April 4, 2010
As you sit in the lobby of the Peninsula Shanghai, while the strains of the hotel’s live quartet drift down from the gallery above, you may find yourself staring, transfixed at the enormous murals either side of you. These shimmering creations, by Hong Kong artist Helen Poon, tell the story of the city in abstract form. In many ways that seems to be the aim of the hotel as a whole. In the past 150 years, that story has been one of contradictions and fictions, conflicts and changes but also, importantly, one of luxury.
Situated on The Bund, the latest addition to the prestigious Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd’s portfolio finds itself nestled among grand historic buildings, which have come to represent Shanghai’s glory days as the ‘Paris of the East’.
Though it’s the first new building on The Bund since the Bank Of China’s Art Deco tower was completed in 1937, the Peninsula has no trouble fitting in. This is exactly the sort of place you could imagine visiting diplomats and aristocrats staying in during the roaring 20s. In fact, the hotel has even reintroduced the traditional tea dance to Shanghai, having originally brought the custom to the nearby Astor House Hotel (which HSH owned at the time), in 1923. On the first Saturday of every month, the grand ballroom plays host to this charming homage to the old days, complete with an 18-piece big band accompaniment that will instantly transport you to a more elegant era.
For all its classicism and heritage, its marble and Deco-style fixtures, The Peninsula is also very much in step with the new Shanghai, the home of Expo 2010 and its ‘Better City – Better Life’ slogan. Subtly integrated among the ebony, the hand-painted laquer panels and carved stone of every (superbly spacious) guest room are a host of James Bond-like patented technological features that make everything effortless.
Just tune into your favourite internet radio station on the multimedia panel on the bedroom desk (no laptop needed), run a bath and kick back. If you’re still not suitably relaxed, hit that ‘spa’ button on the side of the tub to dim the lights, deactivate the doorbell and telephone and luxuriate to some soothing sounds.
If, like me, you can’t go anywhere without your own music and gadgets, but tire of filling up half your suitcase with mini-speakers and all manner of connectors, you might find yourself saying “genius” when you cast your eyes on the desk’s built-in iPod/iPhone dock or happen across the gift box with the universal adaptor. But if you’re more about glamour than geekery, the dressing room’s nail dryer may be your own heaven-sent accessory. I didn’t try it myself so I can’t vouch for its speed or effectiveness.
As much fun as these many little add-ons may be, they’re definitely made with grown-ups in mind. This a place for romance, rest and/or indulgence; things that kids would quickly tire of.
Continuing the tour of this adult playground, the Peninsula Spa is a must and is possibly the most opulent space of its kind in all of Asia. Again the décor is grand and classical, but juxtaposed with the clearly contemporary treatments (The De-stresser, The Jet-lag Eliminator) creates an ambience that belongs more to a fantasy than a real time and place. In these surroundings a basic massage can be heavenly, and was for me, but there are tons of tailored treatments to be had (including the new and unique “Bamboo Harmoniser”) and full and half-day spa “journeys” can also be arranged.
Then there’s the food. Though you’ll have to venture outside for authentic local Shanghainese fare, you’d probably do yourself a disservice by missing out on the Peninsula’s Yi Long Court. The Cantonese cuisine here comes courtesy of Michelin-starred chef Tang Chi Keung, whose Ã la carte menu includes melt-in-the-mouth delicacies like pan-fried stuffed scallops and diced beef with garlic in honey sauce.
The setting, styled on the residence of a 1920s Shanghai merchant, perfectly compliments the luxury of the dining itself, and the overall air is somewhat cinematic, in the timeless, old Hollywood sense.
Up on the 13th floor resides what is perhaps the jewel in the Peninsula’s crown. Named after the HSH founder, Sir Elly’s is an exercise in pure extravagance and situated as it is, offers unique views of the Bund itself, the curves of the river, the famous Garden Bridge and Hongkou district across the way.
Decked out in striking red lacquer, with ornamental vases, plush armchairs and floor-to-ceiling windows, the ornate yet intimate circular bar is definitely the place to start the evening. The dining area itself really opens out, exemplifying the hotel’s sense of space, i.e. giving you a lot of it – there’s little chance of ever feeling confined or crowded at the Peninsula.
Cuisine comes courtesy of well-travelled master, Arnaud Berthelier, whose previous post was at Atlanta’s Ritz Carlton. It’s modern and delicate – for which do not read bland – European gastronomy, mixing Eastern and exotic ingredients with classic French style and it is all first class.
If there’s any “drawback” to the kind of luxury the Peninsula offers, it’s that it’s too easy to get used to. And with so many creature comforts, not to mention bars and a whole arcade of exclusive top brand boutiques, you may need to remind yourself to actually get out and see the city.
The author stayed as a guest of the hotel.