Another Shangri-La in London, read more at telegraph
In advance of its opening, John O’Ceallaigh takes a hard-hat tour of Shangri-La London, where unparalleled views, an intimate champagne bar and 52nd-floor infinity pool are among the enticing features awaiting the hotel’s first guests
For first-time visitors to Shangri-La’s London hotel, which occupies floors 34 to 52 of the Renzo Piano-designed Shard skyscraper, the initial guest experience is likely to be familiar.
I was one of a handful of journalists to visit this morning as part of a hard-hat tour of the site – and the property’s ground-floor reception area is impressive, but largely unremarkable.
There’s a pleasant all-day café and patisserie, Lang, which should prove popular with passing commuters; the reception area is immaculate and the prerequisite collection of artworks impressive. A dazzling design feature – in this instance a vast chandelier composed of undulating fragments of softly chiming crystal – is already in situ.
The experience changes as the time for check-in approaches, however. Guests who wish to bypass the ground-floor desk will be ushered instead to a lift that takes them to the main, marble-clad lobby area – on the Shard’s 35th floor – in 28 seconds.
In less than half a minute, we were taken from the mundane surroundings of commuter-clogged London Bridge to the peak of London, with uninterrupted views of St Paul’s and the London Eye, the mottled expanse of central London and the meandering Thames. It wasn’t lost on me that this incredible view is one that visitors to the city have been waiting some time for.
Initially scheduled to open in June 2013, the long-delayed hotel (which officially operates under the cumbersome title of Shangri-La Hotel, at the Shard, London) is set to welcome its first guests on May 6.
Reasons for the frequent postponements of the opening date haven’t been released but John Sisk & Sons, the contractors initially charged with developing the hotel, were replaced in September. A spokesperson for the developers told the Construction Enquirer: ““Despite our best endeavours, we have not managed to find a way forward with Shangri-La and a decision has been made to end the relationship.” Rival firm Chorus has since taken over development duties.
Despite the delays, Shangri-La London will still be able to claim a swathe of firsts and superlatives come May: it will be the tallest hotel in Western Europe; it will be the first hotel in a London skyscraper; it will be the first luxury hotel in London to open south of the Thames. (The Mondrian, in nearby Sea Containers House, will open just a few weeks later.)
Developers are certain that everything will be in place in time for the hotel’s opening – reservations can be made from March 17 – but during our visit it was clear there is much to be done.
As is typically the case on hard-hat tours, photography wasn’t permitted but we could see work in progress on all levels. Lighting is still being put in place, walls are partially plastered, furniture has yet to be added and last-minute cosmetic changes are under way. A blue, flower-embossed carpet that drew less-than-enthusiastic responses during our visit is, as it happens, being ripped up and replaced with a less vibrant alternative. The hotel manager Darren Gearing, however, remains relaxed, telling us: “everything is on schedule.”
Britons keen to see the handiwork for themselves without committing to an overnight stay – entry-level rates at the hotel start at £450 per night, excluding breakfast, which will cost about £30 for a full English – will be welcome to dine at 35th-floor Ting, the hotel’s “signature” (and, in fact, only) restaurant. Previously of the Ritz in London and Shangri-La’s Tokyo and Maldives properties, Emil Minev is executive chef and will serve a modern European menu with Asian touches. Two afternoon tea options – one British in style, one Chinese – will also be available but reservations will likely be hard to secure. The Shard’s tapering form means that space even at lower levels is restricted.
The hotel’s 202 rooms and suites run from floors 36 to 50 and each will be configured differently. Sizes range from 323-2024sq ft (30-188sq metres) and are among the largest in London, but during our tour it appeared the building’s unique, angular structure has presented some challenges. Awkwardly placed support pillars jut through some spaces and from certain points it is possible to be seen from the floor-to-ceiling windows of neighbouring guests’ rooms. Electronically operated blackout blinds are standard throughout; the windows themselves will be washed four times per year, at which point guests can expect cleaners to abseil down the building.
Another issue to consider could be the impact ill weather has on rooms found at such a height. High-rise hotels elsewhere noticeably sway in stormy weather, but management here say that shaking of the façade hasn’t been observed at any point.
Other features will be broadly welcomed. Each slick marble-clad guest bathroom will feature heated flooring, Japanese-style electronic toilets with heated seats, mirrors with integrated televisions and Aqua di Parma toiletries; some 80 guest rooms will have freestanding baths positioned by the windows. Each of the hotel’s 17 suites will have dedicated butler service and the hotel’s three signature suites will have as-yet-unannounced features which the hotel promises will be “exceptionally lush”. Due to open in September on the building’s 39th floor, the Shangri-La Suite will offer 188-degree views of London, stretching from the Houses of Parliament to Canary Wharf and is expected to be especially popular with celebrities and more discreet big-budget visitors. Guests here will be permitted to park in the Shard’s basement levels and reach their suite via the private lifts ordinarily reserved for the owners of the apartments on floors 53 to 65 of the 72-storey building.
The hotel’s crowning feature, however, is 52nd-floor Gong. The highest bar in the country, it will specialise in champagne and cocktails and is set to be one of the capital’s most exclusive drinking venues. Incomplete and unfurnished today, it should prove a showstopper when it welcomes its first guests – lauded Hong Kong designer Andre Fu is the man behind its looks and Henning Neufeld, previously of Shangri-La Beijing, will be head mixologist.
Due to the restricted space – and space does feel tight at this level, 623ft (190m) above the city – it accommodates just 80 to 90 people at a time and a reservation list will be in operation from Wednesday to Sunday initially, and throughout the week subsequently. This level of the building also includes a small gym (which will be open to residents of the apartments directly above) and a 36ft (11m) infinity pool, which will, of course, be the highest of its kind in the country.
While the pool space and bar are directly beside each other, it remains to be seen how the two spaces will be integrated. It is likely that the pool will be open to families for a limited time during the day before functioning as an extension of the bar space at night. Among other plans, the pool may be covered in Perspex at night so visitors can walk upon it and admire the view; in Hong Kong and Beijing, the Shangri-La hotels’ pools have been drained and used as catwalks for fashion shows so, it would seem, anything is possible.
In any case all will be revealed on May 6 – or Londoners may have to wait for many weeks longer. Each Shangri-La hotel opens on a date and time that is considered by the Chinese to be auspicious. Should proceedings by delayed by even one day it could mean there’s a significant delay while the hotel group’s head office approves another similarly serendipitous opening date.