Travel: London

The Hoxton Grill, Shoreditch. Pic: Comp
The Hoxton Grill, Shoreditch. Pic: Comp
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AS I reached out of the warm and comfortable double bed to turn on the radio, appropriately the internet streamed the cool sound of Sundayman’s ‘Ancient Times’ on 100 Chill Radio.

It was Sunday morning on a relaxing weekend city break in London at the rather hip Hoxton Hotel in the heart of the East End at Shoreditch, and the sound reflected the mood.

The problem with planning a weekend East Coast train trip from Edinburgh to the other capital is that most of the items on the to-do list can remain unticked.

It’s far too easy to take your eye off the ball and be seduced by the good life in a leisurely hotel and restaurant as the hours pass by.

So we never did get to see the David Bailey exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery or Derek Jarman film restrospective at the BFI. But there were other bonuses.

We chose to sample London life both north and south of the Thames and began the stay on the South Bank in popular Southwark.

The Mercure London Bridge is a contemporary four-star, between Blackfriars and Southwark Bridges and is in the middle of a rather attractive refurbishment.

Our superior sixth-floor bedroom was one of the new ones containing, as well as the usual drinks facilities and minibar, a very spacious and comfortable bed, lovely retro-feel bathroom with nice touches like the mural of London Bridge in the spacious shower; mist-free mirror with flattering light and a digital display clock.

The mural theme continued in the corridors with black and white London street scenes.

This year all the other floors and reception will be similarly upgraded.

Friendly and super efficient service at breakfast set us up for the first item on the visitors’ list.

There’s so much to see within easy walking distance of the transformed London Bridge area, under the shadow of the Shard, including Tate Modern, the Globe Theatre, St Paul’s Cathedral and along Bankside, to a host of other attractions.

We headed first to join the throng in Borough Market, reminiscent of the Boqueria market off the Ramblas in Barcelona, where eager tourists took pictures of busy artisan producers of cheese, bread, charcuterie and just about every other kind of foodstuff.

A stroll through nearby Southwark Cathedral at the oldest crossing point of the Thames took in the Shakespeare memorial window among a wealth of historic details and gruesome gargoyles.

On a more contemporary theme, a trip to the Tate Modern followed, to see the exhibition of the creator of British pop art, Richard Hamilton, which runs until May 26.

Through 18 rooms it follows the work of the influential artist who worked in a range of genres from the 1940s until his death in 2011.

Lunch in the sixth floor cafe gives unrivalled views of St Paul’s and the North Bank of London at the other end of the Millennium footbridge, beyond which lies the East End.

The Hoxton, a short stroll from the City of London and a five-minute walk from Old Street Station (Northern Line) opened its doors in September 2006 with the motto that there is no longer any need to sacrifice style for budget.

Built from new on the site of an old car park, a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street railway station, its industrial look and laid-back ambience feature sharp interiors, casual restaurant and bar and quirky details.

Over the six upper floors, each of the 208 guest rooms is designed to maximise comfort, space and style. Walls are bare of prints and posters, instead etched with a relief study of the City of London’s skyline.

There is a supermarket-priced lobby shop for everything from confectionary to champagne, and essentials – fresh milk, mineral water, WiFi, light breakfast – are free.

The spacious lobby is furnished with soft leather chairs and settees, and panels of art, before plate-glass windows overlooking the constant hum of Great Eastern Street.

The lobby opens onto the buzzy restaurant The Grill and bar and the courtyard. The lobby has been refreshed and the garden now has a retractable roof so that it can be used all year round.

Upstairs they are working their way through the rooms, revamping them with huge, round mirrors, parquet wooden flooring, a blue headboard, new lights, leather chair, Roberts radios and quirky cushions

The Hoxton Grill on the ground floor is a neighbourhood restaurant run in partnership with the Soho House group. The restaurant serves classic American dishes and cocktails from 7am through to 2am. ( There are DJs on Thursday, Fridays and Saturday in the bar.

So we caught more funky sounds as dinner arrived of lamb kofta (him) and salmon fishcake (her) starters, followed by a superbly cooked cod and spinach (him) and jerk chicken, salad and chips (her), lubricated by a bottle of Picpoul and followed by cheese, coffe and sauternes.

If you are feeling energetic the following morning, which we were not, the local gym and health and fitness centre, Market Sports is a 400 metre sprint from the hotel. Just show your key card, pay £7 on entry, collect your towel, locker key and enjoy full use of all of their facilities (

We still had a few more things to tick off the activity list, including a visit to the nearby Spitalfields Market and Hawksmoor’s magnificently elegant and restored Christ Church.

Just around the corner, at 18 Folgate Street, stands Dennis Severs’ House.

Dating from the early 18th century, a look inside is like stepping back in time, and if you don’t mind queueing in the street and handing over a tenner, it’s well worth it.

The interior was created by American arist Severs, who lived in the house until his death in 1999, in much the same way the original owners might have done.

The extraordinary atmosphere encourages you to imagine you have interupted a family of Huguenot silk weavers who still live in the house, but have popped out briefly. Candles light your way around a house stuffed with bric a brac, growing increasingly decrepit the closer you get to the attic, where poor lodgers may have stayed.

Just time to head to the baroque Victorian splendour of St Pancras for lunch in the Booking Office of the Raniassance Hotel, before crossing the road for the train home.

• THE HOXTON: 208 bedrooms, The Grill Restaurant, Bar and Courtyard: 81 Great Eastern Street, London EC2A 3HU

Call 020-7550 1000.

Email Website Rooms from £49 to £299.

Lite breakfast is included in all rates.

• Mercure London Bridge hotel: 138 bedrooms

71-79 Southwark Street, London SE1 0JA

Call 020-7855 2200



Rooms from £104. Breakfast £15.95.

• EAST COAST: Standard advance returns, booked online at from Edinburgh to London cost £131. Times and fares are also available on 08457-225 225 or from staffed stations