London: Great Eastern Hotel

reviewed: July 2006

When the Great Eastern Railway Company opened the impressively handsome Liverpool Street station in 1874, they commissioned a hotel to match. Grandeur was guaranteed by employing the Barry family of architects, responsible for the Houses of Parliament and the Reform Club. But, as rail travel became less fashionable, the hotel fell into disrepair, and finally closed in 1996.

Perhaps the boom in commuting prompted Sir Terence Conran to come to the rescue in 2000, with a £70 million refurbishment and his signature clean, modern style. The Great Eastern Hotel (GEH) now has a new soaring atrium linking the old buildings, yet retains a boutique feel. Mr Conran recently sold the GEH to the Hyatt hotel chain, but it hasn’t changed a thing?yet. It’s often said that to appreciate London, you need to walk around with your head tilted at a 45× degree angle, as the best architecture is preserved above the converted shops and offices. And a room at the GEH can offer you an unexpected view of the city.

The rooms are very modern and rather spare, with dark wood and pale walls, but comfortable. Oddly, almost everything in your room is for sale, including the bed and sheets. The bathroom rather put me in the mind of an old-fashioned butcher’s shop, with white brick tiles and bright lights. One word of warning: the baths fill extremely quickly. It’s not uncommon for people to flood the room below.

There is one particularly clever touch from my point of view i.e. someone who always has to have breakfast, particularly in hotels, but can’t stand cold toast. When they bring breakfast to your room, including all the delicious things you demanded, they also bring a toaster. Unfortunately, I rather burnt my granary slices as I didn’t check the timer on it. The smoke also set off the fire alarm, and sent security scampering to my room. But I like the principle.

Lunch and supper are thank-fully several notches better than a British Rail soggy sandwich. There are four restaurants and four bars to choose from, to recover from a train journey or to steel yourself for one ahead. The Terminus bar and brasserie and the George pub are the most informal, if you just want a pint and papers. Miyabi is for sushi (takeaway available) and the Fishmarket Restaurant and Champagne Bar is crustacea and vintage Krug very smart. For the grandest of railway dining, however, I chose the Aurora, which has a magnificent domed stained glass ceiling, and an unfussy French menu. All in all, a pleasure. I have a feeling that I might miss the last train home soon.

Great Eastern Hotel, Liverpool Street, London EC2 . Rooms from £295 (plus VAT) for a standard queen double. For more information telephone 020? 7618 5000 or vist