The new-build Intercontinental London – the O2 had its soft opening on December 19, 2015. The hotel is being operated under a franchise agreement with Meridian Hotel Operations Limited and managed by the hotels division of the Arora Group.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
The hotel feels a little isolated but the industrial location is dramatic and, in reality, isn’t far at all from Canary Wharf or the West End. Popular with performers and punters attending shows at the O2 Arena, it can be overlooked by business travellers, but this is a mistake. It has everything you could need – from an executive lounge to excellent restaurants to meet clients.
Decked out in polished marble, glass and steel, the hotel has taken inspiration from the history of shipping, with subtle design nods from the hull-shaped Clipper bar and 30 different types of tea from the East India Company stocked in the Meridian Lounge. Service is attentive and professional, and the views of the river and skyscrapers opposite make for an eye-catching backdrop.
Running along the path in front of the hotel is the Prime Meridian line that comes all the way from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, dividing the eastern and western hemispheres.
Upon entering the expansive lobby, there is a concierge desk to the left, along with a small lounge, while to the right is a bank of reception desks and access to the event wing. Straight ahead is grand staircase, the entrance to the gym and spa, and a set of half a dozen lifts. It wasn’t busy when I checked in and out so didn’t have to queue.
WHERE IS IT?
The hotel is located on the Greenwich Peninsula, which is being developed by Hong Kong-based company Knight Dragon. The regeneration project has already seen the arrival of the new Ravensbourne college and Emirates Air Line cable car but more hotels, housing and shopping precincts are set to come as part of its masterplan. A docking point for cruise ships is also tipped.
The O2 Arena, of course, is at the centre of it all, and is connected to the Intercontinental by a corridor (although a small section is outdoor as it’s not going to be fully attached until 2018).
The Intercontinental is a five-minute walk to North Greenwich Tube station, which is on the Jubilee line. It is conveniently located for Canary Wharf and London City airport, which is three stops away on the DLR rail link from Canning Town (one stop from North Greenwich). Alternatively it’s a 16-minute drive through the Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames. There is parking at the hotel for 250 cars both indoors and outdoors (£24 for 24 hours).
There is contactless keycard access to all rooms, and although the lift appeared to have this technology, it didn’t seem to work (you could just press the button for the floor you wanted without scanning).
Entry-level Superior rooms range from 29-32 sqm and are well-equipped with 42-inch Samsung smart TVs, granite bathrooms with both tubs and walk-in showers, Bosch Tassimo machines, minibars (£8 for a 50ml bottle of Beefeater gin), kettles and tea, safes, and workdesks with UK, EU and USB sockets (which are also by the bed). I had a good night’s sleep on the comfortable king-size bed. You can’t open the windows but the air con is effective and it was very quiet.
You’ll also find classy Anne Semonin bathing amenities, robes and slippers, wardrobes with irons, ironing boards, hairdryers and laundry bags. The décor is neutral but the views of the river, the O2 Arena and Canary Wharf are the focal point. Deluxe rooms are much the same but also the option of paying for access to the Club lounge. I forgot my phone charger and was pleased to find one in the minibar but didn’t want to pay £20 for it. Instead the concierge plugged it in while I went for a run.
Club Intercontinental rooms and suites (from 42 sqm) provide free lounge access, as well as some additional features. Club Intercontinental suites have separate changing areas and Bose sound systems. The two-bedroom 17th-floor Penthouse has an open-plan dining and living room, cocktail bar, kitchen and grand piano. Looking down on to the roof of the arena is something special.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
There are two bars and three restaurants at the hotel, which makes up for the fact that there isn’t much else around, except for some chains in the O2 Arena. There is the Meridian Lounge on the lobby level, specialising in coffee, tea and cake, while the Clipper bar upstairs serves light food, “tea spiked” cocktails and G&Ts with the house Clipper gin.
The Market Brasserie is only open for breakfast and dinner, but may start offering lunch later this year if there is enough demand. I was impressed with the outstanding, high quality and varied buffet laid out in the morning, which included lots of options to plate up your own full English. There were also plenty of pastries, fruit, yoghurt, cereals, smoked salmon and bread, with coffee and tea served at the table by efficient staff.
On the top floor (18) is Eighteen Sky Bar, which is open Monday to Saturday from 5pm to 2am (although snacks are only served Thursday to Saturday). I popped up for a drink one weekday evening and found it to be pretty quiet, and slightly lacking in atmosphere. The views, however, were fantastic.
