New Mandarin Oriental offers solace in busy Shanghai
The newly opened Mandarin Oriental in Shanghai stuns by design and a promise of solace, writes Nick Taylor
Shanghai's business district, Lujiazui, is replete with five-star hotels. Within a couple of square kilometres, you will find a Ritz-Carlton, a Four Seasons, a Shangri-La, a Park Hyatt, a Grand Hyatt and a new Banyan Tree. And into this crowded market comes Shanghai's first Mandarin Oriental, a 318-room, 44-suite property on a stretch of waterfront that was previously an old dockyard.
How does it stand out? Let's be honest, it's probably not going to be because of its bedrooms. Most five-star rooms feel pretty similar: 200 television channels, a telephone in the bathroom, a TV above the tub. The vast beds are always dressed in Egyptian cotton. There is an iPod dock by the bed, a Nespresso machine by the door and luxurious toiletries (in this case by London's Ormonde Jayne).
But there is one clear yardstick: customer service. On the mainland, customer service is seldom as good as it is in Hong Kong, but it's an area in which this hotel excels. Its staff members appear confident in their skills; they are relaxed and charming. There is none of the awkward sycophancy that is sometimes mistaken for good service. That our visit took place only a week after the hotel opened made it all the more impressive.
The hotel's design is playful and contemporary: bright communal areas are filled with splashes of colour, such as the orange pixellated mural in the lobby. Ninety per cent of its rooms have a river view. There is room to stretch out in each suite; a sense of spaciousness at odds with cluttered skyline.
The pool, spa and two of the hotel's restaurants are on the lower-ground floor, but thanks to a sunken bamboo garden, they are drenched in light and all have outdoor seating.
Chinese restaurant Yong Yi Ting's glass-walled private dining rooms are finished in black marble and slate, and lit by crystals at your feet. Mirrors cover half of the walls, and at the centre of all this darkness and light is an open kitchen. The restaurant serves Jiangnan cuisine, from the neighbouring provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, with a menu of river fish and crab, plus pork in sweet sauces.
Next door is Asian fusion restaurant Zest, which offers all-day dining. But the showpiece is Fifty 8° Grill, helmed by executive chef Richard Ekkebus, whose restaurant, Amber, at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, has two Michelin stars. Ekkebus has designed a menu of rustic French food - wood-fired steaks, rich pork terrines, hand-carved charcuterie and fresh-baked sourdough bread, complemented by a 250-label wine list - served family-style, in the tradition of Chinese meals.
The hotel has the city's largest presidential suite, at almost 800 square metres, including two roof terraces, and the spa is one of the best in the city; we enjoyed an embarrassing amount of pampering with their Oriental Essence couples treatment.
It also has an art collection that would rival many public galleries: more than 4,000 original works by Chinese and international artists.
The location - a new waterfront development called Harbour City - may prove an issue for some guests. Next year shops will arrive, along with a marina, more five-star restaurants and bars, and bank offices. But at the moment, it feels isolated.
This is not necessarily a criticism. The fact that the Mandarin Oriental stands on its own (for now) means its guests can stroll out of the hotel and find relative peace: a waterfront walk through the remnants of an old dockyard with sparkling river views on all sides. In the centre of a city of 20 million people, that's a rare thing.
Mandarin Oriental Pudong
111Pudong Road South, Pudong, Shanghai
Getting there: Hong Kong Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Shanghai Airlines and many others fly non-stop from Hong Kong. The hotel is a 45-minute drive from Pudong International Airport and 35 minutes from Hongqiao airport.
Staying there: deluxe rooms cost 3,600 yuan (HK$4,550) plus 15 per cent service charge per night. Deluxe River View rooms cost 3,800 yuan, excluding the service charge.