The Middle House, Shanghai

Shanghai is not an easy city to navigate as a tourist who doesn’t speak the native language. That’s why, each day after a full itinerary of exploring, I was relieved to be returning to The Middle House, a beautiful new hotel in the heart of the city.

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The Middle House is the newest member of the House Collective Hotels, which also includes Upper House in Hong Kong, Temple House in Chengdu and Opposite House in Beijing (the first which opened in 2008). These luxury hotels are harmonious with the local surroundings while also making a statement with their artistic common spaces, indulgent rooms and cutting-edge facilities.

After a very long international flight we were delighted to be greeted by the Middle House’s smart Tesla car, which transported us to the hotel in less than an hour. (I highly recommend pre-arranging transfers when arriving in China, as it can be quite overwhelming to organise on the spot!)

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There are 111 rooms at Middle House including the 14th floor penthouse, where the hotel’s most exclusive visitors stay. The majority of the rooms fall into three categories: Studio 50 rooms, Studio 60 rooms, and Studio 70 rooms, the room names simply referring to the size of the space in sqm. We were in room 1308, a studio 70 corner room on the 13th floor, with epic panoramic views of the city and plenty of natural daylight. The rooms are designed with feng shui in mind, they are very spacious, with carefully placed striking artwork. I particularly enjoyed the walk-in wardrobe, well stocked mini-bar, and amazing lighting and black-out curtains.

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The bathroom was lavish and luxurious, with specially made Bamford toiletries which feature in all the House Hotels collection. I loved the minimalist double sinks, the stylish bathtub made by Claybrook and the elegant attention to detail.

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Breakfast each morning at Middle House was a real treat, and it was soon evident that food here is definitely not an afterthought. Both the Western options and the local delicacies were made with the upmost care and attention, and using the finest ingredients. I was stunned by the Viennoiserie selection, as good as many of the patisseries in Paris, and the Shanghainese dumplings and noodles were divine too, once my stomach got accustomed to the different time zone!

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The restaurants at Middle House are just as popular with outside guests as with those staying. Choose from upmarket Italian food at Frasca, or enjoy a contemporary Chinese feast at Sui Tang Li. I was equally impressed by both eateries.

At Frasca we opted for homemade pasta, cooked to perfection and wonderfully flavoured, paired with cocktails from their ‘gin and tonic’ list. At Sui Tang Li I thought it was best to get the waiters opinion and with his help we tried an array of the menu favourites, including hairy crab dumplings, wagyu beef puffs and melt-in-the-mouth crispy duck. This restaurant is known as one of the best modern Chinese restaurants in the city, and after trying much of the menu, I can definitely see why!

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On Day two in Shanghai while the jetlag was still taking its toll, we checked out the Middle House’s Mi Xun spa and gym. This serene part of the hotel is found in the basement. Founded by Laurent Boillot, President and CEO of Guerlain, Mi Xun at The Middle House is the first hotel spa in China to offer the boutique Cha Ling treatments, focusing on skincare treatments using combined techniques of traditional Chinese medicine to re-harmonise energy flows and detoxify the skin. We tried the immersive Cha Ling massage, which was reinvigorating and relaxing in equal measure. After a treatment be sure to leave time to experience the beautiful pool and sauna room.

The high-tech gym has everything you need for the most extensive of work-outs. You can also try Hypoxi body shaping machines here for advanced fitness and exercise regimes.

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For longer stays The Middle House also has the Residences in a separate tower. Guests can book stays from 3 days up to and beyond 1 year. These residences are designed in a similar style to the hotel rooms, but have a more relaxed feel, with kitchens for guests to use at their convenience. Guests can also use all the hotel facilities during their time as residents.

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Understandably The Middle House is the hotel of choice for Shanghai’s most prestigious and stylish guests, and is particularly popular during Shanghai Fashion Week, Formula 1, and Shanghai Design Fair. So often a hotel of such calibre can forget to excel when it comes to service, but we found it to be of the highest level throughout our stay.

I would recommend this hotel to anyone visiting this cultural destination… the location, design and food at Middle House were all perfect for a Shanghai citybreak and I was sad to say goodbye when it was time to leave.

More information and book a stay at The Middle House hotel here.

Bee Mindful Day at Petersham Nurseries with Cire Trudon

It’s hard to imagine Richmond without Petersham Nurseries, the whimsical venue that is home to many wonderful plants, idyllic gardens and a popular seasonal restaurant & tearoom. This month Petersham Nurseries celebrate their 15th birthday with a host of lovely events, including the Bee Mindful Workshop which I was lucky to experience earlier this week.

