What exactly is it? The latest branch of the European boutique hotel chain with other locations in hip cities like Marseille, Rotterdam, Berlin and Amsterdam. There are 190 rooms, a “reinvention of the British pub”, cocktail bar, gym and three meeting rooms (called Laboratories). Phew. It opened just before Covid, closed promptly after – and is now back in biz once again.
Where exactly? A new development on bustling thoroughfare City Road, just opposite the open water of the basin, and at the midpoint between leafy Islington, elegant Clerkenwell and relentless Old Street. All are easily accessible by foot – no more than ten minutes’ walk, in fact.
The interior and vibes. Being a new-build, it’s all a bit in danger of looking office or department store-like. So they’ve commissioned award-winning Hackney-based architects Project Orange (who also are behind Southampton’s Room2, which we reviewed here) to riff on British icons, from the royal family to the underground. There’s a Big Ben rocket sculpture in the lobby (stay with us here), pop art toaster wallpaper, tables featuring cockney rhyming slang and oversized gold bell lights. A neon fireplace area is ignited with neon words like ‘warm’ and ‘spark’: sounds a little cheesy, but it’s fun and eye-catching. You are on holiday, after all.
What was good about the rooms? Firstly, full marks for the imaginative corridors, with their Alice-in-Wonderland-style primary doors and comfy carpet that our elderly Jack Russell – yes, it’s dog-friendly – excitedly scampered up and down. The rooms smash colourful textures with slogans, a punk aesthetic and the Queen-as-graffiti stencilled on rough-luxe walls. (Seriously, The Crown has a lot to answer for.) On a practical note, the beds are vast and comfortable, we had a good-size living area, huge shower and bathroom. The unusual shape of the room – with its floor to ceiling windows overlooking the stream of traffic below – was dramatic, too.
Anything on the snagging list? Not really. There are sensor lights everywhere to help if you need to get up in the night, but they flash on a little too readily so might wake your partner.
OK, let’s talk food. The restaurant is styled as a rebooted British pub but the only thing remotely pub-like to us was its name, the Bell & Whistle. It’s simply a contemporary dining room: think bentwood chairs in racing green with leather tops and lime green cushions, art by Jealous London, a very Instagrammable dartboard with a live video ‘bullseye’ (yep), bell lighting and chainmail hanging down the windows.
Wowsers. And the menu? Again, not especially pub-like but certainly on-trend in its emphasis on all things flexitarian. Starters and mains are all plant-based, with a list of ‘extras’ for those who eat meat and/or fish. If that sounds a bit over-thought it actually works well if you treat them as sharing plates. BBQ beetroot with a sticky dark miso was enlivened by citrus granola, while roasted sprouts were a successful, if unlikely, match for caramel and cheese with vadouvan spices.
The mains? Light but delicious. All beautifully presented, the tastiest dish was a small piece of herb-crusted cod, its flesh opaque, on a light bouillabaisse stock; elsewhere, golden florets of fried cauliflower were presented with dal and a vivid korma sauce that was almost a spuma, light as feather. And the slow-cooked beef with red wine jus added an earthy savouriness to celeriac baked in a crust with a sweet pickled plum: umami flavours balancing sweetness.
What’s the service like? It was quiet on our (badly-timed) visit the weekend before the lockdown, so the dining room was nearly empty. But nonetheless, service was stoically enthusiastic.
To drink? The usual cocktails and London craft beers, with house wine a reasonable £4 upwards for a 125ml glass with a bottle from £21.50
Breakfast? Continental treats of hams, cheeses, salad, fruits and yoghurts; or a full English. Particularly good is the single origin breakfast tea from Dilmah.
Any other facilities? Yep, gym with cardio exercise machines and complimentary towels.
Don’t miss: a stroll north around the City Road Basin, whose 200 year-old story is worth reading on the history plaques in nearby Graham Street Park. Then walk the Regent’s Canal towpath: east is Broadway Market and Hackney; west is Islington, and pedestrianised Camden Passage packed with independent boutiques, cafes and restaurants. A pub, the Narrowboat, is less than ten minutes’ walk, while slightly nearer is the lively New Orleans-influenced of Plaquemine Lock. Also recommended is the Wenlock Arms in nearby Hoxton for a proper London neighbourhood local (albeit with posh pies and craft beer), and the famous Duke Of Cambridge in St Peter’s Street. South are the delights of Old Street and Shoreditch.
In summary? It’s a slickly conceptualised European take on the capital’s landmarks and quirks, with a strong food offer – while outside is one of the best parts of London in all its wonderfully urban glory.
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