Is this Britain's best hotel?

By Alison Rice, Mail on Sunday

Last updated at 12:18 24 May 2004


Pink: one of the many celebrity fans of the Lowry hotel

What makes a hotel excellent? The design of the rooms? The food? The service? Hotelier Sir Rocco Forte thinks it's a combination of all three and the judges of the Excellence in England tourism awards - England's tourism 'Oscars' - agree.

They have just voted his Lowry Hotel in Manchester the best large hotel in England. They said it offered 'dramatic architecture, the best dining experience, most attentive service and a vision of what hotels and service can become'.

If others follow the Lowry's lead, prepare yourself for starry encounters and master classes in black-pudding tasting. The Lowry is modern, spacious and hip enough to warrant bellboys turning up to arrange fresh limes on cool slates by your bed. Beds are two metres wide. There are fashionable paintings on the walls, suede cushions and walk-in wardrobes in every room - and you could land a light plane in the wide corridors. And the service is impressive. At breakfast, when I mentioned that the black pudding tasted different to the one served with a bubble-and-squeak starter at dinner, the waiter not only rushed off to interrogate the chef, but came back with an offer from the kitchen to cook a slice of the French dinner pudding alongside the breakfast Bury version so we could compare and contrast. We did. France won. Maybe it's a northern thing, but when I was there all the staff were smiling. The only scowl I encountered was from a platinum blonde guest I met in the lift.

A sharper hack than me would have recognised her as the pop singer Pink and asked what she thought of the Lowry. I doubt if she had any complaints. She was staying in the Charles Forte presidential suite with its grand piano and enough floor space for a game of football. Perhaps that's why the Beckhams so liked the Lowry. The architecture is dramatic. The stark-looking building curves alongside the River Irwell. The bar and restaurant are on the first floor and the noise cascades down to the open-plan entrance hall. Yet somehow the atmosphere manages to be comfortable, warm and homely. The Coronation Street scriptwriters hole up in the Lowry for their monthly script conference. Robbie Williams and Kylie have been spotted there, although not together. Weekenders come to stay for football matches or pampering sessions at the hotel's spa, which has a waiting list for appointments. There's much less muck in Manchester these days, but you certainly notice the brass. The Lowry's concierge had to arrange a private jet for one guest's departure and the hire of a convertible Ferrari for another. In the restaurant there were two gangs of women dining, all sporting strappy frocks, Jimmy Choo sandals, streaks and suntans. Four men eating together, wearing jeans and thick gold watches, chowed into the lobster and champagne. Somehow the restaurant pulls off the trick of being fun and flash, yet casual and posh. And the food, under the guidance of young chef David Woolf, is good, modern and comes at about £40 to £50 a head with wine.

The hotel's name is confusing. It's named after the North West's famous painter because Charles Forte, Rocco's dad, owns the largest private collection of L.S. Lowrys.

But this name leads many to think the hotel must be in Salford Quays at Trafford Park, by the Lowry Centre. In fact, Rocco's monument to modernism is just a hop, skip and designer footbridge from the centre of Manchester. The hotel was built in an area in desperate need of regeneration. With no other five-star hotels in the city from which to poach staff, the launch team at Rocco Forte Hotels chose to train some of their staff from scratch.

Training includes the Be Our Guest scheme in which every member of staff, from dishwasher to doorman, stays at the hotel for a night so they can appreciate the full customer experience.

They're also piloting a Back To The Floor plan whereby managers swap jobs for a day. The general manager has served time as a waiter, the resident manager as a linen porter. It's this sort of behind-the-scenes detail that impressed the Excellence in England judges. The judging process takes nine months. Each regional tourist board nominates a shortlist. Trained assessors then make anonymous overnight visits. They also check out staff training and development policies, accessibility for guests with disabilities, marketing and environmental policies. The judges found the Lowry to be 'utterly individual with phenomenal attention to detail'. Shame they didn't mention the black puddings.

• The Lowry Hotel is at 50 Dearmans Place, Chapel Wharf, Salford M3 5LH (, 0161 827 4000). Leisurebreak rates start from £80 per person per night, bed and breakfast, sharing a room.

Visit for a full list of Excellence in England winners.

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