The largest in a spate of luxury hotel openings in the capital, the Londoner in Leicester Square hopes its expansive range of facilities will draw guests back into the city centre – and keep them there. Janet Harmer checks it out.
Filling a new 350-bedroom hotel in London at the best of times would be a challenge, but to do so in the midst of a pandemic is something of an impossibility.
It is something of which Charles Oak, hotel director of the newly launched Londoner in Leicester Square, is acutely aware. While admitting to being quietly terrified of the task of attracting overnight guests that lies ahead, he is also supremely confident that the property is bringing something new and exciting to London, which in time will bring in the business required to claw back the £500m investment in its development by owner and operator Edwardian Hotels London.
"We have created a product that I know will hit the market and is what people want," says Oak, who joined the Londoner project in 2018, having previously been general manager of the group's May Fair hotel from 2004 to 2010. "Guests want something that is frictionless, somewhere they can stay without any hassle and be taken care of as an individual. It is a resort experience where guest will leave feeling: ‘ah, I want to go back…'"
Guests want something that is frictionless, somewhere they can stay without any hassle and be taken care of as an individual
Launched on 6 September, the Londoner is by far the largest of the new batch of hotels in the capital to open in recent months – the 91-bedroom NoMad London and the 237-bedroom Pan Pacific London among them. Alongside the extensive number of bedrooms, it also has six food and beverage outlets, a range of fitness and leisure facilities, a residents-only club, state-of-the-art event spaces, cinema and an entertainment programme that would not look out of place on a cruise ship.
Indeed, Oak frequently uses the analogy of a cruise ship or an urban resort for the Londoner. "There is so much to do here under one roof that the guest never needs to leave the building," he says. "As well as a live performance every day in the Stage (see below), there is also entertainment appropriate for each of the other restaurants – for instance, our pub Joshua's Tavern might have a busker vibe.
There is so much to do here under one roof that the guest never needs to leave the building
"It is also much more than just music. Our programming department is putting together a series of talks on everything from fashion and styling to the benefits of the clean food movement. Any one day, there could be six different performances or events around the hotel, complimentary to guests."
The Londoner is the new flagship property for Edwardian Hotels London, a company founded in 1977 by Jasminder Singh, who has since grown the business into a portfolio of 13 properties, the majority of which operate under the Radisson Blu brand and are located across the capital. Its development on a 50m by 50m site on the south-west corner of Leicester Square, previously occupied by a Radisson Edwardian hotel, cinema and pub, has been a major feat of engineering. Eight of the 16 floors have been built underground to a depth of more than 30m, making it the deepest hotel basement in London.
As a condition of the hotel's planning approval from Westminster City Council, artwork that would benefit the surrounding community has to be included in the scheme. Edwardian Hotels London chose to integrate the piece into the building itself and, following a competitive process, selected artist Ian Monroe to undertake the project. The result was the installation of 15,000 different shaped blue terracotta tiles into the exterior of the hotel, at a cost of £3m, undertaken in conjunction with the building's architect Woods Bagot and project engineers Arup.
The interior, designed by Yabu Pushelberg, features a mix of idiosyncratic styles to reflect the varied restaurant spaces, with a bold statement from a larger-than-life mural bringing energy into Joshua's Tavern and the Residence, while Japanese restaurant 8 at the Londoner offers a more muted palette.
The hotel has been frequently referred to in its publicity material as "the world's first super boutique hotel". Of course, with 350 bedrooms and extensive public spaces, the Londoner is anything but a boutique hotel. Oak stresses that the boutique nature of the property stems from the fact the individual areas across the hotel have each been designed to create an intimate feel.
Oak is certainly intending to make guests feel they are being looked after as they would in a smaller property and regarded as individuals rather than numbers. To this end, building a team composed of the right kind of people has been fundamental – which is not easy in the current challenging climate for hospitality recruitment, with 450 staff required for the hotel's opening. As the hotel builds its capacity of guests, the team will increase to 600.
Caroline Marais, group human resources director at Edwardian Hotels London, recognises the need for all employers "to put their best foot forward" at this difficult time. "Salary does play a critical part in a person's choice to join a company but it's not this alone," she says. "Being flexible with contracts, offering good opportunities to progress and talking positively about the career choices have been critical to our recruitment success."
Now, of course, the big challenge is to get the guests and customers through the newly opened doors. "If you had asked pre-pandemic what our opening forecast occupancy would be, I would have told you it would be 82%, and I would probably have been accurate to within a percentage point," says Oak. "Now, I am confident that we will get to 50% by the end of the year."
Oak's confidence is driven by the fact that event business for the autumn is looking buoyant, driven by a bottleneck of celebratory and social events. "The ballroom will be the engine that drives the hotel. Luxury brands that have not held events for the past 18 months are now knocking on our door. We are particularly proud to have hosted the Walpole Luxury Summit on 6 September, for 300 guests representing the world's leading brands."
Prior to its opening, the Londoner was also host on ‘Freedom Day' of 19 July to the London Evening Standard's summer party, an occasion Oak describes as being "very emotional." Meanwhile, bedroom business will be boosted by packages for events attendees, as well as resort-style packages offering a range of activities to the domestic short-break market.
Interest in the hotel's restaurants and bars from a largely domestic customer base is expected to be high, with 150 customers visiting the 120-cover 8 at the Londoner on its second night of operation. Corporate and overseas bedroom business is, of course, largely missing. In time, and now with the relaxation of travellers coming to the UK from the US and mainland Europe, it is hoped that the hotel's membership of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts' Legend collection – a first for an Edwardian property – will start to drive business in significant numbers, alongside the activity being undertaken by the group's sales and PR offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Only then will Oak's terror start to fade.