I took a chance on one of the signature cocktails (the Mr Julep with peanut butter and red wine syrup, Bullet rye, sake, ginger and lemon grass cordial, mint and Connemara Irish whiskey, £14) but it was painfully sweet so I couldn’t drink it. The other concoctions on the list sounded equally saccharine.
After, my partner and I went down for dinner at the Peninsula fine-dining restaurant. (It’s open for dinner-only Monday to Saturday, 6pm-10pm.) The sultry lighting and a corner table by the window allowed for a beautiful lookout on to the river. Our expert waiter explained dishes and wines on the menu well, and delivered a welcome glass of champagne while we made up our minds about what we wanted.
The a la carte menu lists just six starters and six mains ranging from £12 to £30, so the seven-course tasting menu for £72 proved excellent value. Wine pairings are an additional £55. We chose the £60 vegetarian tasting menu, which was fantastic. Although we started to struggle by the time it came to the fifth course, every plate was delicious. (This is a photo of the heritage beetroots with rye soil and Ragstone goat’s cheese.)
Highlights were the crisp, chewy roast potato and truffle terrine, and the chestnut gnocchi with cinnamon, red chicory and honey-roasted parsnips. A glass of the Pecorino – Terre di Chiet IGT, Gabriel, MMXV, white wine went very nicely. I would definitely recommend eating here if you are staying at the hotel – the chef is doing great things with food. (This is a photo of the Irish rib-eye, ox cheek, pickled onion and salsify.)
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES
Event space is plentiful at the Intercontinental, totalling 20 individual venues including the UK’s largest pillar-free ballroom, Arora, which can host up to 3,000 people for a reception on the first-floor. It’s flexible, too, with the option of dividing it into 14 smaller rooms, or hanging up to 80 cars from heavy-duty rigging points. State-of-the-art lighting changes colour overhead.
A vast pre-function area has floor-to-ceiling windows looking on to the river and Canary Wharf. Outside is a helicopter pad and a plaza that can be hired for events of 400 people. There are two separate entrances to the purpose-built event wing, two sets of escalators, two cloakrooms and two lifts, meaning two large-scale events can take place simultaneously.
The second floor has an additional 15 meeting rooms (eight in the hotel itself rather than conference wing) ranging from 20 to 240 delegates in terms of capacity in each. All have natural daylight and smart, modern interiors.
Also on the second floor is the Club lounge, which has a boardroom for eight people, as well as a free buffet breakfast laid out in the morning, afternoon tea, and evening canapés and cocktails. There is plenty of lounge seating and a book collection curated by Ultimate Library. The lounge is open to Club Intercontinental guests and Intercontinental Ambassadors (US$200 membership a year) from 6.30am to 10pm daily.
A business centre with two computers and a printer is open 24 hours. Wifi is free throughout the hotel with the option of upgrading to a higher speed. I streamed an episode on Amazon Prime without a problem with the basic package.
I was surprised to find the leisure facilities just off the lobby on the ground floor. These days, lifestyle offerings are usually given more prominence, with health clubs on higher floors with views. In this case there was a well-equipped 24-hour gym with free weights, various Technogym machines and natural light coming through partially frosted windows.
There is also a 17-metre indoor pool, spa and steam rooms. An upper level features a spa with eight minimalist treatment rooms. All areas are open to the public for a fee (free for guests). It wasn’t overly busy the Thursday morning I was there. Opening hours are 6.30am-10.30pm weekdays, and 7.30am to 10pm weekends. (Avoid 9am-10.30am, and 3.30pm-5pm when children can swim.)
I went for a jog one frosty morning along the riverside Jubilee Walkway, which goes all the way down to the Thames Barrier. I would highly recommend doing this.
The Intercontinental London – the O2 is ideally placed for business people flying in and out of London City airport and those working in Canary Wharf. It feels a little isolated but the views are fantastic from almost every room. It’s a top-class offering with extensive facilities and restaurants you should go out of your way to try.
- HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 453 rooms including 59 suites. In total there are six categories – Superior, Deluxe and Club Intercontinental rooms, Deluxe, Club Intercontinental and Penthouse suites.
- HIGHLIGHTS The views, the extensive event space, the top-floor bar and excellent food. The pool and spa are a bonus but don’t miss a run alongside the river at dawn.
- PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in March started from £260 for a Superior room.
- CONTACT Intercontinental London – The O2, 1 Waterview Drive, Greenwich Peninsula; +44 (0)20 8463 6868; iclondon-theo2.com