Where is it? Pretty much in the middle of the former French Concession, opposite Hengshan Road metro station and – as might be surmised – at No 12 Hengshan Lu. The area remains at a happy remove from the tourist jostle of the Bund and the high-rise forest of Pudong, and is about 45 minutes’ drive from the Shanghai Pudong International Airport. At first blush, the exterior (right) might call to mind George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth but – just as you’re not supposed to be judgmental about books’ covers – that’s no reflection on the interiors, which are flooded with light and good cheer. The oval-ish hotel is set around an interior garden (top) while the roof has been known to host a party or two, and Tops & Terrace is an enticing top-floor semi-alfresco chill-out zone with vistas over the neighbourhood’s red-tiled roofs. Shanghai’s got smart hotels like other cities have convenience stores; to continue the analogy, think of “12@HS” as an intelligently stocked delicatessen.
Fine, but what’s inside? Starting in the basement may seem unusual, but it’s a fabulously irresistible marine grotto that’s largely illuminated by skylights. The swimming pool (right) stretches 25 metres and is flanked by a waterfall, loungers, whirlpools and a shallow pool. The fitness centre (open 24/7) is packed with machinery seemingly designed by a 21st-century Heath Robinson – he of eccentric designs – while the spa puts the “amp” in pampering with an extensive treatment menu. The central garden is ringed by an arcade – the high-fashion Salon is apparently a must-stop-shop for Shanghai celebs. And wherever guests may rank on the rich-and-famous lists, nobody checks in at reception: the paperwork, if that’s the right expression in the Age of iPad, is done in-room.
Tell us about those rooms. If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to the Presidential Suite, there are 27 other themed suites and 143 regular rooms. The decor is very much a marriage of Asian style and hi-tech, so the delicate floral screens on the walls face off with complimentary Wi-fi, an iPod dock, a mammoth television screen and a Japanese loo that does everything except sing karaoke. A roomy bathtub, separate shower and yards of marble complete the ablutionary ensemble. With rooms starting at 40 square metres, there’s little in the way of clutter, so the overall feel is both comfortable and functional. Nobody has yet to object to the free beer and soft drinks that populate the fridge.
What’s the food like? In a word, smashing. While 12 Hengshan may not be the most imaginative name, this Chinese restaurant is otherwise inspirational. The cuisine is essentially Shanghainese with more than a nod to Cantonese, while porcelain chandeliers and eight private rooms add a fair dollop of exclusivity. Tops & Terrace is open all day and tends to get packed for the Saturday European barbecue (weather permitting) and Sunday’s seafood and bubbles brunch. Pick up a picnic from The Corner if you’re heading out (umpteen varieties of cheesecake); and while this may not exactly fall under the food category, cigar aficionados also get a dedicated lounge.
We’re refreshed and replete; what’s next? While billing Hengshan Lu as Shanghai’s Champs-Élysées might be a press release too far, it’s certainly one of the most charismatic strips in the city. Both sides of the road just by 12@HS are dotted with bars, clubs, coffee shops and boutiques. The concierge can lay on walking tours for guests unwilling to place too much faith in Google Maps and motorbike excursions for those unwilling (or too lazy) to hoof it. And while the metro is not exactly a transport of delight, it does thread its way all over Shanghai; furthermore its bilingual signage trumps the cantankerous monoglots found behind the wheel of nearly every taxi in the city.
What’s the bottom line? Rooms start from 1,800 yuan (HK$2,250) plus 15 per cent, while the upper tiers are priced at 28,000 yuan. For details, visit www.theluxurycollection.com/12hengshan.