Contact and details
38 Leicester Square, London WC2H 7DX
020 7451 0102
Owner/operator Edwardian Hotels London, comprising a portfolio of 13 properties, which includes the Londoner (member of the Preferred consortium), the May Fair, the Edwardian Manchester (part of the Radisson Collection), and 10 Radisson Blu Edwardian hotels
Hotel director Charles Oak
General manager Simon Wong
Executive chef Shailesh Deshmukh
Staff 600 (once the hotel reaches full capacity)
Food and beverage Whitcomb's (Mediterranean); 8 at the Londoner (Japanese); the Stage (all-day dining and bar); Joshua's Tavern (pub); Refuel (spa bar offering healthy-eating); the Residence (24-hour food and beverage across three spaces for residents only)
Leisure facilities The Retreat, featuring 12.5m swimming pool, hydropool, spa with two treatment rooms and Omorovicza, Ila and Ishga products; gym; yoga studio; Nicky Clarke hair salon; Joe Vipond barber; ANA nail bar; 170-seat Odeon Luxe West End cinema, comprising two screening rooms
Meetings and events Ballroom for up to 850 guests (600 seated); the Green Room for weddings and after parties; the Gallery network of nine meeting spaces
Guest profile Pre-pandemic the forecast was for 40% guests to be predominately from north America and continental Europe, with a smattering from Asia. Now, guests are primarily expected to initially come from the UK
Room rates From £450 for a queen room up to £20,000 for the two-storey, 200 sq m Tower Suite penthouse per night
From izakaya to private whisky room: food and beverage at the Londoner
Offering a strong and eclectic food and beverage offering is expected to be a key focus for attracting customers into the Londoner. The choice of concepts, designed by Amir Jati, creative director of food and beverage service excellence at Edwardian Hotels London, is certainly varied.
Heading the list is the hotel's main restaurant, Whitcomb's, where the majority of guests will take breakfast as well as enjoying a Mediterranean-focused menu at lunch and dinner. It is hoped that Whitcomb's will become a neighbourhood eaterie for those who live and work in the vicinity. "The head office of Hearst is just six metres away and when everyone is in the office there are 1,000 employees," says Oak. "We want Whitcomb's to become Hearst's go-to-place for a coffee or a bite to eat."
The Taste of Whitcomb's lunch and pre-theatre menu costs £32 for two courses and £38 for three, with the vegetarian menu priced at £28 and £34 respectively. Dishes on the à la carte menu include baked Gruyère, Emmental, Cognac, crispy pancetta and Dijon mustard served in a skillet with warm artisan French baguette (£14); pan-fried sea bass with white wine, parsley, shallots and lemon (£32); and lemon tart with olive oil, honey and roasted marcona almonds (£14).
On the eighth floor of the hotel, 8 at the Londoner is a Japanese izakaya lounge bar offering an omakase (tasting) menu of six courses at £65 and eight courses at £110. The à la carte selection of dishes offers the likes of sea bass carpaccio with Fuji apple, citrus and black sea salt (£16); lobster tempura with ama ponzu (£22); and wagyu with Gorgonzola dolce crème (£66). Cocktails and sake are expected to be the most popular drinks here, where one section of the space, the Shima garden, features a central fireplace and retractable roof.
Back down on the ground floor, Joshua's Tavern – inspired by one-time Leicester Square resident, the 18th-century artist Joshua Reynolds – serves an extensive selection of British and global gins, including three rare vintage gins, and craft beers. The limited menu includes baked ‘Philly' cheesesteak bites (£10); Parmesan and shichimi-spiced schiacciatina flatbread (£7); and crispy tandoori poussin bites (£12).
In Refuel, the bar located in the Retreat spa, the menu has been created to enhance or aid various functions of the body and mind, be it a vitality shot of collagen, carrot juice, purple sweet potato solution, ginger and stevia (£6), to boost anti-ageing and skincare, or a rejuvenating fruit and superfood salad with turmeric, ginger and lime syrup (£12).
Situated just beyond the lobby entrance, the Stage is very much the beating heart of the hotel, open from 8am to 2am, serving everything from breakfast through to afternoon tea and on to cocktails and Champagne, accompanied by charcuterie and cheese plates, in the evening. While the extensive bar will provide much of the bustle, the atmosphere is heightened by the daily live performances, featuring a mix of show tunes, jazz and opera.
Finally, hotel guests will also have access to the Residence, where they can choose from a complimentary food and drink menu and make use of a concierge service 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Here, the Y bar serves cocktails and light bites, the Drawing Room provides a selection of Assouline books, classic board games and the latest newspapers and magazines, while the Whisky Room is an intimate 14-seat hideaway serving some of the world's rarest whiskies.
"In many hotels, this kind of service would be called the executive club, which would usually only be available to guests in higher category rooms and suites, but at the Londoner it is open to everyone staying at the hotel," says Oak. "It is a genuine USP."
Overseeing the food output is executive chef Shailesh Deshmukh. Originally from Mumbai in India, Deshmukh has been with Edwardian Hotels London since 2018, having previously spent nearly nine years in London working for Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts. The drinks menus throughout the hotels have been curated by head mixologist Pierpaolo Schirru, who joined the group last year having left his native Italy to work in London at Roka, Oblix at the Shard and the Artesian bar at the Langham London.
Photography by Andrew Beasley
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