Why book the NoMad?
When the original NoMad opened in Manhattan back in 2012, New Yorkers instantly fell in love. Here was a place that really got their city, the boutique hotel come of age. It kickstarted a whole neighbourhood – north of Madison Square Park – and its bar became a rendezvous darling, stirring Dirty Martinis with aplomb. By comparison, Covent Garden has been more or less fashionable for centuries, but NoMad will pin a new centre of gravity here. This is a big-thinking, blockbuster hotel that knows how to have fun. And as London emerges out of lockdown, it seems to crystallise the renewed optimism and energy of the capital. Maybe the Roaring Twenties can begin again here.
Set the scene
Just across the road from the neoclassical oomph of the Royal Opera House – and only a little more modest in scale with its etched Portland-stone façade – the NoMad is set in a former court. There’s a sense of occasion without the grandeur. Box-fresh white trainers on lobby staff; gold and black silk jackets in the library bar. From around five o’clock, a noise begins that many haven’t heard for a while – gradually rising in volume, it sounds a little like theatre stalls before curtain up: the sound of expectation. Centre stage is the courtyard restaurant, a three-storey glass atrium rising like a Victorian greenhouse, dressed with hanging plants. Daylight paints the space in shifting watercolour hues. A catwalk leading from the lobby to the bedrooms forms a balcony for people-watching. The restaurant’s been booked out for weeks; half of London is champing at the bit to land a seat. It’s been a long time.
What’s the story?
Pull up a pew – there’s a lot of history. Until 2006 this was the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, dating back to the days when half the places round here were gin shops. Author Henry Fielding was a magistrate; Oscar Wilde, Emmeline Pankhurst and the Kray Twins were tried here, Vivienne Westwood too, for a punk-era breach of peace in 1977. Carriages once drove through the 13ft-high entrance, dropping off prisoners in the courtyard. To one side was the Bow Street Police Station, home to the city’s first police force, known as the Bow Street Runners (surely there’s a Netflix series in that?). It’s a heritage that appealed to Andrew Zobler, founder of the Sydell Group, who had launched the NoMad in New York in a 1920s-era Beaux Arts building. Two more NoMads followed, in LA and Las Vegas, along with a pair of LINE hotels and the big and boisterous Ned in London, in collaboration with Soho House’s Nick Jones.
For the first NoMad outside the States, Zobler brought in the design team of Roman and Williams – whose CV includes the Ace hotels, the new British Galleries at New York’s Metropolitan Museum and Zoolander (Zoolander! Give me the Blue Steel!) – to completely reimagine the space. The courtyard was sunk by several metres, creating a dramatic focal point for the restaurant, and the Magistrates’ Court turned into a ballroom, painted with a moody cloudscape mural that wouldn’t be out of place in the National Gallery down the road. There’s a sense of theatre throughout, draped with velvets, mohair and damasks, brass and crimson, lit by vintage chandeliers. Studio be-poles, working with scenic painters from the opera house, have dressed the interiors with art works and antiques. And as for the first ever police station, it’s now a museum, with cells and offices turned into gallery spaces telling its story. Spend a little while in the infamous drunk tank and consider how a Friday night here would be considerably different to a Friday night in a bedroom at the hotel.
What can we expect from our room?
The Royal Opera Suite is worthy of a standing ovation, of flowers thrown across its herringbone parquet. The opera house itself is close enough for the high notes to shatter the Old Fashioned glasses in the cocktail cabinet. Lie in the bath and you can look across at its Grecian magnificence, its portico etched with classical myths and the gurning masks of tragedy (don’t take it personally). Artworks are set all around, a jumble of pencil sketches, photographs, oils and exhibition posters (Pollock at the National, Frankenthaler at the Lincoln Center) and portraits of eminent, mutton-chopped Victorians. One enormous frame holding a bold black abstract swirl is propped against the wall. Overhead, a glass chandelier; underfoot, faded oriental rugs. The claw-footed bath peeks out from behind a claw-footed screen; in the sitting room is a sofa the colour of a peach Bellini; on the desk, a dandelion clock trapped inside a glass paperweight.
