Oriental Pearl

To me, there’s nothing more incredible than viewing a city from above. I even love the pedestrian walkways above the streets of Shanghai, where you can look down onto the roads and stop to take in the beauty of the surrounding buildings without having to worry about being mowed over by an electronic scooter or having to wait at a crossing every five steps. There’s no doubt that the Oriental Pearl Tower is an iconic building, but it’s so much more than a pretty photo. There are several observation decks at different levels of the building and I’d read about a revolving restaurant on the 257th floor which I thought would be a beautiful place to enjoy dinner. Someone on my Instagram had said that it would be a disappointing view, with the Tower being smaller than many other buildings around but I went for it anyway and I’m not sure if we were talking about the same building, because despite being surrounded by skyscrapers, this Tower certainly wasn’t one of the smaller buildings around and there definitely weren’t any taller buildings obscuring our view!

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I found a number for the restaurant online, and with the help of our translator (each foreign team was allocated a translator), eventually managed to complete the surprisingly difficult task of booking a table there. To be honest I was pretty surprised that we managed to get a table the evening before as I would have expected it to be a popular place for both tourists and locals. They only had tables at 5.30 (I’m not sure if that’s due to it being a last minute booking or just due to the nature of the restaurant as it’s an all you can eat buffet so perhaps they only offer one sitting) and miraculously when we arrived, my name actually was on the list. Since it’s a buffet, it’s a set price and you have to buy tickets to go up in the elevator the same way all visitors do. For 328 yuan each (around thirty five pounds), I thought it was a pretty good deal (especially considering the amount of food we managed to polish off 😛 ). I’m not sure how much it costs just to go up to the viewing platforms, but that’s all included in the price of the meal, and you’re free to spend as much time as you like there before or after your meal. It’s almost worth it alone just to skip the queues – I have no idea how long the wait is but the queues went round and round in those endless soul-destroying queues, where you go back and forth between rope-barriers wondering when the end is in sight. If you buy a ticket for the restaurant, you skip all of that and get priority access to the elevator 🙂

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The restaurant is above all of the viewing platforms with an absolutely breathtaking view of the city. Despite being a last minute booking, we managed to get a table on the outside of the restaurant, with an unbelievable view. The restaurant revolves once every two hours (though it did stop briefly for some very questionable entertainment) and you’re free to stay there for as long as you like, so if you’re greedy like us and eat your way through multiple plates of food then you get to see a full 360 degree view of the city. When we arrived it was still bright, but we were there for sunset too, so just when we thought our view couldn’t get any more perfect, the city started to go dark, the lights started to go on and the city got about ten times more beautiful. There were brightly coloured billboards, brightly lit hotels and skyscrapers, the lights from the general street activity, and some beautifully lit boats sailing down the river.

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Much as I love good quality food at unique restaurants, sometimes you just can’t beat an all you can eat world buffet (though the pictures of my plates of food are truly disgusting 😛 ). Where else do you get pizza, curry and chicken rice next to sushi, chips and German sausages!? Where else is it perfectly acceptable to eat dessert between plates of savoury food, alternating between sweet and savoury foods until you can’t eat another bite? I love being able to take a tiny bit of everything and not have to make any decisions or get food envy for once!

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There was a huge selection of every cuisine you could think of and we ate our way through the most random combination of plates (though I did see someone with ham, sushi, curry sauce and ice cream on the same plate – I didn’t quite take it that far! Of course there was a big focus on Chinese dishes, with noodle soups, stir fried noodles, rice, dumplings, steamed buns and plenty of meat but there was a ton of other food too. There was an Indian station with a few curries and some roti, an Italian station with pizza and pasta, fillet steak with a variety of sauces, a bakery area with a selection of buns, loaves and flatbreads, chips, potato waffles, fish, prawns, mussels and a salad bar complete with meat and cheese boards. There was a dessert bar with a huge array of (unfortunately mainly Chinese-style moussey/cream) cakes, unlimited ice cream and a chocolate fountain with marshmallows for dipping!

