It is impossible to get your arms around Park Hyatt Shanghai, as Americans might say. For a start, you cannot even see the top when the weather gods decree that the city needs a bit of mist and rain to nourish its commendable acreage of greenery, dotted along many main city roads, and in its parks. Somewhere in this 101-floor Shanghai World Financial Center building, on the Pudong side of the river, is the luxury hotel. My driver even had a problem finding the entrance but that was his fault (even reputable chauffeurs can be destination challenged).
At the door, a theatrical ballet is played out for arrivals. Met, taken through high-high automatic doors, turn right, through yet more high-high automatic doors, past some sculptures, in an elevator up to the 87th floor lobby. Turn through 180 degrees to another bank of elevators to go down to your room. In 8304, a lovely suite that today looks straight into mist, I do more turns of 180 degrees, and some other degrees too, to inspect the room. At the far end of the concertina walkway I am greeted by the opening jaws of the automatic toilet, one of those that, alligator-like, opens wide as soon as it sees potential prey, and fortunately waits until you have left before closing them.
8304 oozes China, freshness and health. A chair has an oriental feel (the apples are to keep the doctor away). Notelets and other paper items in the room show copies of etchings by Takahama Toshiya, commissioned for the hotel. Up by the highly-raised lap pool, on the 85th floor, are sculptures by Shintaro Otsuka, from Tokyo (the hotel is Japanese owned).
Now do I go up, or down, once I have finished at the pool (please, please, Tony Chi, you who designed this exquisite hotel, please put a floor sign by the elevators to help mere mortals, including me)? In fact Christophe Sadones, who runs this whole place, has had a finger in every moveable part of the pie. You can see his touch in the bathing set-up, in the wet area that wraps itself around the showers and the bathtub. His food finesse is visible in the Dining Room, an 87th-floor room that seems like a sophisticated kitchen, with several family-style dining areas around. Even in the most casual of set-ups, the napkins are perfectly-pressed pulled-thread linen.
Alongside tiny silver salt and pepper shakers stand sterling silver birds (wonder if they, like those on all the tables at Mosimann’s Club in London, are from the Patrick Mavros community village in Harare?). These dining areas, leading off the lobby, are not the only dining venues – well, be practical, even if you have lightning-quick elevators you do not exactly feel like going out to eat when you are temporarily living on the 83rd floor and you can only get out via the 87th floor. For breakfast, I head up to the three-floor Dining Room, which starts on the 91st floor. In the morning, this is actually more like a(nother) kitchen, as you wander around the actual cooking areas, choosing, say, a banana and soy smoothie and deep-fried dough to show that, wow, you are an American here in China.
I need to go. I take one elevator from the 91st to the 87th floor, another from the 87th to the 83rd floor to clean my teeth. Wish I could come back for The Masters of Food & Wine, here November 27th – December 3rd, 2013. Miraculously, as I exit my door Iverson, a bow-tied attendant who is just about to transfer to weave his magic at Park Hyatt Tokyo, is waiting to take the Porsche Rimowa up to the 87th floor. There Mariano, from Mendoza, is also part of the act. It (the case) and I are escorted to the final elevator, back down to the luxury hotel’s ground floor. Goodbye, three bas-relief figures leaning out of a wall say (Tony Chi is very partial to anthropomorphic shapes – see MGM Grand’s SkyLofts in Las Vegas).
Female sommeliers are often encountered in the west but to meet up with the Chinese Sommeliers’ Champion 2012 – and the Best Chinese Sommelier for French Wines 2011 – Ying Guo, is a real treat. She is head sommelier at the six-month old luxury hotel that is Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai at Pudong and, she tells the gal in faultless English, she was destined to do this. Her parents are in the drinks business, and once introduced to it, she quickly knew wine, particularly fine French, to be her passion.
It is fortunate that her (German) boss, Rainer Stampfer, believes in only the best. In the bedrooms, he has commissioned exclusive Italian toiletries, from Villa Lorenzo Villoresi, in six-sided red rubber bottles with silver stoppers. He has called his main restaurant Camelia, not only for memories of Chanel but because a quarter of Chinese cook, at home, with camelia oil: here he has brought in both a Japanese master chef, Usao Takizawa, and a French chef, Benjamin Brial. There are therefore, as you might expect, two Hermès-look leather-covered menus, turquoise Japanese and orange French.
We start with a bowl of sashimi. We go on to Takizawa-san style rolled maki and fish-on-top nigiri sushi, and then I proceed to a Parisian version of black cod. Ying Guo, faced with an easily surmountable challenge of red with fish, chooses Marsannay 2009 Les Longeroies Olivier Decelle. We are, as you would imagine, drinking out of Riedel glass, and eating off Bernardaud plates. The cutlery, which looks as if it has lost all its shine, is an unusual matt Christofle. There is something about these hotel guys in Shanghai. It is not so much that they try to outdo each other, more that they cannot lose face by being left behind.
