When I was first informed that I would be going to review a boutique hotel in Shanghai, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The general perception in China is such that if you are not a 5-star international brand hotel then there are going to be some suspicions on your hotels effectiveness. I asked around a few friends of mine in Shanghai’s 5-star hotel PR circle about the Mansion Boutique hotel in Shanghai, and they seemed to be at a loss as to its knowledge. So when I actually arrived at the posh looking 25- seat lobby lounge, it somewhat changed my perception of the hotel’s image into becoming a positive one. Maybe I did not know the Chinese name of the hotel, by which it’s normally known locally.
Located minutes away from Shaanxi Nan Lu metro station (Line 1) in a quiet and historical surroundings of the French Concession, and originally designed by a French architect Lafayette in 1932, Mansion Boutique Hotel Shanghai is the actually China's first deluxe boutique hotel. The hotel building was originally built as the clubhouse of Du Yue-Sheng, China's most powerful syndicate boss (i.e. a mafia gangster), but is now owned by the Hua Dian Hotel (Shanghai) Company, an affiliate company of the Boutique Hotel Investment Group (BHI).
First impressions were that it’s nostalgic, very quiet, well placed, and in a very affluent Shanghai suburb. That air of romance, elegance, and peace projected the moment I stepped into the courtyard. I felt as if I was entering a rich Shanghai 1930s home of a rich Jewish family.
With its rich historical legacy, the Mansion Boutique Hotel Shanghai captures the spirit of yesteryears Shanghai, a period when this beautiful city was considered the ‘Paris of the Orient'. Even today when the city is dubbed by some as the ‘New York of the East’, the hotel has that air of strong historical jest to its ambiance. The design and period architecture of the hotel reflects the graced bygone era with its graceful blend of classic French and Asian tastes. Interior is designed to capture the culture, modern ambiance and elegance altogether.
With 30 enormous elegantly decorated guest rooms each with its own individual design and layout, the Mansion Boutique Hotel Shanghai offers its guests individual attention. All rooms have a ceiling of 5 meters, with most rooms being 60 square meters, and suites vary from 100 to 140 square meters. Sized is not everything when it comes to boutique hotels, and the real experience is measured by the experience of the guest. The quality if that of a 5-star hotel, and all the products are branded by the hotel itself. 1930s style Chinese music is heard being played at low volume on the speaker system that again gives it the nostalgic feel.
The rooms include deluxe king size beds, armchairs with ottomans, business desks complete with 3 in 1 printer, fax and scanner and wireless high-speed Internet access (all complimentary). As far as boutique hotels go, Mansion Hotel Shanghai is something very unusual. Normally I would not use that word to describe a hotel straight away. That air of romance, silence, and affluent 1930s Shanghai feeling looms in all quarters across of the hotel. However, blended in well with that traditional service is modernity, consider having a with Japanese-style heated electronic toilet seat which may come very handy for those cold harsh Shanghai winter nights. It’s difficult to get rid of the smell of rich oak wood that embeds itself in your nose once you enter the rooms. The bottom line is that the hotel makes you feel like you have gone back to the 1930s of Shanghai but there are small touches of modernity inside that remind you that you are in the 21st century Shanghai.
For the guests entertainment the rooms have stereo CD/Radio systems and 42" Panasonic HD flat screen televisions with cable system offering over 60 channels. Bathrooms have marble floors and countertops with separate Jacuzzi baths and high-pressure full body showers. Bathroom scales, hair dryers, makeup mirrors, bathrobes and slippers are included as well as bathroom amenities by Lanvin. Therefore, overall it does have the true 5-star touch to it except that it’s probably a good idea to go here for your honeymoon or a holiday with your loved one rather than on business. The place feels too romantic and intimate for a business setting. I reckon you would find it hard to focus on your work if you were here for business because the ambiance is so mesmerizing.
The hotel features a traditional styled gourmet Chinese restaurant serving the finest seafood the city can offer. A rooftop restaurant/lounge with terrace overlooks the French Concession district, and a slight glimpse of the city’s skyline looms on the distance. Though the chefs may need to work a bit more on providing an authentic western breakfast, it does however provide the essentials using very basic ingredients that they have. The service is equally adequate too, and has plenty of room for improvement. I had asked for tomato sauce, and it arrived by the time I had finished my slightly warm omelette and Chinese style pork sausages.
