Going Batty in Spitalfields


Spitalfields has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past decade, with a wealth of new restaurants and bars making it one of the hippest areas of London. Yet, with cobbled streets, listed town-houses and gas lamps never far away, along with the striking Christ Church by Nicholas Hawksmoor (Sir Christopher Wren’s protégé) which has been looming large since 1729, this destination has one foot firmly rooted in the past.

And perhaps the best hotel for merging both the traditional and modern Spitalfields is the idiosyncratically named Batty Langley’s, the latest venture from Douglas Blain and Peter McKay, who brought us Hazlitt’s in Soho and The Rookery in Clerkenwell, and which offers an unexpected taste of Old London just a short distance from the Square Mile. Taking its name from the popular architectural and landscape designer and author Bartholomew “Batty” Langley (1696-1741) whose philosophy aided Georgian home owners and their builders when planning properties in the “Grand Taste” of the day, Batty Langley’s prides itself on reviving the romance of the 18th century whilst satisfying all the demands of the present day traveller.

Batty Langley's

With no sign announcing that it’s a hotel, it succeeds in feeling more like a private house or members’ club, with guests having to buzz to gain admittance (I confess I was expecting a heavy brass door knocker). Step inside and every wall is wood panelled and plushly furnished in the proudest Georgian style, with silk drapes and pure new wool carpets so plush that your feet will sink into them like sand as you wade down the corridors. These are topped with colourful red rugs for added character, and you may even hear the odd ‘creak’ on the stairs; a secret and ingenious effect designed to add not only authenticity but a touch of quirkiness. It’s safe to say, no sign remains of the five storey Eighties office building that it once was, so convincing is this representation of an (albeit rather posh) 18th-century inn.

Everything about this boutique hotel oozes quality and a huge amount of attention to detail, from period pictures to adapted antique furniture which ensures everything fits like a glove. To further emphasise the uniqueness of the accommodation, all 29 rooms have been individually designed and named after leading figures of the day rather than numbered, with beautifully crafted four poster beds adorned with sumptuous fabrics and bed linen, flat screens tastefully concealed behind folding mirrors and, whilst bathrooms would have been non-existent in the 18th century, here they are fitted with roll top baths and mahogany-enclosed toilets, whilst being equipped with luxury REN products.

The Grocer, Spitalfields

Complete your order for breakfast (an additional £11.95 per head) before you go to bed, which can either be taken in one of the public rooms or enjoyed in bed, with the choice of either a bread basket with freshly baked pastries, bacon ciabatta roll, or a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, accompanied with yoghurt, juice and hot drink (sadly no full English). You’ll hardly notice that Batty’s has no restaurant or bar, so spoilt for choice will you be with local establishments, and for those that do want to dine in the hotel there is a light all-day menu which can be taken in any of the public areas such as the Library (no faux books here) or Tapestry Room which also features a well stocked honesty bar, with French doors opening onto a charming courtyard during the warmer months.

My day was spent browsing antiques at Old Spitalfields Market, where I also paused for lunch with a friend at The Grocer market tavern; before being transformed with a cut and blow dry at the The Drawing Room salon on Artillery Lane; followed by a candlelight tour of the Dennis Severs’ House which is located just next door to Batty Langley’s, making it even more of a must-see. Set up like an art installation rather than a regular museum, it provides an intimate portrait of the lives of a family of Huguenot silk-weavers from 1724 to the dawn of the 20th Century, whilst having to make your own way around the dimly lit house in complete silence allows you to more fully immerse yourself in the atmosphere, although it is surprisingly difficult to keep quiet when you discover what awaits you in each room.

Hawksmoor Spitalfields

Hawksmoor Spitalfields

That evening we dined at Hawksmoor Spitalfields, the original premises of the small chain of high-end steakhouses, where our table soon resembled a banquet due to my husband ordering a vast array of side orders to accompany a 700g chateaubriand, nothing short of magnificently cooked; beef dripping chips, maple bacon, macaroni cheese, creamed spinach, and English lettuce. Nor could anything deter us from ordering our favourite Hawksmoor pudding; peanut butter shortbread with salted caramel ice cream. A fitting tribute to our gout-ridden Georgian forebears I think you’ll agree.

Batty Langley’s, 12 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, London, E1 6BX. Double rooms from £330. For more information and reservations visit the website.