Bleurgh, Stratford. So say most people when asked about this so-called "leisure hub" out in East London. Other pockets of the capital are known for their niches. You want arty endeavours with a dusting of urban grit? Stoke Newington. For a lesson in old-school glamour? Notting Hill. Anyone who isn't seduced by Richmond's deer-strewn wilderness and delicious Georgian terraces is a cyborg in our books. Stratford's niche? As it stands, quite a noisy shopping centre and a headache-inducing tangle of transport links.
While Stratford's not breaking any hearts right now, big plans are in motion. The Stratford hotel is but one gleaming, polished-concrete cog in the area's hefty regeneration project - a project which will eventually see a new V&A Museum outpost, a Sadler's Wells dance theatre and a London College of Fashion campus move in. In short, the area is picking up. It's clear, even before being sucked into The Stratford's glassy whirlwind of a lobby, that this shocking palpitation in the cityscape - designed by SOM, the same architects behind the Burj Khalifa - is as much a wickedly luxe place to bed down in the city as it is a statement of intention.
The Stratford isn't trying to be nicey-nicey; it's a rule-breaker. Its tagline is "spend the night, stay the week or move in for good," owing to the mish-mash of short- and long-term lets which are staggered among the building's 42-storeys. If you're paying a flying visit, you'll be put up in one of the lower six floors. Though the other 36 are for those moneyed few who plan on hanging around a while, the building's Scandi-lously nonchalant restaurants and bars are open to all - temporary keycards notwithstanding - and soundtracked by residents' artsy chitter-chatter.
The immediate surroundings are still, er, let's say in their awkward phase, but The Stratford's position at the intersection of London's most prominent underground and overground train networks, combined with its world-leading design credentials makes this place a real boon for creative city breakers looking to break away from London's typical touristy haunts. East London (proper East London, not Shoreditch) is just there beyond your floor-to-ceiling glass windows, while you can zip into the glorious chaos of Oxford Circus in 20 minutes flat.
Before reaching the bedroom, the tone is set in the foyer. There'll be no concierge bells or paperwork here; charming staff in asymmetric, designer uniforms swipe and tap on their tablets before escorting you to your room.
Stepping out of the lift and into the hotel corridor is like entering an alternative space-time continuum. Corridors carpeted in variegated shades of taupe and spotted by moody light fixtures revolve around a perfectly cubic, multi-storey courtyard framed by seamless sheets of glass. At its centre, Petroc Sesti's Anatomy of The Void, an ever-swirling vortex of water which spins furiously within an orb the height of a double-decker bus.
The hotel was designed by Space Copenhagen, the studio behind some of Copenhagen's most quintessentially Scandi interiors, and the bedrooms carry its trademark finishes: elegant triptychs of mirrors; contemporary parquet floors; a palette so carefully subdued it's impossible to imitate; and furniture that makes you go "ooo" both for its sharp aesthetics and sheer squishability.
Rooms ascend in price and size from double to studio, and each come outfitted with a tablet that handles everything from room service to background musak. We opted for the Manhattan Studio, a salaciously large sprawl skirted almost entirely by glass with a bathtub big enough to sleep three itself, though rooms facing into the centre courtyard are decidedly less scenic and a little darker, so do enquire when making your reservation.
What's for breakfast?
An important question. Sorry buffet enthusiasts, The Stratford treats breakfast - the most important meal of the day - with the respect it deserves, by dishing out an à la carte menu at The Stratford Brasserie on the ground floor. Don't expect any big surprises. It's a best-of-the-best round-up of old classics such as avocado toast and bircher muesli alongside a rainbow of freshly pressed juices. What breakfast lacked in eclecticism it more than made up for in people-watching. Overheard by the bar stools: "Are you exhibiting at the [Venice] Biennale this year?" The tracksuit-clad chap on the adjacent table to ours was the head of Jordan's National Olympic Committee, no less.
What about lunch and dinner?
You might think it strange that a hotel surrounded by such urban hubbub would pride itself on its farm-to-table offering, but Allegra, The Stratford's fine-dining restaurant, is up there with the best of them. The interiors have been designed in various shades of sourdough beige, a retiring backdrop for the zingy-looking dishes that come spinning out of the open kitchen. They're eye-catching, artfully dishevelled little sculptures - artichoke velouté, pickled-seaweed tartare, smoked-eel pithivier - each deserving of wall text. Starters range from £12 to £16, while mains sit around the £17 to £30 mark. We didn't order a tasting menu, but wish we had. Each is made bespoke for your table so needs to be requested in advance.
For a more casual bite, pull up a chair at The Stratford Brasserie which serves an unfussy bevvy of proven crowd-pleasers (think wood-fired pizza and organic burgers) alongside some more adventurous fare. Grilled peach, hazelnuts and burrata, anyone?
Is there a bar?
Not just any bar, but a no-waste cocktail bar. It's called The Mezzanine and prides itself on its eco ethos. The life cycle of a humble tonka bean here is quite something, I'm told by one of the clued-up, bottle-flinging bartenders. For the most part, it's grated into the "Rhythm in Cognac" cocktail along with spiced coconut, grilled pineapple and Rémy Martin cognac (of course). The remaining sediment is roasted then pulverised and used as a garnish elsewhere on the menu.
That's just one of many bright ideas woven unassumingly into The Mezzanine's menu. Overall, its division into emotional groupings like "euphoric" and "revelatory" feels a tad cringe, but the actual drinks are real taste-bud bamboozlers made with bizarre ingredients - CO2 and citric bubbles, for instance - which sound both dangerous yet beguiling. We recommend getting chummy with one of the bartenders who'll help demystify the less obvious juices. Unfortunately, plastic straws punctured a slight hole in all the eco spiel, but could easily be fixed.
Hotel gyms are often disappointing hovels, outfitted with little more than a janky treadmill and some beleaguered resistance bands. The Stratford's is split into three rooms, with a soft-mat area, weight racks, a yoga studio and a rich arsenal of muscular black Technogym machines. Glass stretches the length of the gym, flooding it with sunlight, while complimentary bottled water (still and sparkling) can be picked up along with sweat towels and a squirt of hand sanitiser upon entry. Serious gym goers will rejoice.
Things you should know
If you're exceptionally nosy, ask the concierge to whisk you up to the gardens on the 36th floor for Insta-worthy views across London. Only long-term residents are technically allowed up there, but you're more than welcome to catch a breather on Allegra's garden terrace up on the seventh floor which is still pretty, if less dramatic.
Within a short walk you'll find…
A short walk's pushing it. Within just a few steps you'll find Stratford International train station - a gateway into central London (hop on the central line and arrive in Shoreditch 20 minutes later) and out, towards Greater Anglia.