Inside Houston Hotels: Royal Sonesta in the Galleria
Our new Houston hotel series takes a look at what some of the best in the city have to offer, including in-house restaurants, room features and other amenities.
In the Galleria area, a destination for world-class shopping and dining, several hotels aim to attract both out-of-town guests and locals seeking a luxurious staycation. The Royal Sonesta in the Galleria (2222 West Loop South) area is among the best of those options. It offers easy access to The Galleria mall thanks to a complimentary shuttle within a three-mile radius, a 24-hour health club, swimming pool, 24-hour room service, plus plenty of space for hosting private events.
Elegant, Under-the-Radar Fine Dining at TableOne
Possibly the most underrated feature at Royal Sonesta is the low-profile, high-class private dining experience called TableOne. Executive chef Robert Graham oversees dining at the Royal Sonesta and Houston Food Finder was invited to an eight-course meal with wine pairings to experience TableOne first-hand.
“Our goal at TableOne is to create a fun, one-of-a-kind experience. If you crave it, we’ll create it,” said Graham, who has held positions at other luxury hotels like the Ritz-Carlton Phoenix and, most recently the private El Dorado Golf & Beach Club in San Jose Del Cabo Mexico. He joined Royal Sonesta two years ago. “It took about a year and a half to get where we are now with the kitchen, and I’m excited for the updates to TableOne,” he said.
It’s a real mystery as to why the TableOne experience is not mentioned alongside other top fine-dining options in Houston. The meal started with briny American paddlefish caviar accompanied by potato mousse, víchyssoise, smoked salmon and crushed kettle chips — all of which were perfect complements. Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Champagne was paired alongside and the subtle almond and pear flavors beautifully offset the salty smoke of the course.
That was an impressive start, but the follow-up was an even greater triumph. Chawanmushi is a Japanese savory steamed egg custard made with dashi rather than heavy cream, and the entire egg instead of just the yolks. The texture of Graham’s chawanmushi was delicate to the point of nearly being undercooked, but that lightness meant the richness of his shitake dashi base took center stage. The dish gained heft and substance by way of perfectly grilled black cod. It was paired with 2014 unfiltered Chardonnay from Newton Vineyard in California. The wine’s rich citrus acidity and gentle oak flavor elevated the earthy mushroom dashi and complemented the smoky grilled flavor of the fish.
The final savory dish was roasted ribeye cap — prized for being a tender, well-marbled cut of beef — with creamed potato, foie gras, wild mushroom medley and Perigourdine sauce (a compound sauce of demi-glace and black truffle). The beef was served rare and paired with 2015 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa California. With both the beef and foie gras, the dish was a carnivore’s dream plate. The full-bodied wine alongside had notes of rich blackberry and dark plum flavor on the palate that finished into leather and earth notes.
For dessert, Graham served his impressive Goat Cheese Panna Cotta topped with a layer of raspberry gelée and garnished with crumbled bacon, fresh berries and mint. The panna cotta, like the earlier custard, was delicate and packed with rich flavor. The gelée provided tart balance to the rich, lightly sweet panna cotta while the bacon added salt, texture and light smokiness. The panna cotta was paired with ruby port by Dow’s, a rich, sticky-sweet dessert wine — which meant the dish itself certainly needed no more sugar.
Guests can book a TableOne reservation for two and enjoy the four-course menu of the day for $75 per person and include wine pairings for an additional $35. There are also five-, eight- and 10-course options. A 72-hour notice, Graham will work with you to design a 5, 8 or 10 course meal for you and 6 to 10 guests starting at $85 per person (wine pairings included from $125).
The meal was one we’d gladly pay upwards of $85 for at a landmark birthday or special celebration. The experience of sitting in a professional kitchen and watching a chef with over two decades of cooking around the world was a treat — not unlike watching a performance artist, just more filling.
There are also lower-key (and less expensive) onsite dining options for everything from casual bites to upscale affairs. Launch is a counter-service café and general merchandise store for coffee, grab-and-go snacks, beverages and basic personal items. It is open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Across from the café is the sleek and modern Axis Lounge which is open daily from noon until midnight. The menu focuses on globally-influenced small plates like pork belly sliders, crispy rock shrimp, charred shishito peppers and assorted flatbreads. There is also a specialty “liquid art” cocktail program, beer, wine and a 200-label bourbon and whiskey list.
ARA Restaurant is the hotel’s main restaurant and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast is served daily from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. with a full buffet or a la carte entrees ranging from breakfast tacos to steak Benedict. Lunch is served daily from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and runs the gamut from soups and salads to flatbreads, sandwiches and pastas. Dinner service is available daily from 5 to 10 p.m. with hearty dishes like Thyme Braised Berkshire Pork Shank with sweet potato hash, Swiss chard and apple gastrique, pan seared scallops, braised short rib pasta, and roasted cauliflower steak.
About the Rooms
Rooms at The Royal Sonesta start at $99 a night, which is a steal for one of the few AAA Four Diamond-rated hotels in the city.
The hotel has packages throughout the year on its offers page that includes additional perks like access to the breakfast buffet at ARA or tickets to sporting events.
There are several ongoing offers and packages, too. Guests can save up to 20 percent by booking four nights’ stay, 15 percent for three nights and 10 percent for two. Sonesta Travel Pass members save five percent off the best rate when booking directly with the hotel (not through a travel website) every day with no exceptions. The membership is free and allows guests to accumulate points redeemable free nights and other special offers.
Preferred rooms are 300-square-feet and have either a king bed, queen bed or double beds. The amenities include a 42-inch-tall high definition television, iHome clock radio that can also charge an iPhone, mini-refrigerator, Keurig coffee maker, electronic safe and complimentary high-speed wireless internet. Accessible rooms are also available.
Some of the more thoughtful details included motion-sensitive lights embedded in the bottom of the nightstands that gently illuminate the way for those middle-of-the-night bathroom visits. The refrigerator, coffee maker and safe are enclosed in the dresser, which makes the room feel clean and organized. The shampoo, conditioner and shower gel are in large, mounted dispensers in the shower, which is much more convenient (not to mention environmentally friendly) for guests than the sample-sized versions which often don’t have enough product to last a single shower — much less an entire stay.
Parking and Valet
Valet, as it is at most nice hotels, is fairly pricey at $34 a night. That said, guests can book Royal Sonesta’s Park-and-Stay package which includes parking for $128 a night. Guests can also self-park for $24 per night.
Whether you’re planning a staycation or an intimate fine-dining experience for a special occasion, Houston’s Royal Sonesta provides can provide world-class service. Their friendly staff and assemblage of amenities deliver a truly royal adventure.
The Royal Sonesta in the Galleria area is located at 2222 West Loop South.
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the hotel for the purpose of assessing its offerings.