London Hotels

10 Oct 2006 by intern11

A special report on accommodation in the English capital has Business Traveller reviewing some old favourites and new openings

Welcome to London – a city of thousands of hotels in every category, from bed and breakfast up to five-star luxury. We’ve tried to pick a range of brands and accommodation that you are likely to be interested in, but have avoided the more obvious, well-known choices. Choose from lavish boutique hotels like The Bentley Kempinski to privately owned ones like Mandeville.

South Kensington And Gloucester Road

The Bentley Kempinski

27-33 Harrington Gardens, South Kensington, London SW7 4JX, England, tel 44 207 244 5555, kempinski.com

A short walk from both Gloucester Road and South Kensington underground stations (for the Piccadilly, Circle and District lines), this is a lavish boutique hotel which announces its high European style in the lobby, where the first hundred or so tonnes – of a total 600 tonnes – of marble from Italy and Africa can be found. In keeping with other Kempinski properties, there’s an understated air of deference by the staff, which goes some way to relax you on arrival.

It’s a relatively new property, having been the Eden Hotel in a previous life, but, sitting in the lobby on a Louis XV-style chair and admiring the chandeliers, it feels like it has been here for a century. The classy air is reinforced by the lack of signage around the hotel and by the attentive and helpful staff.

The 64 rooms are split into several room categories, from single (Deluxe Queen) to doubles and twins and several different types of suites. All rooms are large (the smallest floor area is 45sq m) and have the same high style – walk into the bathrooms and you’ll see yet more marble as well as separate showers and spa baths, Penhaligon’s toiletries as well as lots of gold colours and gilt.

As you’d expect, both the bar and the two restaurants are excellent, and very unusual. The basement Malachite Bar is Russian in flavour, with lots of deep reds and glistening surfaces. It has a very private dining room – the Gilbert Room – which is hidden towards the back with no natural light but gold thread woven through the carpet. Opposite the bar is the fine-dining restaurant, called 1880 (referring to the date of the original four private homes that now make up the hotel). This isn’t the sort of place you’d pop into for a quick bite while reading the evening newspaper. The “Grazing (degustation) Menu” costs US$98 for seven courses or US$109 for eight, or there is a three-course à la carte for US$92. On the ground floor, Peridot restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch with a shortened version of the menu from 1880 available five nights (Tuesday to Friday) of the week. For breakfast, a continental costs US$27 while a full English is US$35.

There is no dedicated business centre, though all requests are likely to be catered for by reception, and the four meeting rooms include the Cigar Divan tucked away in the lobby area, the Daniel Room and the Alexander Room – perfect for smaller, high-level meetings. PC and high-speed internet access are available (US$30 for 24 hours).

For fitness fanatics or sybarites, there’s Le Kalon Spa, which uses Swiss-based Karin Herzog products and has one of London’s few Turkish hammans. Even if you don’t fancy a treatment, it’s worth going to have a look. It’s like a magic grotto under the hotel.


A superb and, in many ways, surprising hotel, given the locale, but one well worth seeking out – particularly if you are staying in London for the weekend and can take advantage of competitive rates.


Internet rates for the first week of November start at US$431 for a Deluxe King Room, subject to VAT.

Tom Otley

Millennium Gloucester Hotel/Millennium Bailey’s Hotel

Millennium Gloucester, 4-18 Harrington Gardens, London SW7 4LH, England, tel 44 207 373 6030; Millennium Bailey’s, 140 Gloucester Road, London SW7 4QH, England, tel 44 207 373 6000, millenniumhotels.com

Close to the Kempsinki, these hotels form part of the huge Millennium Conference Centre complex and are a stone’s throw from Gloucester Road underground station, giving convenient access to travellers arriving via Heathrow on the Piccadilly line. The entrance to Bailey’s is on Gloucester Road, while the Gloucester can be accessed from either Gloucester Road or Harrington Gardens via a driveway that runs through the middle of the building. The conference centre can be accessed either by its own entrance on Harrington Gardens or through the Millennium Gloucester.

The Millennium Gloucester has the more corporate feel of the two, and is by far the larger at 610 rooms (336 Standard Rooms, 97 Business Club Rooms, 169 Millennium Club Rooms and eight suites). My Business Club Room was decorated in rather subdued colours, and looked in need of a lick of paint to brighten it up a little. Standard Rooms are between 25 and 29sq m, and have views either externally or internally onto the Conservatory conference room below. Facilities include TV, radio, iron/ironing board, tea and coffee facilities, minibar and hairdryer, but no safe. Frustratingly, there was no rubbish bin in the room and only a tiny one in the bathroom. There was a sign next to the heated towel rail in my bathroom advising users not to turn the dial above “2” but for some reason, it was set to a scorching “9” when I checked in.

All Club Rooms, and half of Standard Rooms, have broadband internet access (costing US$38 for 24 hours or US$15 per hour) and there is Wi-Fi access in public areas (US$23 for 24 hours or US$15 for four hours).

