One of the delights of travel, even for business, is discovering new places to explore and enjoy.
Now a lot of people wouldn't associate China with luxury travel or London with good restaurants, but I've found that these old stereotypes are changing. Discovering them with good company can take the edge off tiring business meetings.
The Shangri-La hotels in China have done a lot to improve standards that compare favorably with the best-in-class hotel brands in the West. While offering a range of brands at different price points from the Shangri-La at the high end to Traders at the lower end, even the group's mid-tier Kerry Hotels provide extras you might not expect.
For instance, there's no comparing the gyms at Kerry Hotels in Shanghai and Beijing with most closet-sized facilities at many ultra-luxury hotels. The gyms here come with the best exercise equipment around, and are meant for hotel guests as well as local members who pay high dues to belong.
I was glad and a bit surprised to find classes such as yoya and pilates taught by professional instructors here. Keeping to an exercise regime despite a road warrior schedule, I took several classes during a recent stay. Though the instructions were in Mandarin, I was able to follow along well enough that my muscles were sore the following day.
The Kerry Hotel is known for being dynamic and upbeat, and it didn't disappoint. The Shanghai property is conveniently located next to the expo center in Pudong and a major shopping mall, so there's no shortage of things to do. Then, there are the dining options -- the hotel offers The Meat for steaks, The Cook for buffet dining from dim sum to curries, and The Brew for home-crafted beer. If you're lucky, the brew master will give you a tour and some samples.
Turning to London, I found that the city's reputation for bland food and basic lodging is a thing of the past. Here are some places I'd recommend trying on your next visit there.
The Club Gason may not be the easiest place to find situated close to the Smithfield Meat Market but this continual Michelin-starred restaurant in an intimate setting is not to be missed. There's the a la carte menu offering a sampling of smaller plates or the popular six-course tasting menu. All are based on seasonal produce from South West France, and the specialty is foies gras .
Another Michelin-starred restaurant, Texture, combines modern European cuisine with Scandinavian influences, and in a twist on the normal, some ingredients from the chef's homeland in Iceland such as Icelandic cod. This formal restaurant is just off Oxford Street near Mayfair.
In Soho, the Oriental fusion restaurant Inamo excels in pan-Asian flavors but the food served sharing style is not the central attraction. Instead, it's the restaurant's high-tech ordering system where diners touch food and drink tiles on the table surface without having to call over a waiter (unless you get lost in the ordering system).
Also in Soho, the American-style steakhouse MASH in the downstairs of an art deco building serves up the best beef around with loads of mouth-watering side dishes like macaroni and cheese and for dessert, ice cream.
For something a little different, head out to Canary Wharf and try the French restaurant Le Secret, overlooking the Thames River. If you can't find it, look for the Four Seasons Hotel and then go around it to the riverside. You must like chicken to dine at at Le Secret - the main course is rotisserie chicken, prepared over flames in a slow-roasted process in an open kitchen. Pommes frites are crispy and tasty, just like they should be.
For ultra luxury and elegance in central London's High Holburn, the new Rosewood Hotel is the place to be seen. From its grand entrance on a cobblestone passage through an archway that opens up into an Edwardian courtyard to its Mirror Room offering afternoon tea, you feel like you've entered a grand palace. The Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, a collection of ultra-luxury hotels that include the Carlyle in New York and Turtle Creek in Dallas, opened the London property in October 2013 after a $130 million renovation of what was originally the headquarters of an insurance company.