Up in my room I find a 12-inch wide pair of red lips, rather like a pillow but actually a top-only shelf. The lips are surrounded by standing lipsticks, clear plastic outsides, real chocolate (milk or dark) inside. I have the tea presentation that is the norm when arriving at any good hotel anywhere in China. Here the teapot has a clown’s nose as its lid’s knob. I wonder if has been borrowed from the Power Station of Art, the newish gallery of modern art that is a conversion of Shanghai’s 1897 Nanshi Power Plant (it is currently, through end July 2013, showing an Andy Warhol exhibition).
I do wonder sometimes if my life story is becoming boring – but I rely on my critics to let me know if performance is not up to par. I return to a final workout in the gym, wall sculptures and all, and then, for variety, run along the road outside. This is easy as the pavement sidewalk is wide and meticulously clean, but it is also frustrating as traffic lights do not allow plenty of pedestrian time. Solution, gal? Run round and round a block rather than trying to cross roads. You also know, this way, that you will not get lost.
Back in time for breakfast, I consider Chinese specialties, say shao mai dim sum or vegetable buns, or deep-fried dough sticks and vegetable spring rolls. I could try congee, and/or fried rice and ‘scalding’ vegetables. Sorry, even in this luxury hotel I chicken out, order wholegrain toast, to eat with French jam, French butter.
Fashion and hotels are becoming more and more interlinked. Some designers put their names to hotels, with Armani and Versace, and possibly Missoni, leading the success stories when it comes to wear-gear, and Bulgari in the jewellery sector. The gal is day-dreaming, as she rides at 300km per hour, by train. What would a Vivienne Westwood hotel look like? Ghastly. A Tom Ford luxury hotel would have kids’ toiletries, a gesture to his own son. A Chanel hotel could be divine. And what with new fashion brands coming up the whole time there is plenty of room for scope. First Lady of China, Peng Liyuan, for instance, wore Ma Ke designs (Exception de Mixmind and Wuyong brands) on her trip to the USA – finally there is a currently first lady to compete with Valérie Trierweiler when it comes to style.
A Chanel hotel might even look halfway like the six-month old Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai at Pudong, where the front desk ladies look so exquisite you want a photo. In June 2012, yes before it was open, the 55 curving stone steps up from the lobby to the next floor became a catwalk for a getting-to-know-you party. The girls, and some of the guys, managed to process up and down without tripping, showing off the Chanel-type outfits that are actually work uniform (they are designed by Masaru Mineo). Today, as I take the steps up to look at the Chinese restaurant on that second floor, I glance back down, to a chandelier that hangs over the reception desk, and to Hirotoshi Sawada paintings.
Someone has done a brilliantly witty job in selecting artworks for this hotel. Walk along to the gym and an inset ridge along one of the corridor’s walls has a back-lit triathlon of 12-inch high figures, hanging through hoops, cycling, turning inside out and back again. These were all made in Bali by Jeffrey Lee. It is always inspirational to have photos on the wall that encourage you to work out even harder, even faster (love the decorations in the eyrie gym of the Hotel Bristol, Vienna), but somehow having actual sculptures has even more effect.
And look at the figures in the gym itself. Here more Lees are set on one wall. Four groups, each of four, appear to be climbing up as a team. One group is far ahead, trying to go faster. This is unique and deserves a prize. It is actually quite difficult to think which gyms would warrant awards for anything other than equipment – perhaps Mandarin Oriental Jakarta, for setting all main pieces of equipment in a circle, facing inwards. But have you noticed how unfit those who organise awards, both in newsletters and at ceremonies, must be as they reward spas but never gyms? The only exception here is any publication to do with Nancy Novogrod, who until it closed for renovation used the gym at the Loews Regency when she was in New York.
Now, she tells me, she has to go to an Equinox, and when Loews Regency re-opens the gym will only be for hotel guests (shame on you Jonathan Tisch for turning the Editor-in-Chief of Travel+Leisure’s publications away, not a good idea). Anyway, back here to this sensible Shanghai hotel, which has its lobby on ground floor, and only one elevator block, up to whichever floor you want. Say the pool. Oh YES, once past the gym you come to this big indoor pool, with an LED screen at one end which shows, ceiling-high, flames evolving into woodland flowers and then to rocks.
I am going to the spa, next to the pool, where I am greeted by more young ladies in ‘Chanel’ and pearls, with lots of orchids around. After my blissful hour, during which I sleep like a baby, I head downstairs, for yet more beauty, in the form of flowers in the lobby of this luxury hotel.