London’s South Bank has always been a popular spot. Plenty of tourists looking to enjoy some Thameside entertainment, The Tate Modern, the National Theatre, the BFI. Trouble is, for me, it’s all a bit brutalist grey concrete.
Well, there’s more than a bit of colour around the place now with the opening of Bankside, a property literally dripping with it and part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Part of the all glass-fronted One Blackfriars development, this is an uber-trendy design-forward hotel that puts art front and centre of everything it does. And, trust me, everything it does, it does brilliantly well.
This has been a project of imagination from the bottom up, courtesy of Hollywood producer turned interiors architect Dayna Lee. There are many things to uncover as you walk around. You end up marvelling at the ingenuity of turning everyday simple things into visual works of art. A simple wall rack of used paintbrushes might look just that on a garage wall but in here its worthy of a berth at the Tate Modern. The library area has supporting columns made from stacked books. In fact, all the public areas are not unlike the galleries you might find in an art school environment, including the Whitebox space that comes with track lighting and moveable walls so guests can create their own personal space.
But all this artistic hedonism doesn’t simply peter out as you get to the guestrooms. The in-room fun continues apace. Custom pieces of art hang above every bed, floor to ceiling glass has remote controlled blackout blinds, the ceiling is bare slabs of polished concrete, but discreet lighting adorns the walls. The gleaming bathroom is pure white, but the showerhead, piping and taps are black as pitch. I fell in love with a large classic portrait of Sir Christopher Wren retouched with an afro comb hanging jauntily from his wig. There is a small fridge with glass water bottles, but on each floor, you’ll find a state-of-the-art vending machine dispensing alcohol and confectionery. There’s also a water fountain offering complimentary sparkling or still water and a stack of glass carafes. Thankfully not a piece of plastic in sight.
While we’re on the subject of plastics and the environment, Bankside is unashamedly aiming to be one of London’s most sustainable hotels with a zero-landfill strategy. No plastic is a given, of course, waste food is recycled as biofuel, furniture and fittings are made from sustainably sourced wood, and power-saving is mandatory in all rooms.
Back downstairs, the beating heart of Bankside is the Art Yard Bar and Kitchen, a large airy space where you would think the creative thinking is more focussed on the food and drink than on aesthetics. But then again, peek a little closer and you’ll still find glorious bits and pieces of imaginative design. Cables from the overhead lamps hang over pipes in a seemingly random fashion but deep down we know it’s all precisely choreographed. Wooden shapes within a giant vertical abacus steals admiring glances, and mood music played at just the right volume courteously allows for intimate conversation.
The dinner menu was as you might expect, free of clutter and simply designed with just four sections; sharing plates, sharing pizzas, large plates and salads. Musam our waiter, materialised fresh from a workout it seemed. “Well-being week this week. We were all offered smoothies to taste, but they told us we had to do a bike work out first. That’s why I love it here. There’s always something different going on for us.”
After much pondering we agreed on our sharing starters and dived in; crispy cauliflower (£7) utterly divine, mushroom arancini with spicy mayo (£6) equally divine and roasted squash with feta, kale and a hazelnut dressing (£7) – probably the standout of them for me. There was a heated debate with my dining partner about getting a couple of other dishes; Beal’s Farm Cullatello with pickled plum (£11) and Thai onglet skewers with lime and lemongrass (£8.50) but common sense won out. We saved it for the mains.
There were more than a few tempting choices here. Miso-glazed salmon (£18) or perhaps slow-cooked pork with soy-charred broccoli (£18) However, her wood-fired mackerel with lime, Szechuan yoghurt and new potatoes (£16) was a triumph. The fish blackened just right leaving the inside moist and flavoursome. My chicken schnitzel with fennel slaw and tomato confit (£16) lived up to the billing. Crispy outer and juicy inside. Not a dry eye in the house. Of course, sides of mac and cheese and triple cooked fries (both £4.50) made perfect companions as did a couple of glasses of ruby rioja to wash it all down.
An uninterrupted night’s rest courtesy of a bed that embraced me like a long lost family member was followed by another visit to the Art Yard Bar and Kitchen for breakfast. A full buffet set around the open plan kitchen where a brigade stood ready for any added action.
I have a passionate fondness for smashed avocado on toast in the mornings, but in this case, I discovered something new. Who would have guessed that adding spring onions would make such a difference? That and some chilli and lemon juice made my morning.
With the Bankside Hotel, London’s South Bank has never looked more colourful.
Food images (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about Bankside Hotel, South Bank.
Bankside Hotel, 2 Blackfriars Rd, Upper Ground London UK SE1 9JU
T: +44 (0) 203 319 5888 Rooms from £260 per night including breakfast.
The National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Borough Market and street food restaurants are all within walking distance.