InterContinental Park Lane
One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, W1; tel 44 20 7409 3131; ichotels.com
Finally reopened this year after a closure and full renovation, the InterContinental has a prime position on London’s Park Lane, right on Hyde Park Corner opposite No1 London, the Duke of Wellington’s House (now a museum) and looking across Hyde Park to the Lanesborough. Every aspect of the hotel has been redesigned, with new room categories, meeting spaces, ballroom, spa, restaurants and public areas.
Having stayed twice at the hotel (both on a weekday and at the weekend) in different room categories, visited the restaurants on separate occasions and attended corporate functions in the ballroom, it’s clear that the InterContinental is back at the top of its game. Individually, the staff are excellent, and though there were teething problems with coordination of some services, in recent visits there’s been a noticeable improvement.
Although the location of the InterContinental is a major asset, it also has its disadvantages. You enter from the rear of the building and then go downstairs into what should be a dark and fairly uninviting space. The designers have transformed it (see picture) and there are some attractive design features, but you do long to head for the light, which in this case is the floor-to-ceiling windows of the lobby lounge. The trouble here is you are looking out onto a fairly uninviting bit of pavement and the entrance to the subway under Hyde Park. A better choice is to head straight up to your room.
Park views obviously command a premium here (although the rooms facing into the inner courtyard are quieter and may suit business travellers who haven’t got time to gaze out of the window). As you’d expect, the 447 rooms over eight floors (including 60 suites) are sleek, corporate and well thought-out, if a little uninspiring. There’s work space for laptops with plenty of plugs and broadband and Wi-Fi access. The Club InterContinental on the seventh floor is a large airy space with high ceilings which is separated into several areas including a library-style area, three computer terminals with free internet access and some comfy chairs for lounging while looking out at the views of Hyde Park Corner. The cost of this is US$156 per room per night, reasonable considering the free breakfast, unlimited snacks, soft drinks, coffee and tea all day, and alcoholic drinks for two hours in the evening.
The hotel has 16 meeting rooms, many with natural light and views onto Hyde Park, and a total of 30 dedicated staff to help with sales and meetings. The ballroom can take up to 750 reception-style, although it has some large pillars towards the edges of the room. The restaurants include the Cookbook Café for buffet breakfast, lunch and evening and the Theo Randall, and there’s a full spa and gym on the first floor.
The InterContinental isn’t the most exciting of hotels, but then with the exception of the Metropolitan most Park Lane hotels aren’t. Instead what you get is good service, a great position and 21st-century technological support.
Internet rates for a midweek stay in May start from US$406 for a Classic Room.
1 Suffolk Place, London SW1; tel 44 20 7470 4000; haymarkethotel.com
Opened in May 2007, this 50-room property (plus one five-bedroom townhouse) in a Regency John Nash building on Haymarket next to the Theatre Royal is one of the most beautiful hotels in London. Owners Tim and Kit Kemp are also responsible for the Soho, Charlotte Street and Covent Garden Hotels, among others, but this is something on a different level: more mature, less media and quite appropriately classical, although in a very distinct way. The public areas, particularly the lobby with its grey oak flooring, large stainless steel structure by Tony Cragg, and large black-and-white paintings of the London skyline by John Virtue are superb (as are the conservatory and library). Then there’s the basement-level 18-metre lap pool and pewter bar – the pool edged with stone, the whole surrounded by grey oak, a ceiling covered in fibre optic lights and a light installation at one end by Martin Richman which changes to create some spectacular effects.
Still, every business traveller wants to get into the room as quickly as possible, and with lifts right by reception and only four floors, it is quickly achieved. The rooms are no let-down: bathrooms are granite, oak and glass, with cast-iron tubs and inset full-size satellite televisions above them. There are heated towel rails, anti-misting mirrors, most with separate shower stalls, and Miller Harris bath products.
Back downstairs, for meetings there’s the Shooting Gallery, the only original room in the building and a bit of an anomaly, although an attractive one, with its 5.5-metre high ceilings and 18.3-metre long space with walls covered in de Gournay wallpaper featuring jungle landscapes in grey sepia tones and pictures by Oliver Messel, illustrating his costume designs for a production of Antony and Cleopatra. It is available for functions and private dining (seats 70).
After being so complimentary about the design, the only negative, I think, is the hotel’s Italian Brumus restaurant and bar, which is a shame, because being on the corner of Haymarket and Suffolk Place it’s the bit most passers-by see. It’s decorated in a vivid magenta, which I didn’t find easy on the eye at night and wasn’t very pleasant in the morning. However, the buffet breakfast is a good one, with prices ranging from US$32 for continental, to US$55 for the “blow the budget, glass of champagne and go straight to bed afterwards” offering. The restaurant seats 85 with a further 46 in the bar.
VERDICT: If only there could be more hotels like this – truly individual and reflecting a real sense of style but with substance behind it. It’s too good to keep to yourself. It’s the sort of place you want to visit at leisure for a weekend.
PRICES: Internet rates for a midweek stay in May start from US$490 for a Superior Double.
12 Upper Woburn Place, London WC1; tel 44 20 7693 5400; ambassadors.co.uk
The Ambassadors has been around as a hotel since the 1920s, but an extensive renovation over the past 18 months has turned it from a three-star hotel into a four-star deluxe. Convenient both for Euston and King’s Cross St Pancras tube stations, the current owner, Dilip Kaneria, took over in 2002 and, working closely with architects at Consarc and interior designer Giuseppe Boscherini, has transformed the place.
