Those sharp-suited chaps who banged on during the reign of Tony Blair about trendy Leeds being the North of England’s answer to affluent London are in danger of ruining the place.
Already the development around the station has become an eyesore, and small shops are closing as more and more High Street giants throw their weight about.
Especially horrifying is what they’ve done to the Corn Exchange, where until a few months ago hippy-dippy stores with names such as Grin and Space plied their trade selling wacky T-shirts, home-made jewellery and Sixties memorabilia. They’ve all been thrown out to make way for restaurants and wine bars but, so far, there’s only been one taker, a dreary-looking modern Italian. ‘It’s a real shame,’ says the receptionist at 42 The Calls. ‘The Corn Exchange used to have a lot of character and was somewhere young people could afford to shop. Now it’s just sitting there practically empty.’
Waterside: 42 The Calls incorporates original features into the design
42 The Calls is something of an elder statesman in the supposedly thrusting Leeds city centre. After opening in 1991 – long before Harvey Nichols arrived in town – it was one of the country’s first (dread phrase) boutique hotels, gaining plaudits for its clever restoration of what used to be the Fletland Mill (an 18th-century corn mill) next to the River Aire.
A few years ago, it was bought by Sheikh Mohamed Bin Issa al-Jaber, whose Eton Collection of hotels includes Threadneedles in the City of London and The Scotsman in Edinburgh. My room on the third floor overlooks the river and has a view of the Centenary Bridge and several depressing office blocks. There’s plenty of whitewashed brick, wooden beams and sleek black furniture. Best of all, many of the original features, such as storeroom pulleys, levers and castiron wheels, have been cleverly incorporated into the design. Two grubby armchairs need replacing; the towel rail is cold and the pillows are cheap and nasty.
Conversion: Rooms at 42 The Calls sport wooden beams and overlook the river
There’s a hatch near the door where morning newspapers are deposited, which is all very well until you get woken up shortly after 6am by the paper boy on his rounds. The hotel does not do lunch or dinner, but has an arrangement with the bistro next door at number 40, where I order a sirloin steak that turns out to be tougher than Bruce Willis.
Even so, there’s a good, buzzy atmosphere and the staff are willing. Just don’t come here for a gourmet moment.
Back at the hotel, there’s an ‘Honesty Bar’ on the mezzanine near reception, where you help yourself and write it down on a pad. A glass of wine is £4.20, a beer £4 and a large bottle of water an astonishing £4.20.
Breakfast is served in the River Room on the lower ground floor. There are bags of tempting oats, muesli, seeds of different kinds, yoghurt and plenty of fresh fruit. Breads are on boards ready to be cut up and there’s a whole cabinet of home-made jams and honey. Strangely, you can’t get an espresso or cappuccino and when I ask for toast it arrives barely browned and almost stone cold.
There appears to be no serious trouble at this particular mill – or, at least, nothing that can’t be easily fixed. But the Sheikh needs to up the tempo and, crucially, ignore advice from those flawed geniuses on Leeds City Council.
Inspector rating: 3/5
42 The Calls, Leeds, LS2 7EW.
Tel: 0113 244 0099, visit 42thecallshotel.com/
Doubles from £150 (B&B)