Central London is always awash with new and wonderful independent openings, and yet you’re not likely to stumble across The Buxton unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. Nestled at the quieter end of Brick Lane, the pub-hotel has been quietly carving out a niche for itself since 2019 as one of the only affordable places in the area with both great food and comfortable rooms. It suits City revellers in need of a place to crash after an all-nighter as much as it does tourists on a shoestring or locals looking for posh pub grub off the beaten track. It’s a clever investment by the Culpeper Group – which also owns the pub of the same name just down the road, The Green in Clerkenwell and The Duke of Cambridge in Islington.
In fact, this convenient spot has quite a history. In the 19th century, it was the epicentre of Jack the Ripper’s crimes and in the early 2000s was known for loitering prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers – you can thank gentrification (for once) that its reputation has been salvaged since then. Now it’s one of the only places in central where stockbrokers and hipsters happily rub shoulders. Named after local social reformer Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, who helped lead the campaign to abolish slavery and also owned the nearby Truman brewery, the building has kept much of its Victorian charm. They’ve added two extra floors and a rooftop garden, where they grow herbs and hardy greens for use in the restaurant (although, its “unparalleled” 360-degree views are not quite that unparalleled).
The ground floor is occupied by the bistro, and is where the Culpeper Team has done what it does best. They’ve taken the bar and given it a marble top and hanging, exposed pipe shelves. The indoor seating area is filled with stools around high tables, pinpointed by low hanging, intimate lights. Through the French windows is the beer garden – yes, take note, there’s a beer garden – under an expansive awning and enclosed by greenery-entwined fences. There are hints of brass, dark wood, leather, exposed bricks. It’s the perfect mix of pub and restaurant; simultaneously swanky and urban; suitable for almost any kind of event and dress code.
The menu, billed as a mix of British and European, is simple and seasonal. Like everywhere else these days, there’s an emphasis on ingredients: the bavette steak is sourced from a high welfare butcher in Yorkshire that’s been reintroducing native breeds back to the area – a choice that can be sensed in each bite of the tender, flavourful meat. When it’s politely suggested to Boyfriend that he have the steak medium-rare and not his typical medium-well done (I know, SMH), it becomes clear how much the staff care about your experience here. When we visited in July, the steak was intuitively paired with a charred, summery courgette and a fresh salsa verde. So fresh, in fact, the herbs had probably been plucked from the rooftop garden that morning.
We also tried the day boat fish, which is sourced from the south coast and that day was a beautifully plump piece of hake, crisped to perfection. It was served with poached beetroot and an excessive pile of spring greens, which was too overpowering for my tastes and detracted from the beautifully sweet fish. As ever, I found my favourite dishes in the starters. I can rarely hold back from something raw, and the pollock crudo with chunks of blood orange did not disappoint – an unusual flavour pairing that works so well. Neither did the leek tartlette, which couldn’t even be seen under a gigantic pile of parmesan, which is just how I would like all my dishes served, please. Apparently there was an egg yolk somewhere in there too. Cheesy, gooey, delicious. My only regret is not having tried the pan-fried gnocchi with oyster mushrooms and kale or the array of delectable bar snacks that I’ve since seen doing the rounds on Instagram.
With a side of gorgeously creamy potato salad, and not being big sweet tooths, we couldn’t be tempted by a dessert, but we were rather taken with the drinks menu. Neither too long nor too short, it features east London takes on classic cocktails (there’s still an Aperol spritz – it hasn’t forgotten where it is), an “Aperitivo Hour” section, non-intervention wines and local brews on tap (some gluten-free options, of course). With full bellies and slightly sore heads, we drifted upstairs in search of our room.
The mix of modern aesthetics and old-world glamour extends up through the spiral staircase, which gives Wes Anderson/Hogwarts vibes with its matching carpet and wallpaper, ornate art and maximalist furniture. The rooms are advertised as suited to the “modern traveller”, though six-foot-plus, broad Boyfriend might have a thing or two to say about that. The toilet-shower room wasn’t much wider than he was, and there were a few stubbed toes while navigating the room (after a few drinks, mind). Let’s just hope modern travellers are more my size than his. For me, the rooms were cosy and comfortable, although the gaping, sliding door that separates the toilet from the rest of the room certainly won’t appeal to newer couples. The bed was one of the most comfortable I’ve stayed in at this budget. Tea and coffee-making supplies are provided, though disappointingly dairy alternatives weren’t.
Unlike the rest of the hotel, the decor in the rooms is pared back almost to the point of utilitarianism, but in a comforting way. There’s handwoven artwork, rugs and blankets, all from local artists, and coffee table books with secrets about the area. The quality is more than you’d expect for the price tag in this party of the city. It might be too small for a long trip, but it’s perfect for a weekend getaway if you have stuff planned nearby or, like us, an overnight stay in a part of London we rarely visit. With just 15 rooms, it feels far more like quality over quantity when compared to others in this bracket.
At The Buxton, the minds behind Culpeper gave what was once a nondescript drinking joint their signature touch and turned into a dining and hotel experience you’ll want to tell all your friends about like it’s your little secret. The food is classic but understated, and demonstrates not only the chefs’ skills, but their deep understanding of ingredients and seasons and flavours. For just £23 for two courses, or £29 for three, the menu feels like fine dining but for a fraction of the cost, and for around £100 a room, it doesn’t get much better than this.
The Buxton, 42 Osborn Street, London, E1 6TD | 020 7392 2219 | thebuxton.co.uk
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