South Place Brings Artwork Lodge Cool To London’s Finance District


With hoteliers and restauranteurs rushing in as the neighbourhood grows more and more residential, the latest launch shows a stay in the City isn’t just for business travellers anymore.


A ten-minute stroll from the Stock Exchange, the first—and only—art hotel in London’s financial district opened in September 2012. The eighty-rooms of South Place looking out over the square mile commercial zone known as the City; a jigsaw of 18th century bank buildings and medieval facades juxtaposed against the modern blocks and towers that sprang up along the tiny neighborhood’s bomb-flattened post war streets. A long-time non-residential quarter from which bankers and lawyers eagerly made their Friday evening exodus; tourists and locals alike found it rather removed even for dinner, never mind a hotel, opting for the fashionable west end haunts of Chelsea, Nottinghill, Mayfair and Soho.

However, the City has been busy redefining itself. Very busy. Encircled by ever-trendier neighborhoods—Clerkenwell and Hoxton to the north, Shoreditch to the east, Smithfield to the west—while enjoying a social renaissance of its own. Thanks an influx of stylish residents and the smart restaurants and hotels that spring up around them.

Blame it on the Barbican?

Erected by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon in 1976, the three towers of the Barbican Estate—the Cromwell, the Shakespeare and the Lauderdale—then the tallest in town, had been admired for decades by fans of Brutalist architecture. Triumphs of concrete that, together with Erno Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower over on Portobello Road, are London’s most iconic monuments to Le Corbusier’s modulor urban design. Neglected over the years, dismissed as eyesores by many, the towers were listed Grade II (buildings of ‘Special Architectural or Historic Interest’) in 2001 and design fans rushed in to refurbish the 2,000, now landmark, flats with stellar views over St Paul’s Cathedral. Employing the sort of sleek minimalism that’s rewarded with Wallpaper magazine spreads, prices skyrocketed; today a renovated three bedroom runs two million, a lofty penthouse upwards of three. Likewise, the neighboring 559 units of Golden Lane Estate built in 1963 by the same architects, also Grade II though less costly, are eagerly snapped up by mid century design purists.


Add to this a recession-era glut of unused commercial space being briskly converted into downtown residential and, 2012 saw the City’s housing development reach its highest level since they began keeping records. As demand for offices slumped, rents fell, values dropped, and developers pounced, snapping up the City’s unused offices and rezoning “brownfield” sites along its edge for housing. A residential rush helped along by the hefty business tariff that London, since 2008, has levied on commercial space that remains vacant for longer than 90 days. Looking to avoid the tax, one equal to what would ‘usually’ be paid by tenants, landlords began leasing property at bargain rates.

One of the splashiest new entries arrived last month with Christian Candy submitting plans to transform Sugar Quay—a massive factory lot on the north bank of the Thames with stellar views over the river and the majestic Tower of London that sits next door. Purchased from administrators in May for $54 million, this marks the luxury developer’s first such acquisition since the Chelsea Barracks debacle in 2008. A venture famously scuppered by Prince Charles’ vocal opposition to its proposed contemporary look. Designed by Foster + Partners—the architects behind London’s Millennium Bridge, Wembley Stadium, the Gherkin, and various Asprey boutiques—Candy’s new 280,000 sq. ft double tower, nine and eleven stories respectively, brings 165 luxury flats with retail and commercial space to the City. All of which will be nicely augmented by the neighbouring Cheval Three Quays project, which broke ground in 2010 and will offer a further 158 apartments, with ground floor restaurants and boutiques, for January 2014.


Still something of a novelty in London, City condos are shooting up like beanstalks. Heron International’s eponymous 40-story residential tower on Bishopsgate is already home to the City’s (thus far…) highest housing prices ($2,500 per sq. ft), the continent’s first Sushi Samba, and a terraced roof garden with stunning panoramic views. The 43 floor Four Seasons—a 190 room hotel capped by 120 residences—going in next door is the first luxury hotel construction in central London in three decades. At Berkeley Group’s newly renovated Roman House—a once deserted office block off Moorgate girded by a centuries old slice of the London Wall—studios start at $915,000. In 2010, Reignwood Group and Kop Properties purchased the Grade II listed Ten Trinity Square—the 1922 Beaux Arts former Port London Authority—for redevelopment into a 120-room hotel with 41 residences and a members club designed by David Collins, known for his work at tony hotels like The Connaught and Claridges. Hammerson’s $560 million mixed-use tower near the Liverpool Street tube station will add another 253 apartments in 2014. Axa Real Estate is developing a similarly residential-commercial building just off St Paul’s Cathedral. If you’re interested in a comprehensive breakdown of booming City development, commercial and residential, current and pending, with full graphs and stats, have a look at this downloadable government PDF.



