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Bespoke, be stylish

By Matthew Fulco | China Daily | Updated: 2012-09-02 11:35
Bespoke, be stylish

The deluxe room at the Four Seasons Pudong is designed with the interest of the erudite traveler in mind. Photos provided to China Daily

Hotel profile | Shanghai

The Four Seasons arrives in Pudong at last, Matthew Fulco reports.

Rainer Stampfer believes in Shanghai's less-venerated half - that seemingly boundless urban sprawl stretching from Lujiazui's angular towers to the silted ocean of the Yangshan Deep Water Port.

The general manager of the Four Seasons Pudong says the massive district east of the Huangpu River, home to the largest financial center on the Chinese mainland, reflects the aspirations of contemporary Shanghai.

"It is youthful, energetic, fashionable, glamorous," says the German native. "People are seeking that when they come here to the Four Seasons."

How then, would Stampfer sum up the essence of the Four Seasons experience in a word?

"Can I use two?" he replies, without hesitating: "Bespoke and stylish."

He adds: "Every building on Century Avenue (Pudong's main thoroughfare) is a hotel. We wanted to do something different."

And indeed, the Four Seasons Pudong, which will officially launch Tuesday, September 4, feels unlike any of its contemporaries.

Whatever blandness lingers beyond the hotel's doors - perhaps not to be dispelled for good until the launch of Shanghai Disneyland - vanishes once you are inside, where an upbeat funk soundtrack fills a sleek, streamlined lobby. It provides just the right amount of kick upon arrival, a neat trick since hotels in China often indiscreetly pump elevator music building-wide.

Bespoke, be stylish

The Four Seasons' music, Stampfer says, comes in five different "moods," tailored for specific areas of the hotel and time of day.

Everything in the 55-storey, 187-room property feels effortlessly conceived, designed tastefully with the interests of the erudite traveler in mind.

The Four Seasons, Stampfer says, creates hotels relevant to their locations, with a design and feel reflective of urbane local tastes.

Certainly, it is refreshing to see a foreign hotel brand artfully integrate Chinese elements into its identity instead of building 88 floors, launching on Aug 8 or claiming it enjoys superior feng shui - Chinese geomancy - achieved through consultations with a pricey "master."

Indeed, Chinese elements accent rather than dominate the hotel's landscape. For example, at a distance, black calligraphic inscriptions in the hallway appear as almost abstract works of art - even to a Chinese speaker - but viewed up close from a 45-degree angle clearly designate the Chinese characters for "north," "south," "east" and "west."

Guestrooms furnished in tones of beige, cream and grey exude stylish comfort. Traces of red, used traditionally in China to denote good fortune, add a touch of flair to the scene. Upholstery made from stingray hide covers the wardrobe-sized mini-bar, which houses a nifty Italian-made espresso machine that not only brews your coffee, but also can keep it warm inside the cup. Black wooden screens that look to have been plucked from the home of a late Qing dynasty nobleman act as window shutters, opening to a dramatic panorama of skyscrapers in the Lujiazui financial district.

Shangxi, the hotel's Chinese restaurant, similarly evokes the residence of a local sophisticate, albeit one from the present day. Furnished in charcoal, frost and black, with jade-studded furniture, it could easily be the dining salon of a distinguished executive from the neighborhood.

That's the point, Stampfer says, as the restaurant is "designed for the local community." But it should also attract quite a few non-locals, he adds.

Shangxi's focus lies squarely on private dining, with the venue's main room seating just 22. That intimate space, along with five dedicated private dining rooms, will surely attract a steady stream of local powerbrokers, who will take comfort in the vault-like doors sealing them off from the rest of the hotel.

Two head chefs - one from Hong Kong, one from Shanghai - will prepare just about any delicacy in the annals of those two storied culinary traditions, save shark's fin soup. It seems greener minds have prevailed at the Four Seasons, no doubt to the delight of former NBA star Yao Ming, who has called for a ban on consumption of the coveted fins.

The discerning traveler will also cheer the Four Seasons Pudong's Camelia restaurant, an elegant all-day dining affair on the hotel's first floor. Executive chef Weimar Gomez hails from the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris and the three Michelin starred Guy Savoy, one of the French capital's most celebrated restaurants.

Camelia serves French cuisine as you would have it in Paris but featuring many locally sourced ingredients, with seafood selections most prominent on the menu. Chef Gomez, meanwhile, works artfully. His cod with grilled watermelon and vanilla crunchy vegetables sounds a tad risky, but served on a bed of aromatic mango chutney, the white fish's delicate meat comes to life. Grilling the watermelon tones down the fruit's sweetness, but it remains crisp and a fine contrast to the soft meat of the cod.

Setting the bar this high from the start, the Four Seasons Pudong will need to exert considerable effort to retain that level of guest experience. More than a few Shanghai hotels once of fine repute have begun to show their age.

Stampfer, however, is prepared.

"We run medium-sized hotels at the highest tier worldwide, working with strong local partners," he says. "Once you have a superior quality product, you must offer personalized service to match better than your competitors."

To keep the guest experience fresh, hotel interiors should also be regularly refurbished, he adds, and the Four Seasons will renovate its decade-old Puxi hotel on Weihai Road in the coming months.

The Pudong hotel will complement, rather than compete with its Puxi counterpart, Stampfer says.

"Puxi and Pudong are almost like two cities that happen to be built next to one another," he says, adding that they attract disparate travelers with different expectations.

Although Puxi has historically drawn more leisure travelers, Stampfer believes that could change in the future, with the rapid expansion of restaurants and sightseeing destinations in Pudong.

In the meantime, it is only another three-plus years before Disneyland opens.

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