An article I wrote on a recent press trip to the capital city of Shaanxi province, Xi'an for 'Nihao' - the in-flight magazine for China Southern Airlines (May issue).
There are three Starwoods properties in the ancient Chinese city of Xi’an, which has a rich history of over 1,300 years. Unlike other hotel brands, which offer the similar typo of cuisine wherever you go, the good thing is that all three of those properties have something different to offer when it comes to providing a selection of fine cuisine. Since I am huge fan of steakhouses, I decided to go and check out the ‘Steakhouse’ at the newly built Sheraton Xi’an North City Hotel. Designed by Wilson Associates LLC, this hotel is one of the newest ones in the city and with 491 guestrooms and suites it is one of the largest too. The restaurant is located on the 2nd floor, and provides an ample amount of breathing space for busy professionals or tourists to enjoy their evening with good food and in a nice environment.
Indeed, set in an airy environment, the Steakhouse provides modern and contemporary dining experiences offering one of the finest prime cuts in the city. As any expert veteran chef will tell you that it’s not easy to find good quality steak in China. Even if the meat is imported then it tends to lose its taste and juices while in transit during airfreight and being frozen for such a long time. Believe you in me, I have seen the good, the ugly, and the utterly horrible steak in my time in China. Therefore, with that in mind it was time for me to see what the Steakhouse had in store.
We entered the restaurant, which was surprisingly empty on the weekday evening; to be welcomed by an air of calmness and an ambiance that portrays nothing but luxury. The highly experienced Chef de Cuisine, Kadafy Hosenally, was on a mission to prove that not only was he good at cooking but also making people smile with his well toned light humour. The Steakhouse is a place that strives to provides the best of Australian beef, as well as promote local Chinese beef for its steak too in the form of Qingdao beef. Everyone in the food industry will tell you that premier British or Australian beef is some of the best in the world. However, the problem with steakhouses in the west, I believe, is that they are provided in nationwide chains which makes them look shabby, and are not cooked of the right quality or given that 5-star luxury care that the dish deserves. So, this is where restaurants such as the Steakhouse are excelling because they provide a highly experienced chef along with right correct environment in which to eat the food in (you don’t need to shout across the table to be heard here!), and the right ambiance.
We commenced by tucking into the ‘Caesar salad tossed in homemade dressing with shaved parmesan cheese’. This was classy food. Normally when you enter into a steakhouse in China you wonder so many things relating to the quality of the service, the ambiance, the background music, and above all else the food itself. The crunchiness of the salad felt as close to mum’s cooking as you can get- but not quite there (yet), and the ingredients that were used to blend in the rest of this dish were of acceptable portions.
The ‘Mediterranean seafood soup’ was filled with fresh seafood, vegetables with a hint of saffron. It seemed to come across as having the flavour and texture of a freshly blossomed rose. The only disappointment was having a single piece of prawn, and that made the presentation look a bit bland. On the whole it was worth every bite to savour. Presentation is not everything sometimes.
Then arrived the dish that I was waiting for the whole evening to try- the 10oz rib eye. Rather than try the Australian Wagyu beef, I decided to opt for the Chinese one. Coming from premier Qingdao grain in the north of China, the same place where the popular Qingdao Beer is manufactured, the steak came without flavour, not tough, served medium rare, as asked. Likewise, the service, sometimes by Chef Kadafy himself, was lovely. I was very amused by his jokes and I think this man is a credit to the restaurant’s well being. The fact is that you can’t argue when you are presented with a good steak like that, and it goes to show that Qingdao beef is not bad too.
And then onto the finale. Mango mousse cake served with lime mango salad seemed to do the trick. I could have easily gone for the equally dashing tiramisu, but then again I have tried tiramisu for times in memorial so I thought I would try something different. I made a good choice. It may not be as colourful as one hopped it to be, however the taste is out of this world. It’s not spongy or soggy, and not too hard on the teeth either. All in all we left the restaurant with smiles, and it’s all kudos to the team for trying their best to bring as much of quality rather than quantity into the Steakhouse.
