Photo of The Ellington

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 14th December 2008.

Lucinda and I share a much-loved god-daughter who is studying at Leeds University. We hatch a plan to spring her from her student dive and put her up in style in this just-opened hotel. I know little about it, except that it has a Duke Ellington/Big Band era theme.

Why Ellington? No reason, apparently, unless you count the fact that the great man played a couple of times in Leeds. Oddly enough, I know another hotel called The Ellington, in Berlin, but that has a more convincing claim to the name: it’s on the site of a legendary club where he often performed. Here in Leeds, the name is simply an excuse for a theme.

In a new, businesslike building with a striking atrium in the city’s financial district the theme, it would seem, is itself an excuse – for crushed velvet. In the front lobby, dark red crushed velvet armchairs; in the atrium bar, shining silver crushed velvet cocktail chairs; in the bedrooms crushed velvet buttonbacks, in midnight blue, flame red or gold, embellished with silver studs. Along with the fringed lampshades, the satin headboards and the framed sheet music, we get the message. But it’s all against a sober, dark wood background (not curtains, but louvred sliding doors across the windows) and hard, I fear, to like.

There’s plenty to enjoy, however. The perfect beds, covered in Egyptian cotton, the Nespresso machine, the glossy mags and best of all for our god-daughter, the amazing array of complimentary video games on offer. We summon a kind girl from “guest relations” who sets us up with a Nintendo Wii and a Wii Fit; if we’d wanted we could have borrowed a PlayStation, an X-Box 360, and an iPod and a huge selection of DVDs as well.

In the end, the godmothers turn out to be too thick to understand the Wii and the poor god-daughter understandably tires of trying to explain it to them. We summon someone to teach us how to operate the bathroom taps (which not even the god-daughter can work out) and we all descend for dinner.

The basement restaurant, poor thing, is not exempt from “the theme”. Terrific black-and-white photographs of jazz legends give way to a truly strange room that, with no windows, is impossible to place but more reminiscent of Berlin than Leeds. There are velvet (of course) banquettes in blue, acres of odd white and gold beading as room dividers and opaque glass pendant ceiling lights that we struggle to describe: “faintly gynaecological” comes closest.

But again, all is not lost – by no means. The service is smooth (the hotel is owned by an ex-Rocco Forte senior employee who insists on similar five-star standards) and the dinner excellent. Chef Robert Bates is a protégée of Albert Roux, who advised on the food and our scallops and black pudding, grilled cutlets with mint hollandaise and calves’ liver with lime are all splendid. So to sum up: top-notch service in a corporate hotel with a big band theme, strange decoration and great food. Confused? We are.

23-25 York Place (0113 204 2150; Doubles from £190; breakfast from £14.50. Access possible for guests with disabilities.