The Hoxton Hotel: Winner: Best Value Hotel
Hipster Hangout // The Hoxton Hotel
James Seed, a Fulhamite through and through, intrepidly heads east to discover a clash of convenience, cool and function at The Hoxton Hotel.
Believe it or not, I was a student once. Before I became accustomed to the finer things in life, my Saturday nights were spent drinking Alpine lager and ethanol-laced vodka in sticky-floored pubs off the Tottenham Court Road. All the while having lengthy conversations about deep political issues I had no real hope of understanding or, indeed, any interest in. Ignoring the obvious drawbacks of such a lifestyle, those were good times. Mr Blair’s fledgling government provided me with student loans and grants that happily kept me in cheap beer and Pot Noodles, and my accommodations in halls of residence – despite the paper-thin walls and sexually adventurous neighbours – were pretty comfortable.
It was only towards the end of my first year, whilst attempting to impress a medical student by sharing her grave concern for the fate of the speckle-nosed lemur of Madagascar, that it occurred to me that I would soon have to move out of halls, and possibly – horror of horrors – seek out gainful employment in order to keep up with the increased living costs. Not one to be forced into working for a living without putting up a fight, I began to search in earnest for the cheapest possible habitation available in London. After a week of searching, I found the place where I would end up living for the next three years of my life: Bow.
Bow, I am told, has changed much since my time there. It is now, apparently, an up-and-coming area and a magnet for City boys looking for cheaper rent costs and easy access to the Docklands and Square Mile. It now has, so they say, a vibrant social scene with plenty of hip new bars and restaurants opened to cater to the influx of the trendy young middle classes with their skinny jeans and thick-rimmed media glasses. This is what I have been told. I have no idea if any of this is true however, as not once in 10 years of moving west have I ever had the slightest inclination to venture back any further east than Oxford Street.
Imagine my delight, then, when my Editor, in all her wisdom, took it upon herself to send me back to whence I came. And so it was, with no small amount of distaste, that I left my leafy corner of South West London to head back into the midst of my past to confront my demons. The short walk from Hoxton’s newish overland station to The Hoxton Hotel did align with my friends’ assurances that the East had taken a turn for the better since my last visit. In the five minutes it took for me to cover the distance, I passed multiple bars and restaurants – some of which boasted actual table cloths, a definite new addition – all of which were just beginning to buzz with a lively post-work crowd.
The lobby of The Hoxton itself is a testament to what can be done with sleek, casual design. The space is filled with leather sofas and tables, with roaring fires (OK, gas-fired, but still) at either end, and looks straight through onto a small open courtyard, illuminating the whole area with natural light during the day and serving as an extension for the adjacent restaurant. With the reception tucked away to the side, the first impression one has is more reminiscent of walking into a cocktail bar than a hotel. Opened five years ago by the chap that founded the Pret a Manger sandwich chain, the hotel’s aim then – as it is now – is to provide a dash of style without rip-off prices; a mission that rings even truer in these austere times.
Walking to my room I am immediately struck by the imaginative, futuristic styling of the hallway. Blue neon lights outline each room’s entrance in the darkened corridor, making feel as though I have inadvertently walked onto the set of a Blade Runner remake. My room is one of 10 that have recently undergone a complete redesign, and this is immediately apparent as I walk in. While the overall design is generic design hotel, there are imaginative touches here and there, giving The Hoxton a sense of place. And although “quirky” is a word I usually strive to avoid when searching for adjectives to describe something unusual, it actually does the job perfectly when looking for a descriptive for this room: exposed brick and Banksy-style artwork cover the walls and windows (a nod to daubed buildings that I passed on my way to the hotel), along with what appears to be a pillow fort made from novelty Love Heart cushions on the enormous bed all make for a very comfortable and functional space.
All the rooms, along with the hotel in general, have clearly been designed with business travellers in mind. The whole building is serviced with free, high-speed wifi and each room is equipped with more USB power points, iPod docks and interactive television options than an IT geek could ever desire. All very useful for the busy executive needing to send important files back to headquarters or, if you are me, and want to watch an episode of Dexter online before heading down to dinner. They’re striving for convenience and function here, and they’ve achieved it. Rather than being fleeced at every turn, the hotel boasts a raft of guest-friendly extras that keep the costs down for everyone: free local calls, cheap-rate calls to the States, a limited room service at night, a free Pret breakfast, and high street-price amenities and luxuries (chocolate, half-bottles of bubbly) in the shop downstairs. They may seem like no-frills ideas, but slip between the sheets and you’re experiencing Frette linen. It’s a fine balance.
The hotel’s restaurant, The Hoxton Grill, is part of the Soho House group and is decked out in American brasserie style, complete with comfortable leather booths and an open kitchen. The menu is well thought out, combining casual, simple options such as mac and cheese with more expensive fair like Chateaubriand to ensure it’s a selection that will have something for everyone. To start with I opt – with some hesitation – for the calamari, a dish for which I reserve no small amount of snobbery having grown up in Spain and sampled some of the best around. Surprisingly, I find the dish to to be delicious. Unlike the viscous cement that usually covers calamari in this country, the batter is really light, and after dousing them in lemon and dunking each one in a generous helping of homemade garlic alioli, I am quite convinced that they are the best offering of the sort I have ever had in the UK. My dining companion – who I’ve dragged out east from SW6 – also went down the seafood route and found his scallops to be delicious, if a little overwhelmed by the heavy bean purée they were served with. Perhaps a dish that needs a slight simplification?
For my main I went for the 12-ounce ribeye from the dedicated ‘Steak and Chips’ menu – a winning concept – whilst my friend chose the pork belly served with red ‘slaw. The steak, when it arrived, was a delicious piece of meat, if a tad well done for my taste. The real standout of the dish though, was the béarnaise sauce, which when combined with steak and chunky hand-cut chips, made for a brilliantly simple yet delicious dish that I would happily come back for. In contrast to the steak, the pork belly was cooked to perfection. A beautifully moist and salty piece of meat that meshed wonderfully with the slight sweetness of the red ‘slaw to make a really unusual dish that was the standout of our meal.
Just a glance at the dessert menu revealed my inevitable choice of the chocolate brownie and vanilla ice cream. The dish did not disappoint. When ordering classics, you want them done well and this was thanks to its perfect gooey texture. Unfortunately, the cherry pie ordered by my companion did not meet quite the same standards. A combination of glazed cherries and a poor pastry that had no real flavour proved to be the one blemish on an otherwise excellent meal. My one caveat to anyone looking to eat at The Hoxton Grill would be to try and make your booking after 8pm, when the atmosphere picks up considerably with the arrival of the post-work dinner crowd and gave the whole space a great vibe.
Leaving The Hoxton Hotel the next morning, after a great night’s sleep despite the hotel’s location on a busy thoroughfare – not a gunshot could be heard – and after my Pret breakfast (hang a bag on the door at night and it’s left for you the next morning), I couldn’t help but feel a slight twinge of irritation that my friends may have been right about the new breath of life that East London has received. I’m not quite ready to head back east myself, however, but if I do feel the need for a superb value city break and an excellent plate of calamari, I have no doubt I’ll be turning right on the District Line to The Hoxton.
81 Great Eastern Street, EC2
Tel: 020 7550 1000, www.hoxtonhotels.com
Room prices, famously, start at £1 (sign up for their newsletter) and go up to £199 at busier times.