Leading up to the opening of Skyfall, 007's latest installment, London has been consumed with the spy theme: Daniel Craig's sexy scowl appears supersized on billboards and hotels are offering secret agent-themed packages. But if you're looking for a more subtle spy experience – an air of mystery is a requisite for a secret agent, after all – the new South Place Hotel, with its impressive art collection and dining scene, is where you should lay your head.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The hotel's spy reference (just don't call it a theme) was born of its location: between Liverpool and Moorgate Streets, home to a Soviet spy ring in the 1920s. Located at the edge of the city, London's financial and commercial heart, these days it's less mysterious and more suits-meets-scenester, since hip and gritty Shoreditch is just north of the hotel. If the major tourist attractions are on your hit list, you're a little removed, but if this trip is not your first, it's a great area to explore, especially if you're heading toward Brick Lane Market in Shoreditch.
Modern interiors and work by contemporary artists make the space feel like a live-in gallery. Throughout the hotel you'll find John Vincent Aranda's collages (based on classic British condiments and spreads), a collection of wire shoes by British metalsmith Cathy Miles, and a mannequin display by AMD Interior Architecture. In addition to a large collection of public art throughout the hotel, each room also has images from London's Hoxton Art Gallery and Jealous Gallery.
So simple, yet so pleasantly surprising: a lemon and a lime artfully displayed on a cutting board, accompanied by a knife for garnishing in-room, self-made cocktails. (Come on, how many times have you wished for a slice of lime to accompany a post-exploring gin in the comfort of your room?) The selection of British snacks and liquor, including Sipsmith gin, is also a nice touch, and another quirky feature is a toaster in every room. (At first, I wondered, but after some contemplation I say "well done" because toast at the right temperature can make or break a breakfast.)
WHOM YOU'LL MEET
Because of its location, the hotel caters to mostly suit-clad, business-types on weekdays. But on weekends, the Shoreditch scenester crowd treks in to hear DJ/mixologist Teamy Teamy of Glasgow underground music fame. The result is an interesting mix of travellers and locals.
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING
The tradeoff for being in London's business centre is a lack of green space outside your door, and you're likely looking into a neighbouring office window as you sit in your room, sipping morning coffee.
After a few days, a park is a sight for sore and nature-lacking eyes but, thankfully, it's only a Tube ride away.
RESTAURANT OR ROOM SERVICE?
South Place is the first hotel from well-known restaurant group D&D, owners of more than 30 restaurants mostly in London, but also in Paris, Copenhagen, Tokyo and New York, so the dining does not disappoint. On the ground floor, 3 South Place, an all-day British diner, offers a more casual vibe with a well-edited menu.
The Lobster Mac is a signature macaroni-and-cheese dish that's worth the hype. The Earl Grey tea burnt cream dessert is also worth pushing your digestive limits. Angler, a high-end seafood restaurant, is located on the hotel's seventh floor and worth the elevator ride up just to see the space. If you prefer a quiet cocktail, the secret garden atrium bar on the first floor is open only to hotel guests.
Chic and comfortable, the rooms are an ideal mix of contemporary and cozy. One of my favourite spaces in the 80-room hotel is Le Chiffre, a games and reading room named for a Bond villain in Casino Royale. There, you can play billiards or catch up on your spy and crime reading by a fireplace with tomes by Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming and John le Carré before retreating back to your room for the night.