Radisson Edwardian, Guildford

“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Guildford's first new hotel for 20 years ...”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 20th November 2011.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Guildford's first new hotel for 20 years (and that was a Travelodge) and its first four-star hotel ever. Prepare yourselves (drum roll): it has a glass atrium with a bridge stretched above and a design theme that takes its inspiration from the theatre (the new G Live venue is next door) and from Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll lived in Guildford). Prepare for Destination Everything: spa, two restaurants and moody bar.

Um. I'm almost lost for words. The gang from The Only Way is Essex would like it. I'm afraid to say that my son liked it. The staff, of which more anon, seemed to like it. You might like it. I doubt I'll go there again.

Let me put you in the picture. The new 185-room hotel stands in the heart of Surrey's animated, student-filled county town on the site of an old dive called The White Horse, whose façade, its best bit, has been saved and now heralds the Market Kitchen and Bar, the hotel's stand-alone restaurant, with a separate high street entrance.

Asset management companies own the building, Radisson Edwardian manages it. The bedrooms and bathrooms came with the structure, each bathroom arriving on site as a finished unit and slotted into its allocated space. They are boring, predictable and mostly black – fitted furniture and bathroom slate – with cream-and-mushroom walls and lighting that's far too dim.

The beds, the choice of the Radisson Edwardian team, are, however, very good, and apparently entirely recyclable, though piled with the usual needless cushions. You have a choice of view: multistorey car park or ground-level car park.

There's not much that Radisson Edwardian could do about the bedrooms, but at least it could put its own stamp on the spa and the public spaces. In terms of design, the spa is as uninspiring as the rest, but the treatments are most certainly not: Sophie and Kannika are masters of their art, and once you are on the heated table with your eyes closed, it doesn't matter where you are.

The public spaces, the lobby, bar and Relish restaurant (the Market Kitchen, with its signature Josper grill, hadn't yet opened on my visit) are something else. Enter hot designer Rabih Hage and his twin ideas, to make the "hotel a stage" and to celebrate Lewis Carroll. And so we have a strange free-standing "private box" in the middle of the foyer, a ladder to nowhere climbing a wall of empty shelves, a chandelier in front of a row of stage lights, flowerpots on the terrace that you can sit in… I won't go on.

I appreciate the hotel management's efforts to inject some personality into a pretty dull building, but the addition of attractive furniture and good art on the walls might have been a less tricksy way of doing it. When a design theme has to be explained to its guests it isn't working.

And the staff? Newly recruited from the town, currently hopeless, but brimming over with enthusiasm and completely divine. Forget the ladder to nowhere, it's the people that count and they are great.

  • 3 Alexandra Terrace, High Street, GU1 3DA (01483 792300;radissonedwardian.com). Doubles from £140; singles £140, including breakfast; many rooms adapted for guests with disabilities

The Hotel Guru verdict

Rooms
3 out of 5

All necessities but could be anywhere; generous extras in superior rooms

Service
4 out of 5

Great GM (who himself started at 17 as a porter) who'll lick the team into shape

Character
2 out of 5

You can't just stick character on a hotel

Food and drink
3 out of 5

An effort certainly being made; Market Kitchen looks promising for locals

Value for money
3 out of 5

Give me a hotel with real character any day

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