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A group of us assembled in the greenhouse for an immersive day in bee education. The day began with tea and cake and a talk from the Head of Horticulture Martin Ogden. Martin discussed the importance of bees in gardens and how we can help sustain their activity by planting particular species of plants in our gardens. It was fascinating to learn more about the life of a honeybee, that they have ultraviolet vision (so are very attracted to blue and purples), which herbs they enjoy, and how they obtain the pollen and nectar from plants.

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Next on the agenda… raw honey tasting with Sarah Wyndham Lewis, co-founder of the sustainable beekeeping practice, Bermondsey Street Bees. Sarah spoke passionately about honey, the importance of artisan honey-making and how to expertly taste raw honeys. Turns out, the majority of supermarket honey is a cheap imposter of the real thing. We discussed the cultural role of bees, the medicinal effects of some honeys, and the issues affecting bees’ survival in the modern world.

We tasted a selection of uniquely special honeys that Sarah had selected for their qualities. My favourite was a buttercup yellow Leatherwood Honey from Tasmania, and I’ll definitely be investing in some to enjoy at home.

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Before long it was time for lunch and Petersham Nurseries’ Head Chef Ambra Papa presented us with a seasonal spread of dishes, each inspired by honey.

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We started with perfectly light Garden Fritti seasoned with sage and Amalfi lemon, and Pea Hummus with Fennel Carta di Musica bread. The main course was a delectable feast of Herb Roasted Sirloin of Beef with super sweet Heritage carrots, honey & almond, served with an array of colourful vibrant salads. The meal concluded with Chargrilled Nespole and Ricotta with wild flower honey, and Lincolnshire Poacher with honeycomb.

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After our epic lunch we needed a wander to avoid falling asleep! The knowledgeable beekeeper Linda Howell explained how she has established a thriving population of bees at Petersham Nurseries with their seven and a half hives.

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Sadly I had to rush off after the walk, but the rest of the group were lucky enough to have one more session, learning the art of table styling with the Global Buyer and company Brand Ambassador, Ronny De Koning. I had a glimpse of the adorned table and it looked divine.

As I dashed off back to central London, the lovely team at Petersham handed me two goodie bags to take away; a couple of potted herbs to attract the bees near my flat and a beautiful special edition honey candle from Cire Trvdon, which has been made especially for Petersham Nurseries’ 15th birthday. After learning about the magical properties of honey, I can’t wait to restock my cupboards at home with real raw honey and scent my flat with this wonderfully fragranced candle.

A Bee Mindful workshop will take place at Petersham Nurseries on the 28th and tickets can be purchased here. I attended this workshop as a guest of Petersham Nurseries.

‘Malaysia on a Plate’ with Essential Escapes

Essential Escapes organise the kind of holidays I love. This creative travel company was founded by Emma Barnett Spitzer (Masterchef finalist and travel fanatic) 16 years ago and originally had a focus on spa focussed travels. In recent years the company has begun to concentrate more on culinary trips that showcase the very best authentic food in some of the world’s most delicious destinations.

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I was lucky to be one of a few foodies invited to sample the new ‘Malaysia on a plate’ Essential Escapes itinerary. This exciting exploration of Malay cuisine starts on the island of Langkawi at the beautiful Datai Hotel, before a final couple of days in chaotic Kuala Lumpur (you can also opt to reverse the order if you fancy ending the holiday on the beach!)

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After a lengthy transatlantic flight, and a much shorter internal flight, we arrived at The Datai Langkawi. Refreshed with cold flannels and iced tea, we spent a few minutes taking in the breathtaking surroundings.

The Datai is found on the edge of Langkawi island, surrounded by a 10 million year old rainforest, overlooking the idyllic and tranquil Datai Bay. The independent resort has recently undergone a transformative renovation, and I was thrilled to be experiencing one of the spacious Rainforest villas on the edge of the tropical rainforest.

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The rooms were designed in a practical format, with timeless features in natural materials. The grand four poster bed was the ultimate indulgence to climb into every night, and I slept so well while here. The bathroom was very generous in size with a big bathtub, dual sinks and separate shower and toilet cubicles. Sustainable practices are present throughout the hotel and in the rooms this was also noticeable, in the recycled glass bottles of filtered water and refillable vessels of house made toiletries.

There are plenty of extras to enjoy while in the villas, from the complimentary minibar to the IPTV and multipurpose charging ports.

