It’s a good name for a tag-team of gentlemen amateur sleuths, Vintry and Mercer, isn’t it? Metal-topped canes and spats tip-tapping through the streets of Edwardian London on the trail of some conniving City swindlers. But the hotel name actually refers to two of the capital’s ancient guilds, those worshipful companies dealing in wine and expensive fabrics. There’s plenty of both commodities in evidence here, but also other interesting stuff that keen-eyed traders would eye up – steamed buns and a larder-full of Asian ingredients from the Silk Road, London street maps turned into artful clothing and framed, a cabinet of Victoriana including jade pipes and ships in bottles, and plump and very cosifying beds with feature bedheads. What’s your best price?
The Vintry and Mercer is sister to The Ampersand, which opened in a South Kensington townhouse about six years ago with a former Conran disciple in charge, and was a breath of fresh air in a rather stale local hotel scene. It had some bookish fun riffing its design around the subjects of the nearby museums and, most importantly, was very fair priced – meaning you could stay there and spend the savings on oysters at Bibendum across the road.
Set near Mansion House station, this has a similar outlook and the same manager but, like one of those ships in a bottle, cleverly packs a lot more in without seeming cluttered – and has oysters of its own. It’s more of a restaurant with rooms, in fact. Or restaurants. Head chef Chris Golding has to puff up to the seventh-floor grill then down to the ground-floor bistro and the basement bar, on a signature copper-railed staircase illuminated by the cascading blossom of a chandelier. The lifts will see a lot of action.
It’s Asian small plates on the menu in the bistro – Chris has plenty of experience from his time at Dinings in Tel Aviv, and Nobu and Nahm before that – with hits of truffle miso and fennel dashi, Japanese-style sandos stuffed with shrimp tempura, and bao buns that also appear the next morning carrying eggs Benedict. The bar calls itself a speakeasy, Do Not Disturb, with its own entrance and red-leather banquettes, monkfish tacos and barrel-aged Sazeracs and Hanky Pankys on the menu – though the bar team were quick to rustle up an off-menu alcohol-free cocktail on request. Speakeasies are nothing new, but this will be a clever City hideaway on a Friday night. And in the teal-walled rooftop grill, the Josper grill fires out big-flavoured cuts – tomahawk steak with a tiny copper saucepan of red-wine sauce and thrice-cooked chips – and a sizeable haul of fish, as well as nice, subtle touches such as steak tartare smoked with hay, and hunks of bread that carry the charcoal whiff of the grill. A plate of oysters were sprinkled with caviar and set in a fairy garden of flowers and leaves. A pudding of chocolate mousse was served mixed with stout in a half-pint tankard.
The outside terrace has yet to open, but you can pan across the skyline from your table, and from many of the bedrooms, which have fresh milk in the fridge and a theatrical swish of red velvet curtain. From number 604, a corner studio, there are glimpses of the Shard, St Paul’s and the Tate Modern. And right outside is the tower of the wonderfully named St James Garlickhythe, built by Wren and Hawksmoor, its unusual clock sporting the puppet-like figure of St James. A few years ago you could have dropped by here and met Jimmy Garlick, a mummified body discovered by workmen in the 19th century. He’s no longer receiving guests, but Vintry and Mercer certainly is. Stay in the week and you’re fist-bump distance from the City establishments; come at the weekend and you’ll have these historic alleys and streets to yourself, a good springboard for that Tate preview show or Globe performance. Compared to the big and boisterous Ned nearby, this feels more tucked away and unassuming – a Great Expectations Pip compared to a Mr Pickwick – a bubble of slow-down amid the waggle dances of the worker bees in this hardworking district.
Address: Vintry and Mercer, 20 Garlick Hill, London EC4V 2AU
Telephone: +44 20 3908 8088
Prices: Doubles currently from £149 (short offer after its February 2019 opening)
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