An exclusive hotel has banned alcohol and pork after being taken over by a Middle Eastern businessman who wants to run it ‘in accordance with Sharia law’.
The strict Islamic policy was imposed without warning this week at London’s Bermondsey Square Hotel – where the bar and grill was previously run by Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace.
Staff said the new rules were swiftly implemented on Tuesday on the orders of the new Muslim owner, forcing waiters to tell disgruntled guests that much of the menu was no longer available.
Diners were denied dishes that used only traces of alcohol – such as beer-battered fish, a pudding with ‘drunken cherries’ and rum ice cream. Drinkers were offered only non-alcoholic beer and elderflower cordial.
Forced to improvise, chefs are now trying to source chicken and beef sausages instead of pork varieties for breakfast and have replaced the popular hog roast with rabbit terrine.
The £220-a-night hotel is believed to be one of the first in the country to introduce the strict Muslim policy but staff say the changes have caused business to plummet, with many reservations cancelled.
Several fear for their jobs unless the hotel – previously voted the UK’s trendiest place to stay and where Gordon Ramsay once filmed a show – is marketed for a different clientele.
An IT consultant, who has been a regular at the hotel, said: ‘A group of us were meant to be meeting in the bar and they said: “We can’t serve alcohol any more.”
‘When I contacted the manager to ask why, he told me that the new owner wanted it to be a Sharia law hotel. Under Sharia law, you can’t make a profit from alcohol.’
The guest said he would no longer book the hotel in future, adding: ‘They’ve got to be careful. It’s been quiet and this is almost the death knell.’
On community website london-se1, a poster called Drgreenmark2 said customers were ‘kicking off’, adding: ‘Who on earth believes a “dry” hotel and restaurant is going to work in central London, never mind Bermondsey square? This is not Saudi Arabia!’
Gavin Smith posted: ‘I’m a teetotaller but think the no alcohol and no pork policy is too prescriptive. What next? Are guests in the linked hotel going to be asked to provide marriage certificates if they want a double room? Are same-sex couples going to be refused entry?’
The change was so swift that the hotel’s website and menus have not yet been updated and the venue still bills itself as the place to stay for ‘party people, foodies and fashionistas’.
Menus for the GB Bar and Grill still offer full English breakfast with sweetcure streaky bacon and Cumberland sausage, and roast pork belly with black pudding.
The restaurant boasts of ‘signature British dishes’ but even the children’s option of sausage and chips will now have to be changed to meet the new policy.
The hotel website also continues to boast of champagne receptions, its ‘inviting cocktail bar’ and is illustrated with pictures of guests drinking beer.
Customers calling to make reservations are warned they will not be allowed to order beer, wine or spirits because the hotel is under ‘new management’. However, they can buy alcohol from outside and drink it in their rooms.
Several staff at the hotel did not know the new owner’s identity and had been told only that he was from the Middle East. Some were puzzled by the new policy at such short notice as the hotel does not have a significant Muslim clientele and the food is not halal.
Nearby restaurants said they saw a surge in business when customers walked out of the hotel’s grill on Tuesday.
The Village East Brasserie said it had 12 extra diners who specifically asked: ‘Do you serve alcohol because the hotel we are staying in doesn’t?’
Masterchef judge Wallace, who ran the hotel bar and grill until last year, said last night: ‘It doesn’t bother me what the owner wants to do.
‘It’s his religious point of view not to serve alcohol and pork and I respect that. I stay at the hotel and if I want to drink I go elsewhere.’
The hotel was also the setting for Channel 4’s Hotel GB in 2012 when Gordon Ramsay, Mary Portas and Gok Wan competed to run the venue for charity.
It was voted the trendiest in the UK by TripAdvisor in 2010 and rock stars are among those who have sampled its 80 designer bedrooms, which include loft rooms overlooking London’s skyline.
Robert Holland of Bespoke Hotels, which has operated the hotel since it opened in 2009, said decisions were made to change ‘some elements of the business’
‘These are in the best interests of the future of the hotel,’ he said. ‘We always have, and continue to, welcome guests of all shapes, sizes and denomination.’
Bespoke Hotels also operates the La Suite West hotel in Bayswater, West London, which does not serve alcohol and has a vegan restaurant.
Courtesy of the Daily Mail