WHAT'S IT LIKE? A solid four-star hotel, currently being refurbished with a new Mercure concept (see news, June 26).
The hotel opened in 1999 and I last stayed in 2008 when it was called the Mercure London City Bankside. Perhaps the regeneration of London Bridge and the Shard has convinced it to simplify its name.
Reception is reached up the steps from the street. The most obvious recent change is the new lobby area, which is a huge improvement. It is now split into several airy and colourfully decorated seating areas with names like The Study and The Library, with books on the shelves, comfortable seating, and big containers holding boiled sweets in shiny wrappers.
Staff throughout are excellent, though the new concept means that instead of a reception desk you are greeted by them carrying a large tablet on which your details are stored, and you simply sign the screen. This is fine if you arrive at a quiet time, but at busy times the free-flowing atmosphere is a little harder to maintain, staff retreat behind the elegant dark wood desk, and we all formed a queue just like normal. I think it takes more than rearranging furniture to adapt our behaviour, but then, I’m getting old.
WHERE IS IT? The Mercure is on Southwark Road which runs east to west just behind the Tate Modern between London Bridge and Southwark Bridge.
There are a lot of hotels in this area: Citizen M (click here for a review) is a few yards away as is the Holiday Inn Express, and on Southwark Bridge Road there's a Novotel and an Ibis. It's convenient for many different locations.
The rooms are reached by a lift at either end of reception. The one directly by reception is the busiest, so I'd head to the one by the side of the bar.
ROOM FACILITIES There are 144 rooms set on six floors in several different configurations, starting from Superior and moving upwards (through Privilege to Suites). All are outward facing, either onto Southwark Road or at the back on Levington Street.
All rooms have complimentary wifi (as do the public areas), flat screen TVs, tea and coffee making facilities, air conditioning and iron and ironing board.
Privilege rooms have complimentary water and two bars of Divine chocolate as well as a Nespresso coffee machine. This was in an alcove with a glass shelf above it, so to eject the capsule and put in a new one you have to pick up the machine while it is plugged in and ready to brew, hold it against your chest, eject the previous capsule, place the new one in, and then slide it back onto the shelf before pressing the brew button. If I can give one bit of advice, it would be to not attempt this while wearing a suit.
My room was shower only (there are rooms with baths), with a floor-to-ceiling mural making up the majority of one wall of the shower, and the rest of the room in bright white small tiles.
The bathroom had a heated mirror with a digital clock embedded in it as well as a shaving mirror. It's a decent enough design, and as well as notes asking you to save the planet by reusing your towels, there's actually somewhere to hang them. That said, the heated towel rail is on the wall above the toilet, which isn't ideal, especially if the towel falls off the rail in the middle of the night.
There are complimentary Mercure brand toiletries, but I found the floor of the shower became extremely slippy when you used these. I also did begin to wonder who tests these new designs as for a fourth time I bent down to pick up the small tablet of complimentary soap which had slipped through the wide grill of the soap holder in the shower.
Sound-proofing was good, the bed comfortable, there were good reading lights for those of us who still like to read for a while before sleep. And there were no disturbances during the night – I'd go back again just for that.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS The Loft restaurant had just been renovated when I was last there, and seemed the same – no problem there. It's on two levels and has a menu ranging from burgers (£14.95) upwards, though it will always struggle with the dozens of superb choices in nearby Borough Market (I ate in Brindisa, not cheap, but excellent). The breakfast (Continental and full cooked - £15.95 for the latter) was excellent.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES The refurbishment saw the hotel remove some of these, partly because the offices in the area – where many of those staying are visiting – already have smaller meeting rooms, and the hotel does not offer larger ones. That said, on the basement level there are four smaller rooms.
LEISURE FACILITIES There is a small gym on the lower ground (basement) floor, which is a good size and was unused the morning I was there, though the running machine was broken.
VERDICT The new design, particularly of the public areas is welcome, and works simply because it gives you a comfortable and reasonably quiet place to relax, work or socialise. Rooms are comfortable and well sound-proofed.
- HOW MANY ROOMS? 144, including Superior, Privilege and Suites
- HIGHLIGHTS free wifi, flat screen TV, good sound-proofing
- PRICE Internet rates for a mid-week stay in November, room only started from £182 for a superior room
- CONTACT 71-79 Southwark Street, SE1 0JA; tel +44 (0) 207 660 0683; mercure.com