The gal is about to leave Shanghai, with its unique marriage of old and new, tradition and the latest modernity. Out on the last morning, it is business as usual for the extra mature local guys, who meet their pals at dawn, always the same place along The Bund, on the west bank of the Huangpu River. Just outside the stunning Peninsula Shanghai, which pundits say again and again is the best luxury hotel in China, it is peaceful at that hour. The only other activity is a bridal couple having photos taken, before the crowds arrive, and a couple of venerables arriving by bike, their kites furled, ready to join a colleague who got there ahead of them and is already flying his.
By contrast, as I walk back along the hallowed ground floor corridor of the 235-room hotel, I pass its stunning boutiques. There is Chopard, not yet open of course, and, at the end, the Peter Marino-designed Chanel, with its latest dresses, so immaculately displayed. The shoes the mannequins are wearing are all gold. Shoes are very much a part of the Shanghai fashionista ensemble (in case you are interested there are lots of wedges, many incredible high Louboutins and Manolos and, for both sexes, sneakers in day-glo hues). The immaculate hotel team, however, some 800 of them in total, are universally in black, with hints of white.
The exception, last night, was the hotel’s GM, Joseph Chong, who turned up in bow tie and a checked shirt, perhaps a replay of his recent visit to Scotland to choose 223 bottles of 22-year old Macallan which will have the hotel’s label (this is such a suitable choice: Macallan, with Cutty Sark and The Famous Grouse, is owned by the Robertson Trust’s Edrington Group – the Trust gave £11.4 million last year to charities). Joseph Chong is always thinking of something new to go-bespoke (as a besotted bicycle lover, will we soon have Peninsula Green bikes to accompany the Rolls, Mini Coopers and electric vehicles that have their own charging units in the hotel’s basement?).
On the edible-potable side, The Peninsula name is there, but of course only on The Best. At dinner in Sir Elly’s, we start with Peninsula Champagne, by Deutz, and go on to The Peninsula Shanghai Collection, Ch de la Dauphine Fronsac Famille Jean Halley 2011. Our exquisite meal starts with a glass of sweetpea icecream atop shaved tomato ice atop a parmesan cream. We go on to cucumber-held rounds of pickled oyster and white chocolate topped with The Peninsula beluga, one of three bespoke caviars from Kaluga Queen in Zhejiang. Yes, if you must know, we went on to asparagus velouté poured over soft-poached egg, and grilled wagyu flank and peach Melba… none of that was Peninsula-branded.
But oh, the breakfast coffee was: The Peninsula Original Blend Coffee, superb, a medium-roast Arabica, served in old-look, like venerable, coat of arms-marked silver pots, complementing Bernardaud china and palest avocado table linens that perfectly match the velour chair seats and backs and full length curtains. The biggest of the three buffet tables elegantly has small night lights. Six massive three-tier crystal-fringe chandeliers hang overhead. Soft taped music is mostly strings, but a harp comes in later – and much later in the day, live music appears. One day a month, too, a fashion show comes to enliven the daily afternoon day (at that fashion tea, labelled Art-rageous, kids are diverted with cooking lessons, complete with named aprons and toques).
I am ready to go, my emigration form finally needed. At what those pundits say is the best luxury hotel, I find as I open the door of corner suite 810 a man (in black and white, of course) is ready to help with my tiny wheelie. Almost unique in Shanghai, you never seem to wait for elevators in this 14-floor hotel. First, front desk. Then out of the door, and one of the smallest of those Peninsula green vehicles discreetly awaits. Bye bye Shanghai.