Pottery and ceramics hold a special place in my heart. I love the way the art form completely represents a place. Whenever possible I try actually to meet the people that create this art since they are working directly with their hands and the earth they know the place well. The works at Setia in Ubud are by a Japanese-born potter working in Bali for the last two decades. The integration of the raw materials and resources of Bali with the workmanship of a Japanese artisan make for pieces that are unique, organic, simple, and thoughtful. There is a small gallery in Ubud proper where you can easily pop in and for prices that seem like sealing head home with a piece or five. Take it a step further and make your way from the gallery to the studio up in the hills just above the main drag where the open air layout and organized chaos is inspiring. The day that I visited the studio there was a meeting on for a new restaurant concept in Singapore where Setia would be creating the tableware. Very normal to witness at a factory, yet, in this case, it wasn't in a conference room or an office. This meeting for a massive project was happening at a work table in the middle of the studio open to the jungle with racks of works in progress surrounding you. Being this close to the person making the pottery with the raw materials surrounding you make anything seem possible. I started to daydream about ways to come up with an excuse to make products with them, an excuse to come back to Ubud for work someday. Still dreaming from afar at this point and loving the time I spend with the works I've brought home.
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The Waterhouse at South Bund is a diamond of a design hotel tucked quietly away in a 1930's ex-Japanese Army headquarters in the neighborhood of South Bund in Shanghai. It is a raw and organic take on the melding of the old with the new, designed and re-built by the local celebrity architect and design firm Neri & Hu design and research office. They created a space that feels unique in the middle of the "older" part of town which is being torn down and replaced by peach high-rises holding thousands of apartments. The Waterhouse is a welcome respite from Shanghai which can be really, really, really full on pretty much all of the time. Standouts for the property are the art collection, the Tracy Emin neon behind reception makes sure you know that art is crucial when you've just walked thru the door. The owner of the property is a collector, but of chairs, he's obsessed. There are all kinds of chairs throughout the property, the most bizarre is the vintage barber chair that sits outside my door set in an open space as a piece of sculpture.
The rooms are spacious and well appointed if a bit Jetson's in their user experience. Frosted glass walls divide the bathroom from the main bedroom and portal windows slice and dice your views of the city and skyline which really did engage me in looking at the city differently. Beds are placed in the middle of the room, they function as storage, work table, and bed all in one. Comfortable...very comfortable. Robes, slippers, stationary, and amenities remind me of East London (where they also own the Town Hall Hotel) or Williamsburg and to be honest these memories were a welcome normalcy which I often yearn for when tromping through Asia. The best way to sum up the rooms is chic new loft. They're peaceful despite their lack of adornment.
The food......ahhhhhhhh, THE FOOD. Jason Atherton of Maze fame in London steps out on his own for the first time with Table No. 1 at The Waterhouse at South Bund, and he wins. Big big winner. I have told many people since my stay that the food was stellar for anywhere in the world. Not just stellar because it was western cuisine in the Eastern part of the world. From the coffee at breakfast, to the snacks waiting in my room when I would plop down after a long day at the factory and most likely in a car for hours it heightens the experience at the hotel by many notches. The clientele at dinner is the Shanghai version of a cosmopolitan crowd you almost solely encounter in London making for a great mix of locals and visitors. The menu is smaller bites and plates of heightened but not fussy concepts. Wonderful ingredients, some of which are grown on the property, are combined together in familiar but not expected ways. I will confess that once I had the food, I didn't eat anywhere else for the rest of my stay. It wasn't my first trip to Shanghai and I had a compulsion that this may be the only time I get to partake of Jason's genius at Table No. 1. The staff is well trained and knows the experience that the chef is trying to create. The kitchen which you can look into from the courtyard is a well oiled machine, reminding me of the kitchens of Spain or the UK the chefs all looked to be on their way to greatness of their own. It was a family environment of ex-pats really focused on the reason they are there.
The Waterhouse at South Bund is a hotel standout from a design and culinary perspective, they have some kinks to work out with the flow of the rest of the service but I don't speak Mandarin and you can't complain that you can't communicate if you don't speak the native language....
I would stay again, and anytime I am in Shanghai you can bet you'll see me at Table No. 1, probably more than once! I had a mid-day flight and the team packed me a take away meal from the restaurant so that I didn't have to have plane food. A very good tip if you're departing home from the hotel. It made the long trip home a bit better.
If you are looking for one of the world's best luxury hotel experiences....The Upper House, Hong Kong is it. A sea of tranquility in the middle of an ocean of chaos. I was in Asia on a business trip and had the pleasure of landing in this slice of perfection for a few days. The business of fashion, while it seem glamorous, is actually really intense and can sometimes take you down. My trips to Asia with their 24hr work schedules and intense jet-lag prove to be some of the times I was most often taken down. I was actually sick by the time I made it to The Upper House, in hindsight there wasn't a better place to be. The entire experience from start to finish was thoughtful luxury at it's best. I was fortunate enough to be in town when there was an art world event going on and the hotel was strewn with engaging installations and a very cosmopolitan crowd. The property is very centrally located at the top of a building in the Admiralty neighborhood of Hong Kong which means everything you want and need is within walking distance or a quick taxi ride. The concierge can sort out anything you want to do or see, they own the town and can engage an entire network of restaurants, art, shopping and secret adventures.
