Review by Fiona Duncan, published 6th January 2008.
There have been massive changes in the hotel industry in recent years, but none more so than in the urban "affordable luxury" category. They began, in smaller cities, with the Hotel du Vin chain, and in larger ones with Malmaison.
With an ever-increasing number of quality, affordable hotels, Manchester is a city whose star is on the rise
Suddenly the traditional three- to four-star city centre hotel was outmoded; where once you got an indifferent bed, a television, a trouser press (an object that will soon turn up in curiosity shops) and lousy food, the new breed of hotels offered style, panache, trendy cooking, fine linen, monsoon showers and state-of-the-art in-room entertainment. Those hotels continue to dominate the market, but there is now a third group, also expanding, but quietly, which is beginning to make waves.
City Inn has five hotels: in Westminster, Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow and Birmingham, with Leeds, the City of London and Amsterdam to come. It strikes me as that rare thing, a "product" hotel group with a heart. Owned by Scottish father and son Sandy and David Orr, its approach is mercifully restrained and ungimmicky in a way that puts the requirements of its guests first and its brand second.
Despite the necessary functionality (each hotel is purpose-built) I warmed to the public spaces at City Inn Manchester, almost opposite Piccadilly Station. It has a reception area that doubles as a comfortable meeting place, two bars, one relaxing, the other dark and intimate, and a restaurant that manages - thanks to a clever use of lighting and curtains - to be at once practical and welcoming.
The dozen or so elegant meeting rooms are intelligently located on a mezzanine overlooking the lobby, allowing the business folk to feel included in the life of the hotel, yet remain out of view.
In terms of decoration, I was less enamoured of the almost anodyne bedrooms (too plain a palette, as so often), but could not fault their very high specs, including floor-to-ceiling windows that actually open, breezy air-conditioning that uses fresh air from outside and heats or cools at the touch of a button, and mist-free mirrors. But the star of the show - a stroke of genius, this - is the gorgeous Apple Mac computer (in every room; wifi is free), which also, innovatively, hosts countless television and radio channels, plus CDs and DVDs. You can even give loved ones at home a goodnight kiss via the on-screen camera.
What about the food? City Inns describes its City Cafés as "restaurants in hotels, not hotel restaurants" and is proud of the thoughtful menu and the quality of the food. A friend in Bristol speaks highly of the City Café there, but while we were perfectly happy with our dinner (I treated two godchildren, both at Manchester University, to a night off the "vodbulls" (that's vodka and Red Bull), I'm not sure if I would have beaten a path to its door, and Joe's comment that his overcooked pea and mint risotto with gorgonzola was worryingly reminiscent of the morning after the night before wasn't entirely unjustified.
Still, quibbles apart, I'd be happy to stay in City Inn Manchester again, especially if I secure one of the many offers.
1 Auburn Street, Manchester (0161 242 1000; www.cityinn.com). Rooms and suites range from £79 to £325 depending on availability (floating rates).
For more reviews and recommendations by Fiona Duncan, visit www.thehotelguru.com.