BACKGROUND

With a wave of new developments – from hotels to private members clubs – East London is being transformed. Unless your work brings you to the Shoreditch area, you might feel you are a bit far from the centre of town but, in reality, the financial district of the City is just a short cab ride away.

Luxury lifestyle brand Montcalm now has five properties in London – the M by Montcalm Shoreditch London Tech City opened in spring 2015. The new-build tower takes the form of an elongated diamond, with the point jutting into City Road. It was designed by award-winning architectural firm RIBA, and its façade was inspired by an abstract painting by English artist Bridget Riley called Nataraja. (Click here to see.)

Much like the optical illusions she created on canvas, the hotel’s pale exterior is crisscrossed with lines that lead the eye in surprising directions. The windows, too, are mismatched. From the outside, it looks striking, but inside this means views from the rooms are partially or even fully obstructed by slats or walls where there could have been glass. As a guest, this was disappointing.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

There are two street-level sets of doors (one at the front by a giant glowing “M” and one on the left-hand side) that take you into the lobby. When entering from the front, to the right is a bar, while directly ahead is reception. When I was checking in on a Friday evening, it wasn’t busy, and a member of staff took me to my Junior suite to check me in with an iPad. I was told they try to do this for most guests but upon checking out on Saturday lunchtime, there was a queue of about 12 people waiting at reception with their luggage.

The interiors are very modern, with lots of black and white, and free-hanging light installations and filament bulbs. Corridors have thick, bouncy carpets and are illuminated with zig-zagging glowing stripes lit from behind by dazzling LEDs.

The hotel prides itself on being high-tech – in fact, I overheard an older mother and daughter in a lift saying how it was “like something out of a 1970s science fiction movie”. On the face of it, it’s impressive, but when it comes to actually engaging with the gadgetry, I wasn’t so successful.

To begin with, I had a play with the large table-top touchscreen tablets in reception but found none of the apps were working. In the lifts, I was surprised to see there was no keycard entry system for security. On the plus side, there is free high-speed wifi throughout the building and no password is required to access it.

WHERE IS IT?

Wedged on a corner between Britannia Walk and Provost Street on City Road in East London. It is two minutes’ walk from Old Street Tube station (in an area dubbed Silicon Roundabout because of all the tech companies nearby), and a ten-minute cab ride from Liverpool Street station.

ROOM FACILITIES

Rooms start from 28 sqm, with suites (queen beds not kings) going up to 35 sqm. The décor is a blend of muted browns, cream, white and black. Features are generally the same, with rooms varying in size and outlook the higher the category.

All come with free wifi, media hubs with international sockets, seasonal fruit, mineral water, magazines (GQ, Vogue and CN Traveller), a minibar, snack drawer, Krups coffee machine (with takeaway cups and china), a kettle with normal and herbal teas, and a wardrobe with a safe, umbrella, iron and ironing board. Marble bathrooms have under-floor heating, plush velour robes, slippers and Elemis bathing products (Hermes in suites). In the evening there is turndown service. There is also the option of in-room dining.

Upon entering my Junior suite, I was overwhelmed by the smell of room fragrance, which, it turned out, was being pumped from a sizeable black unit on the workdesk. I unplugged it, turned on the air conditioning (using a tablet fixed to the wall) and later put it in the corridor as I felt like I couldn’t breathe properly (the windows don’t open). In my opinion, rooms should smell clean, not of anything else. Who wants to breathe in a load of artificial chemicals?

The M by Montcalm thinks people do, though, as it even has a “Scent Steward” who will come to your Club room or suite and help you choose your favourite aroma. It also offers Bath Butlers and Sleep Concierges who will provide you with a choice of pillows, aromatherapy oils and soothing music from your bedside tablet. It made me think of the Inside Amy Schumer sketch about the “Pretentious Hotel”? (Click here.) But perhaps I am being cynical.

The bedrooms are fitted with 37-inch, custom-made TVs that look like giant iPads, as well as touchscreen tablets by the bathroom door and either side of the bed (these are not immediately responsive).

