Things to do in Shanghai

Despite being a travel fanatic China is one continent I have barely explored… and Shanghai seemed like a good place to start, known for its vibrant food scene and thriving culture. After a long international flight from London, our senses were overwhelmed stepping out onto the streets of Shanghai. The language barrier was an immediate challenge, and without WeChat (the local Chinese messaging, social media and mobile payment app) we struggled to communicate in a lot of circumstances. But once we accepted the difficulties of travelling in China, Shanghai proved to be a real adventure and a brilliantly educational and exciting destination. Here are a few of my favourite discoveries…

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To Stay

The Middle House – The Middle House opened in 2018, a beautiful new addition to the House Collective group. This stylish and contemporary hotel is found in the heart of the city, with spacious luxurious bedrooms, wonderful eateries and amazing facilities.

Shanghai

To Eat

Gracie’s – The temperature can get hot in Shanghai, cool off with the best ice cream from retro inspired Gracie’s. We loved the ‘Half-baked cookie dough’ but apparently ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’ is a winner too.

HaiDiLao – Head to one of the many branches of this local institution for comforting hot pot. We visited the venue on the 4th floor of shopping centre in Du Pu. While you wait for your table manicures, board games, shoe shine and snacks are available to keep you occupied. Once it is time to eat there are many options to choose from – we opted for vibrant Tomato broth, with handstretched noodles, beef and lots of flavoursome toppings. Don’t miss the scallion roti prata on the side.

Egg – For a hearty Western brunch head to Egg, a charming all-day breakfast café on Xiangyang Lu. The eatery is by Shanghai Supperclub founder Camden Hauge, and the egg-centric offering includes classics like avocado on toast with sunny side up eggs, and great coffee.

Yi Ling Court at The Peninsula – For an exquisite dim sum experience head to Yi Ling Court at the Peninsula Hotel. At this elegant restaurant Chef Tsui prepares signature dishes such as steamed crab and crab roe with garlic and glutinous rice, crispy pigeon smoked with premier oolong tea and crispy beef brisket with Chinese gravy. If you are visiting for dinner, enjoy an aperitif first at Sir Elly’s.

Mr & Mrs Bund – I wasn’t a massive fan of the uptight (and forgetful) service at this refined restaurant, but the French food by chef Paul Pairet is wonderful and the city skyline views are second to none.

RAC – A stylish French cafe with good coffee and irresistible brunch dishes. Order the Far West Galette (cheese, mushroom, pancetta, egg, cream).

Strictly Cookies – Founded by Lexie Comstock, Strictly Cookies is the best biscuit shop in town. Unsurprisingly Lexie is American, and has always had a love of baking… when she moved to Shanghai in 2010 she noticed a gap in the market and began Strictly Cookies from her flat. The company now has its own premises and supplies cafes and restaurants all over China. The classic chocolate chip is the most popular, but I loved the highly inventive ‘Snack Box’ variety.

Sui Tang Li – The Chinese restaurant at the Middle House Hotel has very much become a destination in its own right. Highlights included Hairy Crab XiaoLongBao; Braised Beef Short Rib, Beef Tenderloin, Beef Puff; and gin cocktails made with Shanghainese Peddlers Gin.

Jia Jia Tang Bao – This simple canteen style cafe has become known as one of the best Xiao Long Bao outlets. Order the classic Xiao Long Bao (12 for ¥18) and the Hairy Crab Xiao Long Bao (12 for ¥35). Watch the ladies make the dumplings fresh and then enjoy them moments later. Watch how the locals ‘nip and slurp’ them to avoid burning your mouth!

Jianbing (348 Wulumuqi) – The perfect Shanghai breakfast. It is not easy to find the right stall, but the queue should give it away. The freshly made Jianbing (crepe, egg, spring onion, coriander, doughnut, red paste with options doughnut) are moreish and delicious, costing just ¥6.

Ah Da’s Spring Onion Pancake – If you have the time queue up for hours to try these famous street stall pancakes, which Rick Stein raved about when he visited Shanghai.

Shanghai

To Drink

Speak Low – This Japanese style speakeasy is one of the best cocktail bars in Shanghai, and has recently been included on the ‘Worlds 50 Best’ list. You enter through a seemingly normal drinks equipment shop… to then discover three floors of mysterious cocktail bars. Try to get a booking on the middle floor bar where the cocktails are more elaborate and exciting… our favourite drink was the delicious ‘Into the Woods’.