The 100 rooms aren’t large, but are clean, bright and have good facilities, including free Wi-Fi in all rooms, and large flat-screen LCD satellite and interactive TV. It also has extremely effective double-glazing against the noise of traffic from Upper Woburn Place (although windows can be opened). At times the technology can be a little overwhelming. I’ve come close before, but this is the first time I’ve ever been completely baffled as to how to turn off the lights in the room last thing at night. What was interesting is that when I rang reception to ask their advice, they told me to pull the key card out of the holder by the door to plunge the whole room into darkness, which is what I did, but it was hardly an ideal solution, especially when rising in the middle of the night. I was later told the light switch was somewhere on the headboard, but had probably been covered by the pillows.
Laptop safes, tea and coffee-making facilities, bottles of mineral water, L’Occitane toiletries, bathrobe and slippers are creature comforts you don’t immediately associate with Euston. Add to that 24-hour room service, daily cleaning and a turn-down service, and you might think you were in the West End – an impression reinforced by the superb Italian restaurant, Number Twelve (numbertwelverestaurant.co.uk).
The chef is Santino Busciglio, formerly of Alloro and Zafferano, and he clearly has a passion for food, not least since the wide selection of breads are freshly baked on the premises. The prices, particularly for the set lunch and dinner, are reasonable to tempt in local business, and it stands every chance of success since there isn’t much competition anywhere nearby. (Lunch: two courses US$26, three courses US$30; dinner: two courses US$29, three courses US$35.) The menu is extensive and delicious and includes a starter of pear, endive and walnut salad with Colston Bassett stilton dressing and crispy parsley (US$11), and a main of roasted Herefordshire middle white pork shoulder, green beans, fondant potato and apple chutney (US$28).
It’s a small hotel and the fitness facilities reflect that, although there are plans to convert one of the meeting rooms downstairs to a larger fitness studio. In the meantime, the swimming and exercise facilities at Bannatyne’s Health Club (he of Dragons’ Den) are available just three minutes’ walk from the hotel. There are eight meeting rooms including a suprisingly large (204sqm) ballroom on the lower ground floor, with capacities from 10 to 260 people for board meetings, training days or corporate events (up to 180 people for parties and dinner dances). Daily delegate rate is US$136.
It’s hard to get enthusiastic about hotels around King’s Cross and Euston – it just isn’t that kind of area – but the new influx of Travelodges and Express By Holiday Inns has galvanised this hotel to move upmarket and distinguish itself, and in my opinion it should be applauded and patronised for that alone. Throw in an excellent restaurant and a good bar, and it becomes something well worth searching out, especially if you use any of the railway stations immediately north.
Internet rates for a midweek stay in May start from US$331 for a Double Room.
OTHER NEW OPENINGS
This St James’s hotel has been taken over by Campbell Gray Hotels (also responsible for One Aldwych) and given a 21st-century update courtesy of designers Mary Fox Linton. The 90 suites and rooms feature smart new fabrics and carpets, improved lighting and better use of space, although original antique furnishings and historic paintings remain. The Sheridan and Marlborough function rooms have been refurbished, while Dukes Bar is a good place to hide away from life’s responsibilities, or incur some new ones.
PRICES: Internet rates for a midweek stay in May start from US$516 for a Single Room. tel 44 20 7491 4840; dukeshotel.com
Charing Cross Hotel
Formerly a Thistle, the Charing Cross is now the third Guoman property for London following a US$11.68 million refurbishment. The 239 bedrooms, including suites, executive rooms and deluxe rooms are currently undergoing upgrades (the 83 bedrooms in the Buckingham Wing will be finished in 2008).There are nine meeting rooms, the largest of which seats 150 theatre-style, plus a lounge and restaurant and bar, including the Terrace on the Strand restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the Strand and Trafalgar Square.The hotel has already had its restaurants and bars refurbished, as well as the Betjeman Room, one of London’s most ornate meeting rooms, with a marble dance floor and stunning dome-shaped high ceiling. A new exclusive executive club lounge has been added and all bedrooms have new 26-inch plasma TVs with high-quality satellite viewing.
PRICES: Internet rates for a midweek stay in May start from US$331 for a Standard Room. tel 44 870 333 9105; guoman.com
Opened in mid-November 2007, this is the first of the Hyatt group’s luxury boutique offerings, and has slowly taken shape since Hyatt bought the Great Eastern Hotel at Liverpool Street station in April 2006. Andaz aims to break down barriers between guests and staff by not having check-in desks in the lobby or “living room” (pictured above). Instead you are greeted by someone with a tablet PC who checks you in as you go up to your room, or if you prefer, while having a glass of wine on the sofa. There are 267 rooms with seven room categories (121 Andaz Kings). All rooms have iPod docking stations, free minibars stocked with organic locally-sourced fruit juices and water, Wi-Fi and flat-screen TV. There are 14 meeting spaces including the Andaz suite, which has an open kitchen for entertaining. F&B offerings include five restaurants, a cheese and tearoom and four bars.
PRICES: Internet rates for a midweek stay in May start from US$794 for an Andaz King Room. tel 44 20 7618 5000; hyatt.com