It’s been almost five years in the making but the new kid on the City’s hotel scene has thrown open its doors in spectacular fashion.
The brainchild of Nick Jones, founder of the uber-hip Soho House, and US hotelier the Sydell Group, The Ned has put the capital’s financial district firmly in the spotlight.
Located in the former Midland Bank building, which was designed in 1924 by the famous Sir Edwin ‘Ned’ Lutyens, the hotel and club has 252 bedrooms, a private members’ club, two swimming pools, a breathtaking roof terrace and a sprawling ground floor with no fewer than eight restaurants.
The choice of location is perhaps a little unusual given Jones’ overt antipathy towards ‘suits’, while his desire to keep the vibe more visionary, less corporate, remains central to his Soho House venues.
But this is not another Soho House where the prerequisite to being a member is to be from a creative industry; this hotel’s private club membership – Ned’s Club – is open to anyone.
There is, however, still a leaning towards his favoured type of guests, with members being asked to “embrace The Ned’s creative values”.
The Grade I-listed building, at 27 Poultry, has been unused in the decade since HSBC left to go to Canary Wharf in 2007.
There were two failed bids to open it as a hotel by other groups before Soho House and Sydell stepped in more than four years ago.
And it doesn’t take a genius to work out why they did.
The stunning 11-storey building, with its masses of space, original vintage detailing and – the element which brings it all together – its towering emerald green verdite columns in the huge former banking hall, was crying out for some love and attention.
And so the ambitious restoration, costing around £200m, commenced.
No part of the structure has been overlooked, with even the bank vault now transformed, though its 20-tonne, two-metre-wide round door and 3,000 safety deposit boxes remain as part of an intimate cocktail lounge.
On the terrace, which boasts panoramic views of St Paul’s and beyond, a heated pool and retractable roof demonstrate the desire to use every morsel of space – even two previously empty domes have been converted into bars.
There is a whole floor dedicated to private events and meetings, with six offshoot rooms ranging in size – accommodating from four people up to 200 – and all boasting period features.
The Ned boasts a members-only hamam, sauna, steam room and swimming pool and, for public use also, a classic, speak-easy-style barber shop, nail bar and treatment rooms.
But it is the ground floor that is dedicated to its F&B offering.
Those behind the project have taken full advantage of the space, with eight very different restaurants with cuisine spanning the globe from Britain to Italy and North America to Asia.
They include Cecconi’s City of London, the sister restaurant to the Cecconi’s in Mayfair, Berlin, Istanbul, Miami Beach and West Hollywood, serving modern Italian dishes; Cafe Sou, a Parisian-inspired café, serving classic French dishes; and Zobler’s, a New York-style Jewish deli serving smoked fish, herring and Reuben sandwiches, along with a separate dessert counter.
There is also Millie’s Lounge, a British brasserie; Malibu Kitchen, with a cutting-edge Californian menu boasting nutritional trends combined with Mediterranean ingredients; The Nickel Bar, a traditional American diner; Kaia, a modern Asian-Pacific-inspired restaurant specialising in healthy ‘bowl’ food; and American steakhouse Lutyens Grill, with trolleys and gueridon service. It’s a veritable buffet of gastronomy to compete with any hotel in the world.
Upstairs, in Ned’s Club, there is one more restaurant, but that’s for members only.
Managing director Gareth Banner admits it took a lot of preparation to get the F&B side of things just right.
“We used the planning phase to talk to a lot of social media influencers to cross-check our ideas and ask for their input – we wanted to make sure everything we offer is relevant now,” he says.
“We’ve been in the planning stages for almost five years now, so things that seemed great at the time may not resonate as well now.
“A great example of that was our sushi bar – we have actually decided to take a different route and launch our poké-style, Asian Pacific restaurant called Kaia.
“Malibu Kitchen was also a concept we successfully introduced in California, and we’re replicating that here.
“Cecconi’s is a Soho House brand and one we know well and that people really like – a classic import from Mayfair.”
The new restaurant brands were created and developed by Soho House, in partnership with the Sydell Group, which provides an input of experiences from across the pond.
“We’re balancing the comfortable and the familiar with progressive and creative concepts to offer a lot of variety that I hope resonates with our guests,” he adds.
Each space has its own distinct look, from the classic Parisian feel of Cafe Sou, with its large bar clad with art nouveau-style hand-glazed tiles, to Cecconi’s Venetian setting, including art deco-inspired lighting, custom-made pink leather, embossed with a fishtail pattern, and booths featuring dusty mauve mohair, alongside a striped marble floor.
