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.