TO THE BUND
When in Shanghai, shop, drink and dine until dawn, advises Christine McCabe
THE Sofitel Jin Jiang Oriental hotel rises above Pudong like a rocket launcher with a flying saucer perched on top. But because this is Shanghai it doesn’t look at all out of place; and the flying saucer is home not to the cast of The Jetsons but to a cluster of revolving bars and a French restaurant.
Much of 1930s Shanghai may have disappeared but in this emphatically 21st-century city there’s more than a whiff of pre-war hedonism to be found in the growing number of bars, restaurants and nightclubs operated by an ever-expanding cadre of savvy (and obviously very thirsty) expats.
The view from the giddy heights of the Jin Jiang is across the great Pudong sprawl where not so long ago farmers toiled the muddy river flats. Today skyscrapers grow, crowding the horizon to form the most futuristic skyline on earth.
At ground level, civic planners have been working overtime landscaping the new Shanghai with a striking arts centre, shaped like a flower, a gleaming science museum and hectares of neatly manicured gardens featuring fish ponds, topiary pianos and roadside pillars embroidered with plastic roses. Young plane trees are anchored against seasonal typhoons with wooden struts and palm tree trunks wrapped in rope to protect against the winter cold.
The wind, when it blows, howls across these immense spaces but there’s an exciting energy to this instant, just-add-water modernity and smiles are broad as visitors emerge from the Maglev terminal after a 300km/ h-plus journey from the airport.
But it’s across the murky brown Huangpu River that Shanghai takes on a form we more readily recognise. Here the bustling, neonshimmering Nanjing Road meets the Parisian-style boulevard, the Bund.
Lined on one side with elegant, neoclassical buildings and on the other by the busy river, the Bund has become a focus for upmarket retail development.
The trailblazing Three on the Bund is one of the loveliest lifestyle centres in the world, set in a seven-storey 1916 former insurance building and structured around the Shanghai Gallery of Art on the third floor.
Begin at the top with sunset cocktails on the terrace of the New Heights bar, affording some of the best views in the city, up the Bund and over the river to Pudong. There’s even a dining room for two set in the old cupola and former bell tower.
Downstairs you can shop for labels (Armani and the like) or have a facial in the gorgeous Evian Spa where the soaring atrium reception area features a surreal garden of boulders and raked carpet and where attendants in white coats are spot lit like extras in a sci-fi movie.
There are four restaurants located in the complex, including that of Australian chef David Laris. His eponymous eatery is ultra glam with a sleek marble foyer and river views through high arched windows. The food is adventurous (think caesar salad soup) and the Vault Bar is a popular late-night hang-out. For smokers there’s a cigar room and for everyone else a chocolate bar (have the frozen banana truffles served over ice).
On the fifth floor, the art deco-themed Whampoa Club is home to Jereme Leung’s updated take on traditional Shanghai cuisine (try the wasabi prawns washed down with a rice wine cocktail).
After doing Three, pop next door to M (actually 5) on the Bund and the Glamour Bar, created by another Australian, Michelle Garnaut, and the loveliest watering hole in town, with sophisticated interiors, great martinis and regular literary events.
At 6 on the Bund, Dolce & Gabbana has a lifestyle store, with ground-floor martini bar, a Japanese restaurant and the striking Aquarium Bar on level two. Around the corner on Fuzhou Lu you’ll find the bonsaisize but hugely fashionable Suzhou Cobblers (hand-embroidered shoes and bags), Blue Shanghai White (stylish porcelain) and Studio Rouge, a small art gallery run by Aussie George Michell. Pop your name on the mailing list and stay in touch with the contemporary art scene in Shanghai and Beijing, now leading the world.
Still on the Bund, there’s Bar Rouge on the eighth floor of Bund 18, and Attica, opened last October, on the southern end of the strip (south of Yan An Road) in an old colonial pile.
When the smog, bustle and booming hip hop become too much, tourists and expats make for Xintiandi, a leafy enclave of renovated Shikumen houses containing expensive boutiques and smart, mostly Euro- pean restaurants. Simply Thai does a good green curry (and there’s a reasonable selection of Australian wines) and you’ll also find a small Shanghai Tang outlet here. Renowned San Francisco restaurateur George Chen (Shanghai 1930) brings his finely honed sense of style and Frenchinfluenced cuisine to the Shikumen Bistro at Lane 181, Taicang Lu.
Adventurous shoppers will enjoy the mysterious Market of Old Stone and Antique (688 Nanjing Rd West), a scene straight out of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, featuring an odd assortment of rather depressing pet shops, museum-quality fossils, crickets in cages, dangerous-looking men gambling in dark corners and even more fearsome women guarding the shadowy, dimly lit entrances of dusty antique stores.
Timid shoppers are better served at the Dongtai Lu market where made-yesterday antiques (the sort of stuff you find in lifestyle stores back home) and Mao memorabilia, old prints and deco lamps crowd stall after stall. For handbags and two floors of insanely cheap jewellery and pearls, consider a 30-minute cab ride to Hong Qiao International Pearl City on Hongmei Road in the Chan Ning area.
Back on Nanjing Road, there are department stores and boutiques galore and broad footpaths so crowded you’ll be longing for the relatively uncrowded streets of our Australian capitals. In the Old Town it’s worth exploring the 16th-century Yuyuan Gardens (touristy but diverting) with a stop at the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant.
For a quieter afternoon, scout the quirky boutiques of the former French Concession where 1930s Shanghai has been well preserved in a lovely collection of art deco and neo-classical buildings. Many of the area’s mansions have been converted into jazz bars and nightclubs, making this a popular afterdark haunt.
For help navigating Shanghai after five check out www.smartshanghai.com. Brainchild of former Three on the Bund executive Caroline Rowe, it provides a handy guide to Shanghai night life (new restaurants, nightclubs and other happenings). But this city changes so rapidly, with skyscrapers sprout- ing almost overnight and today’s hottest nightclub destined to be tomorrow’s old news, that conventional travel guides are out of date before they go to print. Christine McCabe was a guest of Accor Hotels and Qantas.
Shanghai is included in Qantas’s Global Deals sale; bookings must be made by August 28 for travel to mid-2008. Minimum four-night stay and other conditions apply. Sample fare: Sydney-Shanghai return, from $1359. More: 131 313; www.qantas.com.au.
All of a piece: Gold leaf and coloured glass, known locally as liuli, put the shine on TMSK bar in the chic boutique district of Xintiandi
Balm for body and soul: Evian Spa’s surreal and soaring atrium at Three on the Bund