Business Club rooms offer a dedicated work area with large desk and directable lamp, and include access to the Millennium Club lounge, with complimentary evening drinks between 1800 and 1930, and continental breakfast available between 0700 and 1030.

The Millennium Bailey’s, on the other hand, is more like a boutique hotel, and is geared towards leisure visitors and smaller corporate groups. It has bags of character, with many of the features (including a grand staircase and stained glass windows) dating back to 1876 when the building was erected. There are 211 rooms, of which 36 are singles, 135 are standards (with a mixture of twin and double beds), 38 are Club Rooms, and two suites. Due to the layout and age of the building, the room size varies – even within the same band – and no one floor or view is reserved for a certain type of room. The accommodation has a typically English feel, with checked bedspreads and Victorian-style toilets and basins in the bathrooms, which are extremely clean-looking, with bright white tiles. Room facilities include radio and TV with satellite and pay movies, minibar, hairdryer, tea and coffee facilities, iron/ironing board and broadband internet access (there is Wi-Fi access in the ground floor public areas).

For drinks and dining, the complex has a wide variety of choices – some part of the hotels and some stand-alone restaurants within the building. The Millennium Gloucester has South West 7, a buffet-style restaurant with natural daylight where breakfast is also served, and there is also Humphrey’s Bar. Olives restaurant at Bailey’s serves modern European fare, and has an adjoining bar looking out onto the street. However, the more interesting eating options are the Bugis Street Brasserie which serves Cantonese and Singaporean cuisine, and the famous Indian restaurant Bombay Brasserie. Both of these are independent restaurants in their own right, although they are advertised in conjunction with the hotels, and residents can charge meals to their rooms.

Most of the conference and meeting facilities are shared between these two hotels, although each has its own boardroom-style meeting rooms. There is over 1,000sq m of conference space in the complex, with the largest area being the Century suite which can hold up to 500 theatre-style, down to the Courtfield suite with a capacity of 38 boardroom-style. The Gloucester also has the Conservatory, a glass-ceilinged room (many of the inner rooms look onto this) which includes a bar and gazebo and is decorated with palm trees. This event area is officially part of the Gloucester but is directly accessible from Bailey’s via a corridor. The centre has an underground car park for 110 cars, available to guests of both hotels and day delegates at US$56 for 24 hours.

Leisure facilities at the hotels are limited to the fitness centre at the Gloucester (residents of Bailey’s can also this use for free), equipped with cardiovascular and weight machines.


Millennium Gloucester is suited to large groups coming to use the conference facilities, but individual travellers will find Bailey’s more welcoming and cosy while still enjoying most of the facilities of its bigger brother.


Internet rates for a Standard King Room for the first week of November start at US$208 at the Gloucester, and US$265 at The Bailey’s. Rates are subject to tax.

Mark Caswell


Brown’s Hotel

Albemarle Street, Mayfair, London W1S 4BP, England, tel 44 207 493 6020, roccofortehotels.com

One of the oldest hotels in London (opened in 1837), Brown’s has its main entrance on Albemarle Street – although for meetings the back door onto Dover Street is sometimes opened. A minute’s walk from Green Park underground (where the Piccadilly line links you to Heathrow) and only a few minutes from Green Park, Piccadilly and the West End, the hotel has been extensively refurbished during a 20-month and US$36 million renovation, and is now part of the five-star Rocco Forte Collection. The interior design, described as English Modern, is the work of Olga Polizzi, and works well. It’s eight years since I stayed, and all the changes are for the better.

The 117 rooms (including 15 suites) are furnished in linen and silk, with angora bed throws and artwork by Bridget Riley and emerging British artists. All rooms have a multi-channel TV with digital LCD screens, high-speed internet access (at US$38 per day), UK and US modems, and 110/240V converter outlets. The suites are surely the largest in London, averaging 95sq m – unheard of for Mayfair. They also have TVs at one end of the bath, an iPod dock, complimentary pressing service for one garment per guest and a large table for in-room dining.

The Donovan Bar, which is inspired by the Helmut Newton Bar in Berlin, is lined with black and white prints by British photographer Terence Donovan. It can get very busy in the evening, but has been expanded during the renovation, including the former library restaurant area. The extended Bill Amberg leather bar has an original stained glass window as a backdrop (there are other stained glass windows dotted around the hotel, including in some of the stairwells), wooden floors, black leather seating and dark country check banquettes. A signature cocktail – “Box Brownie” – is made with strawberries infused for 12 hours in a secret combination of liqueurs and topped with champagne.

On the way into the bar you’ll find the English Tea Room (open 1500-1800), with its wood ceiling dating from 1837. Here you can listen to the piano and eat delicate sandwiches, assorted pastries, scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve, choose cakes from the trolley and drink a pot of tea – all for US$55 per guest. The Grill (previously Restaurant 1837) has all of its original wooden panelling, moss-green leather banquette seating, cream linen Roman blinds and original 1930s Italian lights.


A superb hotel, and a long-awaited return for this famous name.


