ordered the Mexican burger to make up for the fact that I couldn’t indulge in Hard Rock Cafe’s legendary burger during my stay there.
On paper, the burger sounded like it had everything one could ever want in a Mexican-inspired burger – lean ground beef patty, Monterey Jack cheese, grilled onions, fresh jalapeños and salsa in between a charcoal bun. The burger came served with a side of fries, salad and sauces.
In reality, however, the execution, unfortunately, led the combination of flavours to fall somewhat flat. The buns weren’t exactly fluffy and the patty lacked that satisfying beefy punch you want in a burger that I suspect was due to an absence of fat. Fortunately, the rest of the accompaniments were fresh and zingy enough to add flavour to each bite, but it still didn’t redeem the burger's core parts, ending up as a somewhat of a middle-of-the-road burger.
The pan-seared salmon fared better, featuring a medley of sautéed baby vegetables, a tangy mango dressing salad, beans, capsicum and a cream truffle sauce that emphasised the cream more than the faux truffle (thankfully).
When it came time for dinner, my lazy ass decided to hunker down in my room with a cooler of craft beers and finish my latest run of Dead Space (fantastic remake, by the way) on my iPad. And so, I naturally gravitated towards ordering room service. Living that indulgent rockstar life, am I right? Minus the musical talent.
I ordered the Legendary burger, a mushroom soup and a fillet mignon to go with my AnCnoc 12-year-old Highland single malt whisky. If I was going to indulge like a rockstar, I had to go all the way.
While I’m sad to report that the legendary burger didn’t live up to its moniker and the high bar that I may have set for it due to that nostalgic factor that I harbour for the cheeseburger of my childhood at Hard Rock Cafe KL, it did hit that nine pm drunken state sweet spot.
So too, did that mushroom soup, hitting all the requirements for what a decent mushroom soup (for me as a Malaysian kid, at least).
Now, the steak was decent for it being the way it was, arriving with a side of mash and some greens. It was a steak cooked to be served in one's room, so I expelled any expectations. What I was pleasantly surprised to discover was that when I had it with a glass or two of whisky, the steak tasted better than on its own. Score one for foresight.
You can take my word when I say I slept well that night.
The breakfast situation at Session is pretty standard for hotels here in Malaysia. That’s not to say that the food wasn’t good. In all fairness, I’d say it was fair. However, the restaurant’s local selection outweighed its “international “choices. Hence why you see roti canai, curry mee and teochew porridge with preserved vegetable and yau char kwai featured here. I mean, the options were decent – beef bacon, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes, cheeses, cold cuts, an omelette bar, a cereal bar – but they just didn’t compare to the local stuff like nasi lemak.
I also love that there was a Fender amp just sitting around near the bread and cheese section.
On day two, I had lunch at Sessions to fuel up for some fun in the waterpark. I only ordered two dishes, not wanting to feel weighed down by food when I would be slishing and sloshing at high speeds down a water slide.
If you guessed I had lamb biryani, chicken nuggets, and fries for kids, then you’re a certified psychic.
The lamb biryani made for a decent one-plate lunch. The rice had flavour and the lamb shank was tender enough to fall apart with just fork and spoon.
I will admit that I ordered the chicken nuggets and fries from the kids' menu partly because I wanted to eat off what I can assume was a tiny Fender Stratocaster. Whether I’m fibbing or not, that shall forever remain a mystery. As for my take on the chicken nuggets and fries? Well, it tasted like the chicken nuggets and fries from the kids' menu alright.
The Hard Rock Factor
Why would one stay at a Hard Rock Hotel? For me, the answer was straightforwardly easy. I love hard rock as a music genre and it was incredibly cool to see different facets of music from artists I admired woven into the very DNA of a hotel, let alone the restaurant from which the hotel came.
Learning that every staff member’s name badge had their favourite artist etched on it was fun. I discovered that one young-looking Indian guy at the front desk‘s artist of choice was Taylor Swift, and I found out that one of the waiters that served me was Guns N’ Roses. Those were neat touches that spoke to me as a person who considers music a pivotal aspect of living well.
Moreover, it’s also pretty fun to go memorabilia hunting around the property. For those who’s never been to a Hard Rock establishment, cafe, or hotel, the brand always features memorabilia from iconic musicians from around the globe. And not just from artists related to Hard Rock, as it once started.
I went on a memorabilia tour around the property and learned many exciting stories. Such as the fact that items shown on display at any Hard Rock establishment are genuine items donated by the artists themselves and are kept like prized pieces at a museum, which answers a longstanding question about the pieces of memorabilia I would gaze at growing up at Hard Rock Cafe.
I saw stage clothes from Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant and drum gear from the band’s legendary drummer John Bonham.
I spied signed documents by The Beatles legend John Lennon, drum gear from Linkin Park, and even scribblings from Oasis.
Bassist John Entwistle of The Who also had his legendary signature bass guitar – "The Buzzard” – on display.
I also spotted memorabilia from Madonna, Beyonce, Elvis Presley, and many other great artists.
It was also pretty cool to know that Hard Rock rotates the memorabilia on display at their establishments from time to time to keep things fresh.
The hotel’s deep connection to music also extends to its services to guests. Knowing that my room was equipped with decent speakers, so I could rock out whenever I felt like it, was an awesome touch. Nevertheless, should you desire to take your musical experience at the hotel further, you could request a Crosley turntable or an electric guitar to your room, complete with headphones and an amplifier, to live out your fantasy as a rock god.
I may or may not have jammed out with a guitar to the head-banging tunes of Iron Maiden. But I can confirm that I requested an AC/DC song to be played when I watched the live band perform at the lobby lounge one evening.
Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast is a fun stay if you’re looking for a local beach resort attached to a waterpark that puts an emphasis on hard rock. I had a nice time there. Go for a short getaway, but do go with the mindset that you’ll be rocking out in the day and possibly partying in the evening and you may have a good stay.