Chengdu is, especially at holiday periods – as above – a busy city. Yes, visitors come from far and wide for the pandas. Fly in and you see lots of kids with excited faces. Fly out, and the same kids are sometimes carrying pandas, toys of course, that are as big as they are. Chengdu is also a genuine tourist attraction, for its history, and today’s teahouses, and retail. It is also home to great luxury hotels, of which Ritz-Carlton Chengdu is one of the more established – it is now four years old. The gal called by to see how it is faring, and the answer, clearly, is very well indeed. This is the 353-room property that instantly got local A-listers’ attention, as Ritz-Carlton, says GM Vito Romeo, is the most recognized luxury brand among the billionaires and millionaires who are featured in Hurun Report’s assessments. This is an oasis. Come in from the hurly-burly of outside life, as above: leave the mass of humanity that is sprawled everywhere and checking devices non-stop.
Enter a world of simplicity and style when it comes to traditional Chinese design, as in the chair on the left. Vito Romeo, who is from southern Italy, took me up to the 38th floor club lounge, where masses of young couples with small kids in tow were enjoying the spread. He also showed me the lobby being set up for afternoon tea, which is a sell-out with young female fashionistas who frequently stay two hours or more, chatting – this meal is now a partnership with TWG tea, from Singapore, as the trendy custom is to drink western, rather than Chinese, tea at afternoon tea-time (hoteliers worldwide might like to bear this in mind). Afternoon tea here at Ritz-Carlton Chengdu is complemented at weekends by live music and then of course Ms Chen, Ms Li and Ms Wang and their mates stay even longer, and one can only imagine the gossip. Day-long, there are, incidentally, displays and tastings of Chinese teas in the main lobby.
Where are their men that go with Ms Chen, Ms Li and Ms Wang and their mates? Perhaps they are buying the only designer accessories they deem worth major investment, namely small hand-held bags, and belts, perhaps shoes and definitely watches – the other necessary accompaniment is a brand-heavy beautiful lady. Later, when marriages and babies come into play, spend patterns evolve somewhat. Vito Romeo and I were lucky to find a table in Spices, which would do 160 covers this lunchtime (it seats 150). Little has changed since my first Chinese-ambience dining experience at the old Forum in Singapore years ago when it was obviously essential to cover every square inch of enormous table tops with china and food, and this is still the case today, at buffets.
The chefs at the many stations coped magnificently. I was amazed at some reed-thin adults piling their plates Himalaya-high with prawns from the seafood station, while others went for noodles prepared to order, or Pekin duck, or even osso bucco. Vito Romeo went for foie gras, which is Rougié made-in-China and outstanding. It did not matter what you fancied, this is a luxury hotel that can supply it. Fortunately the table-mats are easy-clean Chilewich (goodness, no Ritz-Carlton would have used plastic mats in olden days) and there were at least twice the number of floor-wiper-uppers as you would expect in most busy restaurants outside China. But the main thing is that everyone, the GM included, was having a good time, and I was in that crowd.