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A really great club lounge gives a hotel the luxury advantage

One enthusiast (or two?), as seen in the gym ceiling mirrors, The Ritz-Carlton Shenzhen

Things are not always what they seem when you travel.  The ceiling of the enormous – and it IS enormous – sixth floor gym in the 28-floor Ritz-Carlton Shenzhen is decorated with circular mirrors four feet across.

Most people working out here, 24 hours a day if they so desire, never look up.  You only spy the ceiling if you are lying flat on the wood floor.  Do that and work out with one of the silver Pilates balls and you find a variety of contortions.

Scrunch up to the ball and you look up and find your legs have ‘disappeared’.  Lie in another place and your legs, gal, have become ‘separated’ from your body.

Another ceiling, in the two-floor-high Club Lounge

Looking up is not something that most travellers do.  They look forward, to the time they must leave for yet another flight, or to the hour of a spa appointment or a meeting with a potential investor.  In the lovely Ritz-Carlton Club on the 26th floor of this luxury hotel you look up through two floors.

Designer Hirsch Bedner has hung a crystal mobile from the ceiling, and put coloured plates down one wall.   I love club lounges that soar, and with lots of light. Ones that spring to mind are the club lounges of Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, and Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo.

The club lounges in InterContinental Hong Kong and Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore do not soar, but they are full of light and have fabulous views – so does the lounge at Langham Place Mongkok, Hong Kong, which is open 24 hours (watch this space, in a few days’ time).

The Club lounge has a fire that 'burns' all day long

The club lounge here, at Ritz-Carlton Shenzhen, has a real-flame fire that ‘burns’ from the moment the area opens at 0630.  The whole space is generous.  There are two boardrooms, one with 12 and one with six seats, and two HP work stations with printers (this is a hotel that is predominantly top business: all of the 282 bedrooms have big desks and full office sets, and free WiFi).

The club lounge has a smoking room, sensibly behind glass doors, and an eclectic library that meant I was able to learn more about beer production, to augment my inadequate knowledge.

Club manager Sally Yu, on duty at 0600

Lounge manager Sally Yu moved from another hotel when Ritz-Carlton opened in 2009.  She is often on duty herself when the lounge opens, and day-long she has a team of eight.  Her uniform is fashion-stunning, a black skirt-suit with little diamante cover-up, chic and businesslike.

Is there anything else I can get for you, she asks as she walks swiftly over to press for one of the four elevators.  Again, a good manager makes a lounge work.  Other top managers include Canadian-Chinese Judy Leung at Pudong Shangri-La, Shanghai, and Australian Judy Larucci at Four Seasons Hotel Sydney – and Ida Wong at InterContinental Hong Kong. These people have been around for a few years, and they know regular guests.

Congee and fried dough sticks are part of the extensive Club breakfast buffet

The breakfast buffet in the club lounge here embodies all that a good lounge should.  Since 50 percent of the hotel guests are Chinese, the spread includes congee and fried dough sticks.  For others, there are home-made yoghurts and fruits and cold cuts.  A chef stands at the cooking station, ready to prepare what-ever.

Unusually for China, there are really healthy breads, the type with seeds on top (an Austrian, Christoph Travniczek, is in charge of food here).  The coffee is superb, and the lovely Sally brings me a second cup, as requested, in a paper cup to-go.  The extra style comes through the size of the cup, big, and with a paper girdle around it to prevent hand-burning.

One little corner of the Club cocktail presentation

Ritz-Carlton company-wide prides itself on day-long club lounge food presentations, with enough snacks to enable you to make lunch or dinner if necessary.   I tend to use lounges merely for breakfast, and sometimes at cocktail hour.

Here, the evening service includes house wines, Fontant by Skalli, currently a Chardonnay 2007 and a Fortant de France Cabernet Sauvignon 2010.   The quality of the drinks, and the food, can be a strong signal in showing the ‘position’ of the hotel.

When he was boss of Hilton Shanghai, Guy Hutchinson turned his club lounge into a proper restaurant, and the hotel attracted the top sports names, especially from Formula One and the A-list tennis circuit.

Today, Hilton London Heathrow Airport – where the lounge also has a working fire – offers the opportunity for the single diner to buy proper meals, say great fish and chips, rather than retreat to room service.

Antipasti platter in Paletto ...

But, being Ritz-Carlton, there are other fish to fry, or rather eating places to dine here.  There is a buffet restaurant called Flavourz that is packed out with local families.  There is a 350-seat Chinese restaurant, Xingli, which has no fewer than 23 (sic, 23!) private dining rooms.

The Italian restaurant, Paletto, has only one private dining area for its total 80-seat capacity, and you can see into that exclusive area anyway which takes away the real privacy.  We preferred to sit in the main area, a colourful stage with two colourful actors, a maitre d’ from Tuscany and a newly-arrived chef from Sardinia.

The former chose a Pianirossi Solus Maremma Toscana 2005, which he decanted into a big flat-bottomed carafe with a handle.  The latter, Francesco, started our meal with individual antipasti platters that included a divine Australian wagyu beef strip wrapped around soaked bread.

tagliatelle with white truffle oil at Paletto restaurant Ritz-Carlton Shenzen

.. and Francesco's heavenly tagliatelle with white truffle oil

Oh Francesco, your tagliatelle, the best in the world (or at least one of the ten very-best).  This theatre of Paletto needs to have a song included onstage. It would go something like this:  your pasta is home-made, and this is your trade, but add white truffle oil and lots of cream and you will make a young lady dream….

I got back up to my room (2818, looking down at the Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Centre) and found ‘sweet dreams’ embroidered on the pillowcase. What a lovely finale to a great day, part of a memorable lifestyle stay.