I suffer terribly from second-hand nerves when a trendy new London hotel opens. Most of the newer establishments suffer from a combination of masterly attention to detail and disgraceful basic negligence. They forget the milk when serving tea in their elegant Wedgwood cups. Rooms have bergamot shower foam but unconnected telephones. Cocktails are served with hand-picked exotic herbs but too much ice. Inexperienced staff wear limp expressions and ironic bow ties.
So when I first walked into freshly opened Vintry & Mercer, London’s hotel flavour of the month, I had butterflies on the establishment’s behalf. Would I be rushing to recommend it to all my friends – and parents’ friends – visiting London, or would Vintry & Mercer be yet another copper-brushed temple to metropolitan pretentiousness?
Although the place does have its fill of generic metro tiling and distressed walls, a strong basic concept and clever design give it an edge. Inspired by the trading guilds once based in these streets (Vintry was the centre for wine merchants, Mercer for noble textile sellers flogging fine silks and damasks), display cabinets contain curios redolent of the Imperial age. I spotted ships in bottles, old nautical maps and even a porcelain bust of Queen Victoria.
The hotel’s spaces are vivaciously, rather than vapidly, fashionable. The lobby is all art deco mirror-plated pillars, and sage leather Chesterfield sofas to match the succulent plants. Ceilings are etched with old maps; library shelves lined with Pepys and Shelley are sexily lit; and antique RAF trunks have been assembled into an art installation on the lower floor.
These days, every self-respecting London hotel has a “rooftop terrace” where chefs grow their own radishes and waifish millennials huddle by outdoor heaters in the drizzle. Vintry & Mercer’s is more of a conservatory, but with the bonus of the gleaming dome of St Paul’s Cathedral within touching distance.
Even on a grey Monday lunchtime, it was bright and charming, with tufts of grass in miniature buckets on the tables and climbing plants to go with the mint-green walls. The bar, with its honeycomb-patterned walls and green granite fixtures, could be anywhere “trendy” in London. Large jars of home-flavoured rums are a nice touch.
The seafood is exceptional; Chris Goulding is one of those rare London chefs who grasps that a fish dish should capture the feeling of that first head-dunk into the sea on a summer holiday; grilled clams and mussels, served in their shells straight from the pan, were draped with aggressively salty seaweed and drizzled with fiendish vanilla butter, perfect for mopping up with the brickish slabs of sourdough bread. Turbot on the bone drooled with juices and was crowned with sweet, crisped skin.
Vintry & Mercer’s basement bar is billed as a speakeasy, with waiters dressed all in denim, liqueurs ageing in mini barrels behind the bar, and the kind of deliciously vile raspberry-wallpapered ceilings you’d expect in a House of Lords drinking hole. They do a mean sazerac with champagne cognac, and various other concoctions featuring ingredients such as damsons and bitter walnuts, starting from £12. Afterwards, head up to Vintry Kitchen for Asian tapas. They do wonderful little tempura lobster burgers, scallop ceviche with smoked tomato salsa and Oscietra caviar, and £25 wagyu club-style sandwiches with white cabbage. But the waiters need to stop huddling behind the bar gormlessly and find some enthusiasm.
The 92 rooms are burlesquian, with feather-print wallpapers and red velvet curtains. Typically for a fashionable boutique hotel edging towards east London, they have the obligatory smattering of faux-vintage touches: black plastic dial phones, Marshall radios and bedheads lined with sepia-toned fabrics redolent of D H Evans’ curtain department in 1973.
I was particularly fond of my bathroom, with its black and white-tiled rainshower, monogrammed V&M towels and bath complete with television and rubber ducky. However, in a hotel presumably targeting ethically-conscious millennials, I was surprised that the lavender and peppermint toiletries came in not-so-environmental disposable plastic bottles and were sourced from New York, instead of a local company. And turndown service put a breakfast menu on my bedside table, but no water or slippers.
Vintry & Mercer is very cool and fun, but not without its niggly small shortcomings. Thankfully, the latter don’t spoil the former. I just hope that not too many people hear about the sazeracs, as I intend to be back in the bar soon to reclaim my corner table.
Double rooms cost from £193, including breakfast; 19-20 Garlick Hill (020 3908 8088; vintryandmercer.com)