Hotel review: Hotel Indigo, Liverpool

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This week's brain-teaser: can a "brand" ever be "boutique"? Hotel Indigo is the latest franchisee-run creation from InterContinental Hotels Group. It aims to offer "the best of both worlds – the individuality of a boutique hotel with the reassurance and benefits of a big hotel group".

On the upside, you get the facilities and the efficiency you'd expect at a 151-room hotel, aimed primarily (judging by the number of suits at breakfast, and its location) at a business clientele. The rooms are a good size, with a "media hub", covetable Aveda products in the bathroom, thick towels and bath robes. The shower is roomy, the bed comfortable. The bright, well-drilled staff are a highlight – the waiter who pours my Liverpool Organic Brewery bottle-conditioned ale deserves a promotion. But where is the boutique angle?

Well, the rooms come in five colour schemes, while the hotel's design is themed around the area's cotton-trading past. In that way, each Indigo will have a distinct "personality". In Liverpool, this has given rise to a mishmash of "funky" urban design features and corporate-hotel style. A multicoloured cotton-strand motif that runs throughout the corridors makes it look like the Swap Shop studio, or a children's soft-play centre. In my room, ugly, boxy furniture looks like it was bought for durability, not style. Like the bed's chichi runner and cushions, it is at odds with the vinyl print of cotton reels that covers one wall. The (limited) free minibar is a nice surprise, but it feels like a personal touch by way of corporate edict.

The restaurant, the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill, is one of several MPW-branded eateries at Sanguine Hospitality's properties. Despite the ridiculous chef-as-artist-warrior photographs that dominate one wall, it is – with its crisp tablecloths, sunny yellow chairs and abstract pastel friezes – the hotel's best-looking room, and much cosier than the other bar area.

Marco and his team design the menus, train the staff, periodically test the food (the man himself has visited five times in the past six months, I'm assured). And yet … A potted smoked trout starter delivers flavour perfunctorily. There are decorative squiggles of reduced balsamic on the plate. In 2012. A 28-day rib-eye is poor. You expect a grilled steak to take on a certain smoky character. This was medium-rare within, as requested, but blandly carbonised without. It was lifeless – bloody, but dry and chewy.

The buffet breakfast is similarly average. Eat as much as you want, a staff member encourages. And you would, because there's loads of it and you've paid ?13.95. But it's a joyless experience. Left under hot lights, black pudding slices and hash browns naturally shrivel into crispy pucks. Plastic-wrapped breakfast muffins speak for themselves.

This is a sound corporate hotel with a disappointing restaurant. There is nothing boutique about it.

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