Arriving to the Middle House, as with arriving in Shanghai itself, is disconcertingly serene. Ferried from the airport, battery-powered motorbikes zip along passed unannounced, buoyant umbrellas bounce on by and the streets are broad and largely unpopulated. In a city of 25 million people, you feel incomprehensibly unrushed and unfazed. In effect, once you land you can expect an easy Eastward transition, void of trepidation.
Shanghai's crossroads identity of old and new, this "East meets West" ideology comes full circle in noted designer Lissoni Associati's vision for the Middle House. Pairing contemporary Italian design with a more traditional Chinese aesthetic, materials of porcelain and ceramics, as well as bamboo and sumptuous lacquers, form the strata of the hotel. An impacting six-metre long, three-metre wide Moreno glass chandelier (that could make Liberace weak at the knees) hangs front and centre in the hotel lobby, beguiling guests on arrival. In counterpart, a series of delicate flower displays are set out on lacquered trays in the hotel's signature shade of emerald green. This bicultural identity and sense of yin and yang, is bred throughout the Middle House. Offsetting the predominantly minimalist surrounds, the hotel's zany art collection - totalling some 690 artworks (50% of which are Chinese) - speaks volumes. Double Joy - an abacus constructed of porcelain dumplings, which promulgates on the joy of math and dumplings - sums up proceedings rather nicely; this is a place for business, creativity and food.
Minimalism gets a reboot with punchy rugs, a maxi-bar and an elaborate walk-in wardrobe. Dark wood floors offset the otherwise subdued rooms and floor-to-ceiling windows provide impressive views of the city's metropolis. Streamline silhouettes and muted hues are offset by contemporary table lamps and oriental-style nightstands. Even the smallest room - 60m - feels generous in size despite coming fully furnished with a sofa, desk and suspended TV. The beds are sinkable and sleep-inducing. Mr Goodnight (a large blue tassel suspended from your ceiling that serves as a master switch) is at hand for those easily frustrated by multiple switches and buttons. In tech terms, the rooms at the Middle House are well wired - there's the smart bedside charging hub, the blackout blinds and the Native Union x La Boite music speakers. The bathroom is rather coquettish - not least because of its glass wall surrounds. With a quick-filling almond-shaped tub, an evening soak is a near certainty. Shallow-set granite twin sinks and a well-stocked beauty cabinet mean there's no knowing if you will ever choose to leave your room.
Divided between two 14-storey towers - 111 rooms for hotel guests and 102 serviced apartments for longer-stay residents across the way, space is certainly not an issue at the Middle House. The boutique lodgings maximize on space with a lighter colour scheme than that of the standard hotel rooms and a homier feel - read mismatched bedside cabinets and lamps, a dishwasher and a fridge and comes with a two-week minimum stay requirement. Whether residence or hotel guests, your wardrobe is probably going to be your favourite composite of your suite. Complete with floor-to-ceiling hanging space, ironing boards, generous shelf space and a multitude of handy accessories and a full-length mirror there is also a small selection of exercise equipment toward the back of the wardrobe. Once you've dug out your Space Cycle (Asia's answer to Soul Cycle) free-weights and Lulu Lemon yoga mat we feel some pre-breakfast, self-guided practice coming on.
Breakfast is served at Café Gray Deluxe and is a la carte only. From dim sum to mango with brown sugar, noodles to granola, there's a crisscross menu that compliments the hotels' core vision. If weather permits enjoy breakfast on the terrace for a view of the city.
How about lunch and dinner?
If you do one thing at this hotel - eat. Don't try off-site dining (well do but only to prove us right); just eat here. Yum cha it up. There's no want for choice either with three contrasting restaurants on site - one located in the hotel tower and two in the residence building.
Following the success of the collective in Hong Kong, New-York based chef Gray Kunz has opened Café Gray Deluxe Shanghai. Open for both lunch and dinner, standout menu items include the sea bass, the buratta and the steak tartar. The three-course brunch is also not to be sniffed at.
Across the way, Sui Tang Li, a contemporary Chinese restaurant, solidifies all that is great about fusion food. Combining Shanghainese, Cantonese and Szechuan flavours and culinary traditions, the result is nothing short of delicious. Dim sum enthusiast should order the game-changing hairy crab xiao long bao; the prawn medley is pretty great too. For drinks, order a fragrant "golden buddha" or a "naughty ball" (made with the fun but sickly addition of Yakult) and for a mid-meal palette cleanse, order some delicate Puerh tea.
With reams of fresh pasta, seasoned-to-perfection beef and oh so delicious charcuterie you won't even care that you've made the uncouth decision to go to an Italian restaurant while in Shanghai. At Frasca, Italy is the constant theme. Italian holiday posters rest behind frosted panes of glass and modest compilations of ceramic plates hang on certain walls. Long tables dominate the floor space in a nod to family-style dining.
There's a quirky string of continuity running across all three dining spots - most food is served in groups of threes. We're reading it as both a nod to the trinity of restaurants, but also as numeric symbolism for happiness, wealth and health.
Is there a bar?
There's a small, well-stocked bar tucked to one side on the 3rd floor, but if Café Gray is anything like its sister spot in Hong Kong, a buzzy clientele are sure to be imminently booking their tables. It's not quite that frenetic just yet but we're optimistic - and in the meantime, the outdoor patio is a lovely spot for a chilled espresso martini.
There's a spa and wellness centre, a gym plus hotel residences featuring more spacious living areas and working kitchen.
Within a short distance you'll find…
The Swire-owned HKRI Taikoo Hui shopping centre is a mecca of cafés, boutiques and gadget stores for those who want to lazily explore pastures new (even if those pastures are only two minutes away on foot). On the top level of HKRI Taikoo Hui you'll find the blush-pink Cinker Pictures ¬- a stylized boutique cinema that runs movies three-times daily.
For something a little further out, the low-lying buildings and expansive avenues synonyms with Shanghai's French Concession make it one of the city's most inviting districts. While the area isn't exactly close by, you can always take a complimentary bike from the hotel lobby to ride across town. On arrival, following your initial explore, head to Ferguson Road for an afternoon of snacking and shopping. With a mix of traditional hole-in-the-wall food vendors and some spangly new brunch spots -creperie and brunch spot, RAC has just opened and comes with a lofty wait time - there's no end to the finds on this street. Bargain-price converse-style trainers from FEIT in a shop the size of your wardrobe is a good starting point.
Things you should know
The Lab MI XUN spa in the basement level of the hotel is an experience not to be missed. Stocked with LVMH owned Cha Ling beauty products, facials here are soft and supple. Invest in an HYPOXI session for novelties sake and tester claims of tripled results for standard-level exertion in the HYPOXI studio (it's basically a bike that sits in a heat pod). On -1 you'll also find the workout centre, which encompasses the yoga studio, juice bar and the aforementioned HYPOXI room. The concrete gym, flanked with mirror and black lacquered bamboo tiles is a subtle continuation of upstairs bolder motifs, carry's through in various guises, right down to the signature emerald-tinted shower doors and enamel green lockers.