Church Street Hotel

“A little bit of Mexico, one that's hip and won't break the bank, in South-East London.”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 23rd September 2007.

Fancy staying in a Mexican hotel? One with a hip, eclectic, faintly 1960s feel? With an equally eclectic international clientele? Then make your way to Camberwell, right next to KFC and opposite the Patty Island Caribbean takeaway.

Intrigued? I was. This new hotel's website promised something refreshing, different and affordable, and it delivered. As for the location, just along from Camberwell Green… well, it's real, that's for sure. Busy, noisy, multi-ethnic and decidedly urban.

This isn't pampered central London, but Oval tube is just round the corner if you need to get there.

Doubtless it was a one-off, but the night we stayed all the other guests seemed to be drop-dead gorgeous, from the tall American film-maker to the friendly Kiwi in shorts.

Stick around the honesty bar in the walnut-panelled breakfast room and you may find yourself in easy conversation with people from all over the world. It's that sort of place. The owners, Spanish/Greek brothers José and Mel Raido are pretty cool, too.

The restrained exterior of the hotel gives no hint of what lies inside. In reception there are reclaimed French encaustic tiles on the floor, and a gold-painted altar for the desk.

Wooden blinds, matching old-fashioned Italian style sofa and armchair, a glass chandelier, colourful icons on the wall… there isn't a hotel reception remotely like it in the country, let alone London.

Swirly patterned carpet leads you upstairs only adding to the feeling that one is in some sort of exotic time-warp. The lurid religious paintings and studded, brown painted bedroom doors reinforce the impression that it's a Mexican/Cuban/colonial sort of a time warp.

Open the door, and your room is likely to be bursting with colour. Ours was cobalt blue, with a handmade iron bed (extremely comfortable) and three high alcoves displaying painted crucifixes.

A bottle of Havana Club made a perfect vase for a couple of fresh roses, while on the white desk, an empty cigar box contained a complimentary note pad with a handwritten note of welcome, plus Green and Black chocolate and a bottle of hot sauce, made by José and Mel's father.

"Be careful, it's really hot," said José. He was right. Next to the cigar box: a painted figurine of a Mexican lady with a birdcage on her back. And books - Brett Easton, Ellis, Gurdjieff, Hunter S. Thompson. The brothers want Church Street to attract literary types.

Bathrooms are covered in hand-painted Mexican tiles, with matching ceramic basins. There's plenty of hot water and the showers are good. There are flat-screen TVs and DVDs in the bedrooms (except in the "Poblito" rooms, with bathrooms - occasionally shared - across the corridors). These are small, but come in at low prices.

There's no restaurant at present, although a tapas bar is on its way, but José is happy to recommend places, even printing you a map for directions.

We chose Ganapati, serving authentic Indian food in simple surroundings, and loved it. As for breakfast, under a whirring metal ceiling fan at two brightly covered tables lined by church-pew chairs, it's fun.

The coffee is freshly ground, the croissants and pastries are the best, there are eggs, juices, smoothies and newspapers. I loved it.

Camberwell Church Street, London (020 7703 5984;

Doubles from £89.99 per night, including breakfast.

The Hotel Guru verdict

5 out of 5

Individual, eclectic, unusual, refreshingly different and well thought out

4 out of 5

A simple hotel, but a high level of commitment from the young owners

4 out of 5

Really unusual: a cuban/mexican fantasy in camberwell

Food and drink
4 out of 5

No dinner, but complimentary teas and coffees, honesty bar and excellent continental breakfast

Value for money
4 out of 5

Style and quality at reasonable prices

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