Located in the newer part of the ancient Chinese city of Xi’an, around 4km from the city centre the spanking new Westin Xi’an is designed by Neri & Hu Design and looks more like a cross between an art gallery and a luxury 5-star hotel. It’s the third Starwoods property in Xi’an, and quite perhaps the most fashionable one too. It’s setting could not be any better as it is placed just a few minutes’ walk away from the 1360 year old Big Wild Goose Pagoda, one of the city’s must see attractions. Transport is easy with only around an hour’s drive from the main Xi’an Xianyang International Airport, which is about 40km away.
The reason why I referred to it as an art gallery is because it looks and feels exactly like that. That’s maybe because why the owners have also built a museum, the first of its kind in the world for Westin. The Xi’an Qujiang Museum of Fine Arts is dedicated to showcase the historical significance of the city of Xi’an, and a tribute to the people of the city. So actually, it’s a bit of a double bill for those coming to reside at the Westin Xi’an. Because the property comprises of a 5-star hotel, adjacent museum, and a shopping centre, so therefore you can easily go sightseeing, go for a relaxing massage at the Heavenly Spa by Westin and indulgence yourself with fine cuisine. To really explore and make the most of the hotel it would take, I guess a few days and not just a one-night stopover.
The Westin Xi’an has arrived to redefine the mid-priced luxury hotel market that is booming in China these days, the sort normal people can afford. Mmm … they've got the smell right (wood smoke and a hint of designer aftershave that fans of Dior would love). There is more.
The adventure commences at the lobby, which itself is a serious work of contemporary art. The enormous colourful display is presented in various neon of red, green, blue, and yellow depending on the time of the day (or night). Then the rooms are to follow. Each one of the 329 tastefully designed guestrooms and suites has the trademark Westin Heavenly bed where you can sleep like there is no tomorrow, encompass soothing tones, and each room features a flat screen LCD television, rainforest shower, extra-large cupboards with stylish sliding doors, and wireless internet.
The rooms are well placed inside the sides of a maze like rectangular wall with a large roof that provides natural sunlight. In the middle of the open hall on the ground floor is a large black horse with a large lampshade on his head. This is the area where room guests can explore and rediscover their culinary tastes, and have a meal any time of the day. With three different dining venues to choose from, the Seasonal Tastes is the place to have breakfast or lunch. However, it is not as romantic as the ‘Mai’, a fabulous Japanese restaurant that provides the finest of contemporary cuisine from the land of the rising sun. Their teppanyaki and sashimi stations get booked quickly. So therefore, book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Overall it’s the kind of place that can inevitably uplift your senses after a long days walking, and sightseeing, which you will end up doing in Xi’an as this is a touristy city. At which point it may be a good idea to treat yourself or your loved one to a selection of the treatments available at the signature Heavenly Spa by Westin. Unwind, close your eyes, relax, and just forget about the troubles of the day by pampering yourself with some Chinese inspired philosophy. The staff seemed to come across as being very caring and tentative in providing the best service they could. Featuring ten private ‘spa within a spa’ treatment rooms that are replete with a personalised service including a bath and changing areas, as well as the signature Heavenly Spa massage beds and a luxurious infinity tub. It’s worth giving the Rollers sage 90-minute signature treatment at a go. Its best preferred to have the treatment after a long day. The healing properties of the semi-precious stones that are rolled over your back in a connective flowing manner assist in the blood flow and making you feel refreshed. It was so good that it made me go to sleep.
As the hotel is located on the edge of the city, and within the Qu Jiang high tech industrial zone, it is well worth noting that there is a huge demand for Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, and Exhibitions (MICE), and the exact reason why the hotel has over 3,300 meters of space just for that. Wedding, MICE, and corporate functions, you name it they are all in demand. Xi’an’s elite are out to spend.
Whatever your desires or reasons, the Westin Xi’an is at least another reason for visiting this part of this ancient city. Forget the old-fashioned old unsophisticated hotel, not even the most luxurious hotel in the city can compete with this.
Art Museum of Xi'an Qu Jiang
Located within the building compounds of the Westin Xi’an hotel in the ancient Chinese city of Xi’an, the Xian Qu Jiang Art Museum is a magnificent showcasing of over 2,000 Chinese antiques and artefacts.
