A quirky collection of food and beverage offerings from chef-restaurateur Robin Gill is expected to be a key driver of business to the newly opened Great Scotland Yard hotel, operated by Hyatt Hotels in the heart of London. Fiona Sims reports
A pair of handcuffs are perched on top of a jumble of jewels; a gold pocket watch and silver opera glasses lie next to them. This is the evidence table at Scotland Yard. Except this is no incident room, this is a design feature in a bar called the 40 Elephants – a reference to an all-female gang of thieves operating close to the original Scotland Yard, the former headquarters of the Metropolitan Police off Whitehall, now a luxury hotel.
Opened last month, Great Scotland Yard is part of Hyatt's Unbound Collection, the first in the independent brand for the UK. It has 152 rooms, ranging from a standard king (from £430) to a number of suites (the Sherlock is £800) and a two-bedroom Georgian townhouse, plus four food and drink outlets, with the Yard its flagship, and a private members' club cum event space in the basement.
The owner is Twenty14 Holdings, the hospitality arm of Abu Dhabi-based Lulu Group International, with the renovation undertaken by leading developer Galliard Group and design from architects HBA International. Or rather, make that a total gutting – all that was left of the original building after demolition were the four exterior walls.
We're lifting the game in terms of luxury accommodation for a stay in an authentic part of London"
The building sits next door to the imposing British Telecom exchange for Whitehall, which is flanked by two more glowering Victorian-era properties. "All very high security," informs general manager Sholto Smith on a tour of the hotel a couple of weeks ahead of the opening.
"We're lifting the game in terms of luxury accommodation for a stay in an authentic part of London," Smith declares. This is some claim to make, given that its nearest neighbour and rival is the five-red-AA-star Corinthia London. And it will eventually be joined by Raffles hotel, currently under construction in the nearby old War Office building on Whitehall, plus there will be Admiralty Arch, which will open as a Waldorf Astoria in 2022.
"All the rooms are different," Smith explains, as we check out the range on offer, with its subtle – and not so subtle – design nods to its former incarnation as the famous cop shop, where the notorious Jack the Ripper crimes were once investigated: corridor corners with black iron detailing are reminiscent of a jail; net curtains in the bedrooms display a decorative grille-like feature; large paper-cut-style framed images of East London gangsters' the Kray twins are encountered en route to the hotel's gym (I resist a peak into the minibar to check for novelty handcuffs). Surprisingly touching is the art conceived by prisoners that deck the hotel's lobby.
The hotel's opening was delayed somewhat – it was supposed to be last summer, but then came the inevitable ‘finishing delays'. But at least Smith and his team have had plenty of time for training.
Recruitment was a breeze, Smith reports, thanks to its alignment with Hyatt and his access to staff at the group's two existing London properties: Hyatt Regency London – the Churchill and the Andaz London Liverpool Street, and hotels further afield. And what of Brexit? "Everyone is just carrying on," shrugs Smith.
"At the end of the day, London had a great year in 2019. The numbers were crazy. The weak pound has, dare I say, made London more affordable for foreigners. It's not going to last forever, so people are making the most of it while they can – but I don't see that changing in a hurry," says Smith.
Be our guest
So who will come? "The US and Asian market definitely," replies Smith, who predicts that Americans will account for 50% of guests, with leisure the primary focus. "Americans are very much attuned to history, so I think we will be quite the draw," he predicts.
Plus, they are expecting plenty of local business from surrounding Westminster and the rest of London, who, he hopes, will pop by for a dram or a cocktail in whisky bar Sibín (pronounced shebeen – it means illicit drinking den in Gaelic), come for afternoon tea in the Parlour, knock back punch in 40 Elephants, and stay for a farm-to-table supper in the Yard. Meanwhile, Smith expects staycationers will come for the weekend and experience the lot. The draw? The food and drink offerings conceived by celebrated Dublin-born south London-based chef-restaurateur Robin Gill in this, his first hotel project.
