Stay the night: Elite Plaza, Göteborg
Sunday 03 May 2009
Bicky Chakraborty is something of a phenomenon among Swedish hoteliers. In 1966 he left India to study social sciences at Stockholm University, but with a hope of somehow getting into showbiz. Instead, Bicky ended up creating the largest boutique hotel chain in Scandinavia. There are now 18 Elite Hotels in Sweden, all conversions of existing buildings. The flamboyant showman also has plans for 50 English pubs, known as The Bishop's Arms, across the country.
The Elite Plaza in Göteborg has been fashioned out of a granite block of 19th-century insurance offices on Västra Hamngatan, the city's main thoroughfare. The location is perfect if you've come to do business, visit the opera, or attend Ullevi Stadium.
On the ground floor, the designers Lars Helling and Christer Svensson have retained all the original features: English mosaic floors, Italian marble columns, stuccoed ceilings with gold-leafed decoration and huge chandeliers. Back in 1889 the Svea Fire & Life Insurance Company built themselves a veritable temple.
The main changes to the public areas are the Swea Hof restaurant in what was originally an open courtyard, a large collection of modern art on the walls and a big picture of Bicky Chakraborty inviting you in.
The reception staff seem to speak every language under the sun. They stand behind a long, modern, glass desk in what was originally the public lobby of Svea Insurance. Their backdrop is an impressive array of 13 works by the American-Bulgarian artist Christo, personally chosen by Mr Chakraborty.
At first sight you wouldn't think there are 143 rooms across the five floors. The conversion job has kept everything very cosy. The single rooms are small and basic (and lacking in wardrobes) but the superior rooms and junior suites are stylish, recalling the best work of designer Olga Polizzi, with their broad beds, large headboards, flat-screen TVs that act as room dividers, original artwork and marble bathrooms.
Mr Chakraborty worked with Helling and Svensson to bring the dark wood panelling used to such good effect in the Plaza bar to the doors and even the ceilings of the larger bedrooms. Wireless internet access is free and the turn-down service adds a miniature of brandy to the ubiquitous bedside chocolate, something that can come in handy in the Swedish winter.
Toiletries in the deluxe rooms and suites are currently by Lavin. Suppliers are changed three or four times a year. In cheaper rooms the toiletries are a brand produced especially for Elite Hotels.
The food and drink
The Plaza bar opposite reception is open all day and has gone for a clubland feel with wood panelling, dark leather armchairs, burgundy carpets, low-level table lighting and chandeliers. This is the most comfortable public area in the hotel, especially on a cold night. There is a huge array of whiskies, the most expensive of which is the Swedish Mackmyra 02 Special. In the basement, The Bishop's Arms pub is convincing in the British spit-and-sawdust style with a few English touches – pitchfork, model Spitfire, and bogus football trophies.
The selection of beers runs to nearly 100, of which half are imported from England. The Swea Hof restaurant, leading off from the Plaza bar, is a clever use of space; a narrow courtyard sealed off three floors up by a metal and glass canopy, while huge white lampshades make the dining area seem less vertiginous. The food was recently described in a local paper as "criminally good". The lobster soup, seafood platter, and reindeer leg are all excellent. Service at breakfast is sluggish, but impeccable in the evening. The only drawback is the over-generous use of marble on the walls and floor of the restaurant which makes for over-lively acoustics. Allow SKr460-690 (£38-£58) for three courses, excluding wine.
There is a small gym with sauna. Göteborg's splendid neo-classical cathedral sits across on the other side of Västra Hamngatan from the hotel, and the broad Hamn canal is just round the corner. There is a pleasant walk along its banks to Gustav Adolfs Torg, the historic centre of the old city, containing a statue in honour of its founder, King Gustav II Adolf – the great general Gustavus Adolphus.
There are no rooms adapted for wheelchair access but the modern glass lift takes wheelchairs, and ramps will be laid for the front steps. Children are welcome: one child aged between two and 12 years old sleeps free in the parents' room. Additional children pay SKr200 (£17) each. The question of pets is handled on a case-by-case basis.
Doubles start at SKr1,250 (£105) per night and junior suites at SKr2,300 (£194), including breakfast.
Elite Plaza, Västra Hamngatan 3, 404 22 Göteborg, Sweden (00 46 31 720 40 00; elite.se).
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