Tried & Tested

Hotel check: Rafayel on the Left Bank

25 Feb 2010 by BusinessTraveller

BACKGROUND The independently owned Rafayel on the Left Bank opened last December, and despite its name, which hints at European grandeur, elegance and romance, is a modern property occupying the lower three floors of the residential Falcon Wharf Development, positioned in a dreary riverside locale with uninspiring views.

On first hearing about the hotel, I was impressed to discover that it is pitching itself as “one of the world’s first environmentally conscious luxury hotels”, adopting a number of green policies, design features and practices. For example, it has a low-energy air conditioning system, LED lighting, funnels for harvesting rainwater, synthetic wood doors composed of 90 per cent veneered mahogany, recycled leather furnishings and organic products in the bathrooms and spa.

However, in reality it was somewhat disappointing. To be fair, this was, in part, down to the fact that the hotel is not yet complete – some of the meeting facilities and rooms are still being fitted out (completion is set for the end of March) – and many of the initial problems in the general running of the place will need time to solve. But my impression was that it is not succeeding in seamlessly combining green with luxury – the eco-friendly furnishings looked cheap on close examination and felt poorly made, and many of the small comforts one would expect from a high-end hotel were just not there.

Key philosophies such as the ambitious (and probably unrealistic) “no plastic” policy, was obviously not in place when I visited, and the “minimal paper and printing usage” approach was often in place but in the wrong instances. For example, there were no room-service menus, “do not disturb” signs or hotel handbooks in the bedrooms, but paper print-outs explaining how to use the showers were in every bathroom. (If they could justify laminating plastic signs, why not menus?) What’s more, the electronic newspapers and detailed guest services information on the TVs, which were supposed to make up for this, were not yet available.

Given the hotel’s website says, “We at Rafayel want each and every one of our guests to enjoy the most luxurious, relaxing and decadent stay imaginable”, not only did the luxury experience I expected fall flat, but some of the environmental policies proved ill conceived. For example, on the one hand, guests have the choice of hair and body wash or shower gel from dispensers in the bathroom, but on the other, order breakfast to your room and your jam comes in disposable mini glass jars. In the Rafayel’s defence, this is an example of something that will probably be looked at. But one that can’t be, is the fact that they have installed combined multi-jet/rainshowers in every bathroom, which, while decadent, use far more water than necessary.

WHAT’S IT LIKE? Arriving by car takes you to a drop-off point around the back, between the main part of the hotel and the restaurant, terrace and “Jet Lag Recovery rooms” (with mood lighting and river views), which are connected by an overhead walkway. The first set of doors you pass through to enter the lobby are automatic, the second you have to pull open (I only realised after pausing for a second too long in front of them).

The modest, low-ceilinged reception was brightly lit and somewhat lacking in atmosphere. To one side were lifts and a flatscreen TV showing sport, and on the other was a small florist, which was closed and didn’t have much in the way of flowers in it. There was also MyChelle’s Baketique – a cutesy cupcake shop, with an array of fluorescent-iced treats on display.

Once I had been checked in, a professional and friendly member of staff escorted me to my room and went to great lengths to explain how everything worked and what amenities were available. I found this care continued throughout my stay, and while not all the staff were necessarily very experienced at working in high-end hotels, they were all making an effort to make me and the other guests feel welcome.

WHERE IS IT? At 34 Lombard Road in Battersea, on the south bank of the River Thames. There is not a lot around in the way of shops, restaurants or tourist attractions and transport links are also poor. The nearest tube stations are Vauxhall (5km away) and Clapham Junction (1km away). The hotel offers a free shuttle service to Sloane Square and Clapham Junction, but when I was checking out there was only one car for six people, two of which had to wait until the driver returned and picked them up later. Because of this I got a taxi, but as I needed some cash, I requested to stop at an ATM en route. However, every cash machine we stopped at was broken. In the end I had to go to Tesco, buy a packet of gum and get cash-back.

ROOM FACILITIES The rooms (from 20 sqm to 65 sqm) are the highlight of this property – they are tastefully fitted out with heavy doors, sections of striped wallpaper, dark wood furniture, neutral carpets, floor-to-ceiling windows, and slick, minimalist bathrooms with walk-in jet/rainshowers, bidets and wall-size mirrors. Rooms vary in shape so some have double beds while others have queens or kings.

