The Londoner: a beacon of light for Leicester Square
Eight years in the making, this engineering and architectural feat looks set to become the West End’s new hotspot
From the minute you enter The Londoner, Leicester Square’s new super-boutique hotel, you can feel its pulse – “like a heartbeat” remarks a member of staff - and find yourself eager to explore, energy levels rising and a smile spreading unprompted across your face.
What draws you in, of course, is the buzz of people having a good time again - something that’s been in short supply over the past 18 months or so – and all in an exciting, sophisticated and ultra-modern space.
There’s so much to take in: the stylish reception area featuring a mix of modern art, including paper relief sculptures by Christina Lihan and a giant moon by Andrew Rae; the elegant champagne bar, The Stage, with its plush pale pink seating that’s just waiting for you to sink into it; the live music that wafts pleasingly from a raised platform, complete with baby grand, and the sound of animated chatter coming from Whitcomb’s restaurant, off the main lobby.
It’s hard to believe the £500-million hotel only opened in September, so effortlessly do the different pockets of space work, thanks to the wizardry of world-renowned interior design firm Yabu Pushelberg, alongside architects Woods Bagot, engineers Arup Associates and artist Ian Monroe.
But London’s newest hotel – already ranked one of the greenest - is no overnight wonder. Spread over 16 storeys, The Londoner has been eight painstaking years in the making and represents both an engineering and architectural feat, boasting the capital’s deepest habitable basement. The six floors below ground contain everything from cinema screens and soundproof ballroom to an entire floor dedicated to wellness, called The Retreat. The ceiling light panels, which subtly change colour during the day, are so effective at mimicking daylight that you almost forget you’re in a basement while swimming in the eco pool or lounging in one of the luxury cabanas.
For a so-called “boutique” hotel, it’s impressively large. There are 350 rooms, including a tower penthouse with panoramic views, six concept eateries and a 24-hour members’ club area for in-house guests, aptly known as The Residence. Intimacy is key, though, with a vibe that is personal rather than corporate.
After checking into our spacious corner suite with glimpses of the London Eye from the floor-to-ceiling windows and unique design flourishes such as an enormous hand-blown Murano glass door handle, we head to The Residence’s Y Bar and Drawing Room for dinner. We couldn’t have felt more at home, dropping into one of the low-slung sofas from which to enjoy our a la carte meal of antipasti (complimentary), buttermilk chicken Milanese and chargrilled filet mignon – a living room version of room service, if you like. This classy mezzanine space features a dramatic hand-painted jungle mural by New York-based duo En Viu and bespoke David Linley games tables. If only we knew how to play backgammon.
The hotel’s owner Jasminder Singh, head of family-run Edwardian Hotels London, sees The Londoner’s opening as the first phase in the rebirth of the once genteel, now rather shabby Leicester Square; a world-class urban resort designed to enhance its surrounding environment while reflecting the inherent creative spirit of the West End. His vision, he says, is to create “a centrepiece and anchor of the West End; a celebration of London, its history, aesthetic and people.”
As a new neighbourhood beacon, it appears to more than fulfil this role with a façade that is as arresting as it is sympathetic. The Portland stone building is studded with more than 15,000 glazed blue tiles, designed by artist Ian Monroe and individually hand-made by British company Darwen Terracotta. Angled so as to reflect natural light during the day, the tiles come alive at night when the square lights up.
There are nods to the area’s theatrical heritage throughout, with undulating walls in the public spaces referencing theatre curtains and illuminated mirrors in the bathrooms and spa echoing dressing-room mirrors. The Stage bar menu is divided into “acts” – act one being a Champagne breakfast, act two a Champagne afternoon tea and so on. Judging by how full it was when we visited, it’s already proving a hit.
“When we were designing the hotel, we wanted to break through and connect with the way people are living today on a global level,” says Glenn Pushelberg of Yabu Pushelberg. “It’s our goal to make high-level, beautifully designed rooms, suites and public areas that enhance everyday life.”