The in-room experience is hard to top. Gorgeous views of one of the world's great metropolises from every window. Day and night it was like watching a movie play out in real time. The mini-bar is stocked with a well curated offering which means you have everything you want, there is a proper espresso machine, gorgeous dishes and flatware. Suites like the one I was in feel like a space age abode you dream of stealing away to with James Bond. You sleep like a baby waking to the city skyline and stumbling into the bathroom, wearing your fluffy robe, to find a set of rooms bigger than most New York apartments. The amenities are primarily REN (one of my favorites) with all options you might need taken care of. Looking out from the REN Moroccan Rose Otto Oil filled bath is an experience I will remember forever, and count on having again. The design throughout the rooms and common spaces come from the mind of Andre Fu a very young, very talented Chinese architect now quite sought after, with The Upper House being his first hotel project. The accolades are very well deserved.
The dining experience at the property is one of the great highlights. Cafe Grey Deluxe is the restaurant, it's posh and foodie, but it is also your kitchen for the time you are in residence. They've been rewarded with a Michelin start to prove the level of the food at the hotel. I recommend breakfast there each day, it is an inspiring way to start the day in a chaotic part of the world. The views will take your breath away as will the cuisine. Dinner should be enjoyed at least once while you stay, it's so sexy, chic and delicious. There is an insane wine list and well crafted cocktails. Even more delicious is walking across the bridge from the restaurant to the elevators and taking a smooth brief ride down to your perfect Hong Kong apartment. Every moment I was there was like being in a film. Cinematic and memorable.
Claska is a lifestyle concept as much as it is a hotel property. The large Mad Men era building sits in the Meguro neighborhood of Tokyo which is a bit off the more traveled paths of the city. Meguro is a very robust area with good public transport access, I wasn't bothered in any way by the location. However I was surprised by the lack of design hotel properties in Tokyo. It feels as if every other detail of every other thing is being considered from design and concept perspective, despite that you will be challenged to find a place to lay your head that isn't either a luxury property from a global player (I'm not complaining about that in any way, but I wanted a design experience) or a Japanese business hotel - think pods. The building and it's rooms are big by Tokyo standard, with 20 rooms across 4 floors there are distinctly different types of rooms to choose from. Rooms fall into 4 categories: Traditional Tatami, Japanese Modern, Contemporary and Weekly Residences. I stayed in one of the contemporary rooms on the 7th floor full to the gills with conceptual stuffed animal art pieces that I thought were going to freak me out, but ended up being a nice juxtaposition to the urban landscape. All of the rooms and common spaces deliver. For my next stay I will go for the Japanese Modern or the Weekly Residences, every room is worth its rate. Rates which are surprisingly reasonable compared to what you hear about in Tokyo.
The concept shop sells mostly Japanese wares a well edited offering from designers and craftspeople throughout the country. The shop at Claska is one my top three favorites from the stay. I found it especially good because of the smaller artistically considered selection on offer. Compared to The Loft or Tokyo Hands it was easier to navigate. It is simple to understand the artistic take when you realize that there are two separate galleries in the building that regularly have shows up. Upon arrival you are greeted on a lovely welcome floor with reception and open plan restaurant that is great for a traditional Japanese breakfast or tea in the afternoon. My favorite parts of the building were the common spaces and the architectural details that they had left in place when they re-purposed the property to turn it into a hotel (see amazing tile below). Thoughtfully placing seating and working areas are spread throughout the common spaces on each floor. There is a shocking amount of open space and it's all cinematic, it is a very photo friendly property. The toiletries are from Marks & Web which became a favorite for gifts when I was in town. You will be conserving in the interest of bringing them home with you. The linens were crisp and luxurious with two different robes on offer.
The best part of the whole building is the rooftop terrace, stunning views of the city skyline from an underexploited vantage and an excellent place to sip coffee with my new crush....Mt. Fuji that is. I woke up each morning in my animal filled room looking out the window a the magical mountain. I fell hard. I was lucky that I had three clear days in a row where he was on full display and it was just after winter so he was in tip top camera-ready shape. The last morning I was there a fashion shoot for a Japanese magazine was in full force with fittings in the gallery space on the 8th floor and a small crew setting up on the roof. It was nice to see all the space being used in a creative way. I really felt like I was living in Tokyo for a moment.
The service at Claska is wonderful. They're not chasing after you like butlers, but they are smart, thoughtful and have a genuine concern that you enjoy yourself and are comfortable while you're with them. I will be back to Tokyo and Claska as soon as my life allows.