A stay at Amanyangyun is nothing short of a culinary safari[/caption]Deceptive simplicity seems to be a leitmotif with Aman Resorts. At Arva, the Amans Italian restaurant concept, dishes with simple one-word names and restrained descriptions reveal complex flavours and eclectic plating. Their veal carpaccio was memorable. Nama, the Japanese restaurant, besides being Aman spelt backwards, also means raw and serves traditional washoku cuisine. Launched only last year at select Aman resorts, its a culinary concept that took a year to develop. Lots of sushi and sashimi here, served on beautiful handmade pottery that celebrates Japans wabi-sabi aesthetic. Theres also a bar and cigar lounge where I resisted ordering, with great difficulty, the Purple Afternoon Tea. In contrast, my breakfast of buckwheat and millet congee and Shanghai-style juicy dumplings was plainer but no less delightful.
All this was superb, of course, but the true culinary gem at Amanyangyun is Lazhu, serving Jiangxi cuisine, which, if you can imagine it, is fierier than the food of Sichuan. Certainly, the beef entrails cooked in soy chilli sauce was impressively spicy. This famous dish has inspired at least two poems, one by the aforementioned Wang Anshi and the other by Tang Xianzu, the Ming dynasty Shakespeare of the Orient. Much of the food at Lazhu, to be savoured along with views of a bamboo grove, harks back to the past.
Some of the recipes have been drawn from cookbooks that are over a thousand years old, but everything is served without unnecessary fuss or ceremony. Crushed rice, spices and pork belly has been consumed with much love in Jiangxi for centuries, and finds pride of place in the food bible of Yuan Mei, a celebrated poet and gastronome of the Qing dynasty. Some other gems I had the pleasure to sample seared matsutake and lettuce roots (from the Song dynasty cookbook, Light Food From the Mountain), and braised Mandarin fish in chilli soy sauce (from the Qing dynasty cookbook, Master of the Wok). There are no desserts at Lazhu, but if you have an uncontrollable sweet tooth, you can order the crispy rice dumplings rolled in crystallised sugar.
Then theres Hu Meng, their talented sommelier, whos at hand to create dedicated pairings at each of Amanyangyuns signature restaurants and who has promised to put some stunning Chinese wines on the Lazhu menu.
A retreat is not a treat without a spa. Ranged around a garden courtyard, the 2,840 sq m spa has 10 sprawling treatment rooms, soon to be joined by bathhouses which will incorporate a Russian banya and Turkish hammam. There are indoor and outdoor pools, a state-of-the-art gym and a tranquil yoga and pilates studio overlooking a reflection pond. The spa draws inspiration from traditional healing systems around the world, including Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the shamanistic traditions of the Navajo Native Americans. New age offerings like laser acupuncture will soon join the fray, Franck Chantoiseau, Amanyangyuns calmly efficient resort manager told me.
Accompanied by the strains of the Gayatri Mantra, my 120-min Amanyangyun Signature Journey comprised an indulgent full body massage punctuated with herbal compresses, and drew on traditional Chinese techniques as well as Western lymphatic drainage. My therapist, Sri, hailed from Bali. You want deep pressure, she asked. I murmured assent. She was true to her word. Im not quite sure what she did, but I emerged a new man, all my cricks gone.
Naturally, I was teary-eyed when it was time to leave. But I was also happy to have witnessed an important moment in the evolution of what may well be the worlds most exclusive hotel brand. Subtle changes have been set in motion as the ambitious brand tries to stay relevant for a changing clientele corporate restaurant concepts being rolled across several Amans, the quiet introduction of televisions, and, possibly a first for an Aman, a proper ballroom. Time, not space, is the final frontier in luxury, and Amanyangyun has made something beautiful, something real out of it, going where no one has gone before.
Both Air India and China Eastern fly direct to Shanghai Pudong International Airport from New Delhi. Amanyangyun is about 50min drive from the airport. I flew Air China via Beijing and can vouch for their effusive hospitality (as a bonus, I got to visit Aman Summer Palace, another stunning Aman Resorts property in China). I was also able to fly to Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, which is just 30min from Amanyangyun.
The latest offering from Aman Resorts, Amanyangyun is situated in the Minhang district, 45min drive southwest of Shanghais city centre. Surrounded by a towering camphor forest and a tranquil lake, 13 antique villas and 24 Ming Courtyard suites are on offer. The property has been designed by Kerry Hill, while the landscaping is by Dan Pearson Studio. F&B venues include an Italian, a Japanese and a Chinese restaurant, the last serving authentic Jiangxi cuisine. Theres an IMAX cinema, a boutique offering jewellery, artwork and clothing by Chinese American designer Han Feng, a massive spa and a 200-seater banquet hall. Chinese cultural activities can be enjoyed at Nan Shufang.
From $944 (Ming Courtyard suite), taxes extra. Includes daily breakfast for two, return transfer to Shanghai airport, and replenishment of the minibar(excluding alcoholic beverages)once a day. Additional amenities for villas 24 hours butler service, complimentary laundry (no drycleaning) and valet pressing service. Exclusive for the Antique Villa 4-bedroom and Qing Antique Villa 4-bedrooms replenishment of minibar once a day (including alcoholic beverages and house wine cellar selection). Exclusive for the Antique Villa5-bedrooms, Ming Antique Villa 4-bedroom and Amanyangyun Villa 4-bedrooms free-flow minibar setup (including alcoholic drinks and house wine cellar selection). CONTACT 86-21-80119999, aman.com
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Downtown Shanghai is just a short drive away. Youll have a hard time tearing yourself away from the sanctuary that is Amanyangyun but, if its your first visit, at least take a walk on the historic Bund and admire Pudongs unreal skyline.
Amanyangyun is in close proximity to the Qizhong Golf Course, the Qizhong Forest Sports City and the Qizhong Forest Park.
There are several water towns in the vicinity.
Aman Resorts has four properties in China now. Apart from Amanyangyun in Shanghai and Aman Summer Palace in Beijing, theres Amandayan, Lijiang, informed by Nakhi culture and overlooking Lijiangs old town, surrounded by snowcapped mountains and Amanfayun, Hangzhou, set in a centuries old village, offering a glimpse of traditional China near West Lake, a Unesco heritage site.