The units control the temperature, curtains (although you can’t leave them half open), overhead lights (very bright when sitting on the bed), and coloured mood lighting (a fun touch – I liked the red). The problem for me was that, at night, the devices wouldn’t turn off so I had to put them on the floor as the glow from them was keeping me awake. I guess I should have called the Sleep Concierge…

RESTAURANTS AND BARS

Opened on the top floor (17) in November 2015, is fine-dining restaurant Urban Coterie (urbancoterie.co.uk), which is operated by Michelin-starred chef Anthony Demetre and hospitality group Searcys. The interior design has a classic modernist look thanks to design studio Tonik Associates – you’ll find grey marble tables, pale wood, Scandi furnishings and metal light installations. There’s also an open kitchen (they’re everywhere these days) and views of the city.

The restaurant seats 80 people and there is a private dining room for 12. I didn’t eat here but the concept is described as “bistronomy” – think belly of pork with heritage carrot, cavalo nero and grapefruit relish.

On the level below is Urban Coterie’s sunny executive lounge/private members’ club – it has a pop art aesthetic with red, yellow and blue furnishings, and prints from West London’s trendy Griffin Gallery. (The crystal ceiling lights seemed incongruous – too bling for a setting designed to pull in techy hipsters.)

There is a bar serving drinks and snacks but it was very quiet the Saturday morning I was there. It is accessible by guests staying in Junior suites and Club rooms (they get a £20 voucher to spend), or outsiders who pay a £900 annual fee (steep, as it’s essentially just a lounge, although there is the option of gym access as well). Free drinks and canapés are served in the evening, and a continental breakfast in the morning.

Also run by Searcy’s is the Tonic and Remedy lobby bar, which was buzzing the Friday evening I arrived, and the mezzanine restaurant above (tonicandremedy.co.uk), which occupies the front corner of the building. Looking on to busy City Road and a building site next door, the vista isn’t up to much but the tables next to the window are still the most desirable. The cocktail menu is inspired by “ye olde” apothecaries, with an emphasis on herbs, botanicals, bitters and medicinal spirits. (Try the Herbalist mixing gin infused with Douglas fir, Chartreuse liqueur made by Carthusian monks, sage, pineapple juice and lime.)

For dinner I had the £9 “minor” Cornish crab cake in curried pumpkin soup (delicious), followed by the “major” pappardelle alla puttanesca in a rich tomato sauce (£14). In the morning, can guests can help themselves to a full English buffet breakfast or order a la carte.

Service was attentive, the vibe relaxed (you could eat solo no problem) and although the space felt like part of a hotel, I could appreciate it was trying to offer something more imaginative. As a guest (especially one who didn’t know this area of London), I would definitely enjoy eating here, although as a local I wouldn’t go out of my way. I would, on the other hand, book a table at Urban Coterie.

BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES

Event space is located on the second floor – there are six venues (Silicon, Tech City, Cloud, Cyber, Global and Roundabout rooms) ranging from 25 sqm (12 delegates boardroom-style) to 163 sqm (90 for a banquet). When combined, they can accommodate up to 200 people for a reception. There is no ballroom but interiors are smart in blue and grey, there is free high-speed wifi and natural light.

LEISURE FACILITIES

A Versace “inspired” spa can be found on level minus one. Here there are three treatment rooms and modest changing areas for men and women – you have to ask for towels at reception and then cross the corridor to enter the pool area. You also have to sign a form before you go in (even for just a swim) to say if you have any health issues. Organic products are from partner brand Ila Spa.

Along with heated floors, there is a spa bath, a 12-metre swimming pool lined with mother of pearl tiles, a steam room, sauna and “experience” showers.

There is also a subterranean gym with cutting-edge Matrix fitness machines and mirrored walls. Both these zones are open 8am-10pm weekends, and from 6am in the week. (The hotel is considering making the gym 24 hours.)

VERDICT

This is a good, 21st-century business hotel, especially for anyone working in East London. The only things that let it down are some of the technological features, which is a shame as that is one of its selling points, and the design of the building, which disrupts the views.

In terms of five-star facilities it ticks most of the boxes but it’s a bit too corporate to pull in the hippest media or tech types. For others, this will be no bad thing. Staff were helpful and polite.


FACT FILE

  • HOW MANY ROOMS? 269 across eight categories: Deluxe double, Club double, Club twin, M Club double, M Club twin, Triple rooms, Junior suites and Family suites.
  • HIGHLIGHTS The swimming pool, the high-tech Matrix machines in the gym, the Club floor lounge and the fine-dining restaurant with views over London. The rooms are very well equipped.
  • PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in January started from £167 for a Deluxe double room.
  • CONTACT 151-157 City Road, London; tel +44 (0)20 3837 3000; mbymontcalm.co.uk


Jenny Southan