The Kunlun Jing An: Reveling in Shanghai’s Old French Concession
By Monique Burns
With super–tall skyscrapers and a booming economy, Shanghai is Asia’s answer to the 23rd century. But China’s high–tech showcase hasn’t forgotten its roots. Take Yuyuan Garden with pavilions and plantings based on centuries–old landscape designs. Or the riverside Bund with elegant buildings from the 1920s and 1930s when Shanghai was Asia’s reigning financial capital.
Not surprisingly, along with some of China’s best new hotels, Shanghai boasts some of its best older hotels, establishments that have stood the test of time and emerged even better than before. One such property is The Kunlun Jing An. Built in the 1980s, the five–star hotel has 741 well–appointed rooms (including 23 suites, 165 Executive and Panorama Rooms, and 553 Deluxe Rooms), four excellent restaurants and two spacious bars. There’s also a large heated swimming pool, a fitness center and a spa. If you love racquet sports as much as I do, you’ll find an outdoor tennis court, and an indoor squash court, rarely seen in the U.S. outside prep schools, pricey colleges and private clubs.
Yet The Kunlun Jing An is surprisingly well–priced. Though the basic rack rate for a Deluxe Room is $350, rooms can cost far less if booked on the hotel website (www.kunlunjingan.com/en) where you also can schedule airport pick–up service and make special room requests.
Originally a Hilton, the hotel was recently re–branded as a Kunlun property, one of several brands owned by Jin Jiang Hotels International, China’s largest hotel group with 7,700 hotels in over 60 countries, including more than 380 inns and hotels on the mainland. The hotel group is owned by the Chinese government, which, like most savvy investors, keeps its eye on the bottom line and allows its well–trained staff the run of the hotels. So you won’t find Chairman Mao’s little red book on your nightstand or anything else hinting at Jin Jiang’s Beijing connections. What you will find is a very well–run establishment in the mold of big American hotels but with unmistakably Asian warmth and flair.
Beyond its East–West pedigree, The Kunlun Jing An has another plus: location. Just west of People’s Square, home of the Shanghai Museum, The Kunlun Jing An is right in the center of town. Stroll a few blocks in one direction, and you’re in a bustling area with designer shops, trendy eateries, and the golden Jing’an Temple, home to China’s largest seated jade Buddha. Beneath the temple is a major metro stop of the same name, part of Shanghai’s extensive ultramodern subway system, which connects to the high–speed Maglev Train, cruising on a magnetic cushion from Longyang Road to Pudong International Airport in mere minutes.
Leave the hotel and stroll a few blocks in the opposite direction, and you’ll find yourself enveloped in one of those very pleasant time warps that seem to give the lie to Shanghai’s stature as a city of the future. The hotel is in the old French Concession, that graceful neighborhood of leafy streets lined with mansions half–hidden by gardens and ornate wrought–iron gates. Between 1849 and 1946, Shanghai’s French bankers and traders lived the genteel expatriate life here.
Today’s French Concession retains a certain grandeur though some mansions have been converted into flats, and clothes swing blithely if indecorously on lines suspended from pediment–crowned windows and columned facades. In two and three–story storefronts on Changshu Road and its long narrow alleys small neighborhood businesses range from nail salons, barber shops and florists to jewelry shops and bric–a–brac stores. Along Julu and Anfu roads are hip new eateries like Sofia Pizzeria and Izakaya Japanese restaurant. Of course, with four restaurants, 24–hour room service, and an Executive Lounge serving three buffets a day, you’ll never have to leave the hotel for a good meal. But, if you’d like a change of pace, it’s only steps away.
Judged solely by what’s outside, The Kunlun Jing An scores big. But, ultimately, it’s what’s inside that counts and here, too, The Kunlun Jing An gets high marks.
Entering the grounds of the 40–story high–rise on foot or via the circular driveway, expect to be warmly greeted in English by the largely Chinese staff, many of whom trained under Hilton management and have been with the hotel for decades. According to Jin Jiang Premium Hotels Chairman Lv Haiyan, the slogan, “to the best of my ability,” epitomizes the hotel’s core philosophy.
Step into The Kunlun Jin An’s spacious lobby area, with its atrium, grand marble staircase and shops. For fashionistas, there’s Kanonia, a bespoke tailor offering men’s and women’s shirts and suits in as few as 3–4 days. Bola Family shoes handcrafts fine leather footwear from golf spikes and oxfords to sandals and high heels.
In another corner, Effleur exuberantly displays colorful floral wares. In the opposite corner, Gourmet Corner offers such “grab & go” snacks as designer panini, wraps and baguettes, salmon and tuna rice bowls, and stylish salads like Greek salad with olives, feta and oregano, and Mediterranean couscous–tabbouleh with Sichuan lamb. You’ll also find hand–dipped chocolates, pastel–colored macaroons, and cheesecake with berry or peach–caramel coulis.
In the Lobby Pavilion bar, sprawling yet intimate, clubby red and black leather sofas, contemporary gray and purple couches, and upholstered chairs cluster around small tables. If you don’t want wine, beer or a craft cocktail, there’s the cozy Veranda tea room on one side and, on the other, a bar for fresh–squeezed fruit and vegetable juices.