Open to the public, and the hotel guests, the museum’s exceptional art and antiquities spans over 7,000 square meters and boasts three special exhibition halls. Works on display include 80 mural paintings from over 15 provinces, which depicts China’s history through different dynasties, as well as a loan exhibition from the Nanjing Museum of Ming and Qing Dynasty Porcelain. Other fascinating highlights include the world’s only gold suit of armour, and a highly rare stone Buddha head which measures nearly one meter high and dates to the Northern Qi Dynasty. It’s not as vibrant as one would hope to be. But in saying that this is a new museum and so with time it will hopefully a beehive for budding tourists. It’s something extra to add to your travel itinerary when coming to Xi’an.
Last week I went on a short press trip to the city of Xi'an, the capital city of China's Shaanxi Province, which was once known as Amoy and has a rich historical and cultural legacy. With a population of around 8.2 million people, Xi'an is also China's oldest city, having been the capital city for many centuries (including during the Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui, and Tang dynasties).
My press trip was to promote tourism and some of the hotels in the city. Instead I ended up being stuck for a day in the middle of Anti-Japanese protests (please read link here, and here). Despite all the chaos that parts of this city (and the rest of the country) has gone through in the past weekend, and despite the incident that I happened to sadly experience, I can say that the greater city of Xi'an is actually safe and open for tourism. When you read history books (such as the Rape of Nanking etc.), then you get a true understanding of why there are these frictions between Japan and China.
I am glad to say that Xi'an is a city that has returned to normality. I spoke to many Western tourists in the past few days, many of them were retired pensioners who were travelling the world, and who had come to Xi'an to see the famed Terracotta Warriors. All of them had positive things to say about their visit to China and this beautiful city.
I would also like to add that after careful consideration, I have decided that I will not publish the pictures on my blog that I took of the riots because I do not want to remind myself of the troubles, and I do not want people to have a bad feeling or bad image of Xi'an as a city.
From my experience and my eyes, these rioters were not representative of the people of China or the people of Xi'an, or even of the students that were marching peacefully on Saturday or Sunday. Instead, these people seemed to seize this opportunity as an excuse to carry out their crimes against innocent people. Protesting peacefully for a cause is one thing, but to create panic, havoc, damage, and deliberately harm innocent people is another thing. These rioters could have been people with all sorts of problems in their lives, and they took this chance to loot and hurt others (in my photo published on the BBC, there is a guy with a stolen ladies purse around his neck. He stole it from the car, which was toppled over right in front of me. In my viewpoint, that is not protesting but straight forward theft).
Having spoken to many locals around this touristy city, I found out that violence and protests were very rare in Xi'an. Just like everywhere else in the world you have good people and bad people, and those who have been somehow brainwashed to do wrong things.
Going back to times in memorial, the centre of Xi'an (which is sometimes known by it's former name of Chang'an) has always been busy as it was the final frontier of the great Silk road that goes all the way through to Turkey (passing the Central Asian countries). I want to showcase the beauty of this city (that's why I came to Xi'an in the first place, and I got tangled into this mess in the city center!).
For a city that used to be known as 'Dusty Xi'an' back around, as close to as 6 years ago, it's amazing how clear the sky was on this visit. The visibility everyday was clear enough to be able to see into the horizon. As a result of banishing polluting factories to the outskirts of the city, brining in clean and green natural-gas public buses and generally making the place neat and tidy, Xiamen was gold medalist in the Nation in Bloom competition in 2002 — beating the city of Seattle, among others. A major part of that pitch was that nobody should walk for more than 15 minutes without encountering a park. One of the city's best parks in the city to visit is Xiamen University's expansive grounds which boast walkways, pagodas, lakes and more!
Close to this park is the thousand-year-old hillside Nanputuo Temple, constructed during the Tang Dynasty. It was damaged quite badly during the Cultural Revolution; however, it's Drum and Bell Towners and the Daxiongbao Hall are now in perfect condition after a restoration project. I would highly recommend hiking to the top of the steep steps, past the gold-dubbed cave, wheezing grannies for a spectacular hilltop view of the city. The view can be even more magical at dusk, as the sky gets coloured in a blend of yellow, orange and red on a clear evening. Like most other cities in China, Xi'an has also become more modern (though some years behind the tier 1 cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, but catching up FAST!).