Internet rates for the first week of November start at US$555 for a Double or Twin Room, subject to VAT.

Tom Otley



Mandeville Place, Marylebone, London W1U 2BE, England, tel 44 207 935 5599, mandeville.co.uk

If you need proof that there’s room in the London hotel market for just about anything, the Mandeville is it. This privately owned and managed hotel recently reopened after an extensive renovation. On Mandeville Place, just north of Wigmore and Oxford Streets and south of Marylebone High Street, this hotel hides a smooth minimalism behind an outrageous bar and restaurant. From the outside, it is a typically smart 19th-century block. Once inside, the craziness starts with bright red sofas and high orange bar chairs around reception, and gets into full flow with the deVigne bar and deVille restaurant.

The 142 bedrooms are in a variety of styles, and thankfully all are much more restrained than the public areas, with flashes of colour kept to some soft furnishings. My room looked out onto the street and was quite noisy – I was awoken by a street-cleaning machine very early in the morning.

The deVigne restaurant has to be seen to be believed. Designed by Stephen Ryan in a concept of “casually smart but tailored”, it in fact looks like the wilder excesses of a Moscow restaurant re-imagined for London. Giant floral motif wallpaper is a backdrop to oil paintings framed in clear Perspex. Then there’s a colour scheme of brown (“Weimaraner brown”, apparently), orange and white, with mirrored columns and a bar with constantly changing mood lighting thrown in for good luck. The signature Honeysuckle Cocktail is “an eclectic mix of honey vodka, rose-petal liqueur, elderflower, fresh raspberries and champagne (US$20)”. It isn’t as bad as it sounds, but it still isn’t pleasant. There are wasabi-coated nuts to nibble on and bar bites available for US$9.

Our meal was good (two courses US$34, three courses US$43) and the service was exemplary and restrained compared to the surroundings, particularly since the fire alarm went off twice during our meal. I just loved the way everyone ignored it.

There’s a good-sized gym and a couple of meeting rooms including the extremely funky (or macabre) basement Red Room. As its name would suggest, it’s quite overpoweringly red, with red carpet and red chairs.


It won’t suit everyone but the Mandeville is certainly different, the service was good and the prices are competitive for a hotel of this class.


Internet rates for the first week of November start at US$293 for a petite double room, inclusive of VAT.

Tom Otley

Radisson Edwardian Kenilworth Hotel

97 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LB, England, tel 44 207 637 3477, radisson.com

The Kenilworth has been part of the Radisson Edwardian family since 1983. While the building is over 100 years old and was last refurbished in 2001, it feels very modern and has a Far Eastern theme running throughout. Chinese and Cambodian art and furnishings – including an ornamental horse and Chinese painted wardrobe – add character to the marble-floored public spaces.

With a central location on Great Russell Street, the hotel is a short walk from Tottenham Court Road underground station, Covent Garden and the West End, making it a popular choice for business travellers during the week and leisure travellers at the weekend.

The hotel has seven floors with 186 rooms spread throughout its narrow corridors (there are six rooms designed for wheelchair users as well as ramps and public toilet access). Room choices are Standard Doubles and Singles, King Deluxe and four junior suites. The decor in all rooms is similar, with dark wooden furnishings, mustard-coloured carpets and blue curtains. All rooms have free Wi-Fi access, TV with pay movies and radio, and air conditioning. There are also tea and coffee facilities, minibar, electronic safe and iron/ironing board. Rooms overlooking the road have double-glazing. To access the room floors, a key card has to be inserted in the lift, which is a comforting security measure.

My room was a King Deluxe, which is larger than the Standard Room and has extra amenities including bathrobes, slippers and a slightly bigger bathroom. The bathrooms are pale marble and mine had a separate bath and shower. The Gilchrist & Soames toiletries are placed in dispensers above the bath, which is awkward when having a shower as you have to grab a handful and then return to the shower.  My room had a large desk with a mirror and conference phone as well as different plugs including a 110V US plug. Once I had settled in, there was a phone call from reception checking I had everything I needed in my room and, 20 minutes later, housekeeping also knocked to check everything was to my satisfaction.

Breakfast is served in Creations restaurant on the ground floor, next to the bar, from 0700 to 1000 Monday to Saturday and 1030 on Sundays. I had a full English breakfast, which was very good and included organic eggs, with a choice of poached or fried. The healthier cereal and fruit options also looked tasty. The atmosphere at breakfast was charming with soft jazz music and the clatter of coffee cups. Creations seats over 90 people for dinner and serves modern cuisine for lunch and dinner. The bar opens Monday to Saturday from noon until 0200 (last two hours are solely for guests).

The hotel has a small business centre by reception with three computer terminals. It is open 24 hours and has free internet access. There are eight meeting rooms, the largest of which holds up to 120 people. Two of the meeting rooms are on the lower ground floor, which also houses the gym. The gym is accessed with a guest key and is open 24 hours. It is free to guests, who can also use the sauna. The gym is compact but well equipped with two step-machines, a rowing machine and a treadmill as well as a mat area.