Arabica – There is always a crowd of Shanghai trendsetters outside Arabic. I originally tried this coffee brand in Japan, and am pleased to report that the quality was just as good in China. Stop by for a strong iced coffee, or a creamy cappuccino.

Onirii – If you are looking for expertly sourced, roasted and poured coffee in Shanghai Onirii is the place for you. This tiny coffee shop is minimalist in design, with just a few seats for visitors. If you let the barista guide your caffeine decisions you are sure to receive a delicious, balanced cup of coffee.

SeeSaw Coffee – SeeSaw is a giant on the Shanghai speciality coffee scene. The fun, modern cafes are a favourite with the hipster crowd, serving up full-flavoured, fuss-free coffee. SeeSaw are also a stockist of the Strictly Cookies, the perfect accompaniment to a flat white!

Cafe del Volcan – This cute cafe is found on Yongkang Rd, amongst many lovely eateries and boutiques. Inside the roastery takes up most of the space, so I suggest getting a coffee to go. Pick one of their carefully selected coffee varieties and enjoy.

Sober Company – Sober Company is the sister company to Speak Low and comprises of three spaces: Sober Café offers small plates and all-day brunch, Sober Kitchen is a restaurant serving modern Chinese dishes and Sober Society is a bar focused on digestif cocktails. If you visit all three spaces you receive a special invitation to the private, most exclusive bar. In the Sober Society we sat at the bar and relished our innovative concoctions – favourites included the ‘Godfather 3’ and ‘Tiger’. The Sober Company team also have new bar called The Odd Couple, which is 1980s themed.

Shanghai

To Do

Long Museum – This private museum was founded by Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei. The brutalist building was designed by Atelier Deshaus, built around the remains of a stand-alone 1950s coal-ferry unloading bridge, and houses contemporary art exhibitions. There is also a second museum in Pudong.

Tianzifang – Tianzifang or Tianzi Fang is a busy (and touristy) arts and crafts maze of small streets that has developed from a renovated traditional residential area in the French Concession area. It is home to boutique shops, bars and restaurants.small streets, shopping, cafes and bars.

Wukang Building – You’ll know when you’ve arrived at Wukang Building as you’ll see the hoards of photographers pointing their lenses towards it. Found in the French Concession district, the building would not be out of place in New York… a protected historic apartment building designed by the Hungarian-Slovak architect László Hudec and completed in 1924.

Jing’an Temple – Perhaps the most famous temple in Shanghai, the Jing’an Temple is located on West Nanjing Road in downtown Shanghai and has over 780 years of history. There are three main halls to see here: The Mahavira Hall, the Hall of Heavenly Kings and the ThreeSage Hall.

Shanghai

To Shop

FNJI – This wondrous furniture emporium showcasing both Chinese and Japanese designs in an atmospheric and beautiful space in the French Concession area of town.

Klee Klee – An eco-friendly fashion brand by Shanghai-based label ZUCZUG. The collection features luxurious organic materials and natural dyes in their chic clothes collection.

Lost & Found – A charming concept shop set up by Paul Gelinas and Xiao Mao in 2008, specialising in clothing and furniture inspired by the aesthetics of Old Beijing. Pick up a unique gift here to take home and treasure.

In the Park – This exhibition and clothes space in the Xintiandi district is a lovely place to while away an afternoon. The shop is a multi-brand collective with high quality products and a focus on design.

Shanghai

To Escape

Zhouzhuang Ancient Water Village – If you fancy a day out of town the Unesco World Heritage site,  Zhouzhuang is beautiful and calm, known by some as ‘Venice of the East’. You can get a fast train from Shanghai Railway Station (20 mins to Kunshan South Station, ¥25 pp and foreigners need a paper photocopy of their passport) and then a taxi from Kunshan South (45 mins, ¥112 on meter) to the village. Visitors must pay ¥100 to enter Ancient Village but then you can wander round and see everything easily. Things to see include the Double Bridge; Zhang’s Residence; Shen’s Residence; Fu’an Bridge; and the Quanfu/Changxu Temple. Sample the famous Wansan Pork Knuckle at Shen’s Restaurant/Shenting Restaurant and take a 20 min boat trip (¥150 per boat) around the water town.

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.

Middle House

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.

Middle House

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!

Middle House

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.

Middle House

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.

Middle House

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.

Bee Mindful

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.

Bee Mindful

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.

Bee Mindful

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.

Bee Mindful

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.