Explains Smith, a Hyatt veteran, who most recently spent three years in Australia as general manager of the Hyatt Regency Perth explains: "The Yard is a bit of the countryside comes to London. We use only the freshest of ingredients. We bake our own bread, smoke our own meats, have a butcher on-site, do our own pastry – it's all very inclusive. It's very unusual for the Hyatt but, being an Unbound, we are able to use much smaller suppliers. Robin needs this to be able to deliver his style of cooking. In fact, he's using the same suppliers he uses for his restaurants – the Dairy, Sorella, Counter Culture and Darby's. He brings a lot of spirit to the table – he's one of a kind," credits Smith, who reveals that it was Robbie Bargh of Gorgeous Group who brought Gill on board, and who also worked on the narrative behind the F&B concept.
I'm looking at taking on people who are less fortunate, who have got into trouble in some way"
Cue Gill, who sinks into an armchair in the Parlour. "The challenge for me was a bit of a weird one – it was to make it not feel like a hotel," he reveals.
He employs 35 kitchen staff, but unlike Smith's smooth experience, his recruitment drive was a little more challenging. "It helps that we have a good reputation for how we treat staff, so I think we found it easier than most, but there's a massive gap in the skill set. We've got lots of sous chefs who are really more chef de parties – trying to find a solid chef de partie is really tricky. So, we are training up the junior team and hoping that they stick with us," admits Gill.
One way around the recruitment problem, reckons Gill, is to think outside the box. "I'm looking at taking on people who are less fortunate, who have got into trouble in some way, so I'm talking to charities such as Key4Life, a rehabilitation programme for those in prison or those at risk of going to prison. I don't want to say that Great Scotland Yard is an appropriate place for them to come – that would be a cliché. But I got into trouble when I was kid – in fact, cooking got me out of trouble. We have a lack of chefs, and these guys don't know where they are going, so if we can make that work, it would be brilliant," he says.
The key ingredients
Gill is proud of his in-house butchery, charcuterie, bakery and pastry teams – a nod to the era in which the original property was built. "I am bringing back a lot of traditions that somehow got lost in hotels. We're even working on introducing an apprenticeship scheme."
You can thank Gill's time spent cooking at Don Alfonso on the Amalfi Coast, which had its own farm, and the years spent at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, where he first met his executive chef Alex Harper.
"We were surrounded by great produce, we never used anything that wasn't seasonal, so it's embedded in me now," says Gill. "Once you're exposed to that, you can't go back, so I continued that ethos when I opened the Dairy.
"My mission over the past 10 years has been about building relationships directly with producers – cutting out the middlemen. They are the unsung heroes – we want to celebrate British produce. Then it's about trying to get the best out of the produce and not to mess it up, or turn it into something unrecognisable."
At this point, Lewis Wright joins the conversation. He's the hotel's general manager of F&B and has worked with Gill for many years. And how's this for kismet – Lewis studied criminal psychology before he worked in the restaurant business, even joining the Met part-time. He spent the rest of his week working at the Dairy in Clapham, which finally won him over, and he took up the full-time manager's post. "I've never looked back," he grins.
Wright has recruited sommelier Jitka Auermüllerová, formerly at sommelier powerhouse 67 Pall Mall, to oversee the wine selections, with the biggest list reserved for the Yard. "The list is about wines that show freshness, acidity, vibrancy and energy – to match the food, with organic, biodynamic and natural wines the focus. There's no point looking at sustainability in food if you're not going to do the same on the wine list," he reasons.
There are 150 wines, with half a dozen of each category by the glass, sourced from eight suppliers. Plus, they offer what Wright calls our "little black book of fine wines offered at fair prices." The selection is global, and yes, English wines are included – notably Chapel Down, Hush Heath and Gusbourne.
In 40 Elephants, punch is the USP – served either cold or warm (thanks to an induction hob on the bar). "It might look grand, but we want it to feel like a busy London pub," says Wright.