Verdict: A comfortable, modern hotel with a relaxed friendly atmosphere and a great location.

Prices: Internet rates for the first week of November start at US$247 for a Single Room.

Felicity Cousins


Malmaison Hotel

Charterhouse Square, London ECIM 6AH, England, tel 44 207 012 3700, malmaison.com

This London property of the fashionable and expanding chain is housed in a former Victorian nursing hostel and set back on the distinctive Charterhouse Square with its iron railings and cobbled road. It’s situated close to Smithfield Market, a short walk from Barbican underground station (on the Circle line for Paddington station and the Heathrow Express). The hotel’s traditional-looking exterior provides a contrast to the interior: a fashionable collection of low-slung chairs, dim lighting and low music leads to the reception desk and the friendly and efficient staff.

All of the 97 rooms (including two suites) are different – a legacy that Malmaison is used to dealing with, since it so often converts existing properties (that is, the recent Oxford prison). Colours are described as “lilac, dove and earth fabric tones” and, compared with the minimalism of some hotels, this treads a deft line between dull and wacky to create a remarkably assured and comfortable interior.

All rooms have firm but comfortable beds, power showers, CD players, tea and coffee facilities, satellite TV, free internet access and same-day laundry (at a charge). The TV is easy to use and has all three Sky Sports channels and no complicated menu to negotiate (or avoid paying for) the pay-movies.

There is a quirkiness to everything that falls just on the right side of whimsical. A sign on both the shower control and bath tap declares that “some like it hot, some like it hotter” and explains the safety mechanism which controls the higher water temperatures. The own-brand toiletries are provided in generously large containers and are also quirky: the shower and hair gel, for example, has cedar wood and peach notes for “an exquisite fig aroma”. I was less sure of the massage oil with the promise that it would leave my skin “as smooth as a baby’s bum”.

I was in a rush the next morning, so I ordered the continental breakfast, which is delivered to your room for US$24 (some room rates include this). It is good value if you are in a hurry – or very hungry – and consists of pastries, cereal, yoghurt and a fruit salad.

The Brasserie, with John Woodward as chef, serves good-value meals: lunch is US$27 for three courses or US$24 for two courses, each with a bottle of wine to share. The bar has a cocktail list (champagne cocktails cost US$24) and the service was superb, friendly but professional. There are two meeting rooms which can take up to 16 boardroom-style or 30 theatre-style, both with plasma screens, complimentary Wi-Fi (also available in the lobby and bar). There is also a small fitness room on the ground floor.

Verdict: Faultless, although the location is likely to suit city visitors rather than those wanting the West End.

Prices: Internet rates for the first week of November start at US$404 for a Superior Double Room, subject to tax.

Tom Otley

Thistle City Barbican

Central Street, Clerkenwell, East London EC1V 8DS, England, tel 44 870 333 9101, thistlehotels.com

The hotel is inside an old tobacco factory and is split into two sections, so to enter you walk under an arch and turn to your right for the main door. The lobby is unremarkable with a long reception desk and an open-style café on the right. This is the only Thistle within the M25 (there are 18 Thistles in the area) to have its own fully-equipped leisure centre.

When I arrived the queue to check in was only four people, but when I passed 20 minutes later on my way out for the evening, it had increased to about 10 – however I was impressed to see that a staff member was handing round glasses of orange juice to those waiting. The hotel decor is businesslike and a little dated, with the last refurbishment taking place five years ago, but service is good and the receptionist who checked me in was helpful and friendly. In total there are 453 rooms. Room categories are Standard (201), Deluxe (224) and Suites (28).

The hotel is nowhere in particular but close to plenty of things. Kings Cross is a 15-minute taxi ride and Liverpool Street is 10 minutes by car or five minutes by underground. The nearest station is Old Street but it’s a 15-minute walk – which is a nuisance if you have luggage, especially as you have to make a few turns down some side streets to reach the hotel. This tucked-away location is the reason for guests being predominantly British; those from overseas tend to prefer to have London’s major sights right outside the front door (here it takes a little more effort).

Deluxe rooms and suites have similar decor, which is in vibrant reds, greens and yellows with crazily patterned curtains; standard rooms are plainer with a blue colour scheme. Suites have more space than Deluxe Rooms, with a seating area as well as bedroom area. All bathrooms have a combined bath and shower, and suites have Penhaligon toiletries; they also have a bathrobe and slippers. Standard features include safe, iron and board, tea and coffee facilities, air conditioning and windows that you can open.

Feeling tired and with plenty of work to do, I ordered a sandwich from room service which was US$9. It arrived in 15 minutes, but once I had parted with the cash I realised I had been brought the wrong order: a ciabatta that cost US$16 but it looked so tasty (and proved to be) that I couldn’t bear to point out the mistake – I will trustingly assume this was a genuine error.

Rooms have a vanity table with a large mirror in the middle and a hairdryer fixed to a panel. There is room for a laptop so you can use it as a working area, and there are power points (including a European one) and a phone point next to the hairdryer. My TV had terrestrial channels and radio but no satellite or movies, and I was unable to get the menu to flash up.

