Traveling to Shanghai, the opportunities for amazing hotels are endless. Previously I had stayed at most Hyatt hotels in Shanghai proper but none of the other brands (see Matthew’s review of the Grand Hyatt Shanghai). This visit I found a handful of unique properties from three different chains. First on the list, I review the historic Intercontinental Ruijin.
As the former Shanghai headquarters for the communist party, the lush grounds of the Intercontinental are sufficient to impress even seasoned visitors to Shanghai. Sprawling over several acres near the former French Concession (Xiantandi), the property is more campus than hotel.
Chairman Mao, among other world leaders, has stayed at the property and I wanted to explore the Intercontinental brand a little further. This one-night stay was my chance.
In the heart of the city and close to historical and contemporary sites, there is plenty to do in and around the hotel. From Shanghai Pudong International Airport (serving overseas carriers) the journey is about 40-50 minutes with little to no traffic. If you prefer to take the metro, the closest line is Metro station is South Shaanxi Road.
118 Ruijin Er Lu,
near Fuxing Zhong Lu
The lobby is elegant and elaborate, twin chandeliers radiate opulence throughout the space and through the mezzanine of the main building’s nine floors.
I was recognized for being a Spire member and thanked for my business. I was then instructed that breakfast was not included. I was shown where the elevators are and the lobby bar. And that breakfast was not included. I was given a free drink in the lobby bar (Tsing Tao beer, or an unidentified glass of red wine) and told that the breakfast was not included.
“How much is breakfast anyway?”
She hands me a coupon for the restaurant and informs me it is valid for 120 CNY that would offset some of the 255 CNY for which I would still be responsible.
An ear-to-ear grin emerged as I decided I would have to get the breakfast now and insist it was free at check out. If you’re going to practically beg me to fulfill a stereotype (American elite IHG member that insists breakfast is free apparently), I am going to fulfill that stereotype and turn it up to 11.
I signed a checkin form where the words “NO BKF” was written large in the rate. Does that count as a fifth time they indicated that breakfast would not be included?
My “upgraded” Garden View deluxe room was fine. It was small compared to other Shanghai five-star hotels I have stayed elsewhere in the city but well-appointed. It’s what I would consider to be more traditional European-Chinese luxury. Another opulent chandelier over the bed and crown molding with recessed lights made the room feel modern. A dated chair, deep wood accents and shaded glass felt very Chinese.
The desk was glass, sufficient for two laptops and well appointed. The TV was a decent size though there is little point to having a high definition TV if it doesn’t receive a high-definition signal.
The bed was fantastic. The sheets were excellent, the pillows were full and the duvet was premium. If they sold the bed set online, I would buy them for my home certainly.
Without a doubt the bathroom was the highlight. Marble floors and countertops on a double-vanity and six foot mirror made an already large bathroom seem even bigger. A large walk-in shower with rain showerhead (as well as a spray nozzle) and premium toiletries complimented the large soaking tub.
The toilet was not Japanese (with heated seat and bidet) and the water pressure was surprisingly weak throughout, but the bathroom generally was on-par with other five-star hotels.
The property gives a resort-style feel spread over several buildings and several acres in the heart of Shanghai. Green space is hard to find in the middle of the city and this is perhaps the most luxurious part of the property. Outside, families were enjoying tea and letting their kids run around during a perfect sunny day in August.
Some of the buildings are traditional from the time that the property was home to the Communist headquarters of Shanghai, others are recent additions like the main building for which I found myself.
I had asked the hotel to identify which room Mao had stayed in during his visit to the property, but I was only told the building. I cannot say if it has been updated since his time, but I suspect it is fairly opulent. In the Morriss Residence, the building that housed the suite, there are just ten guest rooms so I can only imagine that it is substantial.
If you’re here for a few days, the hotel would be a nice respite from busy Shanghai just outside the gates of the hotel.
By US standards the hotel had three-star service. The housekeeping staff was polite and greeted guests (including myself) every time they were encountered by stopping what they were doing and saying “Ni hao” (hello). Checkin service, the lobby bar, and the restaurant were all serviceable but nothing special. In fact, checkin reception was pretty cold if not pedantic about what wasn’t included with my rate.
