It’s been a busy year for luxury hotels in the capital. A pre-Olympic surge saw the Bulgari and Thompson Belgraves open their doors to the well-heeled in Knightsbridge, the Dorset Square Hotel returned to its Firmdale founders in Baker Street, and CitizenM opened a design-driven outpost in Bankside. Latecomers to the party have included the Ampersand Hotel and Me by Meliá, with Café Royal and the Wellesley set to follow by the year’s end. However, the South Place Hotel is cut from different cloth, for this is the first hotel from D&D London – the restaurant empire founded by Sir Terence Conran.
It’s located in the heart of the City of London, and my fear was that it would be just another soulless financial sector dormitory. It’s housed in a gleaming glass-fronted block, squeezed between the usual Square Mile banks and fund managers. Inside, there are few bankers on show, but much more of a Hoxton vibe, with a buzzing bar, a resident DJ, striking sculptures from London art-school graduates and young, trendy staff in uniforms by East End tailors DS Dundee.
What helps South Place stand out is the Conran & Partners touch inside. It’s the same success story that saw the Great Eastern (now the Andaz Liverpool Street) transformed from a tired Victorian railway hotel into a modern classic. Similarly, the lobby of South Place feels like a wealthy hipster’s hangout, with exposed concrete and wooden floors next to colourful, statement furniture and dramatic lighting.
Not surprisingly, food is a big focus. Angler, the fine-dining fish restaurant on the top floor, could easily become a midweek financial favourite, with a wine list of 240 bins and fine views over east London. The bistro on the ground floor, where breakfast is served, is more at home with the east London groove, offering retro cakes and heavy dishes such as Lobster “Mac” and stuffed pigs’ trotters from a brown wrapping-paper menu. It’s heavy stuff, but throughout my stay it was packed with thick-rimmed-glasses-wearing creatives pretending they weren’t in the City.
South Place is a short walk from Liverpool Street Station, with good Underground connections and the express to Stansted airport. West End theatres and galleries are 20 minutes away on the Tube, but the hotel’s outlook is definitely east to the markets, converted warehouses and pop-up shops of Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston.
The hotel’s 80 rooms and suites were designed by Conran & Partners, but aside from some subdued art from the nearby Hoxton Gallery and some industrial-chic mirrors, it’s hard to see where the effort has gone. The rooms have a muted colour scheme of greys and browns, while the open-plan suites have feature walls in dark purples. It’s all fairly standard and they cry out for a splash of personality – a touch of the design magic that was used in the lobby and downstairs. They are comfortable, though (and quiet due to robust glazing), and the Josephine Home bed linen and vast marble bath are impressive. There is free Wi-Fi throughout and huge Bang & Olufsen televisions in the rooms, plus iPod docks and sleek, touch-sensitive pads to operate the lights, air conditioning, locks and blinds.
Luddites be warned, though; the touch-sensitive pad might look great but, after two days and nights of confused poking and prodding, mine took on a greasy complexion. Perhaps a light switch would have been easier.