Bar 120 (named after the street address) is tucked round a corner from reception so the music doesn’t disturb guests. It is on two levels with a large TV screen in the corner that shows sport or plays music channels. It opens from 1700 until whenever the last resident leaves. The restaurant is also on the ground floor and serves buffet (three courses for US$37; early bird 1700-1900 three courses US$28) and à la carte (starters from US$8, mains from US$24; four wines by the glass available). A coffeeshop “Commotion” next to the restaurant also serves snacks and drinks, including alcohol.

The business centre is open Monday to Friday, office hours and offers the usual services. A credit card-operated internet machine can be found near the concierge, or for those with their own laptop, there is high-speed internet access in all rooms. Wi-Fi is only available in the coffeeshop and lobby at US$17 an hour. The hotel has 12 meeting rooms which are split between the two parts of the hotel. On the ground floor opposite the main entrance is the largest room, created by merging together the Barbican and Clerkenwell rooms and taking 200 for a dinner-dance. A good room for small meetings is the Director’s Suite which takes up to 12 boardroom-style. Most of the rooms have natural light and all have dropdown screens and hire of audio equipment available.

The Otium leisure centre is on the lower ground level and has a well-equipped gym, a pool, spa bath and sauna and steam room. The equipment in the gym felt very new (I didn’t appreciate football blaring from the TV but most other eyes in the gym were glued to it, so I was in the minority). The centre opens from 0630 to 2130. A beauty therapist offers massages for US$47 for 30 minutes and a range of spa therapies including men’s treatments such as the men’s exclusive facial (US$71 for 60 minutes).

Verdict: A hotel with a reasonable location for the city and good facilities – I was impressed by the leisure centre which makes the hotel a good choice for business travellers to take their families and stretch their stay over a weekend.

Prices: Internet rates for the first week of November start at US$286 for a Deluxe Double Room, including tax.

Sarah Maxwell

The Zetter Restaurant and Rooms

86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5RJ, England, tel 44 207 324 4455, thezetter.com

The Zetter is an old Victorian warehouse which has been wonderfully converted by Mark Sainsbury and Michael Benyan into a modern stylish boutique hotel. The design is both retro (the rooms have small touches of the 1970s in the prints and furniture) and ultra-modern (all rooms have Wi-Fi, DVD players, air conditioning, mood lighting and 4,000 music tracks as well as powerful “Raindance” showers).

The lobby area is small, and when I arrived at around 1800, the hotel was already buzzing with people drinking cocktails in the atrium bar. The reception staff were friendly, asking how my journey was and how easy it was to find the hotel from Farringdon underground station (very). Key cards are needed to access the room floors, each of which has an internal view down into the bar. At night, each floor is lit up in different-coloured muted neon lights.

There are 59 rooms, including seven rooftop studios with floor-to-ceiling windows, large terraces and views across London. Rooms are either standard “guest rooms” or superior “St John’s rooms” in reference to historic St John’s Square around the corner. Standard Rooms are compact with two shuttered windows, while Superior Rooms are larger with four windows. All rooms have exposed brickwork which has been kept from the original warehouse, and are decorated in the same modern retro style with different colour schemes. Mini bars are only present in the rooftop studios, although there are minibar vending machines on each floor next to the coffee machines.

All rooms have inspired, cosy touches such as hot water bottles tucked inside knitted cases, Penguin books, fresh bottled water (containing water drawn from the well beneath the hotel) and toiletries by Elemis. TVs are interactive and have information on the local area, and a keyboard for internet users. Wi-Fi access is available throughout the hotel and is free during the weekends and charged at US$28 per 24 hours during the week.

I stayed in a rooftop studio, which is curved with the shape of the building, with windows all along the crescent decking area and views of St Paul’s Cathedral. The decor is 1970s-style with wooden floors, stylish orange and brown furnishings, two easy chairs, an orange rug and two desk areas with internet access and two telephones. All studio rooms have a bath and shower (other rooms have shower only).

Breakfast is served in the restaurant downstairs, a curved room with a black marble bar and simple black and white chairs and tables overlooking St John’s Square. Continental breakfast is US$18, English breakfast US$28. In the evening the space evolves into a popular Italian restaurant serving modern cuisine. The menu changes monthly and the wine list is 60 bottles strong. For meetings there are two rooms in the basement, beneath the restaurant. One seats 50 theatre-style and 28 boardroom-style and the other 10 boardroom-style. There is no gym but guests have access to Holmes Place at Barbican for US$19.

Verdict: A hotel with style and a great atmosphere. It has all the modern facilities without forgetting to include comfort.

Prices: Internet rates for the first week of November start at US$332 for a guest room, inclusive of tax.

