Monday, 31 January 2011

Town Hall Hotel

This little gem is a wonderful addition to an undeniably grubby corner of the East End. The original Edwardian building of the Town Hall Hotel has been transformed into a sparkling boutique hotel with no less than 98 rooms and apartments. I was surprised to find the hotel even has its own pool and spa. There is a staggeringly good restaurant – which I vowed to return to (it's booked out for dinner for the next three months) and the Viajante (which means Traveller in Portuguese) is a real find of a bar, where I imbibed more than one fine cocktail.
The low lit, buzzy, intimate bar with slick yet friendly service reminded my (very experienced) drinking companion and me of our favourite drinking dens in New York. We asked for a Sake Tomi, a delectable sounding gin, watermelon and sake cocktail, but learnt that the bar was (rather optimistically, we thought) switching over to a new spring menu. It is not just the juices that change seasonally, but the spirits too. So expect the list to change like that for any reputable restaurant. From that point on we happily handed over control – very wisely it turned out ­– to our bar man. ‘We like to talk to guests and find out what they would like’, he explained and, as he mixed our chosen drinks, we went for a whirlwind tour of the fine hotel.

The bar and restaurant are part of the building constructed in 1909 – as we swung through some double doors, we walked into the section built in 1939. I loved both the communal spaces and the stylish, modern rooms and apartments that combine the classic features of this historic building with East London edginess – an assured blend of the classic and eccentric. As we walked past two statues of Truth and Happiness, we learnt how the venue had been used in film shoots and sit coms. Anna, our guest relations guide, showed genuine enthusiasm for the place, exclaiming: ‘I am fascinated by the building’. She told us how the owner of the hotel got married here, saying ‘so he must have the building in his heart’ as she tapped her chest.

We return anxiously to our cocktails, only to find we have taken so long Alex has made us some new ones. I get a Buffalo Bourbon with Buffalo trace whiskey, served imaginatively in a jam jar. My companion, Ruth is presented with a Japanese Matcha tea with gin, lemon and egg white in a delicate Japanese ceramic cup (the barman has his own collection), laced with some pretty white flowers. There are no generic glasses here. The cocktail list is assured, and very reasonably priced – with prices hovering around 7 or 8 pounds.

The decadence of the Breakfast Martini appealed – a chase marmalade, vodka and cointreau combo billed as the ‘first drink of the day’ – but instead I plumped for a rum with Porter foam and angostura served in a half pint handled beer glass. Other concoctions we felt compelled to try included Absinthe Saki, a gin, cucumber, mint, lemon and champagne creation and ‘Traveller number 3’, a refreshing blend of lemongrass, gin, orange bitters and bubbles. In an attempt to soak up some of the alcohol, we tucked into some delicious bar snacks of prawn samosas with cucumber yoghurt and dry aged beef burger, stacked with vanilla onions, stilton and crispy root vegetables.

Alex winced when I mentioned molecular cocktails and foam, which seemed to be a feature of his drinks, but went on to show me a photo of his latest creation on his phone– a vodka cocktail in a miniature flower pot topped with chocolate for a soil like topping.

Forgive me if I forget the rest of ingredients – by this time we had pretty much worked our way through the whole cocktail menu. Alex told us he is planning a cocktail tasting event, which I hope to attend, so watch this space. I also hope to be able to stay the night at the Town Hall Hotel so expect a full review. Book between now and the end of February and get a whopping 50% off the regular room rate.

‘We could move in,’ we whispered to each other. As we were leaving we heard someone else say the same thing.