Review by Fiona Duncan, published 23rd July 2006.
There are three things wrong, to my mind, with the rockwell. The first is that infuriating lower-case "r". The second, less easily fixed, is the hotel's location. Though central and extremely handy for Heathrow (and the Cromwell Hospital opposite, should you need to visit), London's western escape route is hardly alluring. The third: no baths, only showers.
And that's it. From then on, the news about this new addition to London's mid-price hotels, which opened in May, is all good.Even the bill is reasonable. I always thought that London hotels were scandalously overpriced, but now, as I go about the country for this column, I've adjusted my opinion: many country hotels nowadays ask eye-watering prices for a night's sleep and some London hotels are beginning to seem, if not bargains in comparison, then at least fairly reasonable. The last two country places I stayed in before the rockwell were a creaky, seen-better-days manor house and a glorified inn, both of which charged more than the £180 asked for my "deluxe superior" room at the rockwell. Okay, it's Cromwell Road, but it's still central London, and cutting edge; the price felt much more comfortable here than at the other two venues. There were some decent figures next to the wide-ranging and imaginative wine list (including six bottles under £16) and acceptable prices for the good food. And it had 24-hour room service, which neither of the country hotels would dream of offering.
The rockwell sets out to be a Design hotel, with a capital D (and a small r), but actually it's better than that. It may be spanking new and a bit self-conscious but it's not superficial; it's got heart and high standards.Members of two families are closely involved: those of Michael Squire, whose firm of architects designed the hotel, and of Tony Bartlett, who transformed it from two terraced houses full of bedsits. Rather touchingly, several young east Europeans in Tony's building team have stayed on as hotel staff. It's that sort of place, overseen by Anna Swainston, who's only 26 but charming and capable, with a record of success behind her. Perhaps for all these reasons it's a hotel that grows on you. A bonus is the large south-facing courtyard garden with tables, chairs and parasols, reached by an elegant glass bridge. As for the bedrooms, the 40-room hotel was full so I could only judge by my own: inviting, well-equipped and calm, with fine handmade oak cupboards, desk and bookshelves (bare though - how about putting some books in them, Anna?). Only the bath was missing, just when I longed for a soak. Fine if you are aren't addicted to wallowing; not great if you are. Effective window insulation made Cromwell Road a distant memory.
The restaurant, One-Eight-One, is at once cosy and chic, and serves that wonderful fusion food that Australian chefs (in this case Andrew Larsen) do so well. Don't eat out if you stay at the Rockwell (I'm sorry, I'm not typing that r again) and try it if you live locally.