Contrived. That’s the first word that bubbles into my mind about this spanking new luxury hotel just off Whitehall. It’s not the only word – there are others more flattering, but it’s one I associate with so many new places these days.
Springing up from nowhere, appropriating buildings that were never intended as places of hospitality, these newcomers don’t have the time-worn confidence to simply 'be'; instead, armed with teams of mood board-wielding designers and consultants and specially commissioned art installations, they come up with themes that seem – to me at least – too carefully constructed to resonate and have soul.
Perhaps you aren’t looking for soul, or don’t think you are. If it’s a slick new bolt-hole you are after, one with the cachet of a famous name, then Great Scotland Yard will probably do very nicely. That you will fall in love with it, I doubt.
The story of the transformation of this handsome Edwardian office building in the narrow street of the same name has an increasingly familiar ring to it: a billionaire is behind it, in this case Indian-born Yusuff Ali, based in the United Arab Emirates, who has spent about £161 million buying, extending and converting the property as part of the growing hospitality investment arm of his retail empire, LuLu Group. Hyatt is the manager and the hotel forms part of its new Unbound Collection, more unique boutique than standardised chain.
As for the hotel’s theme, it’s a no-brainer. Though the Metropolitan Police moved out in the late 19th century, their long tenure on this site gave rise to the metonym by which the force is still known today: Scotland Yard. Expect riffs on famous London criminals, police uniforms, the Met Police badge and so on, but expect them in the form of specially commissioned artworks in an effort to make the hotel look both arty and historic.
They had to be explained to me, otherwise I would never have clocked their meanings. They include the “smashed” Alice in Wonderland clock just inside the entrance, which is there, apparently, because Lewis Carroll was once suspected of being Jack the Ripper. The huge glass shard chandelier in the bar, I am told, represents a notorious smash-and-grab female gang called the Forty Elephants, and there are displays of items that the ladies might have nicked. The poster-red rogues’ gallery of figures loosely associated with the Met Police that dominates the main hall is the most confusing of all, though it certainly catches the eye.
No, it was not these concocted installations that moved me, nor the police memorabilia. It was the electrifying and poignant collection, beautifully displayed, of artworks created by current offenders collated by the charity Koestler Arts – a prisoner slumped in a cell, fashioned with a fingernail from a bar of soap; intricate objects made from matchsticks and paper; searing portraits; Dartmoor, glimpsed from behind bars. It’s worth a trip here just for them.
There are other unexpectedly good things. The entire ground floor is given over to food and drink and overseen by the delightful chef Robin Gill, whose hit restaurant, The Dairy, is around the corner from my flat in Clapham. The chance to have a presence in central London was a golden opportunity for Robin, and he has grabbed it with gusto.
He oversees, with Alex Harper (The Ledbury, The Harwood Arms), the entire food operation of the hotel. It includes his rustic, The Dairy-like farm-to-table restaurant, The Yard, with an attractively tiled open kitchen where an excellent breakfast is also served; his take on afternoon tea, served in an exotic lounge based on the Imperial Hotel in Delhi; and, hidden behind a secret door, Sibin, an inviting whisky den overseen by top bartender Michal Maziarz.
The advent of Gill is the opposite of contrived: he is an honest chef cooking honest food with flair. He is Irish and he has soul and, in my opinion, is the making of this place. In a nice twist, his restaurant manager, Lewis Wright, left the police force to work at The Dairy in 2013. Now he is back at Scotland Yard.
It’s back to contrived themes for the disappointing bedrooms… carpet that integrates, I’m told, badges and police uniforms in the design; police-blue veneered nightstands and so on. I was in a Lewis Suite, but there was nothing to justify the word 'suite' in what was a rather small bedroom with a fancy Japanese loo but a narrow shower. Only eight of the 152 rooms have baths. At a price tag of £600 a night, excluding breakfast, I expect a bath.
Double rooms cost from £460 per night, including breakfast. Access is possible for guests using wheelchairs.
Read the full review: Great Scotland Yard