No wonder this young lady working in the 49th floor Club Lounge of the luxury Ritz-Carlton Shanghai Pudong is happy. She is one of 600 lucky people chosen from, it is said, 18,000 applicants, to work in this stunning hotel. Architect of the 58-floor building is César Pelli so obviously designer Richard Farnell had to be ultra-creative when it came to interiors. He has come up with a combination of Art Deco meets origami, as the gal will show.
But, as so always in great hotels, it is the people who make a difference. Yes, the lounge lady knew my coffee likes. Later, we had no sooner sat down in Scena restaurant, off the 52nd floor lobby, and started admiring the view down across the Huangpu River to The Bund when a smiling guy brought us both gin and tonics, Hendricks of course, no questions asked. Each glass had a big ice ball with cucumber embedded in it. After that chef Sandro Gamba, whom I first met in Chicago ages ago, came by to say hello, and I felt right at home.
After dinner, which included tastings both of the super-nutty local Kaluga oscietra caviar and an excellent Rougié-involved foie gras, we took a special lift, from the lobby, up to the rooftop bar. Even the elevator is sensational. Its cabin’s rear wall is a display of the punt-bases of real wine bottles, empty of courses. A side wall shows various glasses. Up on the rooftop, you can go inside but, if the weather allows, nothing beats standing or sitting outside in the fresh air, looking at the amazing view. Happy local couples, achievers in the millionaire class so average age about 36, are, well, happy.
When I get back to my home, 4923 – a 600 sq ft Club Suite – I find a goodnight special, a Chinese vertical-tray holding lots of little goodies. I really need to do a vertical marathon to work off all this delicious food (but no problem, the Technogym, up on the 53rd floor, is 24/7 and, fortunately, Shanghai hotels do not seem to have the same blockage when it comes to BBC and CNN that some of their Beijing counterparts do). The room is divinely elegant, with telephones esconsed in pale tan leather boxes. I muse that even five years ago, when the hotel opened June 10th, 2010, at precisely 11.08 am, landline telephone usage must have been a hundred times more than today.
More elegance. Full-length curtains swirl gracefully around rounded corners of both bedroom and salon, one big window each. In the bedroom the curtains are held behind fretted metal screens showing Isadora Duncan-type dancing ladies. By my bed, which has Art Deco-fluted fibre optic reading lights, a small card has a photo of three current room maids, with a handwritten welcome note from Vicky. On a small table sits a large leather chest, open to reveal a photo of Shanghai people, from a century ago. The chest holds edible goodies under three glass cloches.
For many Asian travellers any luxury hotel’s worth is greatly enhanced by its proximity to shopping. This is rarely my scene but I am looking for a friend, am told to check out a particular coffee bar. Ritz-Carlton Shanghai Pudong is actually attached to the Shanghai IFC mall and wow, it is enormous, an open atrium with, well, three or four floors that seem to go on for ever and ever. Even at the early hour of ten a.m., before Louis Vuitton and Prada and their like open their doors, groups are taking photos – with the same phones they use for everything, making those landlines positively Jurassic – that they post, immediately, on Wechat. Over 70 percent of Wechat’s 540 million users interact at least ten times a day. One third of Tencent, which owns Wechat, belongs to Koos Bekker, owner of Babylonstoren, the amazing vineyard-farm hotel near Cape Town. My mind is wandering, even at this hour.