Restaurant Review: Mama London Boutique Hotel, Bethnal Green

‘Mama loves London but loves you more!’ With playful slogans, tongue-in-cheek decor and energy by the bucket load, new boutique hotel Mama London hopes to carve itself out as east London’s hottest new spot. The Resident checks in for dinner, and ends up singing the night away…   

Bethnal Green keeps beckoning me back. It’s not a place I’ve spent a lot of time during my 13 years in London, but Good Things keep happening here. And, sure, I’m pretty late to the party on this one, but it’s shockingly easy to get to.

The latest Good Thing to happen in Bethnal Green? Mama London, the outrageously fun hotel, bar and restaurant from the Mama Shelter group, which offers affordable boutique hotels with provocative personalities in the lesser-known neighbourhoods of cool cities.

So here we are in Bethnal Green, where many flock to the V&A Museum of Childhood, or those with a savvy eye for a good buy moved about 10 years ago and now laugh all the way to Bank on the Central Line because it’s only two stops away. Or where people like me, who have somehow reached their mid-to-late 30s without noticing, flock on weekends seeking cool bars to relive their early 20s (here’s looking at you @640east@chiringuito_ldn and @marestreetmarket).

Turns out Mama London is a great spot to feel young again. Not only is the decor vibrant and full of energy (designer Philippe Starck helped launch the first Mama Shelter in Paris in 2008 with the Trigano family, which co-founded Club Med), the hotel rooms are super playful with novelty masks hanging on the lamps by the beds (oo-er) and cute little notes like ‘Mama loves London but loves you more’ written on mirrors in hallways.

There’s also a giant foosball table, vintage arcade machines and – the pièce de résistance – two Japanese-style karaoke rooms downstairs. Check me in for the rest of my life, please.

So, to the courtyard bar, an Instagrammable spot with a retractable glass roof and plenty of plant-life, where we continued our quest to claw back the years with a Lola’s Cherry Cola – a long cocktail served rather cheekily in a pint glass with E.L.L.C vodka, amaretto, cherry shrub and coke – and a Tom Thumb spritz, a delicate-yet-potent mix of roast plum, cognac and sparkling wine.

We then headed back to the restaurant area, which is an expansive space with long, communal tables next to the open kitchen, another roomy bar area, a games corner, and a more homely dining space with sofas, cushions and lamps galore. Look up and you’ll also notice the chalkboard ceilings adorned with chaotic graffiti and slogans by graphic designer and artist Beniloys.

The menu is a fun mix of global cuisine and locally inspired dishes that appeal to travellers, which meant we were able to order an eclectic mix of crab doughnuts, pork belly boas, whole grilled sea bass, truffle ricotta pizzette, ceviche and – because in a French-owned hotel it would be rude not to – croque monsieur.

How does one approach such a spread? With utter glee, of course, and a bottle of Elégance Côtes de Provence Rosé (dry, minerally and fragrant, yet sharp enough to work with a glutinous feast).

The ceviche – small but substantial with cubes of raw fish,chilli, onion and plenty, maybe even a little too much, zesty lime – and whole grilled sea bass with fragrant lemongrass, lime, chilli and a ginger salsa, were our ‘main courses’. Both perfect for the end of summer; the sea bass particularly stand-out.

The rest of the dishes formed a wonderful parade of starters and sides. The crab doughnuts were glorious – light crab meat atop a charcoal doughnut that’s fluffy on the inside and ever-so-slightly crispy on the outside, but more like a brioche than a doughnut.

The pork belly bao buns, with char siu sauce, pak choi and hajikami ginger, were every bit as good as they sound, and while the croque monsieur, cheesy and greasy in just the right amounts with a thick slice of jamon, was impressive, I wouldn’t recommend it as a side dish. That was definitely a greedy little step too far. They serve up a mean portion of sweet potato fries too – crispy on the outside with lashings of sea salt.

‘The menu is playful but the chefs aren’t messing about. The food here really is good’

Funnily enough, after putting that lot away, we didn’t attempt dessert, but I have since returned for an overnight stay, where we dined, danced and sang the night away.

This time, I approached the dinner menu in a more traditional three-course fashion, devouring a starter of tuna crudo with kohlrabi, ponzu and calamansi dressing, a main of pie, mash and liquor – a nod to 1800s east London’s cheap-eat of choice, although here it’s a little more fancy with braised lamb shoulder, smoked eel sauce and perfectly crispy, golden pastry – and a dessert of chocolate crème brûlée.

The food here really is good. The menu is playful but the chefs aren’t messing about, executing a varied, seasonal menu with panache. And they serve an epic all-you-can-eat buffet-style Sunday brunch featuring everything from salads, cheese and charcuterie to Beef Wellington with roast potatoes and coq au vin. There’s live music, too.

In fact, you might as well make a weekend of it, like we did (just try not to get too carried away with the cocktails and the karaoke and spoil you appetite for brunch, like we did).

Mama London has 194 simple yet stylish rooms, starting from a very reasonable £99. There’s nothing there that you don’t need, which keeps the prices on a level, but you won’t go without. There’s wi-fi, a huge TV, a safe that doubles up as a bedside table, hairdryer, more space than I had expected, and a contemporary bathroom with Mama Shelter’s own-brand bathroom products.

Dinner and drinks on a Saturday night followed by Sunday brunch without the fuss of tubes and taxis? See you there…

437 Hackney Road, Bethnal Green E2 8PP;