Lalit is well known in India, but this is its first European hotel. It is an unusual property, a conversion of the red brick St Olave’s Grammar School, built at the end of the 19th century and designed by E.E Mountford who was also the architect of the Old Bailey.
The opening was delayed, presumably because of the challenge of converting a listed building like this. It finally opened in February 2017.
The entrance of the hotel is set back from the road in a large courtyard with some stone sculptures by Parisian landscape artist Olivier Vecchierini, greenery, topiary and a liveried doorman who comes down the stairs to greet you as you approach.
The £50 million renovation by EPR Architects, Archer Humphryes and Dr Jyotsna Suri, the group’s chairperson and managing director is a triumph, mixing the English architecture with plenty of Indian decoration, without it seeming incongruous. There are golden star lights and walking up the stairs there are wooden decorations of doors and ladders, along with silver framed mirrors.
Check in is to the left once you enter the lobby, with some comfortable seats in front of low tables. From here there are lifts up the floors. The receptionist was very friendly and welcoming, but in terms of service, not everything is perfect. The room had a washcloth left on the side of the basin, and after about ten minutes there was a knock on the door and in the time it took to get to it the two maids were in the room for the evening turn down service. Luckily, I had been working and was still wearing my suit.
Where is it?
On Tooley Street, south of the Thames and equidistant between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. It’s about a five-minute walk from London Bridge rail and underground station, though there is a lot of construction work going on around there. The area has certainly gone up market. The building backs onto a large new development called One Tower Bridge where apartments start at £1.5 million (up to £6.5 million) and you can walk straight through here to the Thames passing restaurants such as the new outpost of The Ivy.
The 70 rooms are on floors 1-3 and range from the entry level Cosy classroom (16 sqm) with double bed, and Junior classroom (24 sqm) with Queen bed through to Senior classroom (30 sqm) on the higher floors.
All the rooms have original windows, reminding you of the previous grammar school, but decoration is luxury Indian, with hand-embroidered silk headboards, good size work desks, and marble temperature controlled flooring in the bathrooms along with mother of pearl mirrors with the latest anti-fog system and Toto toilets.
There is a mini bar, Nespresso machine and a 40-Inch LED Television. Suites have bluetooth speakers.
Restaurant and bar
The Baluchi restaurant has to be one of the most visually arresting dining spaces in London – the former Great Hall of the school, with timber panelling, vaulted ceiling and gallery all restored, but transformed as well.
The restaurant has been painted royal blue, inspired by the group’s palace hotels in India, and from the ceiling hang hand blown, cut and polished cobalt blue Hyderabadi chandeliers, specially designed and commissioned for Baluchi and weighing half a ton each. I was very impressed, though a little nervous sitting under them. The walls are decorated with handmade silk tapestries and paintings, whilst all the furniture is handcrafted and was shipped from India.
I didn’t eat in the restaurant on this stay, though I have had an evening meal there previously. The design works particularly well at night, and the food is excellent – filling but subtle. You can see the menu here. In one corner there is the Naanery with a cast iron tandoor used to prepare Indian breads.
By now you’ll realise that The Teachers Bar isn’t a reference to the whisky. The walls have pictures of the former St Olave’s Grammar School, it has a mother of pearl ceiling and a good list of unusual cocktails and mocktails, as well as lots of choices of spirits – gins, whiskies, and rum.
In fact, on that previous visit I wasn’t drinking (it happens occasionally) and the bar man mixed me a lovely mocktail that wasn’t on the menu simply because, well, I asked him to. It was delicious.
Next to the bar is the Headmasters Room with comfortable seats and a large open fire place at one end, while in good weather there is a large terrace area accessed from the restaurant.
Business and meeting facilities
The hotel has two small meeting rooms (in boardroom-style for 8 or 12 attendees), though with high ceilings and natural light.
The hotel has a good size gym on the lower ground floor and the Rejuve spa for ayurvedic treatments.
The Lalit is like a calm oasis in a very hectic part of London, set back from the busy road and almost country-like with its cleaned red brick exterior. The renovation of this building is extremely impressive as is the regeneration of the area. Service was friendly and the hotel is in a good position for the City.