Where exactly is it? On the eastern end of the ancient thoroughfare that connects Shoreditch with Cambridge Heath. An unedifying stretch, you might think initially (if you’re a visitor), but look closer and there are hidden bars, restaurants and cool watering holes in every graffiti-strewn railway arch and corner.
The interior and vibes? It’s the first London outpost of the Parisian mini-chain of boutique hotels launched back in 2008, founded by the Trigano family – co-founder of Club Med, no less – and world-renowned designer Philippe Starck. The vibe is affordable chic and quirky decor in – their words – ‘out of the way neighbourhoods’ (Bethnal Green, ahem!). Other locations include Marseille, Belgrade, LA and Rio.
What was good about the rooms? Step inside the eye-catching charcoal exterior (formerly the rather dowdy RE Hotel Shoreditch) and there are 194 of them, so it’s a busy place. Our medium room was compact, with playful touches and a light bordello feel. Spacious bed aside, a corner wooden banquette enclosed a quartz table, propped up by long cushions in bottle green and burnt gold. Bedside lights were adorned with kitsch Tweetie Pie masks; on the double itself was plenty of expensive-feeling white linen and fluffy pillows. We also lusted over the sexy plastic tumblers in the bathroom, where there’s naturally a rain shower. And quirky messages abound, revealing ‘Mama’s’ personality, from posh designer toiletries (‘Mama wants to cream you up’ – eeuurgh!) to a personal welcome scrawled Drag Race-style on the mirror. Wanna slob out? There are free movies, too.
Anything on the snagging list? Not really: minor oversees included a lack of tea and coffee facilities, and a plate of uncovered biscuits, meaning you either had to scoff them at once or watch them go soft (and, no, we can’t abide food waste). And don’t expect lots of hanging space, as there’s only a short rail rather than wardrobe. Elsewhere in the hotel, the only other issue on our visit was one broken lift, leaving huge queues for the other (we took the stairs instead).
What about the communal areas? The ground floor is carefully divided up, from a log cabin vibe and open fireplace in reception to communal benches and cosy tables-for-two in the restaurant, with adjoining bar, open kitchen and lovely covered inside-outside courtyard. The decor? Warehouse-meets-granny’s living room, all deco lampshades, lace doilies, dark wood, pops of coloured macramé and Liberty prints. The eclectic feel is furthered with a pop art ceiling by graphic designer and artist Beniloys.
OK, let’s talk food. It’s a mix of on-trend plant-based sharing platters (think cumin-roasted cauliflower), ‘local’ classics (pie, mash and liquor) and Mama’s French classics (Croque Monsieur). Our small plates, after moreish focaccia, were light and easygoing: tiny crab charcoal doughnuts came with pickled cucumber and blood orange mayo, while a plate of raw tuna slivers (see pic below) was matched with pickled kohlrabi, blobs of wasabi, and a really citrusy calamansi dressing, with its powerful notes of lime and orange.
And mains? A classic Mama dish, beef tartare, proved a hit, crowned with a creamy quivering orange yolk and crunchy radishes, while a flatbread chicken za’atar kebab paired tender thighs with a fiery harissa mayo and heritage tomatoes. All this to a gently clubby, but not overbearing, soundtrack.
What’s the service like? Friendly and chatty with just the right touch of formality.
To drink: We delved into the wine list, and enjoyed an easygoing Bobal, Spain’s lesser-known but actually second most planted grape. And there are all the usual bespoke cocktails and craft beers you’d expect.
Breakfast. Yes or no? Mais oui, this was a surprise: three long tables piled high with fresh watermelon and other seasonal fruit, pastries and bread, cured meats, cheese and smoked salmon. Tastiest was the rather lovely buffet of sausages, crispy bacon, a fragrant haddock kedgeree, home-made baked beans and glistening roasted vegetables. How we gorged.
Any other facilities? Lots to keep millennials happy: table football, pinball machines, retro video games, a giant in-built Twister board and even Japanese-style karaoke rooms with classic 50s-style microphones.
Don’t miss: the local neighbourhood, of course. Two ace boozers are on your doorstep: famous music pub the Sebright Arms and the tiny LGTBQ-friendly Queen Adelaide. On the same parade in Hackney Road is the Natural Philosopher’s Cocktail bar, a subterranean joint behind a Mac repair shop, while further along is the booze-and-beans focused Hackney Coffee Co. Also recommended is convivial vegan hangout Love Shack, as good for dinner as cocktails (and with loungey front garden). And beyond is Shoreditch (to the west), Bethnal Green (due south) Hackney (to the north) and Victoria Park (east).
In short? This is an unpretentious hotel in one of the capital’s most exciting corners, with the emphasis on irreverent fun and relaxed dining. If your idea of London starts and ends at Covent Garden, next time you visit – stay here.