Felicity Cousins


Apex City of London Hotel

1 Seething Lane, London EC3N 4AX, England, tel 44 207 702 2020, apexhotels.co.uk

The fifth Apex hotel in the UK, and the first outside Scotland, the Apex City of London opened in November 2005. Housed in a former office block, the building has been transformed into a sleek, trendy hotel, with a glass-fronted extension housing the brasserie. The hotel is a few minutes’ walk from The Tower of London, in a quiet street overlooking a square. The nearest underground station is Tower Hill (for the DLR, Circle and District lines).

There are 130 rooms, including 67 City Rooms, 22 Superior Rooms, 32 Deluxe Rooms and nine junior suites. My junior suite was located on the first floor. The theme throughout the rooms is cool and minimalist, complemented by black and white photographs of London taken by David Springford, brother of Ian (the hotel’s architect). Junior suites have a lounge area with a sofa, coffee table with selection of magazines, TV and DVD player (DVDs are available on loan from reception), as well as a desk with broadband connections – Wi-Fi is also available throughout the hotel, and both are charged at US$9 per hour or US$28 for 24 hours.

My bedroom area featured another TV, a desk, and an empty fridge – the hotel’s research showing that residents prefer to bring their own drinks rather than purchase from the mini bar. The first five minutes of local calls are free from the room, and a very reasonable US$0.30 per minute to the US at peak times. Bathroom facilities include a Kaldewei bathtub, walk-in shower, and organic amenities from Scottish company The Tub.

For eating, Addendum is a fine-dining restaurant headed by chef Tom Ilic, formerly of Bonds. A sleek mixture of chocolate-brown seating, walnut flooring and amber lighting, the restaurant also has large booths seating up to six people, which would be useful for business meetings as they give you the feeling of having a private dining area. The menu changes every few months, and Ilic’s preference for meat and offal dishes is evident. I chose braised pig’s cheeks and chorizo with a garlic and parsley mash (US$14) to start, followed by seared diver-caught scallops and pig’s tail croquette (a strange mix of flavours but it worked for me), with a Jerusalem artichoke and hazelnut purée (US$41). The hotel also has a bar and the Addendum brasserie, which overlooks the square. It was great to watch the world go by over my “Braveheart” breakfast (the full works including haggis).

Business facilities include five meeting rooms, ranging from two to 80 in capacity, situated to the right of the reception area – they can be closed off from the rest of the hotel. All except one have natural daylight, and the New York room opens out on to a private courtyard for receptions. The rooms follow the same sleek feel as the rest of the hotel, with jet-black tables and more images by Springford, and all the suites have Wi-Fi, broadband, videoconferencing, LCD projector and personal drinks bar.

City spa specialists Urban Remedies have taken up residence at Apex, offering facilities to both residents and casual visitors. Customers can choose treatments such as a 30-minute stress buster massage (US$65) or a 60-minute sports massage (US$121), which successfully unknotted my stubborn shoulders. Holistic treatments include reiki, reflexology and Bach Flower therapy (which refers to a Harley Street doctor from the 1930s rather than the famous composer). They also offer Neuro Linguistic Programming sessions for those looking to quit smoking or lose weight. The hotel also has a fairly small but well-equipped gym.

When I checked out at 0815, there was a lengthy queue. Despite three people being at the desk it took over 10 minutes to get to the front, by which time one gentleman had walked off saying in a loud voice that they could “send him the bill”. The attendant apologised for the delay and assured me it was unusual, although I also overheard a couple saying they had experienced a similar wait at check in.

Verdict: Ideal for those looking for a hotel with a younger edge to it, although the check-out situation needs to be addressed.

Prices: Internet rates for the first week of November start at US$312 for a City King Room.

Mark Caswell

Guoman Tower

St Katherine’s Way, London E1W 1LD, England, tel 44 870 333 9106, guoman.com

Guoman is the deluxe brand of Thistle and it now has two properties in London: the Tower, next to Tower Bridge, and the Cumberland. While the Cumberland has a newly refurbished ultra-modern look, the Tower has been around a bit longer, and it shows.

The 800-room Tower was converted to a Guoman in November, but was built in 1973 and was for a long time the main hotel for business visitors needing access to the city. It has a superb location with some of the best views of any London hotel. Tower Hill underground station is a pleasant 10-minute walk away, past the Tower of London, and has quick links via the District and Circle lines to the West End.

From the outside, the hotel is huge, dominating and rather ugly (see page 68 for a view of the hotel from across the river). Still, if you are inside, the view is rather better – not least because you are not looking at the hotel. The lobby has an open-plan layout, marble pillars and a winding staircase up to the mezzanine level. Many guests are repeat visitors and are processed through a VIP desk, which means the main check in doesn’t get too busy (a wise move for an 800-room hotel). The public areas have all recently been redecorated in a modern style, but the corridors and rooms are at various stages of refurbishment and the hotel has a slightly disjointed look as a result.

Room views are of Tower Bridge, St Katherine’s Dock or the Thames and rates are the same for each (most requests are for the bridge view, unsurprisingly). All the rooms are the same size, differing only in decor and facilities. There are around 90 standard rooms but these are shortly due to be converted into highly modern Cumberland-style “superior” rooms. The hotel will keep its deluxe rooms in the same traditional style for loyal guests who prefer this look.

