By Jack Peat, TLE Editor
London’s hospitality scene offers up a veritable smorgasbord of accommodation types. Whether you have a backpack on your back or a briefcase in your hands, a penchant for luxury or a thirst for the cheap and cheerful types you will never struggle to find digs that suit you.
But what if you have been there and done that? What if you’ve visited the Big Smoke more times than you care to count and you want to spice up your stay? And what if, like me, you are a bit fed-up with the same-old-same-old and want a hotel that is a little less ordinary.
Well, I went out in search for such a hotel and, amidst a plethora of hotels that would fit into the ‘quirky’ bracket, I found something altogether different.
Sunborn Hotel in the East End of London is an upscale yacht hotel moored at the Royal Victoria Dock in the Docklands. Best accessed by the Emirates Air Line, punters are flown across the river before finding their nautical feet at the renovated docklands area which is now home to a smattering of bars and restaurants thanks to developments around the docks.
Looking resplendent in the evening sun, we arrived at the permanently docked vessel and took an elegant looking escalator to the reception where a staircase spiralled up to the restaurant and top floor accommodation. Our room, or cabin, was on the top deck. The polished, classic room housed the standard en suite, flat screen TV and minibar along with mod-cons such as touch-pad room controls and espresso machines.
The room didn’t feel out of the ordinary until you stepped out on to the balcony. A quite spectacular view over the docks and across the London skyline gave the room a worldly feel. I grabbed the bannisters and whistled ‘Take her to sea Mr Murdoch’, breathing in the view which undoubtedly made the room look far more spectacular on the other side of the glass doors.
We headed to the aptly named Sundown Bar for a couple of pre-dinner cocktails as the sun set over the Millennium Dome. The house mixes looked and tasted delicious. Which, unfortunately, is more than I can say for the meal.
Despite being aesthetically pleasing, the quality of the food was under par. On paper it is difficult to see where they got it wrong; Cornish scallops with soft shell crab and Octopus tranche with red avocado and chilli for the entrée, Butter poached salmon and Rump of lamb with pomme puree for our main course. But in reality, despite the glorious setting and five star service, it was more function food than the British fusion al a carte mix advertised.
Our breakfast the following morning was also average despite ticking all the right boxes. The variety was good and I enjoyed a small salmon entrée before tucking in to the usual full mashings (customary hotel etiquette). But it fell short of ‘exceptional’, and was probably at best quite good.
As we sat at our window seat gazing across the city scape I was reminded of Tobias Jones’s non-fictional work ‘The Dark Heart of Italy’. Jones describes the fancy cars, beautiful people, good food and exquisite architecture found in Italy as being like icing sugar that conceals the dark side of the country. In many ways, there were crossovers with this hotel. It was saying all the right things, but lacked the substance to make it a truly unique find.
My search continues.