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Kimpton Clocktower Hotel, Manchester review: 'A cut above the rest'

Fantastic interior design, an explosive restaurant and awe-inspiring spaces housed within a truly staggering building

2022-02-09

Words: Jamie Tabberer; Images: Supplied

Plush, bottle green furniture; walnut wood panelling; a copper cocktail-making set; Kylie’s Step Back in Time: The Definitive Collection playing on vinyl. I could be describing my dream bachelor pad, but lack the funds and foresight to put together something as sensational as the Heritage Suite at Manchester’s Kimpton Clocktower Hotel.

Perhaps they saw me coming: the record collection also included a seminal album for this '90s kid (the Spice Girls’ Spice) and in the spacious bathroom, luxury, spa-quality toiletries by a favoured brand: the unbeatable Elemis.

Memorable touches abound: white hydrangeas on the coffee table, a huge, lengthways-standing drinks cabinet that opens like a trunk, a cast metal doorstop shaped like a brogue that points the way to the king-size bedroom and its majestic four-poster bed. It’s genuinely rare to encounter hotel rooms designed with such style and flair - you can almost feel the taste and the soul of the person responsible for it.

The grade II-listed building that houses the Kimpton and its 270 rooms is pretty special too. It dates back to 1890, boasting an exquisite exterior reminiscent of Harrods and the Houses of Parliament - and with its own mini-Big Ben to boot: a 66-metre-tall tower. Formally serving as office space as the Refuge Assurance Building, many original fixtures and fittings remain: not least the improbably high ceilings in the lobby and ground floor Refuge Dining Room & Public Bar, also known as Refuge by Volta.

Covering 10,000 square feet, the dining hall is simply awe-inspiring, all ceramic pillars and statement chandeliers. Here, conversations echo around the room, creating an irresistible buzz and energy. Feeling at once old and new (or ‘glam-meets-industrial’, as the website aptly puts it), the space is a magnet for cool locals - it’s amusing, and not difficult, working out who among the diners is staying at the hotel - and serves suitably dynamic food.

Multinational sharing plates make for a vibrant and inventive menu: to start, my guest and I ordered two (large) servings of whipped beetroot, served with smoked feta, hazelnut and dill. It was so exceptional, we debated a third. At this juncture I also - somewhat regrettably - filled up on the amazing toasted flatbread. At £5.50 and £3 respectively, this would make for a healthy, satisfying and affordable lunch. (Something similar in London would, to my mind, set the diner back £7 and £5, at least).

For our main, the 450g 28-day dry-aged chargrilled rib-eye was faultless, and the slow-cooked garlic it came with? Addictive. Finally, dense, rich sticky toffee pudding, artfully presented with orange miso caramel, salted caramel ice cream and pecans. Again, I was impressed by the price point: a reasonable £6.50. I've certainly eaten depressingly basic pub versions of the same dish that were more expensive.

There's additional value for money in the form of free beer and wine during social hour (6-7pm). In my room, a memo read 'Forgot it? We've got it'. I put that to the test and some requested deodorant and lip balm were whizzed straight to me. The memo amazingly adds: 'Something not on this list? We'll go grab it for you.'

 
 
 
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The restaurant, the hotel... evidently, I can’t stop praising the operation as a whole. Not least the service - everyone I spoke to was warm and charismatic, and exuded pride in where they worked - and the perfect location. The squelchy floors of Canal Street’s myriad LGBTQ bars are but five minutes’ walk away. Manchester Piccadilly Station, meanwhile, is barely 10.

In order to fully contextualise my praise, I need to know whether the Kimpton is a four or five star hotel. (If four, it's punching below its weight). That the glossy, information-rich website doesn't prominently specify this is, for me at least, absolutely maddening, and my only critique. (Although, I'd add that the pictures on the site are too small.) Perhaps it's a conscious branding decision designed to open up the clientele - I've certainly never stayed at a five star that was this cool, relaxed and atmospheric.

One final, and sadly moving component sealed the deal in making this probably my favourite hotelling experience ever. (And I worked as a travel editor for four years). Refuge was - and is, until 20 February 2022 - hosting an exclusive exhibition displaying digital prints of the UK AIDS memorial quilt - in collaboration with the hotel’s chosen charity, George House Trust: an organisation dedicated to 'inspiring people living with HIV to live healthy and confident lives.'

For more information about the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel, click here. Kimpton Clocktower Hotel in partnership with George House Trust will be auctioning off all 37 framed digital prints. All proceeds will go directly to George House Trust. Online bidding will start on Monday 7 February and end on Sunday 27 February. To bid, click here.