The Great Eastern Hotel, right in the heart of the Square Mile and hinged to London's second busiest commuter rail station, was unequivocally a business hotel. Yet it teetered on the border of the hip inner-east London hangouts of Hoxton and Shoreditch. The cross-pollination of the two demographics didn't sound plausible, but after Terence Conran swept his interiors wand over it in 2000, the hotel diversified its appeal by hosting offbeat comedy, music and literary events and the likes of Stephen Merchant, Will Self and Nick Hornby duly dropped in. Then last year, this grand Victorian railway hotel was bought by the business chain Hyatt. Would it revert to type?
Happily, a sense of cool has been preserved. The Hyatt imprint didn't sit comfortably with the hotel's evolution, so a new brand was conceived. Andaz meaning "personal style" in Hindi will roll out from the London blueprint, which was launched in November, in New York next year and other major cities thereafter.
Its ethos is "casual luxury". On my visit, this relaxed approach was experiencing a few teething problems the new "reception-less" reception where staff check in guests informally at the bar or on the sofas with Tablet PCs, had gone into meltdown. But once up and running, it will mean that the same member of staff who greets you will take you to your room, carry your bags and look after you from the beginning to the end of your stay.
Stylistically, the slick interior has been embellished courtesy of local and Royal College of Art artists here a lipstick-red neon sign, there a series of words working their way up a staircase, legible only in a mirror.
Model-of-the-moment Agyness Deyn has created an iPod playlist, while offbeat modern art is filling up the public spaces. Plenty of the grand, original 1884 architecture remains, mostly in corridors and stairwells, but there is little indication of the hotel's history other than the odd GEH initialling on the stuccowork.
The diversity also continues with the dining the hotel's four restaurants encompass sushi, upmarket seafood, a New York-style brasserie and French haute cuisine. Diners can currently enjoy anything from roast belly of pork with langoustines and fillet of brill with herb risotto in the latter, but this, too will be radically redesigned in the coming months, to bring a more informal dining experience and therefore completing the new design.
Andaz Liverpool Street, 40 Liverpool Street, London (020-7961 1234; www.london.liverpoolstreet.andaz.com). The entrance is just a few paces from the exit of Liverpool Street station, the terminal for most rail services from the East of England. Spitalfields and Brick Lane are just a short walk away.
Time from international airport: the Stansted Express terminates at Liverpool Street, with a journey time of around 45 minutes. From London City airport, the 27-minute journey is more complicated: take the DLR to Bank, and go one stop on the Central Line to Liverpool Street, which is also on the District, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines.
The rooms have a comforting home-from-home appeal and are stylish without being overly fussy. The grey houndstooth check carpet, timber fireplace and muted colour scheme sets an English tone, but with vivid flourishes from bright red armchairs, a low Sixties-style white coffee table and dandelion clock-looking floor lamp. The beds are vast, comfy and draped in Frette linen. My bedroom window also framed a head-on view of the Gherkin, bathed in the light of a pallid winter sun.
The sparkling white tiled bathrooms feature environmentally conscious design, using a vacuum drainage and flushing system similar to an aircraft, with substantially less water used than standard bathrooms.
Freebies: Ren toiletries, Chegworth Valley fruit juices, Belu water, as well as broadband access, laundry service, movies on demand and local phone calls.
Keeping in touch: broadband internet access, direct-dial phones, Bose iPod docking stations and flat screen TVs in the rooms. The rooms also have various electrical adaptors built into the desk and the suites have a study.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Introductory weekend rates for a double room start at 140 per night, including breakfast. Weekday rates jump to 405 per night.
I'm not paying that: The Hoxton Hotel (020-7550 1000; www.hoxtonhotels.com) is a chic, no-frills bolthole in a fashionable corner of the East End. Doubles from 59, room only.