The bathroom has a golden aura, a Twenties-style bubble of rippled glass, mosaic tiles and lamps of the sort Mae West would emerge from underneath in a mink dressing gown. Of course, not everyone will be booking the Royal Opera Suite, but this room was the template for the others, so you will find elements of this in all of them. And each reflects the mix of Twenties Art Deco, velvety Victoriana and gritty New York abstract expressionism that the hotel has gathered together without it seeming incongruous. Other rooms of note are the duplex 237, a favourite of Andrew Zobler’s, with its original fireplace and circular chandelier connecting the two floors, and the series of former cells, with tiles, grills and signs advising on using the loo.
How about the food and drink?
Forks hover mid-air when fresh arrivals walk down the circular staircase to the main restaurant – this is London’s new see-and-be-seen destination, but the food is worth coming for too. NoMad has long been associated with star chef Daniel Humm, but the two are no longer working together; instead the group’s New England-born Ashley Abodeely has taken the reins, bringing over many of her New York team but also inviting Guy Palmer-Brown (of Clove Club and The Fordwich Arms) to take on wine duties. NoMad regulars will be familiar with dishes such as the roast chicken for two (a meal in three parts: egg starter in a ceramic rooster, chicken stuffed with brioche and Parmesan, peach sundae) and the tender suckling pig served with wild greens. But other plates are new, and aimed at all-day dining. Miso flatbread and pea hummus is surprisingly moreish; the seafood platter is a still life of briny freshness, five delicate mouthfuls of customised oyster, mussel, crab with avocado and caviar, lobster tail and scallop ceviche; the turbot on bone well cooked and vibrant with a green-curry sauce. In the leather-clad Side Hustle – railway-bar style, Brooklyn hubbub, Martin Parr police shots on the wall – the menu steers west, with an accomplished Mexican menu of barbacoas, tacos and tostadas, and the sort of mezcal cocktails that could stop a conquistador’s mule in its tracks. Try the Black Dahlia, which throws in bourbon for good measure. A subterranean cocktail den, Common Decency, will open further down the line.
Anything to say about the service?
Several key members of staff have worked with NoMad before, in New York or LA, so know the drill; others have adopted the same sense of unintrusive attentiveness, and even with a slight opening-week glitch in the kitchen remained unflappable.
What’s the neighbourhood scene like?
There’s a little place opposite called the Royal Opera House that serves as a useful marker for the NoMad. A guest could down a bottle of fin-de-siècle absinthe, run blindfolded around the streets, then still easily find their way home to the hotel. Covent Garden has many other well-known sights: the London Transport Museum, the Market and Piazza, and all those little independent shops and restaurants (favourites include Aram for lighting, Magma for ’zines, Paul Smith on Floral Street, naturally, and the menus of Cora Pearl, Cafe Murano and 26 Grains). One of the city’s newest museums, of course, is the Bow Street Police Station in the same building as NoMad. There are other hotels in the area – the recently opened, Parisian-accented little Henrietta being the most interesting (hard to get excited about One Aldwych or ME Melia, while the Starck-designed St Martins Lane is far from its glory days).
Is it suitable for families?
This is quite a grown-up hotel, though budding Eloises would find a lot of material. And if you’re nine years old, staying in one of the former cells would be huge fun. There’s plenty on the menus – burgers, hot dogs, pasta dishes – to satisfy. Several rooms can be interconnected. And Covent Garden itself has endless distractions.
What’s its accessibility like?
There’s good access all around the ground floor and main restaurant, with several bedrooms available as DDA compliant rooms and a fully accessible bathroom for restaurant guests.
Anything left to mention?
You know how some places buy books by the yard and plonk them upside down on shelves in the bar in an attempt to appear well-read? Well, the NoMad has its own curated library bar with a floor plan on the menu. So before ordering, say, a Diplomat (double vermouth, maraschino, grapefruit bitters) you can head to the Music section and find a book on Iggy Pop, refamiliarise yourself with Genet and David Hare in Theatre or just aim straight for American Modernism: Graphic Design 1920–1960. Off-duty sleuths (or lags) may gravitate to the dastardly true-crime shelves. For some peculiar reason, fellow guests seemed more intent on reading the cocktail list than the books, the fools.
Address: NoMad London, 28 Bow Street, London, WC2E 7AW
Telephone: +44 20 3906 1600
Price: from £455
Book now: Book your stay
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