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Phil Hopkins
Arts & Travel Editor
@philhopkinsuk
7:00 AM 20th September 2021
travel

Hipster Hotel Leaves Its Mark On London’s East End

The clue is in the line of colourfully enamelled Darth Vader masks!

However, if for a minute you imagine yourself to be on the bridge of Star Wars’ planet-destroying space station - the Death Star - think again, for this is merely the extended reception area at one of London’s funkiest, hipster properties located at 437 Hackney Road: welcome to Mama Shelter London - Shoreditch.

It might not be Mayfair or South Kensington but, these days, Shoreditch shares a similar boast with Notting Hill, which became doubly popular after Julia Roberts and bumbling Brit, Hugh Grant, hit the big screen with their tale of love and happy endings: it has become fashionable!

And French hotel chain, Mama Shelter, has not been slow to take advantage of a district where trend-setters appear to have successfully re-badged graffiti as wall art, and greasy spoons as cost-effective eateries that represent a slice of the ‘East End’!

But, in truth, this earthy part of London really does have its own sense of identity and Mama Shelter London - Shoreditch slips into the background with the ease of Poirot boarding the Orient Express.

It is not as pretentious as many of the Big Smoke’s other suburbs and, interestingly, neither is the hotel itself, wearing just the right outfit for the ball it’s been invited to!

At first this neighbourhood hotel, nestled a few steps away from both Cambridge Heath train station and Bethnal Green underground, takes you by surprise. Its exterior is stark: black and slightly box-like with a simple typeface sporting just two words in white: Mama Shelter.

But, inside, the contrast couldn’t be more more stark.

There was a beaming welcome from the Afro Caribbean doorman, very much the ‘Man in Black’ with a tight bandana-like scarf pulled over his head, and sporting a bomber jacket and matching jeans.

However, just beyond his domain, you are met with a blaze of restaurant and reception colour and an overwhelming sense of fun: Tiffany style vintage lamps, and a twist on the English lace doily, paired with dark wooden interiors, pops of coloured macrame and Liberty prints. The chalkboard ceilings are adorned with graffiti by graphic designer and artist Beniloys, while table football and a giant in-built Twister board provide further entertainment.

There’s even a multi-coloured guitar on the shelf, bright, bold ornaments, wicker chairs and wooden toadstool buffets: a veritable fairy land backdrop in sharp contrast to the harsher, masculine exterior.

Within, this property is warm, and non-pretentious which is why it is so inviting. As one person described it: “A hostel for grown-up backpackers!” And I completely get that analogy as a 60-year-old who still reminisces about his time in Godzilla’s Hostel in Moscow! Only here, we have a ‘hotel’ and all the showers work!

Interestingly none of the property’s 194 bedrooms have baths, another way of saying ‘Mama knows her clients’ and, when it comes to a hotel, that’s good: better to be a sniper rifle than a blunderbuss!

“Where are you from?” I asked the lady at reception who was wearing a glorious African-style headscarf.

“London,” she replied knowingly before revealing a broad smile and adding after a pause: “….but my heritage is from Africa.”

She checked us in courteously, walked us to the door of the nearby lift, and made it quite clear that if we needed anything we just needed to ask.

In the hallway there was a white lipstick-style message on the tall mirror advising guests what to do the following day: ‘Victoria Park Market 10-2pm or Columbia Road Flower Market 8-2pm’. Inside the elevator a similar scrawl made us smile: ‘Mama loves you.’

It was a theme that continued to the bedroom where the name of our reception contact was also written on the mirror above the bedhead. All very planned, of course, but, in fairness, seamless and consistent.

Our room was simple but playful with brightly coloured facemasks of Sylvester The Cat and Tweety Pie dangling from the two bedside lamps.
The bathroom was compact but well-attired although the soap bottle was empty, a possible oversight by the housekeeping team, and there were all the usual suspects: nice bed, a simple hanging rail for clothes, hairdryer, a big TV – with free movies – and most of life’s comforts.

Downstairs the main hotel splits into three core areas: There’s the below ground floor gym and karaoke rooms
...groaning bodybuilders and would-be divas are suitably hived-off from the main hospitality area...the ground-floor 100-cover restaurant
... adjacent garden bar and, of course, the reception area itself complete with sofas and video games for those unable to live without technology!

We enjoyed our first night’s meal in the Garden Bar
which has a central serving area with tables around it and, if the weather is good, the roof slides back to keep everyone cool. The food was excellent and our Italian host Edy could not have been nicer, explaining, at my request, the significance of her intriguing tattoos! And they serve a cracking Sunday lunch (take that from a Yorkshireman who likes his Yorkshire puds!)

“What are you doing?” asked my wife as I strained my neck to ‘read’ the ceiling in the main dining room whilst waiting for breakfast to arrive the following morning.

“‘It is illegal to stick a stamp of the Queen upside down on a letter,’” I murmured, following the script into the distance before concluding with, “‘It is illegal for a lady to eat chocolate on a public conveyance,’” just as a full English landed on the table.

Black and white cartoons from the late 40’s played out on small screens in the corner of my eye and, occasionally, Max Fleischer’s Betty Boop made an appearance on the looped videos.

The main restaurant, which is at the heart of the hotel is informal
...comfortable – some tables have chairs, others relaxing sofas – and frequented, at varying times of the day, by all and sundry from young couples to older people and entire families. Clearly it is a place to socialise, celebrate, eat, drink and be merry.

The morning food was excellent but, as soon as the room began to fill with guests, the service became more challenged and lacked a little order, prompting more than one request for missing drinks, coffee refills or certain food dishes. But there was never anything less than a smile or a profuse apology for any slight misgivings.

There’s plenty to do in the locality and, rather than heading for the tried and tested – St Pauls’ Cathedral and the like – a stay at this hotel allows you to look at part of London that you might rarely visit but for a stay at the likes of Mama Shelter London – Shoreditch. There’s Columbia Flower Market,,,
...Victoria Park Market, where you can get some wonderful lunch from the myriad of fresh produce stalls.
And, if you want something for the kids, you can visit the Hackney City Farm Yard.

If East London is famed for its multi-cultural identity then Mama Shelter London-Shoreditch is a perfect fit. The hotel has been around for a year or two now. It is for locals, visitors or business people with a penchant for the different.

Either way, and whoever you are, this is a place where everyone in London can pass through and feel taken care of by their own Mama!

Nightly rates at Mama Shelter London - Shoreditch in a Small Double Mama Room start from £109 inclusive of VAT.

For more information please visit www.mamashelter.com/london-shoreditch/