REVIEW: NOBU HOTEL LONDON PORTMAN SQUARE
Rooted in its deep connection with people and making memories centred around great food, Nobu is a contemporary brand with traditional values, which is one explanation for its worldwide success in the hospitality market. Despite a challenging year for the industry, the brand brought its latest opening to the UK’s capital at the beginning of December. Katy Evans managed to check-in between lockdowns to find out more about the design influences that make the new hotel so unique.
Opening a hotel in a year that has seen a third of the world under some form of lockdown may seem unfortunate but Nobu forged ahead with its plan to relocate its iconic restaurant at Berkley Square to Marylebone, now tucked snug inside its brand-new 249-room hotel and for the 10 days it was open – I was there the day it was announced London would enter tier 3, meaning all hotels and restaurants had to shut down – it offered a cool, luxurious respite.
Nobu Portman Square is situated on a corner facing the eponymous square, its large glass-fronted entrance a modern, urban face in a sea of white-stucco and red brick, in contrast, but not out of place with the vast buildings lining the square. Come summer, the large terrace spilling out from the bar situated closest to the square will offer prime real estate for anyone wanting to soak up some sunshine with a view.
On a dark afternoon in December, the bright, warm glass-fronted entrance proved an equally welcoming beacon. That soft, warm light, in fact, is a key element that makes you feel immediately at ease as soon as you are inside, bouncing and reflecting off discrete splashes of gold in the many paintings, artworks, and finishes dotted around the central foyer and adjoining Lounge Bar.
The design, cleverly created by David Collins Studio, clearly puts a strong emphasis on traditional craftsmanship, the foyer a veritable gallery of interesting artworks, and sculptures, its centrepiece a spectacular silver hanging kinetic sculpture by Ivan Black that languidly rotates causing a subtle shift in shape and movement that both draws the eye and instills a rather Zen-like calm.
The first impression is of a light-filled contemporary, cool interior, minimal but the Japanese influence not immediately noticeable until you turn to the hotel’s adjoining central hub, the Lounge Bar, a warmly lit, very inviting space that quite firmly places the Japanese influence front and centre. Jewel-green sofas and chairs the exact shade of the moss so lovingly cultivated at Kyoto’s Ginkakuji, or Silver Pavillion, is what first sprung to mind. I was gratified to notice later the bowls of moss in the glass terrarium-inspired cabinets that corner the central bar, alongside miniature trees, bottles of sake, and Japanese whiskey. The mix of dark wood covering the bar, ceiling, and panelled walls paired with creamy neutral shades, particularly the large linen lights, gives an undeniable traditional Japanese-inspired look with a modern feel.
The dark wood and ambient lighting set the tone for the rest of the hotel’s open spaces, the corridors lit softly, textured and tactile surfaces covering every wall. Both the bar and restaurant are low lit, giving a sense of intimacy, though the use of jewel-bright colours and textures also give them a sense of fun. The modern Japanese minimalism is felt throughout the restaurant, the simple seating and open plan room allowing a buzzy atmosphere to ripple out. The open sushi bar also lends an informal ambiance, though due to social distancing, sitting and watching the chefs work was not permitted at the time. In the daytime, the restaurant is surprisingly bright, its floor-to- ceiling windows and popping colour scheme – based on the Japanese dictionary of colour – of citrus green, warm yellow, cool lilac, and indigo giving it a fresh, efficient feel.
The bar is a little gem, repeating the dark timber motif with screened walls but with bold splashes of Japanese indigo and red and bespoke lighting giving everything a moodier, sexy glow. People may come for the restaurant, but they will come back for the bar and lounge, particularly when the terrace is up and running.
In keeping with the minimalist Japanese architecture the rooms and suites, by Make Architects, are not large and are sparsely decorated but the muted neutral colour palette – all cream, stone, and natural wood – is actually a relief for the senses. These little bubbles of calm haven’t escaped the meticulous attention to detail the rest of the hotel enjoys though, with touches like the large bespoke abstract ‘one stroke’ art pieces by Dragica Carlin on the walls, and the warm bronze running through the marble bathrooms that again bounce and reflect that warm glow the hotel seems to just ooze.
Nobu Portman Square clearly adheres to a modern, minimalist aesthetic, blending Japanese architecture with contemporary design, but the detail is frankly astonishing. Every wall and window is textured, tactile, every light placed to enhance the frequent bespoke artworks. All Nobu hotels reflect and complement their location, and the use of British and European artists reflects London’s multi-cultural influence, the emphasis on art and craftsmanship and intimacy particularly resonating with Marylebone’s feel of both luxury and independent style.
The hotel may not look like the other buildings in this historic part of London, but it fits comfortably into Marylebone’s ‘village’ vibe. Due to its proximity to Oxford Street and its famous restaurant, it’s likely to be a destination visit for many travellers to London, but thanks to its rather sexy bars, it’s also likely to be a hit for local Londoners in search of a good drink in a cool surrounding. I think I’m going to be one of them.
INVESTOR: London & Regional
DESIGN: David Collins Studio, Make Architects
ARCHITECTURE: BSBG London
FIT-OUT: StudioExe, WFC Contractors
SUPPLIERS: Lighting: Dernier & Hamlyn, Chelsom Audio tech: Middlesex Sound and Lighting Towels and robes: BC SoftWear Exterior cladding/façade: Archiclad Bathroom fittings and fixtures: Kohler, Geberit, Hansgrohe, Axor Hygienic wall coverings: Hycom Bathroom amenities: Grown Alchemist Mattresses and bed linen: Simmons Gym equipment: Technogym Tableware: Heritage Collection Glassware: LSA