Andy Mossack finds the newly opened Middle Eight striking a major chord with him when he went to visit.
Great Queen Street has always been something of a mystery to me. So close to Covent Garden yet always the drab sister. Even the impressive bulk of the Museum of Freemasonry has failed to make it smile. However, I suspect all this drabness and faded glory is about to change with the opening of Middle Eight. Now the old Queen has a proper five-star hotel to be proud of, a veritable lifestyle destination for hip DJ sounds, live music, and late-night speakeasy drinking.
As the name suggests, Middle Eight is the eight-bar bit in a song that’s two-thirds of the way through before you get to the final verse. It’s an apt name for a hotel whose theme is undeniably musical.
This is the second new opening this year for Shiva Hotels, the private hotel group owned by financier Rishi Sachdev and quite the opposite from the five-star boutique Guardsman in Buckingham Gate. This is a cavernous property completely remodelled from the ground up transforming it into a thing of sizeable beauty. Nature is everywhere you look. Wood and stone together with living plants and soft earthy tones are the ingredients for a masterclass of contemporary interior design.
But what the two hotels share is Shiva’s total commitment to sustainability, support against modern slavery and the reduction of an environmental footprint. It’s a top-down policy from vetting suppliers, to providing sustainable toiletries. Even the bathrobes are made from recycled plastics.
The lobby certainly gave me the wow factor as I checked in. A huge, curved space in gorgeous browns and creams with a natural wood reception, more a work of art than just a functional desk.
There are 168 guestrooms and 12 suites, all of them filled with bespoke furniture and luxury amenities. Continuing the musical theme, each suite is named after a song with a memorable middle eight. Mine was Downtown, a sixties classic, and I couldn’t help humming it as I was shown to the room. “The lights are much brighter there you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares” Which I most certainly did once I walked in.
This was a memorable space. A huge L shape lounge/dining room with sliding doors leading out to an unexpected indoor garden courtyard bathed in natural light from a ceiling window. Another corridor led to a dressing room and on into a bedroom dominated by a king bed so wide there were three sets of pillows across it. The bathroom, separated from here by another sliding glass door, had twin sinks, a free-standing bathtub, underfloor heating and a monsoon shower cubicle.
Back in my lounge, exploring the wall cabinets, I found playing cards, board games and a wooden noughts and crosses board tucked away on a shelf. The mini bar was fully stocked with complimentary snacks, water and beers while the cupboards stored plates and cutlery for the 4-seater dining table. Two huge flat-screen TVs fitted with Chromecast and soundbar, a SONOS speaker, and an additional toilet off the lounge completed what was a sensational suite.
Back downstairs the lobby bar was gearing up for the night. From an elegant hip watering hole, it had transformed into an urban post-work hangout with mood lighting and a DJ spinning suitably clubby sounds. The bar shares its space with Sycamore Vino Cucina, Middle Eight’s signature all-day dining Italian restaurant, overseen by Head Chef Paul Robinson and Restaurant Manager Julian Zeneli. In the style of most Italian mommas, the portions are designed to delight, particularly the sharing plates. Much of the menu is pure northern Italian favourites from Robinson’s own experience of the region. I couldn’t resist getting my hands on some aged Parmigiano (£4) to nibble on with a welcome gin cocktail. Channelling my full inner Italian, I followed on with Gamberi all griglia authentically grilled prawns with warm potato salad and pickled cucumber (£10)
Over at the bar, things were really starting to warm up as the Covent Garden nighttime set began to warm to the drinks and the sounds as the lights dimmed. I was sure Great Queen Street hadn’t seen anything like it before.
I tore myself away from people watching as my main course triumphantly arrived, Vitello Alla Milanese, Milan’s world-famous veal escalope with lemon. (£10) and a healthy side of Melanzane Alla Parmigiana (£5) a delightfully smoky mashed aubergine sauce.
After dinner I took myself down to QT, the soon to be open decadent basement Speakeasy. In a former life, at the turn of the century, Middle Eight was the site of Kingsway Hall, an iconic Covent Garden music venue and QT is intended to continue that tradition by providing live music and late-night entertainment once current restrictions are lifted. A pretty good excuse to come back again I would say.
After a blissful sleep back in Downtown, enveloped in high thread Egyptian cotton, cocooned from the indoor courtyard by drapes that closed on command, I was back in Sycamore for breakfast. The healthy Italian portions continued along with my own long-lasting memories of Italian pastries on family holidays. As a kid, I remember devouring bombolini, little doughnuts with custard fillings (£2) and lemon polenta cake (£3.5). But the star of the show was avocado, spinach, tomato, Tuscan beans, and sourdough toast. (£12) Bellissima.
Middle Eight brings five-star luxury and contemporary elegance to Great Queen Street and as I made way along her on my five-minute walk to Holborn Station, I swear I could almost feel the old girl smiling at last.
Restaurant images (C) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about Middle Eight, Covent Garden
Middle Eight, 66 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, WC2B 5BX
T: 0044 (0)207 309 9300
Rooms from £250 per night and suites from £600 per night