In the lobby’s multilevel Atrium Café, tables are ranged above fountains, river–like waterways and lush plantings. The almost tropical setting comes courtesy of the atrium, a decidedly Eighties architectural feature. But there’s no denying that the atrium provides a sunny and pleasant spot to relax over a good meal.
And that is exactly what you’ll get at The Kunlun Jing An. Executive Chef Simon Roger Sperling, a German transplant who long ago embraced Shanghai, presides over the hotel’s four restaurants. The Atrium Café offers all–day dining starting with a mammoth breakfast buffet with everything from Western–style pancakes, waffles, and eggs cooked to order to Asian steamed dumplings, pork buns, noodles with sautéed vegetables and Chinese culinary exotica like braised pig trotters. There’s also a lunch buffet, a Sunday brunch buffet and Afternoon Tea. Or ask for the à la carte menus.
The Atrium Café will satisfy even the most discerning tastes. But for more elegant dining, The Kunlun Jing An has three other restaurants. Leonardo’s—also on the lobby level—offers Italian specialties like osso bucco and veal saltimbocca along with charcoal–grilled steaks, chops and lobster. Several stylish muted–gray rooms are adorned with chandeliers, plush banquettes and framed reproductions of Leonardo Da Vinci’s pen–and–ink drawings. Below, on the lower lobby level, People On the Water serves the freshest fish and shellfish from surrounding waters in a contemporary setting with blond–wood seating alongside stylish glass bridges and miniature waterways, a wall–sized aquarium and pretty cobalt–blue accents. Upstairs, across from the cozy Penthouse Bar, Sichuan Court, decorated with dynastic stone statues and burnished wood chests, serves up fabulous Shanghai vistas along with spicy specialties like king prawn with preserved chili and chicken in ginger sauce.
How Chef Sperling keeps all those plates spinning so well is a mystery, especially since he also presides over Room Service and Executive Lounge meals. Guests staying in Executive Rooms have access to the spacious 38th-floor Executive Lounge, offering three buffet meals daily as well as panoramic views stretching from the Jing’an Temple and French Concession east to the riverside Bund.
Begin your day in the Executive Lounge with a sumptuous breakfast buffet of Eastern and Western dishes. Then there’s Afternoon Tea with Western–style finger sandwiches and pastries as well as Asian dumplings, steamed buns and daily specials like Peking duck in paper–thin pancakes. The Evening Cocktail spread features a dozen savory dishes and a half–dozen desserts. A special treat is the soup of the day, prepared at the chef’s station. One night I enjoyed seafood soup with fresh oysters, mussels, shrimp and crabs before tucking into a plate of steamed dumplings, sautéed eggplant and noodles, and peanut–studded kung pao chicken. So generous is the evening buffet that you just might skip dinner.
If you’re worried about gaining excess pounds, The Kunlun Jing An has a large and sunny glass–topped heated pool, tennis and squash courts, and a fitness center stocked with the latest cardiovascular and strength–training equipment.
To relax and rejuvenate, Escape SPA offers a long Chinese menu of facials, eye treatments, baths and body scrubs, plus various massages, including Swedish, Indian ayurvedic, traditional Chinese and even a Siam Healing Massage with fragrant herbs. Also available: a range of Chinese Meridian Aromatherapy Treatments, many promising to increase circulation, prevent coronary disease, relieve headache and prevent insomnia.
Once you’ve sampled The Kunlun Jing An’s fine Chinese and international fare, enjoyed a swim or tennis game, and been massaged into a state of ecstasy, it’s time for a well–deserved rest. But before telling you what The Kunlun Jing An’s rooms have, here’s what they don’t have. You won’t find the latest high–tech gadget, whether it be a levitating bed (which does exist) or a bathroom scale that recites your daily Chinese horoscope (which doesn’t exist…at least not yet). Nor will you find rooms painted in neon colors and decorated with the latest contemporary art, some good enough to provide welcome mental stimulation, some bad enough to keep you up all night.
What you will find are spacious, well–appointed, tastefully decorated rooms with restful earth-toned walls, framed traditional Chinese art, big desks with ergonomic chairs, and beds with thick pillow–top mattresses and immaculate linens. You’ll find marble baths with showers, deep soaking tubs and a range of toiletries from Hungarian skincare maven Peter Thomas Roth. You’ll also find high–tech necessities like a wide–screen HD–TV and wireless Internet. In short, you’ll find exactly what every traveler needs most: a comfortable, well–furnished room for rest and relaxation. And, since rooms boast big picture windows or long, curving panoramic windows, you’ll enjoy lots of sunshine and superb views.
A final word of advice: Consider booking an Executive Room, offering, among other things, a relaxed check–in and check–out experience and those three sumptuous daily buffets. Since an Executive Room costs only about $50–$100 more a day than a Deluxe Room, it’s really a bargain.
Now, the only question is: What to do with all the money you save at The Kunlun Jing An? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m going down to the lobby to get fitted for a lovely silk dress and handmade leather pumps in my favorite shade of blue. Thus attired, I’ll sashay through the French Concession’s tree–lined streets, reliving the days when this was Shanghai’s most fashionable quarter. In many ways, it still is.
IF YOU GO
The Kunlun Jing An. 250 Hua Shan Rd., Shanghai 200040, China. 86–21–6248–0000. www.thekunlunjingan.com/en.
Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents. A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia. After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like