BACKGROUND This understated, five-floor boutique property reopened in May after being rebranded and refreshed – it occupies what was formerly the St John hotel in Chinatown and is now part of Singapore-hotelier Peng Loh’s Unlisted Collection, which also has hotels and restaurants in Singapore and Shanghai. (London’s the Town Hall hotel and apartments, and 196 Bishopsgate are also members.)
The Restaurant at One Leicester Street continues to be fronted by Tom Harris, who was previously head chef at St John Chinatown, where, in 2012 he gained a Michelin star. The hotel originally opened in 2010 under Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, the men behind the capital’s St John restaurants in Spitalfields and Smithfield, which both specialise in “nose to tail” cuisine.
WHAT’S IT LIKE? Henderson and Gulliver described their hotel as being a “mini grand, urban hut”, and it hasn’t really changed. Reception is underwhelming – just a small, dark grey, ground-floor room accessed via the street with a member of staff behind a desk who seemed surprisingly cheery considering they had to sit all day in such pokey surroundings.
When I came to check-in at about 1pm on a Sunday afternoon, the room wasn’t ready so I left my bag and returned later in the day to collect my key and take the small lift up to my room. (There is also a spiral staircase.) The hotel is small but makes no grand claims. The unpretentious restaurant, on the other hand, is a real highlight.
WHERE IS IT? On a corner just off Leicester Square, opposite the W hotel and in the heart of Chinatown. The streets it adjoins are noisy and grubby, but if you like to be in the heart of it all – Soho is a minute’s walk away – this is a great place to be located. When I arrived there was a huge crowd of girls outside the W screaming for You Tube stars the Janoskians (I had never heard of them so had to ask). It seemed an amusing juxtaposition as One Leicester Street couldn’t be more different as a place to stay – it would never attract this kind of following.
ROOM FACILITIES All the rooms are on the small side and are slightly different in layout, but are “designed to have everything the traveller needs and nothing that they do not”. However, there are no workdesks, tea or coffee-making facilities, or irons/ironing boards. Standard amenities include flatscreen TVs, DVD players, free wifi, firm beds with 100 per cent Egyptian cotton sheets, minibars, a little round table with two stools, a wardrobe, a safe, robes and slippers, daily paper and bathrooms with Penhaligon’s products and a hairdryer (mine had a combined tub and shower). Room service is available 24 hours.
The décor is attractive and fresh with the bedrooms sporting a simple, seaside look with white-washed, wooden, tongue and groove walls, grey flooring and opalescent-turquoise, mosaic-tiled bathrooms. It has a homely feel – though is on the minimalist side – and the view from my room was of rooftops. My Superior room had a window with white blinds and shutters but as I had the window open I found there was a lot of noise from the street at night and in the morning, as well a bit of glare from sunshine. It was fine for a one-night stay but I probably wouldn’t have wanted to stay any longer.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS One Leicester Street bar, on the first floor, serves excellent cocktails in a cosy environment. Meanwhile, the street-level restaurant dishes up delicious small plates in a stylish, low-key environment that would be at home in the East End of London – floors are oak parquet, while walls are grey, a leather banquette flanks one wall, dark timber chairs sit next to tables with white cloths, and copper pendant lights hang from the ceiling. The kitchen, at the far end, is also on view just beyond a high counter so you can watch the chefs at work. Outside, there are several tables on the pavement for al fresco dining.
Continuing St John’s trend for nose-to-tail eating, the menu has a fair bit of meat and offal – from lamb sweetbreads with artichokes and celery (£12) to pig’s cheek ham, asparagus, walnut and egg yolk (£9.50). Everything is served as a “small” plate for sharing, though portions are quite generous. Ingredients tend to be locally sourced and many of the dishes change daily.
Fish and seafood options include Dorset rock oysters (£2.50 each), clams with Jersey royal potatoes and saffron (£8), and John Dory, hazelnuts and salt lemon (£14). Whether or not you are vegetarian, the unusually tasty vegetable dishes are also worth trying – the braised peas with wild garlic and Berkswell cheese shavings (£12.50) was hearty and delicious, while the red and yellow tomato salad with barley, onion and sea purlsane (£7) was colourful, sweet and moreish.
To finish, there are some scrumptious cheeses (I had the Harbourne Blue with apple and oat biscuits (£6.50), and puddings such as brown butter and honey tart (£7), shaved ice with jasmine and apricot (£6.50) and warm chocolate with puffed barley and malt (£8).
The service was authentic and friendly, which I really liked, and I was pleased to be recommended a bottle of the Four Kilos “12 Volts”, 2011, red wine (£52) from Mallorca, Spain. I wanted to try something full bodied, spicy and with deep fruit, and this didn’t fail to please. The ambiance was relaxed, with several other tables of twos to sixes tucking into meals.
I also had an à la carte breakfast here in the morning – it was a civilized affair, and I thoroughly enjoyed my poached eggs on sour dough toast with roast tomatoes. If you fancy sweet, there is morning cake (£3), granola with yoghurt (£6) and buttermilk pancakes (£6.20), while other savoury options include boiled eggs with soldiers (£6.50), full English (£12.50) and bacon bun (£5).
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES The bar can be hired for private events of up to 40 people for a reception.
LEISURE FACILITIES None, though if you are a runner, the banks of the Thames aren’t far away.
VERDICT Being in the heart of the tourist district probably wouldn’t appeal to a business traveller but if you are a foodie at heart, you might just want to try it for the restaurant, which is very good.
HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 15 bedrooms – 14 Post-Supper and Superior, and one suite.
HIGHLIGHTS Free wifi and very good on-site restaurant.
PRICE Flexible internet rates for a midweek stay in July started from £141 for a Post-Supper room.
CONTACT One Leicester Street, London; tel +44 (0)20 3301 8020; oneleicesterstreet.com