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Perhaps the most surprising was the sushi and sashimi bar. The sushi selection wasn’t extensive but there was still a decent selection of freshly-made rolls, and there were four different types of sashimi, with a chef cutting the fish fresh and offering up very generous portion sizes. I don’t usually eat sashimi, as it’s often stupidly expensive and I much prefer sushi (I’m still undecided on how I feel about the texture and flavour of some raw fish – though that could be down to a bad experience) but this one looked fresh and delicious so I went for the salmon. I was served up thick, pink slices and it was amazing. Fresh, melt in the mouth and served with a beautifully sweet soy sauce. There was also fillet steak in a mushroom sauce that was unbelievably good. Huge, chunky slabs of the most tender, perfectly cooked meat in a delicious sauce. There was a long row of ducks hanging up like in Chinese restaurants – the meat was carved fresh and the skin was so crispy. The steamed buns were soft with a variety of fillings and the noodles and ramen were cooked fresh to order. There was a surprisingly big range of cheese, considering how scarce dairy products appear to be in Asia and the German sausages weren’t a million miles off the bratwurst served up at German Christmas markets.

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There were some dishes which were also disappointing though. The roti was delicious, if a little more oily than it needed to be, but the curry left a lot to be desired. There were two – a chicken one that was predominantly potatoes in a strange yellowish sauce and a channa masala. Channa masala is usually one of my favourite curries, but this one was strangely sweet and tasted more like a tomato and chickpea stew. The pizza had a thick, tasteless base, and the cheese had congealed whilst sitting under the hot lamps. The potato wedges were soggy whilst the potato waffles were so crispy they were solid. The chocolate from the chocolate fountain reminded me of Hersheys.. not very sweet, not very milky and generally not a very pleasant experience.

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The rest of the desserts were a mixed bag. The butter cake was incredibly soft, and more dense than their usual cakes so it was more like a typical English cake. The chocolate cake was light and airy with a mousse filling though, topped with squirty cream and a syrupy cherry. The ice cream bar was by far my favourite part though. It was served in little tubs, with sauce and toppings on the side – mini cookies, nuts and sprinkles! There was a good selection to choose from and the green tea tasted pretty good but the hazelnut one was unreal. The flavour was perfect and it was full of chunks of chocolate and nut pieces. I think between us we must have got through a good ten servings over the course of the meal!

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Drinks aren’t included and are expensive – a large bottle of Evian will set you back almost nine pounds and there are fresh juices at over five pounds a glass, but there are some more reasonably priced soft drinks and they didn’t bat an eyelid when I pulled a couple of bottles of water out of my rucksack.

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Of course it certainly wasn’t a fine dining experience and there were definitely some questionable dishes, but amongst them were some seriously well cooked foods too. As far as all you can eat buffets go, I think this was the best quality one I’ve been to – and the most extensive too. People can be so wasteful at the best of times, but at a buffet the effect of this is magnified to a ridiculous extent, so I really was surprised at the quality of some of the dishes.

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I would definitely recommend this place. Where else can you eat a decent meal with unparalleled views of such a beautiful city!? Every time I looked out the window it looked more and more beautiful and I felt so lucky to share it with my favourite person in the whole world 🙂 After our meal we wandered down to the viewing platforms where it’s far more hectic and busy. There are huge crowds everywhere and you have to fight to get to the edge – the queue at the barriers are about four people thick. Unfortunately there are a lot of thick posts which (although I’m sure are a vital part of the building’s structure) get in the way of photos and it’s almost impossible to take a good photo which doesn’t have several random photo-bombers, but the views are still amazing. A couple of flights of stairs down there is a glass-floor observation area which is also incredible. It was packed full of people lying on the floor or crawling along in fear so it’s quite hard to battle your way through. While Marcus was not a fan, I found it surprisingly tame – the floor is quite dirty and scratched so at no point can you actually see down clearly enough for it to be frightening (but evidently by other people’s behaviour my views on this were not shared..), though it is a seriously long way down. The only flaw with the system is that you all have to join the same queue to get the elevator back down to the lobby. Although a fast moving queue, it’s seemingly never-ending and quite hard to find your way to join it. If you have a train to catch (unlike at home where you can get open returns, they only offer tickets on trains leaving at exact times and you even get allocated a specific seat), make sure you leave plenty of time to get back down. We had a brief moment of panic but then I played the clueless foreigner/‘I look about five years old’ card and ducked under the barriers to skip the queue. There are also two elevators to go down – one only takes you down half way and you then have to queue again to get down to the lobby whereas the other one goes all the way, so check before you jump in the first elevator that becomes available!

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