How zeitgeisty is this? A new hotel opens on the Aldwych just in time for London Fashion Week AW 2013 and it’s called ME. In fact it had every excuse temporarily to rename itself ME ME ME after a triumphant catwalk show in the basement with Victoria, Donatella and Diane von Wrap Around in the judges’ chairs for the International Woolmark Prize last week. But now the fash pack has tottered off into the sunset, so I went to see how the new kid on the block (in this case the western tip of the Aldwych Crescent at the bottom of Kingsway) is settling down.
ME by Meliá is the fashion-forward brand of the eponymous Spanish hotel group – the London property is the fourth so far, with a fifth due in Vienna – aimed at a savvy, cosmopolitan audience with a party streak. The ground-floor Marconi Bar, named after the great telecommunications innovator who had a telegraphic station “2.L.O.” here for six months in the 1920s, has clusters of chrome poles twisting from floor to ceiling, groovy black concentric light rings – an homage, I’d like to think, to the sound wave (some of the earliest BBC broadcasts also happened here, on the site of the old Gaiety Hotel & Restaurant) – and fat, sexy leather seating.
That’s just the public space on the ground floor, which is shared with the sleekly dark steakhouse STK (it took me ages to work that out: I thought it was a texting acronym I hadn’t understood) and a bright, cheerful, considerably cheaper Italian restaurant called Cucina Asellina, with an open kitchen, wide arched windows and a glass wall of suspended wine bottles, like a giant specimen case, in the middle.
Hotel guests are ushered one floor up and into a stellar hollow pyramid of marble – charcoal-black outside, ash-grey inside – that soars 100ft upwards to a distant triangle of natural light, so you can see what the weather’s like in the real world. A cartoonishly large copy of Opus Vivienne Westwood lies open. A sinuous arrangement of leather seating, like an elegant, extruded corpuscle (pictured below), allows you to sit primly or lie back and stare at images projected on the walls above – stars, jellyfish, pyramids, depending on the day of the week – generated by a Paris-based company called (this is so Fashion Week) Blow Factory.
It’s a hoot. It really is. It looks like an early Star Wars set. It is also very clever. The predictable thing would be to build around a central light well but Foster + Partners, working on their first hotel project, have embraced the darkness, as it were, putting reception at the core and wrapping rooms, bars and restaurants around the outside for the light. The latter all have public access. The sensational roof-terrace bar, Radio, commands a view of the Thames from Tower Hill to Battersea Power Station, including an end-on take on the Eye and an almost voyeuristic sightline into the Somerset House quadrangle. Its vast expanse of stone and concrete is islanded with low-lying chairs and daybeds clad in all-weather linen, which surround a glass-walled bar.
The 157 rooms, including 16 suites, are clad in white leather panels (gorgeous, but the maintenance…) with dark grey carpets and silver-grey textiles in the four different levels of rooms and their silver-bronze equivalents in the four different levels of suites. All have a black glass wall containing an interactive TV, Nespresso machine and artfully displayed mini-bar products.
There are desks with i-Pads and a built-in bank of plugs, chargers and adaptors. There are electronic panels to control temperature and lighting (press “Sexy” and choose from pink, violet, red, blue or green). The bathrooms are generous, with Coraline a go-go and neat sliding walls so that you can have them open or shut. My problem was I couldn’t work anything, despite a lesson on arrival.
ME London, now Meliá’s flagship, is blessed with many advantages. It has a fine position between Westminster and the City, near Waterloo and next to Theatreland. It has history. It has young and helpful staff. It also has Claire, the “Aura Manager”, who is in charge of what you might call spirit of place: music, service, ambience. It was Claire who came to the rescue when I ordered 99 plates of tuna sashimi and kaffir lime dressing on the interactive room-service menu by mistake, and came back when I couldn’t work the phone, the lights or the TV, which kept mysteriously switching itself on and off. Unnerved, I asked how to draw the curtains and she smiled sweetly, leant over and pulled them across. To be fair, it was some day to the official launch date, March 1. But still, with rooms starting at a shade over £400: must try harder.
Aside from technical glitches, not enough signage and no instructions (maybe I’m just too out of practice: another guest had to show me how to work the lift), ME London fits right in. It’s like a younger, funkier sister to the discreet, much-loved One Aldwych over the road and an irrepressible great niece to the Savoy. As for all the pyramids and white leather, am I the only one who has noted the proximity of the Freemasons’ Hall, England’s premier Grand Lodge, just an apron’s whisk away?
Source: The Telegraph