The opening of The Corner London City in Aldgate last autumn brought something different to this part of east London. Formerly the Qbic, transformed from a derelict office block into an eco-minded hotel, the rebrand brings changes, both architectural – knocking down walls to create an open-plan space – and sustainable, with multiple measures taken to give the hotel an even greener lease of life. A green heart, if you like.
As I enter with my sister, Maria, on a cold Friday afternoon and fiddle with the self-check-in screens, the young barman soon calls out instructions. Forget a painfully long wait in a luggage-filled lobby – this seconds-long transaction takes place in a fluid, all-in-one bar, restaurant, work hub, lounge and games room, with every available surface dotted with healthy-looking houseplants. Grey and white hexagonal tiles and wooden floorboards are used to define areas, along with clusters of eclectic, mid-century-style pieces, including benches and chairs upholstered in bright shades of orange and lime, tempered by inky blues. Guests tap away at laptops or socialise at large round tables, cosy two-seaters, banquettes and sofas.
It’s such an appealing atmosphere, we decide not to go straight to our room but sit and chat – my sister to that kindly barman, and me to head chef Stephen Tims. I’m keen to learn how green a 183-room urban hotel can really be. I know from social media that, over Christmas, Stephen even used leftovers in the cocktails as part of his drive to eliminate food waste. Attracted by the hotel’s green credentials, he sources much of the meat, fish and veg on the menu from Billingsgate Market, with 98 per cent of the menu produced in-house. The kitchen composts food unable to be reused, and soon the growing family of banana and other plants will be joined by heirloom tomatoes, chilli plants, peppers and herbs.
The hotel’s greenery is in good hands, too. French manager Mohamed Mezaga is passionate about plants. His ideal holiday is discovering endemic species in biodiverse Madagascar, he tells me. He’s so green-fingered, the hotel’s former gardener even turned to him for tips, he adds with a smile. Clad in a dark green shirt (naturally), he explains how he takes cuttings from existing plants to add to the growing collection with the odd trip down Columbia Road market. Some guests ask to take the plants from their room home or even bring in their own, less-pampered versions for the hotel to tend. Keen to grow what he calls the “green tribe” by September, Mohamed plans to install beehives on the rooftop, with 250 plants and flowers for the bees to feed on, so expect sweet, home-harvested honey on future menus and in cocktails.
The hotel’s dazzling eco achievements are colourfully illustrated on a wall by the lift. Hang around long enough, and you learn that The Corner produces 67 per cent fewer CO2 emissions than the UK industry average, thanks to sensor LED lighting and 40 solar panels tucked up on the roof. Not only that, but they use 41 per cent less water due to airdrop shower heads, which mix air with water to reduce consumption by 25 per cent, plus water filtration, among other measures. They’re currently awaiting confirmation of B Corp status, a stringent certification that measures a company’s social and environmental performance – like Fairtrade for businesses.
What’s also different here from any other hotel I have stayed in is that everyone multi-tasks. It’s part of the hotel’s ethos, meaning increased skillsets for all and includes English lessons for foreign-born cleaners, on the house. As a guest, it feels homely to have the same person who checked you in bringing you your dinner. Speaking of which, from an appealing menu that trots around the globe, we share elote, a classic Mexican street food dish of chargrilled corn on the cob, bathed in a spicy and creamy cheese, coriander and lemon juice sauce. We almost fight over Greek pakoras, chunks of cod loin wrapped in a light, crispy, golden tempura batter, and eat them so quickly it's barely worth dipping them into the accompanying sweet chilli sauce.
En route to our room, we pass the tea and coffee station made from (of course) recycled wood – there’s one on each floor – and an ad hoc gym on the top-floor landing. Each room is different, but all share a similar theme: locally sourced fixtures and fittings and ingenious sleeping/bathing pods that take a nifty, time-saving six hours to assemble. Above the Naturalmat mattress, handmade in Devon with sustainable, biodegradable, organic fibres, a blown-up photo of a dog wearing sunglasses on an east London pavement guards us. Our Plush room type, which sleeps four, also includes a sofa bed scattered with palm-leaf print cushions.
Much of the furniture is made by Dutch designer Sander Bokkinga, who uses reclaimed wood for clothes stands and old hosepipes twisted into funky lamps. So far, so good for the planet. Thirsty? There are glass bottles of filtered water. There’s also a recycling bin – all plastic, paper and glass is recycled – and organic toiletries in reusable containers. And, of course, plenty of plants. The effect is relaxing, energising and impressive. It silently raises the question: why aren’t all hotels trying this hard?
Whichever room type you stay in, choose not to get it cleaned and you’ll be handed a £5 voucher for a drink at the bar. If that’s not an incentive to be eco-friendly, I don’t know what is.
Doubles at The Corner from £65, room only; thecornerlondoncity.co.uk
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