Everything you need and nothing you don’t. That’s the USP of this new hotel in a former 1950s textile factory in London’s Whitechapel. But that is a little disingenuous: all you really need is a comfortable bed and somewhere to shower. The New Road Hotel actually offers all sorts of things no one really needs but which are cool, surprising or fun.To anyone unfamiliar with this bit of east London, the walk from the tube is an eye-opener. Whitechapel market feels more like downtown Chittagong, with Bangladeshi women sniffing at the new season’s mangoes and stall holders shouting their wares in Bengali or expertly flipping bubbly parathas on iron tawa griddles. Yet looming over it all is the City of London, with the Gherkin in the foreground.
The smart hotel, with its 79 industrial-chic rooms, may seem a strange contrast with cheap clothing and £3.50 biryanis but it is part of the same story. The hotel is owned by three Bangladeshi brothers, Monsur, Masrur and Moksud Malik, whose father moved to Britain in the 1960s and had a factory job in this very building. By 2011, when the brothers decided to add it to their property empire, it had lain empty for more than a decade.
The hotel’s cocktail bar
While under no illusions about the lives of immigrant rag trade workers in 1960s Britain, I like the way original features – large metal windows, old fire doors, works-style signage – add character to the design. Parquet from the factory office floor decorates the lobby wall and lifts.
The top-floor “Loft” rooms have lots of space and skyline views – at a price. We’re in a smaller “Warehouse” room – one step up from the “Pocket” rooms: it’s compact but the absence of things you don’t need saves space. No wardrobe, just a nifty desk/dressing table with hanging space. No mini-bar, there’s a “snack station” upstairs. No phone, but a WhatsApp number for reception. No iron – there’s an ironing station on the third floor. The lack of a kettle bothers me: I do need a morning cuppa – without having to get dressed and walk out to the free drinks machine. There are Laufen fittings and a lovely rain shower in the glass-walled wet room, though.
The best thing is the bed, or rather the two-metre-square sleeping platform that takes up most of the room, with headboard-style padding on three sides. Only a couple of giants would really “need” such a bed but it’s a fun feature: we lounge one side fiddling with the wall-mounted smart TV before dinner but switch round at night so our heads are under the window, and no one has to climb over the other to get out.
The stated aim is for guests not to stay in their rooms but mingle in communal areas: the first-floor games room, second-floor library and top-floor yoga room. These are all quite small, however, and as we have to walk through the library to get to our room we feel bad for the laptop workers in there.
The open-plan ground floor is a spacious and pleasing social zone, though. The Cereal Grind cafe in the front apes Shoreditch’s Cereal Killer cafe (it’s popular with sweet-toothed, alcohol-avoiding young Muslims – though who “needs” to pay £3.50 for a bowl of cereal?). It flows into the cocktail bar, where barman Diogo does me a killer Singapore sling but there are also fancy mocktails. And at the back is the Marco Pierre White Chop House. The celebrity chef isn’t in there, of course, but helped devise the menu and sourcing of Irish beef.
Steak dish from the hotel’s Marco Pierre White Chop House menu
We’ve invited our carnivorous son along for dinner, to give that menu a good workout. My starter quail’s eggs on mushroom duxelles (£8.50) are perfectly soft and warm, and son polishes off his mackerel brandade (£7.95) saying: “I’d love to take a pot of that home. They should sell it.” Husband’s “cappuccino” of wild mushrooms (£6.95) is less successful: foamy stuff feels a bit last century.
There’s a lot of fungi around: a whole (vegetarian) section on the menu is labelled “wild mushrooms”, from which I have lasagne (£13.50) with perfectly truffle-oiled leaves. Husband’s fish pie (£17.50) is a retro affair with piped peaks of mash and a little pot of peas. The steak is the thing though, and the hungry lad appreciates his chewy but fine-flavoured deep red rib-eye (£26.95), and pronounces the triple cooked chips “fabulous”. And of course we didn’t “need” desserts (from £5.50) – two between three – of burnt cream and sticky toffee pudding.
The New Road Hotel’s Cereal Grind cafe
It’s only at breakfast that I realise that without making a big deal of it, the hotel is pork-free – as might be expected given its setting and owners. The full English comes with turkey rashers and beef sausages. (I’m glad it’s licensed, though: dinner would have been poorer without the good Côtes du Rhone house red.)
The new Royal London Hospital opened over the road in 2015 but redevelopment of the existing, listed buildings – still boarded up – will alter the character of this vibrant area. The New Road hotel, handy for the City, Canary Wharf and City airport, with affordable rooms (for London), brings in new options and new clientele, while staying sensitive to local culture. How many neighbourhoods would say they don’t need that sort of thing?
• Accommodation was provided by New Road Hotel, doubles from £99 room-only, 020-3019 8710, newroadhotel.co.uk
Ask a local
Steve Gellet, manager, The Stable cider and pizza bar, 16-18 Whitechapel Road, stablepizza.com
Museum of Childhood. Photograph: Mike Booth/Alamy
The melting pot nature of this bit of London is best seen at our local free house, Indo. It has good beers and while it’s quiet during the day, at night it’s packed with tourists and locals, and has regular live music.
For brunch or lunch, head to Grounded Coffee Company at 9 Whitechapel Road. The veggie and pork-free breakfasts, omelettes and flatbreads are as good as the coffee. Tayyabs restaurant on Fieldgate Street is justly famous but the tandoori lamb chops at Needoo, further down New Road, are as good – and it’s much less busy.
The Whitechapel Gallery up the road is very modern and contemporary but you do have to pay for its more interesting exhibitions. For a free visit, the V&A Museum of Childhood is a short walk away in Bethnal Green, with historic toys and prams that are probably of more interest to adults than children.