And the food varies as much as the decor.
Director of F&B Niels Kristensen says there are a number of standout dishes that patrons will get to try out.
“Cecconi’s spaghetti lobster is a timeless classic. It will always be in fashion,” he explains.
“At Millie’s Lounge the salt marsh lamb is great – the black garlic and Dijon rub gives it an extra unexpected element.
“At the Lutyens Grill I’d order the Porterhouse. It’s been supplied by a small artisan farm that’s growing the cattle in amazing surroundings – it has an outstanding amount of marbling through it.”
Variety, he says, is extremely important.
“We wanted there to be something for everyone, different food from different regions and different price points,” he explains.
“The Ned is for everyone, so the restaurants should reflect that.”
And with seven of the eight restaurants on the ground floor being public spaces, meaning non-Ned members can use them, Kristensen says they are expecting lots of walk-in diners as well as hotel guests and members.
Increasingly becoming the hotel F&B mantra, increasing external diners is the goal – something that other members’ clubs don’t embrace.
“We would expect to cater for more non-residents than residents and have designed the ground floor to be very independent of the hotel accommodation and members’ areas,” says Banner.
The multi-option, under one roof Las Vegas-style that hotels such as The Ned have employed, should mean that competing with high street restaurants becomes easier.
“The quality of hotel dining rooms and restaurants has improved immeasurably in the last few years, often at the hands of third-party operators and celebrity chefs,” he says.
“Today, there are more destination restaurants within hotels than there have been for a very long time, which is very encouraging.
“It’s taken us full circle if you consider that in the 1950s some of the best London dining was in hotels.”
Having such an extensive offering, however, is quite the task and it takes a 500-strong F&B team to keep it running smoothly.
During our tour, just weeks before the launch, hordes of eager new employees were being trained up as workmen armed with power drills applied the finishing touches.
Leading those F&B teams are three executive chefs: Luke Rayment, Michele Nargi and Ewart Wardhaugh.
Each has an extensive culinary background, having worked for some of the most prominent restaurants in the world.
But while the dining is undoubtedly a standout feature of The Ned, guests are also spoiled for choice with a place to grab a drink.
Kristensen explains: “Cecconi’s, Millie’s Lounge and The Nickel Bar all have prominent drinking areas, while there’s also the Roof Bar, the dome bars and finally the vault bar and lounge – so the choices continue.
“The vault contains more than 3,000 stainless steel safety deposit boxes and inspired the design of Fort Knox in the 1964 film Goldfinger,” says Banner, who explains that the unique drinking den is for members only and the ideal place for a nightcap, complete with a late-night Italian menu, DJs and live music and exclusive members’ events.
Upstairs, on the roof terrace the three bars and pool are a little less intimate, but, the breathtaking London skyline does its best to make up a fitting backdrop.
Out of the view of prying eyes there are also a couple of private terraces on the sixth floor, strictly reserved for events.
Guests can become chairman of the board in the meeting spaces, which are complete with period features such as walnut panelling, vintage chandeliers and the ample domed windows that allow light to spill on to gathered delegates below.
Meanwhile, bespoke food and drinks menus – ranging from cocktails and snacks to four-course dinners – can be created by the F&B team, making any meeting complete.
It’s no wonder that, with all it has to offer, membership at The Ned starts at £1,500 a year. But that’s only for the under-30s, while the older crowd are charged more. The reasoning? Avoiding exclusion of the younger and, presumably, lower earners. Rooms start with a rate of £150 for a Crashpad for under-30s and £180 for those over.
Prices rise through the tiered room levels, summiting in the Chairman’s Suite, which has its own lift (once the only lift in the building) and costs an eye-watering sum – we will just say it’s in the thousands – for just one night.
Every element of The Ned – from the lighting, to the seating, right down to the buttons on the soft furnishings – has been chosen with intricate precision to bring a vintage 1920s or 1930s feel.
Each room even has quirky additions, such as a top hat or specially created Ned china, tucked in its nooks and crannies, to give the sumptuousness a homely feel. It has all been thought through with the utmost care.
Luckyily for the designers, the hotel had many original features that were uncovered when the doors were thrown open all those years ago, making it an exciting canvas to work with and an incredible and historical hotel to visit.
With its array of restaurants and bars to get through, it could take guests quite a few trips to see and taste everything on offer. It has been hailed as London’s most ambitious hotel project, with much buzz and hype surrounding its opening.
The doors are open and it is time to see if it has all been worth it. I’m guessing it will be.