Spurred on by the City’s revamp, delighted restaurateurs cannot pepper the neighbourhood with new foodie boites and watering holes fast enough. Given a sleek look by Claudio Silvestrin, who does the Armani stores worldwide, the chic Southern Italian L’Anima on Snowden Street led the charge, opening to raves and great success that caught everyone’s attention, in 2009. Jamie Oliver’s BBQ joint, Barbecoa, launched on New Change a year later and he installed a branch of Jamie’s Italian in the old Bank of Scotland building on Threadneedle Street in 2011. Gordon Ramsey opened right beside Barbecoa, ditching his usual décor fussiness for an industrial brasserie vibe at the enormous Bread Street Kitchen designed by Russell Sage Studio, the firm behind the Clerkenwell’s cool Zetter Townhouse. Hawksmoor introduced a third branch of their vaunted Brit steakhouse (which also serves a redoubtable breakfast) on Basinghall. Drake & Morgan—purveyors of concept-y bar-eateries of epic proportion—opened three:  The Anthologist on Gresham, The Folly on Gracechurch (both 201o) and  The Drift on Bishopsgatein (2011).


The cavalcade continued throughout 2012, bringing  Sushi Samba to the Heron Tower and chef Juri Ravagli, formerly of Drones Club, George Club and Harry’s Bar, to the kitchen at 1776; Soren Jessen’s new establishment in refashioned bank beside his neighbourhood institution, 1 Lombard Street. Hakkasan, beloved for sublime Cantonese in Mayfair and Soho, debuted HKK with Michelin-starred chef Tong Chee Hwee on Worship Street and Chrysan with three-Michelin-starred Yoshihiro Murata on Snowden. London’s most acclaimed gastropub proprietors, Tom and Ed Martin, set up shop with two spots: the ultra stylized Jugged Hare and crisp airy Chiswell Street Dining Room. Michelin starred Frenchman Raymond Blanc, who opened his first City location in the Stock Exchange building in 2010, unveiled a second Brasserie Blanc on Waitling Street. Likewise, D & D London, which already owned the City’s long popular Coq d’Argent on Poultry Street and Sauterelle in the 1571 Royal Exchange, launched three new places—New Street Grill, Fish Market and Old Bengal Bar—in the 1771 New Street warehouse that once housed the East India Company and is now a multifaceted 10,000 sq. foot drink-dine emporium with wine shop.



Next year? Michelin starred chef / Vogue food editor, Skye Gyngell, opens a restaurant on Devonshire Square backed by Heckfield Place. Chris Corbin and Jeremy King (The Wolseley, Le Caprice, The Ivy and J. Sheekey) are rumoured to be eyeing the top of a Bishopsgate skyscraper set to be the tallest in London. Drake & Morgan launch their fourth City address in three years—the 8,000 sq. ft Happenstancewith floor to ceiling views over St Paul’s. Coming full circle, the now award-winning L’Anima will serve rustic Italian and on tap prosecco out of their new, more casual, L’Anima Café outpost on Worship Street.

Perhaps most tellingly, Soho House—the fashionable private club consortium that famously shuns the business set—has taken over the former Midland Bank headquarters designed by Edwin Lutyens  right around the corner from the Bank of England. A 291,573 sq. foot, Grade I listed property on Poultry Street  that’s vault stood in for Fort Knox in the 1964 Bond film Goldfinger, recently rezoned for hotel rooms, a roof garden, and restaurant space.

An endless roll call that proved the City was now ripe for an equally stylish place to spend the night. The Apex Hotel Group had been at it for a while. Dropping a trio of more ‘boutique-y’ business hotels into the neighborhood with their City of London on Seething Lane (2005), London Wall on Copthall (2009) and Temple Court in the old Serjeants’ Inn on Fleet Street (2012), which just west of Farringdon is technically in Smithsfield, though still only a ten minute walk from St Paul’s Cathedral. Meanwhile, D&D London’s ultra glossy overhaul of the 267-room Great Eastern Hotel proved so successful they sold to Hyatt in 2006 and the chain immediately relaunched it as the Andaz Liverpool Street, model for their new “five-star, boutique, design-driven” collection.



In an area not noted for great hotels, these were welcomed by style conscious business travelers, still, none hit the marks that would truly connect them with the happening East End scene or draw its savvier habitués. Too chain. Too corporate. Which is likely what D&D London was thinking when they conceived South Place Hotel with just 80 rooms, thoroughbred design pedigree, a cachet cocktail scene, gallery class artwork, and a fashionable dining program. Checking in one Friday night a month after it launched, the lobby bar was a buzzy eight o’clock scene. A lingering happy hour crowd of  nattily suited 30-somethings bankers and lawyers the beautiful dressy babes who love them—or their champagne—lounging in a stylized living room, a DJ spinning cool tunes in the background. Weekends draw a more creative arts and design crowd. Either way, it’s bustling.