The technology offering is very good, with overhead speakers throughout, iPod docks, free wired and wifi internet access, and Philips 32-inch HD televisions. Rooms also come with safes, tea and coffee-making facilities, slippers, robes and minibars (although not stocked with organic and fair-trade products as the website states – the only item that was, however, was a 35g Green and Black’s chocolate bar for £4.50.)

My Nile suite had partial views of the river but mainly looked out on to a road with drab buildings. However, the room itself was very comfortable, with a large living room/dining/meeting room with a table, chairs, sofa and coffee table, a wide entry hall with wardrobes, and a generous bathroom with a spa bath and walk-in shower.

I did, however, have a few gripes. The TV was positioned at the end of the bed and hung from the ceiling by a steel pole. This meant you had to duck to avoid walking into it every time you wanted to get by. And in the morning, I decided to order breakfast to my room, and as there was no menu in sight, I called the front desk to place an order. However, I was told that only full English breakfasts were available for delivery to the bedrooms.

I later asked the owner, Iqbal Latif, why this was the case, and he said: “It makes it easier for the kitchen. If guests want the full continental breakfast buffet choices, they can come downstairs for it.” For £950 a night in a Nile suite, I think guests would expect to get exactly what they want.

HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 65 rooms in five categories – 19 Mississippi, 19 Yangtze and seven Thames “jet-lag recovery” rooms, plus 13 Amazon suites and seven Nile suites.

ROOM HIGHLIGHTS The free wifi, the lounge area with dining table, the overhead speakers and iPod dock, the spa bath and jet/rainshower.

RESTAURANTS AND BARS There is a 24-seat café off the lobby in which a buffet and à la carte breakfast is served 6.30am-12pm daily. The Banyan Tree on the Thames restaurant is a dimly lit venue with views of the river through floor-to-ceiling windows. There is a long cocktail bar, and tables (placed a little too closely together for comfort) are on the lower level. The cuisine is mainly Indian but with some international dishes thrown in for good measure, like mushroom gnocchi and Thai fishcakes. I ordered the latter to start and they arrived luke warm, and tasted as though they were made from mashed up tinned fish. Not good.

For the main, I ordered spinach and paneer (Indian cheese) curry with rice and naan bread. This, also, wasn’t up to scratch. And after forking down a third of it I got bored and left the rest. The bread never appeared and the curry was just a bowl of dense and rather dry spicy spinach (no other vegetables) topped with a handful of cubed paneer. The waiting staff were polite and friendly, if a little too attentive, but I am sure this was just because they were keen to impress.

Overall, trying to combine too many different styles of cooking meant that the menu lacked cohesion, and the general standards of the food served did not match up to rather more stylish setting. I also felt, once again, I had been misled by what I read on the website: “We understand the expectations of the modern-day health-conscious generation. We therefore endeavour to tempt all of our diners with an assortment of delicious culinary innovations to suit their lifestyle.” As a vegetarian, I was expecting a decent selection of meat-free dishes. However, there was only one or two as a main-course option.

MEETING AND BUSINESS FACILTIES The will be a number of events spaces once construction is complete, including a library, a third-floor banqueting room for 150 delegates and an outdoor terrace. Already up and running is a 12-seat boardroom with the option of also hiring the connecting suites. There is no business centre but guests can ask at reception if they want to borrow a laptop or print a boarding pass.

LEISURE FACILITIES There is a modest gym (open 6am-10pm) with natural daylight on the third floor, and adjacent, will be changing rooms and a wet area with a spa bath and “resistance” pool with a strong current so you can swim on the spot. Next door is the spa with a spray tan room, infinity bath, four treatment suites and five chairs for manicures, pedicures and hair cuts. All products used are organic Neom and Amala brands. Treatments are available 9am-8pm (until 5pm on Saturdays). Also set for completion is an outdoor cigar lounge with freestanding heaters.

VERDICT This hotel may be environmentally conscious but it hasn’t got it right yet. It will have to seriously raise the bar if it is to be considered luxury and, equally, will have to make more effort if it is to be considered truly “green”. It also needs to make sure that the information on the website matches up with reality. Disappointing. But it is early days so hopefully will improve.

PRICE Half-price opening rates start from £120 for a Mississippi room.

CONTACT Rafayel on the Left Bank, 34 Lombard Road; tel +44 (0)20 7801 3600; hotelrafayel.com

Jenny Southan

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