No doubt one of London’s most hyped hotel-cum-restaurant openings of the year, One Leicester Street has only just flung open its doors. To find out more about what guests can expect – from luxe amenities to how the restaurant will live up to the reputation of St John, the address’s previous tenant – we caught up with Peng Loh. The Singaporean hotelier has spent over a decade in the hospitality industry and has established his reputation opening design-led boutique hotels in London, Singapore, and Shanghai.
Was it always your dream to work in the hospitality industry? Where did it all begin?
Certainly not! I started out as a lawyer actually and kind of fell into hospitality by accident almost. It was a combination of boredom and just wanting to do something different. At the time I started my legal career in the late 90s it was the mid-point of the last Asian crisis, so I was involved in a lot of bankruptcy and liquidation work. For a young practitioner that was not a lot of fun. At the time properties were cheap and the recession meant construction work was affordable. It was a combination that meant I could start up what was to become Singapore’s first design-led boutique hotel since 1929 in 2003.
You’ve hosted Unlisted Collection hotels and restaurants in Singapore for over a decade. Are there any hospitality traditions particular to Singapore that have influenced the way your hotels are run?
Not really. I didn’t come from a hotel background so a lot of the things we do now were influenced more by our experience of running our own properties and the unique culture we developed at Unlisted Collection rather than something we picked up from other hotels or from hotel schools. That means, I guess, that we have some fairly unique management practices at Unlisted Collection. It might not work for everyone but it works for us.
The restaurant at One Leicester Street will take over the space that St John Chinatown used to occupy. How will its culinary mission differ?
Tom has been working at St John for a long time, and he is an English chef to his very core so that part of him will probably never change. He’s a really great chef and a very innovative one, so over time I expect that his own signature will come to the fore more and more. It will still be English but with a strong Tom Harris stamp!
Given its Chinatown location, will One Leicester Street draw on and reflect the neighbourhood’s particular energy in any way? If so, how?
Yes, we expect very much to be a part of the neighbourhood and to be part of its local scene. We don’t cook Chinese food but we’re going to be a true London restaurant and be a signature part of Leicester Square. It’s a very multicultural part of town and we feel that we fit in very well indeed.
What can future guests look forward to in terms of the hotel’s planned special features and amenities… Anything you’re particularly excited about?
Well it’s a 15 room hotel and it will be very intimate and very much a part of the most vibrant part of the West End, so our guests can expect to be immersed in that special part of London. I think our strengths have always been in small hotels with an intimate experience and to bring that to such a bustling part of town is quite exciting for us. We can’t wait to show that part of London to our guests!
What’s special and unique about One Leicester Street? Could you sum it up in 3 words?
Central, intimate and fun!
You have hotels and restaurants in Singapore, London, and Shanghai. Why have you chosen these cities specifically? Do you envision expanding to other cities in the coming years and if so where’s next on your list?
There is no particular reason other than they are exciting and vibrant cities and also places where we find the types of project we like to do. I would set up a restaurant or hotel in any part of the world so long as it was exciting and fun and had the right spirit and the right type of buildings. We tend to work with heritage properties so anywhere with an interesting stock of heritage buildings would generally be of interest. My next project is in Sydney and I am now doing up a 60 room hotel and 3 restaurants in the old Foster’s Beer headquarters in Broadway Sydney.
When you’re in town, what are your favourite London hotspots?