After Standard and Deluxe Rooms come the City Club Rooms, which were refurbished four years ago. Mine had a double (not king-size) bed, modern artwork and Molton Brown toiletries. The main advantages are early check-in (1000) and late checkout (1600), use of the private checkout lounges on the 6th and 7th floors and the executive lounge (which has internet access).

My room was showing signs of wear and tear including fraying in the carpet, a missing corner in the bathroom mirror, a cupboard door that wouldn’t close, and slightly battered-looking furniture. High-speed internet access is available through a network cable to guests with their own laptop and network card, costing US$0.90 per minute with a maximum of US$28 per 24 hours. The TV has pay movies and terrestrial channels plus Sky Sports. There is a minibar which you can request to be stocked.

Rooms have an air cooling/heating system which displays the current temperature and then cools to 3 degrees below it (however, mine didn’t seem to do much).

The Brasserie on the ground floor serves a reasonably priced à la carte. My roast butternut squash and artichoke salad with sundried tomato and roasted pine kernels (US$15) was enjoyable and service was pleasant and fast. The Brasserie also offers a two-course lunch deal for US$19. Breakfast here costs US$30 and offers a full English or continental with cold meats, fruit, cereals and dried-up croissants. Afterwards, I wished I had gone for the full English, which looked excellent. The Carvery offers English cuisine for US$37 (three courses) and has a private section for up to 40 diners.

Xi Bar is on the upper foyer level and has truly great views, overlooking Tower Bridge which looks fantastic at night. It was quite loud when I ventured in so is not a place for a quiet evening meeting. The hotel has a small gym on the 11th floor; to use it costs US$9 per stay unless you’re in an executive room or above.

Most (15) of the boardrooms are on the 12th floor, along with a small business centre with free internet access. On the upper foyer level is the Tower suite which can cater for up to 550 theatre-style and has various dividers for large or small spaces. The hotel is popular with many of the city banks such as RBS and Barclays.

Verdict: The hotel undoubtedly has a great location and on the Thursday night that I stayed it seemed extremely busy. The public areas are fine but some of the rooms need an overhaul.

Prices: Internet rates for the first week of November start at about US$354 for a Double City Club Room, excluding tax.

Sarah Maxwell

Novotel Tower Bridge

10 Pepys Street, London, EC3N 2NR, England, tel 44 207 265 6000, novotel.com

This Novotel opened in 2000 and has 203 guestrooms, about 50 of which (including mine) have good views of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Unlike the nearby City South property, which was the first to be completely kitted out with the new “Novation” concept, this Novotel has only 29 Novation rooms, although there are plans to convert the other rooms soon.

I stayed in one of the new rooms, which are light and airy compared with the older, more faded-looking rooms, and have white walls and light wood furnishings. The bathroom has double doors which open out into the main room, and is set up to allow guests to watch TV while in the bath. There is a large sink with Accor-branded toiletries, and everything feels clean and modern. I had a small minibar with only some soft drinks and a small bottle of white wine; snacks were available on the minibar menu but these must be requested from room service (I preferred this as it meant less temptation to delve in).

I was impressed most by the service: when I requested a corkscrew it appeared outside my door almost immediately, borne by a smart member of staff who also offered me two wine glasses and opened the bottle for me. Likewise, when I asked for some toothpaste – it materialised outside the door almost before I had hung up the phone. Most impressive though was the service in the restaurant, which is open all day from 0600 for buffet breakfast until 2330 for à la carte dinner.

The restaurant was not full but even so, we felt like the only customers as the waiter gave us almost undivided attention. I chose mozzarella and tomato salad with basil (US$12) followed by grilled seabass with sweet potato rataouille (US$25). Wines are served by the glass or bottle (my glass of Trulli Pinot Grigio was US$10; US$30 for a bottle). The food was well presented and enjoyable, although my first course arrived with a huge mountain of rocket, which seemed to overshadow the rest of the dish and had not been mentioned on the menu. The friendly and eager service left us feeling more than satisfied.

Rooms have a workdesk, pay movies and internet access via dial-up connection. Wi-Fi is available in the public areas and in guestrooms on floors five and seven (costing US$13 for two hours over a 24-hour period). I was annoyed when I was forced to use the hotel phone (my mobile phone battery was flat) to call home, and was unable to make a connection to a landline, so I had to call a mobile phone and was charged US25 on check out for a brief call.

There is a coin-operated internet area on the lower ground floor. There is no business centre but most requests can be handled at reception. On the lower ground floor are six meeting rooms, one of which can be divided into two. The meeting rooms have disabled access (as do 12 of the guestrooms) and are fully equipped for presentations.

Verdict: The service surpassed that of other three-star properties I have visited and made this a more memorable stay than it would otherwise have been. While the older rooms are perfectly adequate, the Novation rooms are more pleasant and worth requesting.

Prices: Internet rates for the first week of November start at US$336 for a standard room, including taxes.

