Tried & Tested

Hotel check: Malmaison London

28 Mar 2014 by Rose Dykins

BACKGROUND

Originally opened in 2003, the British brand’s London property underwent a full refurbishment in March last year, which was completed in November. The hotel remained open throughout.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Young, cosmopolitan and design-led. Housed in a former nurses’ home, you pass through the entrance of the Victorian building to find a lobby with azure walls adorned with metallic graffiti of creepers and butterflies. Assorted statement seating – such as hot pink egg chairs and circular velvet banquettes –is clustered throughout. 

The reception and the bar are at opposite ends of the space. Malmaison properties are known for each having a “Mal Bar” and a Brasserie, but instead, the refurbishment saw the bar transformed into “Lounge Bar” and Brasserie into the basement-level Strip steakhouse restaurant, which can be reached by a staircase down from the lobby.

Malmaison London lobby

WHERE IS IT?

In Clerkenwell, couple of minutes’ walk from Barbican Tube station, and next to the 14th-century Charterhouse Chapel. St Paul’s Cathedral is visible from the property.

ROOM FACILITIES

The hotel’s refurbishment did not change the number of rooms (97), but overhauled their design. In addition, all of the rooms’ baths have now all been replaced with double-size walk-in showers with rainshower heads.

I stayed in a Mal Club room on the second floor at the front of the building, with a view of the secluded Charterhouse Square through its bay windows, which separated the hotel and the main road.

Dominating the room was the huge silver velvety bed, with sofa-like “arms” and a headboard, and covered in purple and grey cushions and a pastel grey furry throw. Its mattress was very comfortable, and the thick corduroy curtains kept the room pretty much pitch black in the morning, so I had a great night’s sleep.

Malmaison London Club room

The décor was appealing, with items such as the leather recliner with a matching footstall, with a huge over-hanging lamp. There was a slight industrial feel from features such as the wall of red-brick wallpaper, the oversized clock, and the large spherical exposed bulbs, which was balanced by the indulgent, interesting furnishings, the rich purple and grey colour scheme, and the sense of comfort.

Wifi was free, and the workdesk (two UK plug sockets above it) had a comfortable black leather swivel chair tucked underneath. Above it was a dark wooden shelving unit complete with hanging wine glasses and two bottles of red (prices were clearly labeled) and shelves supporting British-themed books – on subjects such as cricket and railway journeys.

Amenities include a large Samsung flatscreen TV, a Lavazza coffee machine with coffee capsules (included in all room categories), a fruit bowl, two free bottles of water, tea- and coffee-making facilities, an iron, ironing board, laptop safe, slippers, magazines (Marie Claire and The City) wooden clothes hangers. The minibar was stocked with beer, more water, fizzy drinks and Veuve Cliquot champagne.

Malmaison London Club room

In the spacious bathroom, Malmaison’s slogan “Dare to be different” was stenciled on the mirror, and there was an anti-mist section that appeared when the room steamed up and a large vanity mirror. The double walk-in shower had a rainshower head, and a fountain setting, which sends a heavy jet of water towards you from the side of the wall. Malmaison’s own-brand toiletries were included (fig and olive scented).

RESTAURANTS AND BARS

Strip restaurant is modelled on the New York steakhouse, and has a subtle American feel, mainly enforced by the neon signage glowing upon its brick walls – such as the Vegas-style “Stardust” and a drive-in-cinema signs. The dimly lit space is stylish and smart, with exposed bulbs hanging from canopies of string, and indigo leather booths. A private dining area for 14 guests can be separated from the main part of the restaurant.

We dined there on a Friday night, when the place was nearly full of well-heeled couples and young businesspeople, and a DJ was spinning soul anthems.

Service was confident, professional and well orchestrated – the various waiters had ninja-like capabilities when it came to topping up our wine and water, and when kept looking down to find our glasses full.

Our first waiter had a detailed wine knowledge – which was lucky, as judging by the conversation taking place on the table next to us, the clientele knew their merlots from their malbecs.

The waitor recommended four red wines and discussed their different qualities in detail. We went for his recommendation – a malbec Catena Mendoza Argentina (£45, sold by the bottle) – which was fragrant and very tasty. There were over 100 options to choose from, with top-end choices including a Château Latour 2008 Bordeaux (£575 for the bottle).

As we waited for our starter, a second waiter brought us cheddar popovers, which looked like a savoury muffin, only its outside was crisp like a Yorkshire pudding. Topped with melted cheese and sea salt, it was served with whipped butter, and was difficult to resist.

We shared the beef carpaccio starter (£10), which, like the steaks, was made from prime-grade beef, and was served with tangy Dijon mustard, watercress and dusted with parmesan and more crunchy seasalt – the combination of flavours was excellent, and the meat delicately tender. Other options included tuna tartare with an avocado, ginger and soy dressing (£12) and wedge salad (£8).

Strip uses USDA Black Angus Prime grade beef (the top quality available), hand-cut to order from 250g up to 550g and served sliced. The cows are fed grain rather than grass, which apparently contributes to the juicy, tender meat texture.

My medium-rare 350g steak (£30) was both velvety and succulent – the “Malsauce” dressing (made from barbeque sauce, steak sauce, orange and brandy) has an immediate spicy kick, and enhanced the slightly peppery exterior of the meat. We shared sides of crispy skin on fries (£5) and green salad (£4).

Though you would (and should) probably come to Strip for the steak, there were several other enticing options, such as Goan-style lobster curry (£30) and roast halibut with fresh beurre blanc sauce (£25). As you may imagine, Strip is not the place for vegetarians, thought there is the token risotto option (though at £18, it seems rather pricey).

MEETING FACILITIES

Another addition to the hotel following the refurbishment was a second meeting room. Mal 2 joins onto Lounge Bar, and can be hired either on its own for 12 people boardroom-style, or with the bar for a reception for 100 people. It has edgy wallpaper, daylight, and a sizeable flatscreen TV for presentations.

Mal 1 is located on the other side of the building – it is a similar size, has a small cloakroom and natural light.

LEISURE FACILITIES

There is a gym on the ground floor.

VERDICT

Malmaison’s focus on food and design added a pleasant touch of indulgence to my stay. The refurbishment has been well though out, and the rooms are practical as well as attractive.

FACT FILE

  • HOW MANY ROOMS? 97 – 72 Standard Double rooms, 23 Mal Club rooms and two suites
  • HIGHLIGHTS Strip restaurant and the comfortable, stylish rooms.
  • PRICE Internet rates for a flexible midweek stay in April started from £240 for a Standard Double room.
  • CONTACT Malmaison London, 18-21 Charterhouse Square; tel +44(0) 207 012 3700; malmaison.com


Rose Dykins


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