I was all prepared to hate the world’s first vegan hotel suite.
I was prepared to hate it the way only a journalist who has received one too many “Celebrate Veganuary with [insert brand name here] as it launches its new vegan [insert tenuous concept here]!” press releases can hate something.
“Chuh, how can a hotel suite be vegan?” I grumbled as we approached the Hilton London Bankside, the location of the suite in question. “It’s not as if normal hotel rooms have steaks for pillows.”
(I was clearly channelling my inner William Sitwell.)
Upon entering the lobby, all intimate lighting and trendy furniture, we were directed to guest services, rather than the regular front desk, to check in. This was no accident.
“These chairs we’re sitting on? They’re made from piñatex,” Adolfo, the concierge, said as we sank into chic, chocolate-toned seats. They looked like they were upholstered in leather, but were in fact made with a vegan substitute fashioned out of pineapple leaves. “That’s why we ask you to check-in here – so it’s a vegan experience from start to finish.”
I was expecting a few lip-service nods to veganism – a complimentary fruit bowl and some cruelty-free shampoo, say – rather than a whole “experience”. But I decided to reserve judgement until my inner cynic had seen the suite itself.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some plant-hating, millennial snowflake-bashing, Piers Morgan acolyte. My partner and I are both pescatarians – we eat fish but no meat – and I definitely acknowledge a plant-based diet is the more ethical, environmentally friendly choice.
It’s just I’ve seen the way that brands ruthlessly latch onto whatever the latest “woke” trend is to seem hip and current, with absolutely zero follow-through after the fad has fallen out of favour. And, honestly, I was expecting a similar thing here.
Adolfo showed us into the room, seeming genuinely excited to point out each vegan feature: “The floor is sustainable bamboo, not wood.
“The pillow menu – with buckwheat and millet-filled options.
“The minibar – all snacks are vegan.
“The bathroom products – all vegan friendly with recycled packaging. And they smell amazing.”
And, finally: “Those are piñatex!” He was pointing to a trio of cherry red, boldly patterned cushions that appeared to be upholstered in leather. They were gorgeous, and I immediately envisaged them on our sofa at home.
Piñatex is adaptable as heck, it turns out. The giant, hand-embroidered headboard was covered in it, as were the brown leatherette pouffes, and even the room’s keycard holder was fashioned from the stuff. Add in the soy silk curtains, organic cotton carpets and vegan in-room menu, and it really was the plant-based aficionado’s dream pad. Even the cleaning products used are eco-friendly and non-animal tested.
“So, how long will it be open for?” I quizzed. “It’s a pop-up, right?”
“No, no – it’s permanent. We refurbished the whole suite. In fact, if it goes well, we’ll give the one next door the same treatment.”
Adolfo backed out, all smiles, and I was left to mull over the fact that maybe I’d been a bit quick to judge the whole thing as a marketing stunt. Or, if so, it was one of the most expensive and committed I’d come across.
Left to our own devices, I realised what I really liked about the suite was how low-key stylish it was. Hear the words “vegan suite”, and you’d be forgiven for imagining either a joyless, colour-free “space” draped in hemp, or a millennial junkyard complete with neon signage reading #Plantlife! with Instagrammable features.
Designed in collaboration with Bombas & Parr, the room is a world away from these caricatures, its vibe the epitome of understated luxury with a twist. Muted charcoals are complemented by elegant pine-greens, mochas and those red cushions, with the humble pineapple providing design inspiration in the artwork (as well as being used as a key material).
The slate grey bathroom with huge rainforest shower feels more decadent than spartan and the huge, white-clad bed just begs to be jumped on. This is a suite that wears its eco-credentials discreetly – if you simply dropped in unannounced, you might never realise.
However, it’s hard not to realise when it comes to dining. We made our way to Oxbo, the in-house restaurant, for dinner with a difference. Seeing our vegan suite keycard holder, the maître d’ led us ceremoniously to a “special” table – here, too, the chairs were covered in piñatex (a nice if slightly unnecessary touch).
From there we were presented with menus packed with vegan dishes, each more elaborate than the last – I can only imagine how gratifying this would be for someone used to having to order the house salad, hold the dressing.
I tucked into a flavoursome salad of palm heart, avocado and crispy cauliflower pakura, followed by jerusalem artichoke with quinoa. Accompanied by a bottle of vegan wine and wrapped up with a coconut and chilli parfait, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening despite the lack of dairy.
But we hadn’t quite become converts. While we were happy to embrace Veganuary for a night, come morning we both found ourselves surreptitiously stacking plates high with eggs, pastries, smoked salmon and muffins.
“Don’t you want to order something off our vegan breakfast menu?” the waiter asked, no judgement, but perhaps a little sadness in his eyes.
I glanced over a list that included such choice breakfast delicacies as carrot and quinoa pancake”,“hummus and vegetable crudite” and “vegetable biriyani”.
“Um… No, thank you.”
As I shovelled my super-size almond croissant into my face, I felt a spasm of guilt cross my brow. But then I remembered I was sitting on a vegan chair, having showered myself in vegan toiletries following a night spent in a vegan hotel room – and my conscience was assuaged, just a little.
The Vegan Suite is available for reservations immediately; from £549, room only. Contact email@example.com to book a stay or visit londonbankside.hilton.com.
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