But there was some lack of effort too. For example, there was a french toast station with waffles and pancakes and person there to make them fresh. Only, she wouldn’t refill the items when they ran out. In fact, even after asking for some french toast, a single piece was put down (why not cook more to replenish for the rest of the patrons). Perhaps it was her breakfast that was keeping her from cooking mine.
There were some with really good intentions. The hostess in the restaurant, one of the waitresses and the lobby bartender in the morning were all pleasant and trying really hard. The bell staff was also very helpful, as was the concierge, though luring a taxi back through the gates took more than 25 minutes. I would have gladly walked to the street myself with my carry-on and backpack if I knew it would take so long.
Breakfast: French with Chinese Characteristics
Beautifully decorated as a French sidewalk cafe (well, with British phone boxes and Union Jacks), La Rúe is every bit designed to impress, if only the food delivered on the decor.
There is a fresh-pressed juice bar with only half of them actually pressed and some of them “fresh from bottle”. Unmarked wicker steam baskets hold pink knotted buns, unmarked white buns and shrimp shumai – or was it pork?
The open-air kitchen feel is a nice touch with made-to-order omelets and made-to-order noodle soup.
Some of the food was really good. The unmarked potato dish with half-cooked eggs and bits of bacon was very French and very satisfying. My espresso was perfect though not offered with sugar or cream, neither of which were on the table.
A man wanted to join me for breakfast – I’d made a friend I thought – except we had never spoken, never acknowledged each other, he simply sat down at my table. When the waiter came by with my bill nearly immediately after sitting down with a plate, he asked if I wanted to include him. I told I don’t know him. An exchange between the waiter and “my guest” took place whereby it was clear (through gestures, tone of voice and looks of defiance), he had suggested that instead I should find somewhere else to sit. There’s never a dull moment in China.
We travel everywhere with our daughter Lucy. She’s just three years old and from time to time gets rambunctious, but she and I would be having a quiet conversation outside the restaurant if she ever got up and started running and screaming through the dining room as the children from the table next to me. Bouncing off of waiters, grabbing my chair and those of others around me, one of the children sits before me sobbing. Her mother failed to realize she had hit her head on the very marble table she was eating on. The beautiful, marble table. Like I said, French with Chinese characteristics.
The congee station was rampaged but that’s to be expected. Chinese doughnuts, scallion pancakes, everyone looked pretty content in La Rúe at 9AM on a Saturday morning.
The engaged conversations from tables around me, the clang of metal silverware, the sound of food fresh onto a grill sizzling all worked together to create a soundtrack that could put you in any high-end restaurant anywhere in the world, even Paris. It was the rhythmic punctuation of a truck backing into the building that seemed to remind me where I was. Sure it was just a kitchen access door, but the first time I heard it, I legitimately jumped. By the time breakfast was finished I could hardly even notice the incessant slamming of wood on wood with such gusto and force you thought it spewed coins when it was hit firmly.
I revived a neglected bread pudding with delicious vanilla cream sauce – someone’s talents are going to waste. And as I started to believe in the place again, a child climbed behind the ice cream cart and began helping himself while his dad pointed to a flavor for himself. Once I saw his elbow scraping the bucket as he dug deeper for his desired flavor, I knew breakfast was over. Sure, one could blame the hotel for having an ice cream cart in the first place because it was breakfast, or again the hotel for not putting someone there to serve it, but who can blame the kid for leaning his midsection over the cart to get a scoop? Not I.
I paid $19 out-of-pocket for this breakfast, retail price is $37.50. I wouldn’t pay either when returning to this property. It’s a good breakfast, but in a city as epic as Shanghai and for prices on par with the 89th floor Park Hyatt, or the Ritz-Carlton, more is expected. If they can’t deliver, they need to bring that price down.
I didn’t have the chance to visit during opening hours, but the Chinese Restaurant, Xin Yuan Lou, on site was open enough for me to walk-through. While I cannot comment on the quality of the food, the setting was beautiful. Perhaps it is this room that should have been the French Restaurant instead.
The cost for my stay ran between $160-200/nt depending on when I shopped for it. I opted to use 30,000 points which was a very good use of IHG rewards points. The hotel was a decent value for money, but better stays for less money could be had at the Hyatt on the Bund or even the Andaz Xiantandi. If you are IHG points rich, spend the points but if you are spending cash – better options exist.
What do you think about the breakfast charge and service? Have you stayed here or do you have a favorite Shanghai hotel?