No surprise there. Honing their hotel flair with the Great Eastern Hotel flip, South Place marks the first foray into a true concept hotel—art and design—by D&D London, formerly known as Conran Restaurants. In 2006, David Loewi and Des Gunewardena, along with their investment partners Caird Capital, bought a 49% stake in Sir Terence Conran’s collection of stylish U.K. eateries and, those in hand, set off expanding the brand globally. The octogenarian design legend, whose contribution to British style was celebrated with a major Design Museum retrospective in 2011, staying on as Chairman and continuing to define the look of new projects and refurbishments through his Conran + Partners interior design firm. Six years on, D&D boasts a (current and counting…) roster of 30 unique restaurants spanning London, Paris, New York, Copenhagen and Tokyo. Looking to diversify, they launched the seven-story South Place, while selling off the current dining collection to expand the brand internationally.


Conran’s signature touch—equal parts urbanity and irreverence—is felt across South Place’s vintage/modern mix of furnishings, selection of contemporary London artwork and, private meeting and dining rooms named for pop culture spooks. The subtle espionage reference that runs throughout the hotel saved from gimmickry by the area’s history as a cold war hub for Soviet spies. Branding itself as an Art Hotel, you won’t find innocuous black and white photos or architectural prints here. The private collection, commissioned and curated for the hotel by the Hoxton Art Gallery, runs from a set of Lichtenstein inspired prints by John Vincent Aranda in the main floor brasserie to a Tom Gallant triptych of 3-dimensional paper moths cut from vintage porn magazines in the penthouse. The hotel’s commitment to modern art underscored with an annual South Place Hotel Art Prize—$10,000 and a ground floor showcase window earmarked for the winner.


Thirty restaurants in, D&D brings a gimlet eye to the hotel’s bar and dining options adding yet two more style boites to the area. Taking up one full side of the ground floor, the open concept lounge-restaurant, 3 South Place, serves up fine-tuned gastro fare, cocktails, a late night license and star DJs; vast picture windows looking over the street. Perched on top with a cozy roof terrace, the more formal Angler specializes in fresh seafood by chef Tony Fleming, whose culinary chops span Marco Pierre White’s triple Michelin-starred Oak Room through One Aldwych from which he was just poached. Smartly for a ‘scene-y’ hotel, residents seeking a bite to eat without the beaumonde can head for the enclosed Garden patio, tucked off the second floor and accessible only to guests. Or unwind by the fireplace and play a game of billiards—or a record on the stereo—in Le Chiffre, a private upstairs lounge named for the Casino Royale Bond villain.


The rooms? Modern, unfussy, on the masculine side (see: Mad Men), each comes with a dash of mid century cachet—a Geoffrey Harcourt F585 lounger here, an Eero Saarinen 1957 Executive Chair there—and nice attention to detail. Blackout blinds for floor-to-ceiling windows are controlled via bedside panels and 40-inch Bang & Olufsen flat-screens offer a selection of well-chosen, free, on-demand movies. Mini bars are equipped with citrus fruit and knives so you can make a proper drink without ringing Room Service. Mattresses are wrapped in cashmere and topped with fine cottons by Josephine Home, a line that retails at Harrods. Black marble bathrooms have deep tubs, fire hose rain showers, and a generous assortment of mid-sized toiletries by Paris-based cult brand James Heeley. Of the four categories, top floor ‘Dominion’ kings have homey sloping Mansard ceilings and terrific views, ‘Studios’ are open concept bed and bath, ‘South Place’ the hotel’s standard kings or twin, and the penthouse, ‘Suite 610’, can be expanded into a 1300 sq. ft three bedroom.


Truthfully, well done as it is, if you dropped South Place into Soho, it would be one of many pretty sisters. But here in the finance district, it’s a model of freshness that speaks to the City’s new swing. This neighborhood was ready for a fashionable hotel—and now they’ve got one. Pulled off with a dash of fun, this smart new hotel adds distinct design and dining to a, once quiet, area embracing more and more of both.

These days, you only have to go as far as the lobby bar, or around the corner, to find a great meal and a lively scene, and the City is a five-minute cab to the innumerable boutiques, bars and restaurants of the trendy East End’s neighbourhoods that surround it. In a nice bonus, The Tate Modern is a twenty minute walk from the hotel over the fabled Southwark Bridge and, while not a tremendously leafy area, the five acre oval green of Finsbury Circus is right around the corner, as is the vast Bunhill Fields, a cemetery cum community garden where you’ll find William Blake.

Either way, it’s just steps from your morning meeting in the finance district.

THE GUESTS: Business travelers. Design fans looking for a London hotel deal; rates here go down—by a third—on weekends, not up.

THE RATES: Studios from $295 and on up through to the Penthouse at $1500. Less by 20% if you book through