On the other hand the Western restaurant on the 5th floor portrays a different image altogether. The surprisingly quiet restaurant is headed by the talented Chef Albert Jao who provides such delights as ‘scallops with sweet corn, chilli salsa- beetroot, and mash puree’; and ‘Italian sea bass and carrot with Chinese herbs, lemon cream sauce, and spinach’. With stunning views, lovely ambiance and a delightful staff you’ll be left completely gobsmacked by the magic of the dishes. On top of all this, the hotel also boats to have the best Cantonese cuisine restaurant in the city. At comparatively reasonably priced room rates, the Mansion Boutique Hotel Shanghai is the perfect alternative to those want to experience living in the old Shanghai.
Penthouse Rooftop Restaurant
Located on the 5th floor of the Mansion Hotel Shanghai, the Penthouse restaurant strives to offer one of the finest western cuisine hotbeds in town. The restaurant is sometimes referred to as just the ‘Rooftop Restaurant’, or sometimes as the ‘Mansion Skyline Bar’. The Mansion Hotel Shanghai was built in 1932 as a quaint French garden house with a Chinese courtyard. With over 300 pieces of artworks, the hotel brings along lovely memories and an experience to cherish of what life was like in 1930s Shanghai. The restaurant, which was during my visit quiet as my local graveyard in London, is not only used by tourists, but apparently is a beehive for corporate clients who want to have their board lunches here. With seating for upto 105 people, the archaic design and the colonial architecture appeal in laid-back French Concession appeal to many white-collars in the city.
For starters, this was a meeting of Chef Albert Jao whose talents extend beyond the walls of the city. It looks as if he might be a bit of a star when he brings out the best of the ingredients he was using. Being a one-man band that looks after the running of the restaurant day in, day out he told me that he was actually exhausted as he was working since 4am to prepare for a corporate breakfast. He knows what he's doing.
Ok I’m gushing I hear you say, but hey, I am a huge fan of eating fine meals in a typically local Shanghainese setting. To be honest I must say that the Penthouse Restaurant is really an astonishing place (it really is). This hulking colonial Shanghai building, squats in its neglected floors like a setting from some old Shanghai black and white movie. I mean, there you are sitting on your own having a nice meal while mesmerizing the beauty of this city that is growing at a dizzying pace- so where are the culinary jewels which I came here to taste?
The killer dish is a starter of ‘pumpkin puree with clam and cheddar’. The smoothness of herb paired with clean-tasting, juicy and fresh clams, the thick creaminess of the pumpkin and the savoured addition of a French bread piece is novel for the taste buds.
As far as decorative pieces of art go when it comes to presenting the finest of foods, then the next dish is something to savour for. The ‘scallops with sweet corn and chilli salsa- beetroot and mash puree’ are a delight not only for the eye but for the heart too. The fruitiness of the beetroot (which is rare to find in China) goes well with the humbleness of the sweet corn and the scallops. For the seafood, the chef recommended a sweet tasting white wine: 2010 Valle Andino Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile, Central Valley, Maule Valley, Valle del Maule).
With the exception of perhaps the bland breadbasket, every dish that I tried, including the ‘sea bass and carrot, Chinese herbs, lemon cream sauce and spinach’, is as exhilarating as the setting. However, the real test came when it was the turn to present the ‘saffron residue, beef steak with cherry tomatoes, and asparagus’. While the choice of the wine to go with the beefsteak was excellent (Bordeaux Le Chapelier A.O.C), the actual quality of the beefsteak could have been had a bit more homework done to it. The truth is that Penthouse felt like the kind of place I might go if I wanted a memento souvenir, by which I mean a memory of the greatest steak experiences I have had in China and elsewhere across far away horizons. Overall, it was an OK experience.
On those thoughts, I will bow away by saying that the Penthouse is never going to be everyone's cup of tea: too quiet and hard-nosed. However, the food will be the thing that will cheer you up. It will provide an escape for you to get away from comments regarding the usual banter of what Western food should be like in China. It is cool, arty, flamboyant, and the presentation of the food certainly shimmers with jittery romance.
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