This week my lovely friend Dr S. is in town, visiting Shanghai for the third time. She’s practically a local now, so we can avoid going back to Yu Gradens for the tenth time and instead enjoy some of Shanghai’s less crowded sights. In fact, having friends in town is the perfect excuse to do the things you’d like to do every week – visit that fancy restaurant down the street, or spend the night in a jazz bar -but couldn’t quite justify doing on your own. So this week, we had an afternoon of completely indulgent beauty treatments at The Peace Hotel’s new Willow Stream Spa, followed by an evening of wonderful food and jazz. What a great way to spend the day!
The Willow Stream Spa has just opened, although the Peace Hotel re-opened its doors a year ago now. It’s an art deco dream, with a plush fit-out just as you’d expect from Shanghai’s favourite historic hotel, except a facial there costs no more than at my local salon so it seems like fantastic justification to go to The Peace Hotel instead. I wish I could have shown you the powder-blue skylit pool with striped sun-loungers, and the mahogony-furnished treatment rooms, but cameras were off-limits.
Looking quite pink-faced and shiny by now, it was back to the French Concession for dinner at modern Chinese restaurant People’s 7. Exactly what constitutes modern Chinese food is hard to know, because modern Chinese cuisine is still very undefined, but the food at People’s 7 is light, and successfully metamorphoses some traditional dishes into their up-to-date counterparts.
The trickiest part of the evening is actually getting in the door. No doormen, mind you, just a dead-end with nine back-lit wells in the wall, and no door, no doorbell, no buzzer, and no idea how to get in. When we made our reservation though, they told us our ‘table number is 29’, and it took the very switched-on Dr S. less than two minutes to figure out that she needed to put her arm into the holes corresponding to ‘2’ and ‘9’ in the correct order, and suddenly the door slid back to reveal a dimly lit space of corridors and alcoves, where a waiter dressed in black guided us to our table while our eyes adjusted.
With tablepapers printed with Chinese word puzzles, and the same puzzles printed on plates by local ceramic studio Spin, you only hope that the food will be less tricksy. And it is. We began with a classic Shanghainese cold dish, ‘drunken chicken’ (chicken poached in Shaoxing wine) which had been deboned, gently poached and marinated, then chilled. Usually this dish consists of chopped chicken pieces, bones and all, so sharp bone shards are a constant distraction. It was delightful to enjoy the delicate flavours without having to worry about choking or where to put your spat out bone bits.
We followed with shrimp cooked with lily bulbs, a light and flavorsome stir-fry that allowed the delicate sweet flavour of the crunchy lily bulb petals to shine through. The restaurants’s specialty is mapo tofu cooked in paper and the spicy pork and tofu dish doesn’t disapoint, arriving atop a flaming burner which somehow heats the dish while failing to set the paper alight.
It’s my sixth or seventh visit to People’s 7, a rarity in itself in this city of ever-changing fortunes where restaurants come and go literally overnight. The food is consistently good, the service attentive, and visitors love the light Chinese flavours.
Next stop – back to The Peace Hotel for some old-time jazz. I still love seeing these guys play together – the average age of the self-titled Old Jazz Band is 77 years, and they play together like they’ve been doing it for decades, which I guess they have. Occasionally someone forgets to start a tune along with the others and just joins in randomly at his own pace, but no-one seems to mind, we’re all drinking old-fashioned favourites like martinis and Shirey Temples and enjoying the atmosphere. Get to Shanghai and get yourself some jazz, you’ll love it!
People’s 7 Restaurant 人间银七
805 Julu Lu,
Open 7 days for lunch and dinner
The Cathay Peace Hotel Jazz Bar
20 Nanjing Dong Lu
Open 7 days from 7pm, bookings suggested
No entry fee, minimum spend 150 rmb pp