Mama Shelter, Bethnal Green, London
31 October, 2019
Bringing together irreverent fun and affordability in London's East End, Mama Shelter proves that affordable hotels can be anything but boring. Come for the offbeat style and pocket-friendly price tag, stay for the comfort food and karaoke.
Did you know that the head of a dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the king? Crane your neck towards this Hackney Road hotel's low-slung living room ceiling and you'll be enlightened with such facts thanks to the scribblings of artist Beniloys.
It's design touches like this that make Mama Shelter stand out from London's crowded budget hotel scene. The brand was created in 2008 by designer Philippe Starck and the Trigano family, of Club Med fame. Today it's turning the luxury resorts' hedonistic "sea, sex and sun" mantra towards "out of the way" city neighbourhoods - albeit at a less bank-breaking price point.
All matt-black and striped awnings, the group's first UK hotel stands out in its Bethnal Green locale. Inside, Parisian design team Dion & Arles has created an Aladdin's cave of kitsch meets cool. All the trappings of your eccentric granny's living room - trailing succulents, rattan light shades, doilies, Liberty-print sofas - are coupled with pop art, curios and birdcage cabinets topped with Darth Vader helmets.
Thankfully, any gimmicks are balanced with a good dose of quality, making Mama Shelter a light-hearted, breath-of-fresh-air stay that we'd take over budget beige at every opportunity. This hotel doesn't take itself too seriously, and neither should you.
Mama Shelter is all about being fun and sociable; while communal areas are a riot, private spaces are altogether more fuss-free and functional, with enveloping beds, blackout blinds, rain showers and on-demand porn (PG movies are also available).
Characterful "Mama" touches come in the form of cartoon masks (ours were Tweety Pie and Sylvester) hanging on the bedside lamps, and natural skincare products by French company Absolution emblazoned with cheeky taglines such as "Mama wants to cream you up".
The 194 rooms are categorised into Small, Medium and Large - opt for one on the top floor for views of London's skyline. Accessible rooms are available.
What's for breakfast?
Not included in the room rate, the breakfast buffet is £15 per head, which feels a little on the steep side compared to the hotel's budget-friendly room rates (and the cheaper cafés that populate the surrounding neighbourhood). That being said, Mama's buffet is generous. Expect three large, long tables overflowing with pastries, cereals, yoghurt, fruit, eggs, cured meats and the like, as well as veg-heavy vegan dishes. The DIY juicing station is a nice touch - and one that we feel especially thankful for after the previous night's libations.
How about lunch and dinner?
Dining here is all about comfort - the food is "just like Mama makes", after all - and available until midnight. Family-style dishes include whole-roasted chicken, chips and "proper" gravy followed by jam roly poly and custard, while smaller plates for the table involve truffled-ricotta pizzetta (lovely) and crab doughnuts (a charcoal-infused affair that proved a touch too much style over substance).
Beyond sharing fodder, the menu is as eclectic as the restaurant's decor, running a global gamut from pork belly baos, lamb shawarma and croque monsieur (a nod to Mama Shelter's Parisian roots) to the pie, mash and smoked-eel liquor that celebrates the hotel's East End location. There are some great plant-based options to boot.
Is there a bar?
Please. Would a good Mama ever let her guests go dry? The Green Room, an all-day, all-weather courtyard (thanks to its retractable roof), keeps guests watered with craft beers, international wines and a thoroughly British cocktail menu. We loved the earl-grey infused "London Cuppa" and "Sundays on Columbia Road", an effervescent botanical blend featuring gin, elderflower and bitters.
Mama knows that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. While the hotel offers six atelier-style meeting rooms and super-fast WiFi throughout (several suits with laptops made an appearance at breakfast), it also encourages guests to really let their hair down. Expect a giant built-in Twister board, retro video games and tabletop football.
Should your self-esteem and vocal cords be on form (or not), descend to one of the hotel's two neon-lit, Japanese-style karaoke rooms and belt out "Mama, I love you" into a 50s microphone that wouldn't look out of place in the hands of Elvis or The Everly Brothers.
Things I should know
You won't find a stocked mini fridge or tea and coffee equipment in your room, but you're more than welcome to bring up drinks and snacks from downstairs.
Within a short walk I can find…
Should you tire of Mama Shelter's wining and dining options, the graffiti-flecked Hackney Road and its surrounds have some great alternatives. Tuck into a full English at the century-old E Pellicci café, cosy up with British fare at The Marksman or dip into the sleek Sager + Wilde Wine Bar - all are within a 10-minute stroll.
Sated? Mama Shelter is a springboard into London's East End, flanked by Hackney to the north, Bethnal Green due south, Shoreditch to the west and Victoria Park east. Spend a wholesome day at Hackney City Farm or, come the weekend, hop across Regent's Canal to Broadway Market and pick up blooms at nearby Columbia Road.