European traders here a century ago tried desperately to recreate the atmosphere of home by building grand stone mansions, fully equipped with the furniture and fashionables available in London, Paris, Milan and beyond. The structures remain today, in various states of repair, but it was another far less tangible legacy — appreciative of European classic music — that the traders left behind. Gulangyu — sometimes known as Piano Island — is a creative beehive for musicians and befittingly is a hotbed of musical talent, with its own specialist school, now housed in a special building far removed from the original crumbling mansion, that attracts pupils from afar and wide. Alumni of this school include pianist Yin Cheng Zhong, who now lives in the United States, and Chen Zuo Huang, who has been a guest conductor with renowned overseas orchestras and helped restructure the China National Symphony Orchestra into a sleek, professional unit.
Gulangyu is effectively a living museum of architecture, and the total absence of roaring cars, virtually unheard of in China nowadays, enables time for a reflective stroll through the streets, stopping to admire the various styles of architecture and listen to the inevitable music.
A popular pastime among the locals (and tourists alike) is to hire a speedboat for a spray-soaked dash around the harbour and Gulangyu islet, within sighting distance of the offshore, Taiwanese-controlled islands of Jinmen. There are mini-cruises, with binoculars available on hire, allowing a closer view of Little Jinmen and Jinmen itself.
I got some awesome shots of the famous Qinling Mountains and the Wei He River. The Qinling Mountains geographically separate the north and south of China, and are one of the biggest ranges of mountains in China. Most importantly, I also managed to get a clear photo of the whole of Xi'an city from the sky this morning as I big farewell onto my next destination. I am sure I will be back someday soon. Anyways, here are a few photos that I took between the 14th and 17th of September. I will upload more photos once I have more time.
- Navjot Singh
Bell Tower and Drum Tower
Big Goose Pagoda
Muslim Quarter and Xi'an Mosque
Small Goose Pagoda
Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Xi'an
As one of the oldest and most well established hotels in the ancient Chinese city of Xi’an, the Sheraton Xi’an Hotel stands out to be located in a perfect location that is neither too far away from the city centre or the city international airport (only around 40 minutes away). In fact the property, with it’s 365 well appointed rooms and suites, is the perfect choice for not just tourists and business persons, but for foreign dignitaries as well because of the security the property offers. It’s also the closest luxury hotel to the city’s Xian Xianyang International Airport.
With around a 20-minute brisk walk away from the 600-year-old ancient City Wall, and surrounded by a quiet neighborhood the Sheraton Xi’an Hotel is the perfect place to while away from the hustle & bustle of this busy touristy city. Of course, with it’s quiet location it’s not going to fit everyone’s bill, and it’s not supposed to either. The 22-year old property shines in the glory of being the hotel preferred by many visiting corporations into the city.
The princely jewel of the hotel has to be the Club Lounge (not to be confused with the Marco Polo Lounge), which is claimed by the hotel management to be the largest in the city. The best thing I really liked about the Club Lounge was that it does really feel like how a Club Lounge should be- quiet, elegant, and a nice setting for relaxing and spending away the evening with a glass of fine Chardonnay and some nuts. A Club Lounge iss not meant to be a restaurant as some other hotels may treat them as, and perhaps other hotels may learn a few things from the Sheraton Xi’an in this area. It’s so good that even the ‘Happy Hour’ time when some hot and cold dishes are available, is not so busy. The area where the Sheraton Xian excels here is also in providing an excellent choice of beverages, both with a mixture of Western and Chinese brands. It certainly passed my five star quality test.
Hungry? Then why not try one of the four eateries in the hotel that offer some of the finest ingredients that the city has to offer. When in a city such as Xi’an, as well as absorbing 1,300 years of history, you may as well also soak in the culinary delights too.
Tang Restaurant at The Sheraton Xi'an
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