Sarah Maxwell


The Metropolitan

Old Park Lane, London W1K 1LB, England, tel 44 207 447 1047, metropolitan.como.bz

On Old Park Lane, next door to the Hilton Park Lane and the Dorchester, this is a bastion of “urban energy paired with cool escapism”, according to the marketing – or alternatively the sort of hotel that makes you conscious that you are wearing a suit and tie when you check in. There’s no doubt this baby of Christina Ong is home to not only film and pop stars but royalty. Sitting in reception, I listened to an extremely capable polyglot concierge successfully secure a table for five at a top London restaurant for his Royal Highness Idris Shah, King of Selangor.

The public areas are minimalist but comfortable, with Armani-clad staff offering drinks at the nod of a head. Soft whites, suede upholstery and Egyptian cottons give it all a luxurious feel, not least since they can hardly be the most robust of materials. You have the feeling that every few months the whole place is refurbished.

Once you have been escorted to one of the 150 rooms, suites or apartments on the eight floors, you will be either park-facing or city-facing. Singles (Queen Rooms), doubles (Kings), studios and suites are the options, and there are also 19 apartments adjacent to the hotel, on Hertford Street and Brick Street. The soundproofing is excellent, so if possible park-facing is the one to go for; watching the stream of traffic coming down Park Lane and into Hyde Park Corner is mesmerising.

Entertainment is a big draw here. The Met Bar is one of the most famous – or perhaps infamous – celebrity hangouts, while Nobu is still as in demand as ever; the night we attended, admittedly a Friday night, there were two sittings. It is very expensive (like the hotel), but as well as serving excellent food, has a real sense of occasion, so your money will be well spent if you are trying to impress. There’s a good fitness room, and for private functions the White Room seats 40 for lunch (and 80 for receptions).

Verdict: One of the best hotels in London, where the staff manage a tricky balancing act of making you feel special for choosing to stay there without losing the welcoming touch. It won’t suit everyone, but interestingly, it has real substance under the style.

Prices: Rates for the first week of November start at US$435 for a Standard Queen Room.

Tom Otley

The Sheraton Park Lane Hotel

Piccadilly, London W1J 7BX, England, tel 44 207 499 6321, starwoodhotels.com

This art-deco property, built 1924-1927, has a famous ballroom which, during the Second World War, was considered as a potential substitute venue for the House of Commons, should the Palace of Westminster be damaged. This history is still evident, not least as much of the hotel’s interior is protected and dates from that time. This includes the Old Breakfast Room, an art-deco mock-Tudor room decorated by Harrods; the French restaurant furnished by Waring & Gillow; the Grill Room with its wood panelling and the Ballroom by Higgs & Hill, with its “scientifically designed” dance floor, pink and mauve hues and art-deco styling.

Sheraton bought the hotel some 10 years ago and has carefully restored it with help from English Heritage. This has included restoring the 1,022-square-metre ballroom to its original style, using authentic art deco shades of mauve, lilac, purple and pink in the fabrics and furnishings. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt another huge refurbishment is coming within the next 13 months, and for some of the rooms it will not be before time.

Despite its name, one entrance of The Park Lane is on the north side of Piccadilly, while the other is behind the hotel (where taxis will drop you off) on Brick Street. Once inside, the  305 rooms and suites have varying degrees of art deco influences, and are in several different styles with some retaining original features such as fireplaces and bathrooms. As such, it is difficult to be authoritative about what you might get: some suites have a slightly strange layout, with parts having been converted from original servants’ (or employees’) rooms. What’s certain is that many regular guests know which rooms they prefer and request accordingly.

Rooms have views either of Green Park, Brick Street at the rear or the courtyard (which opens out at one end onto the park). There is even a Preferred Guest Floor for members of Starwood’s loyalty programme. Wi-Fi access is available in all guestrooms, public areas and meeting rooms (US$25 for 24 hours).

Wired internet access is available in all rooms (US$31 for one day).

There are several choices for dining. Bracewells is the wood-panelled breakfast room, while the Palm Court Lounge offers lunches, teas and drinks and Citrus on Piccadilly has contemporary Mediterranean cuisine and is good for pre- and post-theatre suppers.

There is a good business centre by reception at the back of the building on Brick Street, and, of course, one of London’s most famous function rooms in the 70-year-old ballroom complex. There are also a total of 11 meeting rooms accommodating from eight to 22 people and equipped with audiovisual conferencing ISDN lines, a multi-system DVD player and VHS to rear projection screen and plasma TV, document camera, built-in flipcharts, hand-held touch screen control system, and a surround-sound system.

The hotel is large enough to sustain a good size fitness club, and is close enough to the West End to allow you to walk along Piccadilly to visit the theatre for the evening.

Verdict: A favourite with business travellers and, as a result of large corporate deals, always with a high level of occupancy, The Sheraton Park Lane Hotel is likely to remain popular as it constantly updates its room inventory.

Prices: Rates for the first week of November start at US$353 for a classic room.

Tom Otley

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