London: Sterling service without the sky-high prices at the Hoxton
Think you haven't got the budget to enjoy London? It's time to think again, says Mark Evans.
Two things irritate me when travelling: boutique-style hotels and London room prices. Trendy hotels have a habit of offering style without service or substance, while the UK capital is a great place to get mugged when paying for a room.
So what better, or worse, than a weekend in London at a trendy boutique hotel?
Well thankfully the Hoxton – in the heart of London beside Holborn tube station – defies expectations.
It’s trendy, yes – but a hip young staff doesn’t have to mean sloppy service: in fact, from the minute you arrive you realise that from check-in to bar to restaurant, the staff all offer a friendly welcome and a calm and nothing-is-too-much-trouble attitude.
And the price? Well, that’s the clincher.
The last time I was in this part of London I had a choice: pay £450 (€640) for six hours’ sleep, or kip in the airport that night. No prizes for guessing the choice made.
But rooms at The Hoxton start at £69/€98 – yes, not a misprint – if you’re smart and book ahead. Rooms come in three sizes, from smallish to excellent, but all offer free wifi, an hour of local phone calls and a nice breakfast-to-go in the morning.
The Hoxton Holborn lobby
Truth be told, you won’t spend long in your room in a city this exciting, but take time to explore the hotel too. The lobby has a lovely retro theme, and the bar, with resident DJs spinning mellow tunes, is a local favourite haunt.
A nice touch too is the local Survival Guide in each room, enticing guests to get out and explore.
You needn’t walk far for a great traditional boozer: the Victorian gem that is the Princess Louise is just a few doors away. And ditch the Tube map: the West End entertainment playground is just a few minutes stroll.
Just around the corner, crossing over Charing Cross Road, is the long-established French brasserie Cafe Boheme (decent prices too; see cafeboheme.co.uk) in the heart of the city’s theatreland.
Or keep moving on to Greek Street, one of the bustling parts of the bohemian Soho neighbourhood. The legendary Coach and Horses (thecoachandhorsessoho.co.uk), a watering hole of infamous writer Jeffrey Bernard, is a great pit stop – especially on a Wednesday or Saturday night.
That’s when you’ll catch the famous piano singalongs of classic tunes (think EastEnders, but much posher), a fun night that will turn what you think of London – a legendary stand-offish city – on its head.
The sterling rate is a killer, but even the heart of London offers cheap eats. Also on Greek Street is the Korean restaurant Bibimbap (bibimbapsoho.co.uk/soho), a colourful and funky eatery with most mains costing between a fiver and a tenner.
Bibimbap – “literally mixed rice” – refers to dishes of beef, chicken, even tofu, sizzling in a hot bowl. It’s a cheap and filling way to keep the costs down in this neighbourhood.
Catch happy hour if you can in Thirst Bar (thirstbar.com) across the road. Drinks are a euro or two more than Dublin prices at other times, but it’s worth it if you bag an outside seat and watch the colourful array of characters passing by in one of London’s funkiest areas.
And for a bit of culture, stroll down to the British Museum, the UK’s biggest. The Rosetta Stone, Parthenon Sculptures, Egyptian mummies; the Anglo-Saxon burial relics, or Viking relics – you’d need a week to see them all, but with a decent hotel deal you’ll be back.
Get me there
Rooms start at £69/€98 and go up to £299/€426 at The Hoxton, so book ahead (thehoxton.com) to get a bargain, and check out the freebies like complimentary pilates classes.
The hotel is around the corner from Holborn tube station, which is on the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow. Holborn is well situated too for connections from London City Airport, which is also well served from Dublin by CityJet.
The Hoxton has sister properties in Shoreditch and Amsterdam.