But it’s not all about the aesthetics – the hotel offers a performance space for street artists and emerging musical talent with live music throughout the day. There is also a collection of rotating art work, carefully curated to reflect multi-cultural London and featuring different mediums and genres, such as Antony Gormley’s woodblock print ‘CAST’, which hangs on the grand staircase, and the Connor Brothers’ interpretation of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ ‘Portrait of Joanna Leigh’.
Strolling the corridor to your room is like passing through a mini art gallery with a series of specially commissioned collages of British icons by Canadian artist Donovan P. Davies adorning the lacquered mustard yellow walls. Even the elevators double as art spaces with peep holes through which you can see Sebastian Burdon’s Mickie and Minnie and Art Squared’s Burlesque Dancers. Other names on show include Marc Quinn, Tim Walker, Danny Agustin, Julian Opie, Tracey Emin, Idris Khan, Kate Garner and Lauren Baker.
What is guaranteed to bring discerning Londoners and visitors alike flocking through the doors are the myriad bars and restaurants. Zoom straight up to the 8th floor to the tranquil oasis that is 8 at The Londoner, a rooftop izakaya lounge based on the Japanese style of dining and drinking. Check out the cosy roof terrace with central firepit and retractable roof – excellent for star gazing with a warming whisky in hand. There is no obvious artwork here because the thick ropes that wind around the bar pillars, snake across the ceiling and crawl down the walls are an installation in themselves, based on the erotic art of Japanese rope bondage, known as Shibari.
For a lively night out, there’s Joshua’s Tavern, inspired by 18th century artist and former local resident Joshua Reynolds, and specialising in terroir-led gintonicas, masterminded by head mixologist Pierpaolo Schirru. Expect this to become the new watering spot for London’s cognoscenti with daily unplugged music performances to raise the roof.
The jewel in the crown, though, has to be the hotel’s signature restaurant Whitcomb’s – you know a place is well on its way to becoming a firm favourite when diners exude the relaxed, satisfied air of regulars who’ve been coming there for years. The design is sleek, fresh and fun, the centrepiece of which is a ceiling installation of women wearing hats in a nod to the millineries that once lined nearby Whitcomb Street. The all-day menu features contemporary French dishes with Mediterranean twists, conjured by Amir Jati, former head of Nobu private dining. On the night we visited a few days later, we tucked into baked escargots with n’duja lemon butter followed by decadent lobster thermidor with black truffle, and to finish, a perfect pear and apple tarte tatin. The staff, chic in their Jalin Design uniforms, could not have been more gracious or knowledgeable. And more importantly, they seemed genuinely happy to be there, showing off their new home and keen to do their bit to get the hospitality industry back on its feet.
We followed our overnight stay with an early morning swim in the subterranean hydro-pool and a (half-hearted) workout in the impressively equipped Technogym before heading to the Retreat’s treatment rooms for a well-deserved (in our minds!) harmony massage, designed to restore energy flow and release tension. My therapist used organic Ishga products, featuring the exotic-sounding hand-harvested Hebridean seaweed.
For the ultimate kickstart to the day – or evening wind-down - the hotel is planning to offer fitness classes such as sunrise yoga, core strength and meditation sessions and sunrise Pilates in the central courtyard.
City types will also be able to enjoy a full roster of grooming facilities in the spa, including barber, blow dry bar, nail bar and, of course, requisite detoxifying smoothies from the Refuel bar.
Any major hotel worth its five stars needs to be able to prove its eco credentials these days and The Londoner appears to be leading the way. Having achieved the BREEAM ‘Excellent’ certification, the hotel is now ranked in the top 10 percent of new-build developments for sustainability. Everything within the building – from the lighting to the lifts and water supply – has been created with sustainability in mind. “There was absolutely no question that The Londoner had to be a ground-breaking sustainable build that would stand the test of time,” says Singh. Eco-friendly design solutions range from construction materials that have a low environmental impact to new technologies, such as a liquid film to reduce evaporation and energy loss from the 25m pool.
The hotel, which generates its own electricity on site and uses CHP (combined heat and power) and LED lighting throughout, is also set to use 30 percent less carbon than regulations demand.
In many ways, The Londoner represents a much-needed healthy green shoot for the West End – lifting the spirits of all those who enter its doors in the process. I, for one, cannot wait to return!