The corporate cliches have been kept to a minimum at this large, comfortable chain hotel, which offers Bauhaus-style functionality and, surprisingly, the occasional DJ at breakfast
A joyously clutter-free room at the Innside Manchester hotel
I have a ritual when I enter a hotel room. From the bed, I take any scatter cushions, throws, even the occasional cuddly toy, bundle them up and dump them in a corner. I then clear all leaflets, welcome packs, flowers, ornaments, bedside glasses and table-talkers (you know, those triangles of card advertising spa treatments and 2-for-1 steaks in the grill), and stick them on a shelf. I want to be able to sit down, move around and plug-in my phone without constantly knocking things over.
So after opening the door to my room at Innside, my brain did a celebratory back-flip. This was an unusually clutter-free room. It contained everything you might need, down to a free dental hygiene kit and complimentary soft drinks, but nothing more. Moreover, everything is stowed in such a way that there is plenty of walk-room around that huge bed. The partially open-plan bathroom (note: the sink, not the shower and toilet) adds to the sense of space.
The hotels restaurant, Street on First, is pure modern Madrid minimalism, a vast glass box finished in stone and marble
Given their hard surfaces and a grey/ white colour scheme reminiscent of a Joy Division album cover (we are across the road from the old Hacienda), these 208 bedrooms will split opinion. Some will find the gloomy corridors and monochrome suites too bleak. Personally I loved it, not least because it was exceptionally comfortable with its super-firm mattress, ergonomic furniture and solid Villeroy & Boch bathroom fittings. I could have stayed on the 10th floor for hours, watching Manchester beetle away below me.
If the Bauhaus functionality of the bedrooms reflects Innsides German origins, the ground floor lobby and bar-restaurant, Street on First, are clearly the creation of its Spanish owner, hotel giant Meli. The look is pure modern Madrid minimalism, a vast glass box finished in stone and marble, dressed with elegant, slimline furniture and peculiar designer light fittings (not always that practical I twice head-butted one at breakfast). On a sunny day, flooded with light, it looked a neat fit with the surrounding buildings, a very European development of open spaces, sculptures and futuristic fascia, that includes the arts centre HOME.
Not that Innside is entirely free of corporate hotel cliche. Two huge TVs relay 24-hour news on mute in the lobby-bar, while the piped music drips anodyne jazz and latin house. Bizarrely, on Thursdays and Fridays there is a DJ at breakfast (a lavish buffet). It is an attempt to cheer up business travellers. Luckily, I was there on Tuesday.
The conceptual nonsense in the restaurant, that sees each day assigned a different mood, is also unnecessary. More interesting is that, unusually among chains, each Innside does its own buying and menu design. There are interesting craft beers from Barcelonas Beer Cat and the local Tweed Brewery behind the bar, incredibly lemony olive oil on the tables and upmarket ibrico ham on the Spanish-influenced menu. The execution isnt flawless, for instance a potentially great dish of scallops and pork belly is rather muddled by too many garnishes, but chef Dave Spanners lamb sliders are excellent and his tuna nioise is an artful plate that delivers on flavour.
The Whitworth Art Gallery. Photograph: David Levene