The gritty north London neighbourhood of Wood Green hasn’t traditionally been an obvious first port of call when choosing a London base but that may be about to change. Just 15 minutes’ on the Piccadilly Line from Kings Cross, not only is it very central but, with the arrival of Green Rooms, diagonally opposite the underground station, it is also now home to a stylish new hotel and restaurant.
Set in what was formerly the offices and showroom of the North Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Company, the hotel opened in June following a ‘rough luxe’ revamp by London-based architects SODA (the building’s early art deco features have been restored where necessary but not refurbished to the point where everything is gleaming and shiny; look closely and you’ll see the odd missing tile or mismatched windowpane).
There’s substance behind the stripped-back style. As an arts-led social enterprise the hotel has been designed to offer affordable accommodation for artists, actors, musicians and other creatives visiting or working in London. Anyone else is welcome, too, at a slightly higher rate.
The other main aim of the hotel is to support and engage with the local community. Partially funded by London Borough of Haringey and the Mayor of London’s office, the hotel was conceived by Nick Hartwright of The Mill Co. Project, which manages affordable workspaces for creatives (other knowhow comes from chairman Kurt Bredenbeck, founder of the Hoxton Hotels group, and general manager Annette Russell, who was formerly the manager of Hot Chip but now runs a similarly pared-back b&b in Hackney, Russell’s of Clapton).
To this end most of the staff are local, and the ground floor lounge, bar and restaurant area (and top-floor event space, with its spectacular cupola) is intended to create a community hub, providing free monthly events, exhibitions and workshops in partnership with various cultural organisations.
The restaurant is also social enterprise-orientated, an incubator project running free pop-up residencies for would-be restaurateurs, supported by Hartwright, Bredenbeck and Johnny Smith, who took The Clove Club from supper club to Michelin-starred restaurant.
As with the bedrooms, the ground-floor lobby, bar and restaurant area (it’s one large space but has been cleverly designed to feel like a series of different rooms) is simple in style, with a smattering of salvaged, mid-century British furniture illuminated by bare filament bulbs.
It’s a cosy, homely space in which to trial the restaurant’s first residency, headed up by Esteban Arboleda of street food start-up Colombian Street Kitchen. Running until January, the 50-cover restaurant serves the Medellín-born chef’s tapas-style, gluten-free Colombian food.
In keeping with the ethos of the hotel this is simple, affordable food, served in generous portions without fuss or frills. While it’s possible to choose a starter, main course and dessert and linger over dinner Arboleda’s menu is arguably more suited to sharing a bite (or, more likely, several bites) with friends over drinks or coffees.
Signature dishes include a starter of plump sweetcorn croquettes served with a dipping bowl of sugar cane syrup laced with salt and rosemary. Deliciously fluffy inside, crisp on the outside and not at all greasy, these were expertly done – and ideal with a beer – but so delicately flavoured that the dip was in danger of overpowering the corn.
A bigger hit, for me, were the crisp little patacones, fried plantain slices topped with a super-fresh guacamole-style coriander salsa and black sesame seeds.
A dish of chicken tamales with beetroot aji didn’t look especially pretty (when you open the banana leaf that the marinated chicken, corn, chickpeas and peas are cooked in the result is a kind of beige mush) but the flavours are superb, the sweet richness of the corn and chickpeas the perfect foil for tender, steamed chicken and a kick of spicy shredded beetroot pickle.
Other hits included a Japanese-influenced pink and black salad made with thinly sliced red cabbage fermented in ahi vinegar, finely sliced ginger and red onion and a sprinkling of black quinoa (trust us on that one); and a layered pudding made with mango, pineapple, papaya and dessicated coconut that was reminiscent of a piña colada.
Arboleda’s skill really shone, however, with another dessert, hojuelas con chocolate. The chocolate part of the equation was a little espresso cup of firm mousse-like dark chocolate topped with scrolls of lime zest. I’d have preferred this to have been warmed up so it was molten for dipping (it was cold) though the flavours worked well, the bitterness in the dark chocolate adding a sharpness against the sugar of the hojuelas. But those hojuelas were outstanding, feather-light sugar-dusted crescents of sweet, fine pastry that had a gorgeous soft crunch.
Beer is an ideal match for the fried foods and spice of the current menu and there are some good ones to choose from here, notably Gamma Ray pale ale from Tottenham-based Beavertown Brewery. A short but sweet wine list includes plenty of choice by the glass, starting from a reasonable £3.90 for a Colombard, Cinsault or Tempranillo, and craft gins and vodkas include East London Liquor Company’s London Dry Gin and Black Cow milk vodka.
Don’t miss the cocktails; try a gin and tamarind sour, made with tamarind pulp, thyme and tonic water, and you’ll be sipping them for the rest of the summer.
Refreshingly, if you order tap water you’ll be asked whether you want it chilled or at room temperature.
Even so-called designer hostels are often brash, backpacker-orientated places decked out with shiny, colourful but ultimately bland furnishings designed to withstand wear and tear. If that’s put you off budget hotels in the past Green Rooms will make you look at the concept with fresh eyes.
Here, the 22 bedrooms (they range from three-quarter beds to king-size, some with shared bathrooms, others en-suite), two en-suite studio apartments and two dormitories (one sleeps 12, one sleeps 16 people) are much more carefully put together.
The vibe is back-to-basics with style. Don’t expect those depressing youth hostel-style shower pods in the shared bathrooms; these ones have antique tiles on the floor, beautiful old period doors and swivelling, art deco-style soap dispensers. In the bedrooms, mattresses are good quality, furnishings are sparse but pretty (a few rooms have chairs and textiles by fashion brand Folk but most have simple white bedlinen and vintage wooden furniture) and frills extend only to a few coathangers, a travel kettle, a small range of London Tea Company teas and Climpson and Sons coffee. If you’re after fluffy dressing gowns, minibars, TVs or chocolates on the pillow, this is not for you.
It’s not perfect. I’d have liked a desk in my room, and fast, reliable wifi. And those restored floorboards may be beautiful but they can also be noisy when someone clomps back from a gig or a show in heels in the early hours. In this age of sensory overload, however, it’s deeply refreshing to have all the excess stripped away and a form of hospitality that focuses on the essentials, in such an inspiring way.
The breakfast menu is short, simple and cheap: sourdough toast with butter, marmite, peanut butter or jam; croissants; or granola with yoghurt and fruit compote (try the rhubarb and cardamom from the London Borough of Jam). Sometimes there’s Bircher muesli too.
If you want something more elaborate it’s not hard to find. In Turkish-influenced Wood Green you don’t have to go more than about 30 paces to find cafes selling breakfasts of grilled halloumi and spinach omelettes.
Rates for those in the creative industries start at £18 per night for a dorm bed, £45 for a basic double and £80 for a studio apartment. For ordinary punters add £10 to each of those prices, all of which are room-only (greenrooms.london).
Written by Rhiannon Batten, August 2016
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