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I quickly realised how special the Datai Langkawi was, the type of hotel people return to again and again… one reason for this is the unrivalled food experiences available on site. During our three days we managed to tick off meals in each of the four restaurants: The Gulai House for authentic Malaysian cuisine, The Pavillion for award-winning Thai food, The Dining Room for fine dining French food and The Beach Club for lazy seaside lunches. Each meal was exceptional with thoughtfully prepared and expertly cooked recipes from all over the globe.

Of the restaurants, my favourite was the Gulai, where the talented chefs whipped up an array of specialities like Beef Rendang curry and Tandoor chicken. The flavours were intense and decadent and the service friendly and charming. I was also incredibly impressed by The Dining Room, where the chefs use flair and imagination to create immaculate French haute cuisine, often with flavours from the island.

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A highlight of my stay at The Datai was the Private Cooking Class at the Gulai House. This new cooking school is decked out with state of the art facilities and a class here is a real insight into the authentic food of the region. We began our class in the resort’s permaculture garden, where we picked herbs and ingredients for our dishes, and learnt about the crops that grow well in this unique part of the world. Then we returned to the kitchen to make Kerabu Sook Hoon (a light cold noodle salad) and Gulai Udang (a creamy sweet prawn and vegetable curry).

While at The Datai we also had the pleasure of experiencing the Datai Spa. Here you can totally relax with a treatment in an open air villa, listening to the sounds of the rainforest while enjoying a traditional Malay massage.

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I would have been completely content staying in The Datai for the whole duration of our time on Langkawi, but was also glad to see some of the island. We ventured out for a serene mangrove tour through the Kubang Badak River and learnt about the fascinating mangrove ecology and wildlife that lives here, before settling for lunch at a local Malay family house. Here we feasted on Fried Pomfret Fish with spicy sambal, Sticky Soy Chicken and the most tender and addictively tasty Turmeric Fried Aubergine, all cooked by the lovely, and terribly humble, Mrs Raijah.

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Our final night at The Datai was perhaps the most memorable, a sunset cruise on the Naga Pelangi boat. This 97-foot traditional wooden schooner-replica was hand built by the Captain and is the last remaining boat of its kind in Malaysia. We sipped champagne as we floated gently on the waves and watched the sun slowly fall behind the sea.

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Kuala Lumpur (KL) is Malaysia’s capital, a modern city with a bustling business district. Though it was once known for its charming colonial style architecture the skyline is now dominated by towering skyscrapers, shopping malls and office blocks. And with a tropical climate which rarely dips below 30 degrees, walking around outside can be a hard work. In the daytime locals stay indoors where the air-conditioning is a relief, and at night the streets come to life with food markets and outdoor bars.

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Our home for a couple of days in KL was Samadhi Retreats, a boutique hotel on the outskirts of town. The hotel was a calm oasis to rest while exploring the city. It is a converted traditional Malay house with 21 Asia-inspired rooms set around a exotic lagoon pool.

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The hotel owns four eateries outside of the city, including Tamarind Springs, a destination restaurant set amongst the dense rainforest serving refined Thai-Malaysian cuisine. We enjoyed an atmospheric meal here under the stars, while monkeys bounced about in the nearby trees.

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Our time in KL was limited and the food on offer is endless so we had to be selective about where we spent our mealtimes. Essential Escapes had organised a vibrant evening tour of the Jalan Alor night market, a fragrant street filled with local specialities. Among other things we tried lok lok (sticks of fresh ingredients dusted in flour and deep fried) and beef and chicken satay (fired over an open flame and served with plenty of rich satay sauce) all washed down with fresh coconut water.

The next day we ventured further into Kuala Lumpur to check out some of the historic sites and heritage areas of town. Chinatown was a favourite area for us all, and we settled on Madras Lane for a local breakfast… Egg Noodle Laksa, a rich curry broth filled with green beans, mini aubergine, bean curd and clams. It was a bowl of heaven and a must while in Malaysia.

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After exhausting ourselves sightseeing in the stifling heat, we stumbled into PULP by Papa Palheta, a speciality coffee gem, serving Rocket Espresso alongside an array of delicious sweet baked treats.

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Our trip ended on a high, as we toasted to Malaysian adventures with great cocktails at PS150, a prohibition-style speakeasy recommended to us by Malaysian food writer and chef Guan Chua.

Six days is not enough to see and eat it all in Malaysia, but this brilliant Essential Escapes trip was a great way to get an insight into the magic of Malaysia and the irresistible food culture.

I was a guest of Essential Escapes, The Datai Langkawi and Samadhi Retreats. We flew as guests of Malaysian Airlines.

For more information on the wonderful Essential Escapes itineraries, visit the website here.