While most luxury hotels are often challenged by developing restaurants within their premises, as a key positioning and differentiating factor with the aim of equally attract a segment of outside guests (local patrons) and hotel guests. Whether it is an independent or chain luxury property the association with a famed Michelin star Chef and an interior design that often claims to have a ‘sense of place’ – are no longer a guaranteed recipe for success in the long term.
In many such partnerships or collaborations with a celebrity Chef, hotels have often lost credibility, discerning guests becoming aware the respective Chef is not actually involved in day-to-day operations and is very rarely present at the respective property mostly for marketing purposes. Hoteliers have understood that such restaurant should no longer be perceived as a stuffy ‘hotel restaurant’ but rather a venue that is beyond dining – a lifestyle destination where guests are seeking one-of-a-kind experiences but also convenience, comfort and most importantly a high standard of personalised service at an affordable pricing.
When NOBU, probably of the most successful long standing dining concept franchises in the world which has proven be successful both as in stand alone locations, mixed-use projects or hotels but also in strikingly different cultures and markets. His sustained success is not only based on the credibility he earned, but also his unique sense of identifying the ideal franchisees / partners for each of his restaurants who understand the DNA of his brand.
The relationship with owners is nowadays critical for the success of the major luxury hotel chains, such projects often becoming a financial manipulative component of mixed use complexes. This has substantially narrowed down the list of the world’s true luxury hotel chains, whose success is based on the fact that they both own and operate most of their properties: Peninsula Hotels, Oetker Collection, Dorchester Collection, The House Collective (Swire) – this translates in exercising full control over quality and consistency, from ‘software’ (service), branding, marketing, sales and a much faster speed of implementing sometimes critical enhancements such as refurbishments and renovations.
With two visionary hoteliers at the head of the new hotel business (Trevor Howell and Struan McKenzie) who understood that scaling expectations is critical, especially in conveying trust to those unfamiliar with the Nobu brand but also owners and developers that NOBU HOTELS are not an ‘annex’ to their restaurants and that NOBU HOTELS can deliver consistent 360 degree experience for its guests.
The initial steps were timid and quite risky, with the first NOBU HOTELS opening within already well established larger luxury hotels, in which NOBU HOTELS were actually a set of differently decorated accommodations, similar to an executive floor or what other hotels call a ‘wing’.
That is why, I could not be more eager to discover NOBU’s first urban stand-alone hotel in London, probably one of the most competitive luxury hotel markets in the world. Instead of a luxe location such as Park Lane or Mayfair that many might have expected for the first NOBU HOTEL, the choice of location could not be more sensible – Shoreditch – a very bold branding statement, which also presents the shortcoming of at least 3 times smaller room rates than at other luxury hotels in Central London, while operating costs are relatively similar
However, Shoreditch is probably London’s trendiest neighbourhoods known for its artistic affiliations, unique dining options and still many authentic bohemian locations – shops, galleries, bars etc. – a magnet for the wealthy Millennials, both residents and visitors – thus the brand positioning gain could be more valuable to NOBU HOTELS in the long term when the area will surely become much pricier. Nevertheless, Shoreditch, unlike Central London, does not ‘impose’ what could be a shortcoming for the current building structure of NOBU HOTEL elsewhere in London, which is the relatively small size of the guest-rooms (windows do not open), some of the entry level categories being half the size of room in a luxury hotel in Central London. By contrast, most suites have a beautiful outdoor terrace with an entire wall of floor to ceiling sliding door and exquisite woven parquet (the real one!)
Tucked away on a small street, I could not be more surprised to discover an exceptional building, with an almost majestic way, resembling a luxury super-yacht, a WOW factor I could not grasp from the renderings on the website of the hotel.
The restaurant is cleverly positioned on the lower ground-floors of the building with two very different options to ‘make an entrance’ – discreetly from the elevators that lead to the rooms and from the lobby area on a sumptuous lit staircase which makes for a more dramatic experience.
No expense has been spared with the interior design, furnishing, facilities and finishes, not to mention attention to details such as in-room technology. The understated allure with touches of sleekness in the interior does not compromise comfort in any way – rooms feels cozy yet not necessarily homey (perfect for staycations), flawlessly soundproof, perfect shower water pressure, expertly positioned lighting, impeccable Wi-Fi and above all, one of the most comfortable luxury beds I have ever slept in, with high-thread luxury Italian satin linen.
Needless to say, the restaurant is flawless in every aspect – despite its apparent size it, is never feels crammed or full and staff always seem in control until the close attention of Santiago, one of NOBU’s mavericks.Unlike the more traditional NOBU Restaurants, the one at NOBU SHOREDITCH is spread over two floors with double ceiling height and an outdoor area, not to mention a huge wall which makes up the bar. Throughout my entire stay, the restaurant, with its cleverly designed seating areas, seemed to have no opening times. There is a live DJ in the afternoons and a younger, trendy vibe yet not pretentious. Make sure you do not miss the brunch which is a feast!
Now I could finally understand why NOBU Restaurants (not sure if all but definitely the Shoreditch one) never replies to Tripadvisor reviews, but it pays very close attention to the reviews on the hotel. Exchange staff from other properties were still on site, with an incessant attention to details and with a mission to ACT fast on any issues that might arise.
Critical to the DNA of the NOBU HOTELS brand should be undoubtedly maintaining and innovating in service standards but I am fully confident that the high standards already achieved will only improve. I took great pleasure in encountering many staff during my stay whose genuine smile could not hide the pride of being part of the NOBU family and part of such a complex luxury project not only considering its evolution but also a lesson on branding and ‘effortless luxury’ which could pave the way for similarly daring projects in luxury after a number of failures such as the cross-overs from fashion to hotels. I must also add that I am not sure if NOBU HOTELS uses the sophisticated guest recognition system of other luxury chains, but after less than 3 hours spent in the hotel from my arrival, most of the team would greet me by name.
As part of my great stay, I also had the chance to experience the Spa which is very small especially in contrast with
And if you want to feel ‘Nobu”, let the Concierge pamper you with short luxury limo ride around the neighbourhood. The smiles and expressions of those passers by are precious!
My thanks and gratitude go to Struan M., Rachel P., Anthony, Alex C., Santiago R., Codrut and the entire team!
Oliver Petcu in London
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