Hip hotels that breathe life into the historic corners of London

We look at some of the ritziest hotels emerging in the heart of the capital

April 1, 2010
Cool colours, hot room: this guest room decorated in pink and lime is typical of the  decor at London’s ultra hip Haymarket Hotel

Cool colours, hot room: this guest room decorated in pink and lime is typical of the decor at London’s ultra hip Haymarket Hotel

It Is a sign of the times that you can pay as much, or more, to stay in a converted car park in a grimy London mews as in a purpose-built palace hotel in leafy Park Lane. And why not, if both offer beautiful rooms, excellent restaurants and five-star service, and the mews is right in the heart of the capital's creative action?

Hip hotels are transforming developing areas of London in the same way they have made New York's Bowery and Meatpacking District unlikely new centres of cool.

A certain edginess remains, but it lends an energy and modernity to these latter-day arrivals which strike a chord with a new generation of fashion-conscious visitors.

Buildings are being renovated for dual use as luxury hotels and smart restaurants throughout Soho, which as London's creative hub is as much a magnet for film-makers, musicians and media types living in the capital as for their out-of-town counterparts.

In Warwick Street, the former managers of heavy metal group Iron Maiden have teamed with Mark Fuller, owner of the Embassy Club and Geales, to convert a former MI5 building into the Soho Sanctum, a boutique hotel with a touch of rock'n'roll grunge.

Getting there

York & Albany (020 7387 5700; www.gordonramsay.com) has doubles with breakfast from £175; Soho Sanctum (020 7292 6101; www.sanctumsoho.com) from £195, room only; Soho Hotel (020 7559 3000; www.sohohotel.com) from £325 room only; Haymarket Hotel (020 7470 4000; www.haymarkethotel.com) from £295 room only; Hoxton (020 7550 1000; www.hoxtonhotels.com) from £59 with Continental breakfast in a bag; Andaz (0845888 1234; www.hyatt.com) from £140 room only; Portobello (020 7727 2777; www.portobellohotel.com) from £225 with breakfast

It was thus no surprise to find a guitar and a 60s-style bar in my suite, though like the circular bed, they were mainly there for the decor.

Real musos can call on the services of a guitar doctor to restring their instruments, while the basement screening room and rooftop bar and lounge are interesting new party venues.

Only the restaurant of this resolutely low-key hotel seems to lack a little pizazz, the very opposite of the Soho Hotel a few blocks away, which has carved out a phenomenal niche with media luvvies, who pack out its excellent Refuel eatery day and night.

This quite sizeable establishment, carved out of a former car park in Richmond Mews off Dean Street, must be the buzziest hotel in London; even the lobby, dominated by a 10-foot tall Botero sculpted cat, pulsates with excitement.

It comes as some surprise to find the bedrooms are large and distinctly feminine, showing the influence of owner Kit Kemp, who does all the interior design for Firmdale, the group of boutiques she owns with husband Tim.

Full-size mannequins are a signature item in every room - and a nod to the tailoring heritage of the neighbourhood; if neutrals are not your bag, ask for one of the ravishingly pretty colour schemes; I loved the sugar pink with lime green.

For those who find Soho a little too daunting to wander about late at night, Firmdale has a more elegant option within a five-minute stroll.

The Haymarket, off a street lined with theatres, cinemas and sports bars, fields bright colours and modern buzz within an elegant Nash building famous for the basement swimming pool area which has become a favourite venue for receptions.

The Hoxton Grill is another restaurant putting its eponymous hotel on the map as a dining destination in Shoreditch, which is no prettier today than when Jews slaved in its sweatshops a century ago.

The award-winning Hoxton Hotel is a welcome addition to the Old Street area, although its permanent nightclub ambience may be a bit full-on for some. The rooms are tranquil enough, however, and good value for such a central location.

Quieter and more spacious are the bedrooms of the Andaz, a reincarnation of the old railway hotel abutting Liverpool Street station.

Not quite reincarnated enough, since many rooms require lugging cases down a few stairs and up again because the old building could not be sufficiently altered to create totally level room floors.

Some will find the stylish rooms a little sparse, with the subway tiling in the bathrooms evoking the adjacent station, on the direct line to Stansted Airport, a little too literally.

The elegance of the high-ceilinged Victorian breakfast room is a welcome echo of the past and sits more easily than the contrived cool of the 21st century lobby, where the reception desk has been replaced entirely with wandering young men with laptops who rather unnervingly accost arrivals with a gentle greeting.

At the northern edge of the city centre, Camden Town has finally got the boutique hotel it has been crying out for, instigated by Gordon Ramsay, no less.

The vintage delights of Camden Lock weekend market have put this neighbourhood on the map, as have the circus and cabaret acts of the refurbished Roundhouse, one of London's most exciting entertainment spaces.

Camden Town is also on the doorstep of the fascinating new Jewish Museum and of London Zoo, which has a new rainforest exhibit opening this spring. And it is also just a couple of Tube stops from Hampstead, whose village, charming shops, cobbled alleys and pond, make it a jewel in London's crown frequently missed by visitors who never stray from their city centre base.

Ramsay made the bold decision to take over the derelict York & Albany pub on Parkway, where Camden Town meets the Zoo side of Regents Park, and redevelop the fabulous Regency building. Rooms, a deli and a busy neighbourhood restaurant have been added around the central core of a rather sumptuously refurbished local with a piano bar.

As with most restaurants with rooms, the result can be noisy for guests if the revellers are in. But there's no faulting the four-poster bed, giant flat-screen TV or free wi-fi, while the restaurant - run by Gordon's right-hand woman, Angela Hartnett - has justifiably become one of the most popular in this corner of London. A short menu has good fish choices and desserts to die for; I won't quickly forget the salted caramel parfait with pear sorbet.

Possibly the most intriguing hip hotel in London is the one which makes you feel like an extra in Notting Hill - the Portobello, which has seen decades of rock star history, despite its charmingly old-fashioned appearance.

If you can't get the room where Alice Cooper stored his snake in the antique bathtub, you might get the one with the four-poster, or the tiny single fitted out like a shipshape yacht cabin and much favoured by ladies who like to lunch and shop in buzzy Portobello Road and Westbourne Grove, just steps away.

With its elegant drawing-room overlooking a garden, where breakfast is served in comfort amidst newspapers and fashion magazines - and with a computer where those without laptops can check their emails - the Portobello is worth considering as a stylish perch in a neighbourhood transformed, like so many others in London, from slum to supermodel territory.

Last updated: 3:45pm, July 19 2010