An opinionated interior designer in Shanghai

In the latest of an occasional series, interior designer David Bentheim casts his critical eye over two contrasting hotels in Shanghai.

I am making a seismic shift for this column and reporting from Shanghai. It’s a ‘compare and contrast’ article on the behemoth that is The Peninsula and the comparatively much lighter-weight Puli, the boutique contender.

Arriving in Shanghai involves a sharp intake of breath. It is exciting, stimulating and leaves one with an uneasy feeling that one has touched down on a parallel plane – more or less like earth but definitely not quite!  On arrival, our credit card stuck in the cash machine and was irretrievable until the lady who worked INSIDE the machine could be found!

The Peninsula: – mega huge floristry, mega quantities of marble, mega numbers of staff – but, alas not mega efficient  or thought out. Our room was not ready and nor was it ready an hour later – and I am talking 4pm and we had to get going! However, the rooms were certainly presidential, super luxuriously furnished – silk carpets, beautiful silk panels, and most probably the best dressing room ever. The pinnacle was the built-in nail drier – that little luxury without which life could be rendered unbearable.   

But the Peninsula lost me in the details, running out of toast for 20 minutes at breakfast, not knowing, at the super fantastic roof terrace bar how to order a very dry martini, bad service in the hugely expensive Yi Long restaurant, no comfortable lobby area and none of the Mandarin sharp, charming efficiency which makes hotels at that level tick.

However, Sir Elly’s (ghastly put-off name) has to be the best city view bar ever, even beating the Felix in Hong Kong Bar or London’s roof club at The Ned. A table out on the roof overlooking The Bund and the rest of Shanghai helped the drink flow – if only they knew how to serve that dry Martini!

The above, somewhat lengthily, takes me to my Peon of Praise – The Puli. It hasn’t got the views or the position of The Peninsula but what a total delight! You enter by a staked bamboo driveway hidden behind ultra-modern commercial Shanghai, to a breathtakingly simple triple-height back-lit lobby – a narrow beam of light focusing on vibrant shockingly pink orchids leading you to a long narrow lofty and simply fabulously cool lobby – it even has sofas – lots of them! And there the longest reception desk bar, backdrop of trimmed garden, and the most welcoming, professional and delightful concierge team.  It does what boutique hotels ought to do best. It introduces you to the city. It’s not anywhere. This IS Shanghai and you feel elevated by being there. This is a “your wish is our command” sort of a place – and at a great price. Every bar and Lobby is well served, chic and elegant, and every detail considered.  

The bright bedrooms certainly didn’t match up to the swank and plushness of the Peninisula and were studies instead, of understated minimalism. The bathrooms/dressing room is the same size as the bedroom and for the bather amongst us had a bath tub view of the city. On the subject of bathing – the pool at the top is a masterpiece of city pool chic. I could have spent a lot of time in the super -glamorous changing room and jacuzzi, and then through electric sliding screens to the pool itself.  This is certainly best enjoyed without teams of competitive lap swimmers, but plenty big enough for the likes of me. After a few evening laps, just lying on a hugely comfortable chaise longue makes this about as relaxing a place as Shanghai can offer, plus a cocktail.

I normally escape from any hotel I stay in at breakfast and indeed any other meal, but not here. Not only was everything delicious and with absolute adherance to brand design values. The simplicity and discipline of the presentation of this breakfast gargantuan feast is a show stopper – not that I can quite embrace congee at breakfast. There was certainly enough of everything else. But here a gripe. I absolutely hate the 10.30 breakfast clearance. It’s an international world where people jet in from different time zones and on that sleepy arrival for a morning munch at 10.20 am, dishes being whipped away from under your nose is grim! Don’t clear up around me please! It’s not lunch until 12 earliest!

Yes, I fell in love with the Puli It had it all – down to the irresistible Japanese Toto loos (sadly only in the public areas).  I am of course hugely jealous of Kume Sekkei and Layan DesignGroup who are responsible for this elegant design – but if you are looking for a designer closer to home…..

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