I haven’t spent much time in Whitechapel, but its reluctance to embrace the tide of boutique bakeries and coffee shops sweeping much of London makes it quite captivating. Emerge from the Tube and find the street markets buzzing well into the evening, the towers of the City looming ahead as trolleys of meat glide past on the pavement. I saw a man pulling a brick on a piece of string. I didn’t ask him why: it seemed better left a mystery. The fading Bengali text on the shopfronts is a literal sign of how east London has long been a multicultural medley.
The 280-room Hyatt Place London City East sits right in the heart of it, with views overlooking bustling streets that combine the old and new – the shiny Elizabeth line station and the imposing new Tower Hamlets Town Hall, converted from the famous, 18th Century London Hospital building, within a stone’s throw. Fly-posters had dotted the lamp posts with Gaza solidarity messages along with others about incomprehensible local political rows targeting various borough councillors.
Squeezed tightly and tall beside a Sainsbury’s and many vape shops, this Hyatt is a cracking hotel, restaurant and bar. The staff are welcoming, and I’m sure it wasn’t just because On London was visiting. My companion and I had a room high-up with balcony that won’t be much-used on blistering winter’s nights, but business guests in the summer will be reluctant to forsake for the office.
We enjoyed a dual aspect outlook – Square Mile skyscrapers at one end, the Whitechapel Road on the other. It is like looking upon a painting, as the rooms seem to be almost completely sound-proofed. Just watch out for the blaring welcome video with music like beating war drums.
For what was among the best of the hotel’s suites, it was quite functional. But there were nice essentials, such as a Nespresso machine and a good-sized TV positioned right in front of the bed. Stay there now, and you also get Pandoro cake – a Christmassy Italian stollen – which I don’t think counts as a must-have accessory, but went down well after a cocktail or two.
It’s a great location for scouting east London. An eight-minute walk away is the Hospital Tavern, a jam-packed corker of a pub which – London life hack alert – allows free booking of its party room upstairs.
Before the pub though, grub. The hotel’s restaurant, Zoom East Kitchen & Bar, goes for a Sicilian theme, fusing Arabian-Italian flavours. Dishes like the aubergine Parmigiana (a very reasonable £9) and the fritto misto di mare (also £9) shine, and you could do far worse than a couple of platters of their aperitivo and antipasti. All of it was absolutely spot on, with the unusual exception of the Migliaccio ricotta cheesecake, an acquired taste with a rather sandy texture.
You might end up skipping Whitechapel’s wider nightlife altogether if you get settled in the hotel’s the top-floor Pocketsquare bar. It’s a rooftop gem, with ambiance and stunning city views to give you a burst of London patriotism. The bar is staffed by master mixologist Lou, who furnishes it with homemade bitters and inventive market-themed cocktails. She sets out the cocktail options enthusiastically and proudly, and rightly so. There are a lot of winners on the menu.
If you’re visiting and have grand plans for the next day, Spitalfields Market, the Tower of London and plenty more sights are round the corner. We were lucky to find ourselves celebrating a friend’s birthday on the same night on the same road, not because of organisational nous, but joyous serendipity. That’s what London’s all about, I suppose.