Adds Gill: "And like London, we're offering a melting pot of cuisines served as small plates, priced from £4 to £18, from fried crispy chicken skin with Korean ketchup and blue cheese to braised beef on toast with bone marrow and caviar. The only big plate will be the beef and smoked eel pie with parsley liquor and mash. There are no rules here – we want to have a bit of fun."
Punch will also be served in the Parlour (below), along with an imaginative range of G&Ts, plus a large range of teas. "England's history comes into play here, in both the interior, with its colonial feel, and on the menu and drinks list," says Wright. Punch, some made using cold-brew teas, is served in glass teapots to keep with the theme.
"Our bar manager Michael believes that cold-brew tea is one of the best mixers for gin and whisky because it allows the flavours to come out," explains Wright.
Gill's afternoon tea, meanwhile, at £55 per head, is sure to raise eyebrows as it's sandwich-free. He explains: "I've never done hotel afternoon tea before and I didn't want to go the normal route. Instead, I've got savouries to start, such as coronation chicken pâté en croûte with a spiced mango chutney, green chilli and cheese mousse, and devilled eggs with puffed wild rice. A second sweet serving will include items such as cardamom macaroons and Earl Grey tea madeleines."
In Sibín, Wright and bar manager Michal Maziarz are hoping to convert more people to whisky, served by the dram (some rare small batch) and in cocktails. The interior is far from the usual gentleman's clubby whisky hangout. "Whisky is not gender-specific, so the room isn't either," reasons Wright, pointing at the artfully displayed vintage decanters and richly coloured seating.
The bold take on Piña Colada, an Octocolada, made with Bruichladdich's Octomore, the world's most heavily peated whisky, is sure to grab media attention. They're also hoping for a more party atmosphere here, calling on chef Gill's infamous Bloodshot Supper Club – his lively industry after-hours get-together.
The 64-seat Yard is Gill and Harper's centrepiece. "We want it to feel like a neighbourhood restaurant. It's all about the produce and seasonality and flavours that are familiar – we are not trying to break the mould," says Gill.
Dishes include starters such as crispy hen's egg, cep and pickled walnut hollandaise (£14.50), with mains featuring the likes of fallow deer, damson, baked celeriac and hunter's pie (£30). Desserts include apple tarte tatin, quince purée, vanilla and salted popcorn parfait (£9.50). Plus, there will be an affordable set lunch – two courses for £19, three courses for £24.
That said, the pair are also promising to include dishes inspired by their experiences at Le Manoir, such as pigeon en croûte – even chicken en vessie (where chicken is cooked inside a pig bladder). "I think we've found a source for the bladder," grins Gill.
"We want people to feel the atmosphere as soon as they walk through the door – like a British pub. What am I most nervous about? Fay Maschler. But the scariest thing is just making it all work, and that once the wheels start turning, everyone enjoys it, because if the team enjoys it, then customers will too," reasons Gill, before jumping on his bicycle for the short ride back to Clapham.
Contact and details
3-5 Great Scotland Yard, London SW1A 2HN
020 7925 4700
Bedrooms 152, including 15 suites
Owner Twenty14 Holdings, the hospitality arm of Abu Dhabi-based Lulu Group International
Operator Hyatt Hotels Corporation
General manager Sholto Smith
Chef consultant Robin Gill
Executive chef Alex Harper
General manager, food and beverage Lewis Wright
Food and beverage The Yard (signature restaurant), 40 Elephants (cocktail bar), the Parlour (coffee, tea and G&Ts), Sibín (whisky bar).
The Unbound Collection by Hyatt
The Unbound Collection by Hyatt brand is a portfolio of new and existing premium hotel properties, ranging from historic urban gems to contemporary trendsetters and boutique properties to resorts. It is one of 15 brands within the Hyatt family. Whether drawing on a fascinating past, an exclusive location, famous architecture and design or an award-winning dining experience, each hotel has its own distinct narrative and creates "story-worthy" experiences for guests. Current hotel properties include Hotel Sofia Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain; Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona; and the Confidante in Miami Beach, Florida.
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In