Re-launching an icon is always a gamble – but this one pays off, says Zak Smith
In 2000, the Millennium Dome was launched, Robbie Williams blasted from Capital Radio on a daily basis, Tony Blair could do no wrong and Britain was utterly cool. An insatiable thirst for hot destinations that defined this new dawn begot the St Martin's Lane Hotel.
When it opened, everyone from Kate Moss to Noel Gallagher graced its bar, quaffing exotic cocktails and dining in what was one of the capital's original and most successful fusion food concepts, Asia de Cuba. Marrying cutting edge, provocative design and first-class amenities, the hotel was for a large part of the start of the 21st century the place to be seen: the definition of an urban luxury resort.
Fifteen years later and London has moved on, each corner of the city flourishing with new hospitality concepts and boutique hotels – Chiltern Firehouse, The Beaumont and the Ham Yard Hotel but to name a few, leaving the original 'hip hotel' somewhat forgotten.
Relaunching an icon of its time was always a gamble. Entering the 'new' St Martin's Lane Hotel, what any regular may realise is that while there are notable changes to the bar and lobby, the vibe remains the same, somehow straddling a fine balance between familiar and utterly new.
This is important because the hotel was clearly looking for an update and tweak rather than a thorough rebrand. While the original design was very much of a time, the 'Botoxing' of the hotel makes it feel contemporary again and, in attempting to bring the hotel up to its current rivals, does a good job.
Asia de Cuba has been given a lick of paint, but otherwise remains just as exciting and adventurous as when it first opened its doors. The red snapper ceviche with cilantro and plantains was delicate and flavoursome, and the edamame and corn salad zesty and textured without being boring.
What I was really excited for were the Mexican doughnuts. A feature on the menu so hallowed that no chef dare take it off, years' worth of celebrations have been consummated with this ivory tower of orgasmically sweet indulgence. Soft and bouncy doughnut boules pumped with warm, fresh butterscotch, these outrageous treats instantly ooze upon first bite, leaving you craving more.
The original bar has been gutted and refurbished, in its place 'blind spot' (pictured above), a more sophisticated and elegant incarnation, filled with the next generation of creatives, movers and shakers.
The rooms, floating in the London cityscape, were a little stark in comparison to the rest of the hotel, which felt a shame given how vibrant the art and design was generally. Putting clean simplicity and high tech over fashion, the room felt more functional than luxurious, but the minimalist and tasteful design with floor to ceiling windows allowed for unobstructed views overlooking the bustling streets, which compensated for the lack of art on the walls.
The rooms were packed with gadgets galore, sex toys in the minibar and portable charging adapters, ensuring that all types of traveller were catered for.
With Asia de Cuba still an amazing culinary experience and a great new bar to draw the crowds back in, the refresh of St Martin's Lane has ensured that the hotel remains relevant and, most importantly, remains as exciting as when it opened fifteen years ago.