Review by Fiona Duncan, published 24th December 2006.
This is my first abode. Okay, not my first home, but my first visit to one of Andrew Brownsword and Michael Caines' growing chain of affordable city hotels. It's my first ABode, I should say (irritating, those capitals, but they do catch the eye). I borrowed my elder son and his car and we set out for a quick spin to Canterbury.
Or so we thought. Canterbury's traffic system would surely try the patience of an archbishop, let alone a saint, and the jams on the A2 didn't help.
I shall draw a veil over our increasingly desperate attempts to find the hotel. Suffice to say that we passed the same family bickering in the window of a café by traffic lights four times and were eventually stopped by the police as we trundled, by now devoid of guilt, along a cobbled car-free shopping street thick with pedestrians. "Please arrest us, officers," I told them calmly. "A prison cell seems like a nice idea at this point. But first, do tell, where is the ABode Hotel?" "Right here, madam," they intoned, expressionless (they've seen it all before). "You are parked outside it."
We had half an hour to spare before dinner. "They'd better be nice rooms," hissed my son, who was by now wishing that he'd stayed at home.
They were: my top-end "Enviable" room was nerve-soothingly calm, spacious and stylish, with a fun bathroom cleverly encased in glass walls behind the bed and a separate walk-in shower. No character to speak of, but soothing and relaxing. The handmade bed was the pièce de résistance: huge and wonderfully comfortable, with a thick mattress topper, silky soft sheets and piles of pillows.
Hotel du Vin and Malmaison started it; ABode continues the theme: that of creating stylish contemporary hotels in city centres that were formerly accommodation deserts. Hotel du Vin's secret weapons are bistros that draw the locals in droves as well as hotel guests; Malmaison makes a speciality of converting unusual buildings such as prisons and churches; ABode, which in Canterbury occupies a long-established but latterly run down High Street coaching inn, has Michael Caines' "fine dining at affordable prices".
Caines, famously, has one arm and gained two Michelin stars for his kitchen at Gidleigh Park. He is evidently a very good chef and if he puts his name to restaurants we expect them to be good too. Anything less, and disappointment is the inevitable result, which is just what I felt in the all-white space at ABode, Canterbury. There was nothing bad about the food, it just lacked oomph, while the substandard breakfast next morning had nothing whatsoever to do with gourmet cooking.
I really liked my room at this otherwise rather formulaic hotel, whose "special character" has not, as the brochure will have it, been preserved. ABode Canterbury is business-like and comfortable, but like its food, not memorable.
If I return to Abode Canterbury it will have to be by parachute. Apparently brown signs bearing the hotel's name have now been erected, directing guests from the ring road, but that's too late for us: the hotel may fade from the memory, but our four-wheel trauma will long endure.
High Street, Canterbury (01227 766266; www.abodehotels.co.uk). Doubles from £125 per night, including breakfast