Jonathan Schofield gets exactly what he expects
"Is there a wine list?” I asked.
“We have red, white and rosé,” said the waitress with a happy smile.
“How delightful, three types of wine,” I said. “What about a white, maybe a Chardonnay?”
“Oh, we have one of those! How good is that?” she exclaimed with even more inexplicable joy.
I was in the Britannia Hotel, in Jenny’s Restaurant, or was it the Overstuffed Pizzeria? It was hard to tell as there are so many bars and restaurants in the place all signed with a bewildering number of typographical styles.
The same crazed lettering is displayed on posters around the outside of the building too. These are all about discount deals and had me terribly stuck for choice, especially as this was a Saturday and the ‘Weekender’ deal was on. I should have forgotten the wine maybe and gone for the £2 pints of Carlsberg, or the £2 bottles of WKD which could be doubled up for an extra £1. Loads of £1 shooters were available too.
Heaven perhaps. But more like hell.
As we entered the hotel from Portland Street we overheard a snatch of conversation at reception. “My bedroom smells really bad, it’s awful,” said a customer. “Do you know what it is?” asked the receptionist. “I thought you might tell me,” said the customer.
Some readers might think reviewing the Britannia Hotel’s food is akin to slicing off your tastebuds with a scalpel or, perhaps, evidence of simple insanity. So why go there? Because the Britannia Hotel group fascinates me in its awfulness.
This is a hotel chain shameless in what wolves of Wall Street call ‘squeezing the asset’. The Britannia bosses like to find properties, run them down and then provide a lower than basic hotel service in return for cheap room rates, threadbare carpets and furniture which seems to have been collected from a landfill.
This struck me when I was in Scarborough recently. The Grand Hotel there is grand indeed, a battleship, built in the 1860s by the man who built Leeds Town Hall, Cuthbert Broderick. It was the largest hotel in Europe for a while. Now it’s one of Europe’s largest dumps, with all the amenity of a battleship’s latrines. Its health and sanitary record is lamentable.
It tasted artificial like a replica of a cake made from tyre rubber.
Do Britannia care? Nah. It’s the same with the Grand Hotel in Llandudno. Britannia like the word grand. They like debasing it. One of the great UK hotels, the Adelphi, in Liverpool has undergone the Britannia conversion into a dump.
Reports last year revealed how Britannia had cashed in to the tune of £14.2m of tax-payers money from housing asylum seekers in several hotels. Meanwhile Alex Langsam, the 77-year-old multi-millionaire cynic who heads the company, is a cunning little bugger. He has non-domicile status on the basis of his Austrian father and thus pays lower rates of tax than the average taxpayer.
Of course, in Manchester we have Britannia’s desecration of London Road Fire Station for almost three decades as an example of how they frankly don’t give a damn.
The hotel building itself - designed by Travis and Mangnall - was formerly the S&J Watts warehouse which, occupying the whole city block, was always the biggest of the city’s sole occupancy textile warehouses. It cost £100,000 in 1857/8 and the magnificent iron staircase, rising from ground to top floor in a series of elegant bridges, is one of the best in the kingdom.
In its heyday, the warehouse would process 1,000 large to small orders received each morning by close of business. In 1867, a journalist from Freelance magazine expressed his astonishment on encountering the building: ‘I am not naturally of a sceptical or suspicious cast of mind. I have eaten sausages and kidney pudding without asking questions but when I was told that this was only a warehouse, I felt that it was necessary to draw the line of credulity somewhere.’ The Britannia Hotel group are once more stretching credulity with the way they are treating the building.
For the record, at Jenny’s, or whatever it's called, we had an 8oz steak and chips with fries, tomato and mushrooms for £14, and gammon and chips with fried egg and chips for £9.50. The steak had the texture and appeal of a mouse mat, while the gammon was old and chewy - a transport caff from 1956 would be ashamed. The dessert ‘gateau’ looked alarming, like a wolf’s head with chocolate buttons for eyes and a sinister grin. In fact it looked exactly like Alex Langsam. It tasted artificial like a replica of a cake made from tyre rubber.
The service from our cheery waiter was decent but the Chardonnay should be used for cleaning tough stains off brasswork.
We drowned our sorrows in Wave bar glugging £2 drinks contemplating whether we should move somewhere more upmarket, such as the Wetherspoons on Piccadilly.
What offends most in these Britannias across the country is that they insult the people who stay in them. These are usually people on a budget who can’t afford other hotels. It seems that the Britannia directors think because the rooms are cheap they can treat their customers with scorn from room quality to food and drink. Bastards.
Everybody deserves respect and just because things are on a budget doesn’t mean they can’t be delivered with pride and commitment. Some of the staff seem to be trying to properly assist customers, which given the example set from above must take a real effort of will.
Still, I suppose I wasn’t disappointed in my disappointment. I got exactly what I expected. The Britannia is consistent in its awfulness if nothing else.
Britannia Hotel, Portland Street, Manchester, M1 3LA, T: 0161 228 2288
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God himself)
Steak 4, Gammon 3, Gateau 2
Amateur, but nice enough