Niche was invited to stay at the newly opened Leicester branch of Hotel Brooklyn.
The hotel opened on July 4 - Independence Day, to keep with the New York influence - and already has some buzz about it. Built on the former Granby Halls site, the location had been an NCP car park for as long as I could remember.
This weekend was originally pitched to me as a press event - multiple journalists staying at the hotel for two nights with a programme of events planned for the group.
Two free nights in a four-star hotel? Typically, this opportunity would be fought over in the Niche Magazine office - at minimum, a game of Rock/Paper/Scissors would be involved - but lucky for me, the rest of our editorial team were on annual leave, so I was blessed with it.
As it turned out, covid had caused a few drop-outs, to the extent that only myself and one other journalist actually attended. It made the weekend much more intimate, and - frankly - better for it. It meant we really had the time to get to know each other, share stories, and enjoy each other's company.
I arrived at the hotel on Friday afternoon, and was greeted warmly by the reception team. Eventually, there will be an option for self check-in, but with the hotel only a couple of weeks old, I had no objection to the personal welcome!
Outside the hotel, sits Gerald - Hotel Brooklyn's vintage car mascot, painted to be reminiscent of New York's iconic taxi cabs. I found out later that Gerald isn't actually motorised, and had to be dragged/pushed around Leicester for the hotel's recent publicity shoots!
Having checked in, I went up to my room, found a king-size bed, and did the only sensible thing I could think of...
I'm 33. Thanks for asking.
The room itself was lovely - the air-conditioning an absolute godsend in the July heatwave. My standard king room including a fridge, ironing board, safe, comfortable bed, and welcome gift. This included two pieces of cake, a can of Brooklyn lager, a can of Gin and Tonic, and a tub of paprika Pringles. Oh, they do know how to treat a girl... (Well, sort of - I'm teetotal, but that's hardly their fault).
Having settled in, I headed back down to the lobby to meet my host, Chris Harrington - the hotel manager. Chris is an excellent face for the hotel, already proud of the building, enthusiastic about its potential, and full of plans for the future.
He gave us a tour of some of the other bedroom styles, including the Brooklyn suites (pictured above - which include roll-top baths in the room) and the terrace suites (which include roof-top hot-tubs).
Next we were shown the conferencing facilities, with the spaces delightfully named Guys & Dolls and Curveballs, continuing the New York theme. The larger room, Guys & Dolls, can be used for conferences, and can also be divided into two separate meeting spaces. Curveballs is ideal for small meetings or private dining.
There's also a garden wall between the two rooms, with various plants and mosses to improve the air quality.
The final stop on our tour was Lair - the hotel's bar, lounge and restaurant area. The centrepiece is the Grandstand. A bleacher-inspired tiered-seating area, designed to watch sporting events on the big screen.
The lounge side has a range of comfortable seating, with board games available on the tables. There's also several vinyl record players, with a collection of albums to listen to through the headphones provided.
On the wall is a papier-mâché tiger head, created from old Leicester Tigers matchday programmes. There's also a similar pair of dogs in the lobby.
The restaurant is a comfortable space, with a mixture of booths, individual tables, and raised bar stools. More on the food later.
A TRIP INTO TOWN
As Chris, also wanted us to also get a sense of Leicester, the hotel took us into town for the evening. A quick trip to 45 West preceded a lovely meal at Tandem. Despite being a county-boy and having lived in the city for the last two years, I'd never actually been to either venue before, so it was nice to discover something new.
As I've mentioned, I'm teetotal, which can make ordering drinks on a night out quite a dull experience - mocktails rarely come with the same showmanship as their booze-filled cousins. So imagine my delight when I asked the waiter, "can I get something passion fruit-based?" and was presented with this:
We were also entertained by a close up magician, Magic Amit. A charismatic performer, Amit showed us a range of excellent card tricks, impressing the whole table with his abilities.
Back to the hotel for a good night's sleep before enjoying the restaurant's breakfast. Chris had asked us to give him notes about the experience, as he wants to ensure they're delivering a great service. I'd say it's well on the way, and considering the hotel has only been open for two weeks, any minor issues (the sausages weren't the quality you'd expect from a four-star hotel, and some of the scrambled eggs had gone cold) will be smoothed out soon. They're simple fixes.
The highlight is the waffle irons. You can cook your own waffles, adding peanut butter, nutella or maple syrup as toppings, and enjoy the novelty of pouring your own batter. I had a bit of everything each day (full english, continental, etc), so only poured myself a quarter waffle, which proved satisfactory. A full one comfortably fills a plate!
On Saturday, we were given the day to explore Leicester. The others went to the Space Centre, the 80s exhibit at the museum, or chose to sunbathe in Victoria Park. Being from Leicester, I chose to avoid the sun, and walked to the nearby cinema! I regret nothing.
That evening, we met in the bar to compare notes of our hotel experience so far, before moving into the restaurant for dinner. We were joined by Ross Tarbard of Visit Leicester, a very welcome addition to our dinner party. He shared some interesting stories about the history of Leicester - I had no idea the manor house that inspired Cluedo is here in the county, for example. Particularly embarrassing, as I've actually stayed there several times...
As the meal was on the hotel, I'd be lying if I said I didn't seriously consider ordering the £76, 28oz tomahawk steak (intended to be shared between two), but ultimately decided that I couldn't justify it. Instead, three of us settled for the £32 filet mignon - still far more than I'd generally be willing to spend on one meal.
The meal was great, though - If I'm honest - I'm not sure I'd feel the same had I paid for it. My biggest bugbear with fine dining will always be the portion size. I had the Tempura King Prawns as a starter - it's a dish that costs £12.50, and I was presented with five prawns. That's £2.50 per prawn. It's hard to justify that as value for money.
Similarly with the steak - a prime cut and beautifully prepared, but it was only 8oz, and required two side-dishes to feel like an adequate meal. That turned a £32 steak into a £40 main course. Certainly, there are less pricey options on the menu, but it made me realise that this hotel is certainly not being aimed at people in my socioeconomic bracket.
As the main course concluded, I realised that I still had plenty of room left. Presented with the dessert menu, there were a few things I wanted to try. So I did the only sensible thing I could think of... I ordered three desserts.
I'm still 33. Thanks for asking. And again, I regret nothing.
Fortunately, Ross also ordered two desserts, saving from me looking like the absolute glutton of the group. The New York Cheesecake was the standout - lighter than I expected, and topped with a praline cream and caramel popcorn. I imagine this will become a popular choice.
A couple of nightcaps later, we said goodnight, and headed to bed. I ate breakfast alone the following morning - while googling how much waffle irons cost - before checking out and heading home.
One of the coolest hotels I've been to, the theming really makes you feel like you're at the heart of a busy metropolis. No-one is going to accuse it of being a budget hotel - and rightfully so - but as a destination visit for couples, business trips, parties, anniversaries and sports fans, it's perfect. The staff are all friendly and welcoming. The rooms are spacious and comfortable. The food is already very good, and likely to improve. A year from now, any teething issues will be ironed out, and this will be one of the best hotels (if not, the best) in Leicester.
Room prices at Hotel Brooklyn start from £90 per night, bed and breakfast, and can be booked online.