In the Lap of Limited Luxury
“London's best new hotels offer style and comfort but no costly extras to bump up the bill. By Fiona Duncan.”
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 1st April 2007.
A survey published last week by hotel booking website Hotels.com revealed that hotels in London are now more expensive than in any other European capital, with an average price of £107 per night. Copenhagen? £93. Rome? £94. And that £107 is an average, don't forget: you won't find many rooms for that price in a hotel that's slick, modern and well-equipped - or, indeed, cosy and characterful.
'Beds are a feature, some being sleigh beds, others four-posters, all with Egyptian cotton sheets'
There are plenty of other European cities, from Riga to Milan and Budapest to Barcelona, where inexpensive hotels have for some years offered vibrant colours, stylish design, cutting-edge technology and attractive, buzzing public spaces.
London, on the other hand, has lagged dismally behind, being long on pricey establishments and very short on decent budget ones. Until very recently, the choice for economisers has been limited to musty odours, candlewick bedspreads and swirly carpets in Bayswater, Pimlico and Earl's Court. Now change, at last, is afoot.
Some of these "new concept" hotels take the no-frills approach too far, such as Easy Hotel, with no amenities and rooms that are so tiny, some without windows, that they are unbearable at any price.
Yotel's space-age pods, opening soon at Gatwick and Heathrow and based on Japanese capsule hotels, promise to be far more inviting.
What the most appealing modern budget hotels offer, however, is not a new concept (it's an old concept, really - decent rooms at decent prices) but something they're calling edited luxury: top-quality beds, comfortable bathrooms, plasma TVs and free internet, but no unwanted extras to push up the price.
Here's my choice of the new breed (hotels featured may offer lower rates than those quoted, depending on availability. Weekday rates are normally higher than at weekends).
55 Hangar Lane, Ealing (020 8991 4450; www.hotel55-london.com; doubles from £85 per night, including breakfast).
Hangar Lane? OK, so the location - way out west- is the catch, the reason why this stylish 25-room hotel, all white on the outside, all neutral inside, comes in at such easy prices, comfortably under £100 per night, even for the largest room (No 207, overlooking the garden).
But I can vouch that staying at No 55 Hangar Lane is no penance at all. North Ealing Tube station, on the Piccadilly Line, is just round the corner, with West Acton on the Central Line close by, so it takes no more than 20 minutes to reach the West End.
It used to be a hostel for the homeless. Now it sports a large, quiet and soothing contemporary garden, all gravel and lawn, with a decked terrace and glass doors leading to a modern conservatory. This serves as the dining room and bar, where the South African barman, a top mixologist, will concoct any cocktail (the first being complimentary to every guest) you can think of, plus several of his own invention.
You couldn't possibly expect more for your money in the bedrooms: new orthopaedic beds with Egyptian cotton sheets, plasma TV, free Wi-Fi internet, air-conditioning, complimentary mineral water, desk, large wardrobe, immaculate bathroom with power shower, decent towels and Molton Brown products.
81 Great Eastern Street, EC2 (020 7550 1000; www.hoxtonhotels.com; doubles from £1 to £149 per night, including snack breakfast).
Sinclair Beecham, founder of sandwich chain Pret A Manger, is a man on a mission. "I got sick of being ripped off in hotels, so I decided to make one (literally: it's a brand new building) which was fair."
"FREE", cries the brochure, then boasts the following: Wi-Fi everywhere; Lite Pret breakfast delivered to your door; fresh milk and mineral water in your room.
Well, I can't say I'm reeling in amazement at that lot; frankly most hotels offer those things for free, too, plus a proper breakfast, and often more generous toiletries. Much more impressive are the phone calls at 3p per minute (5p per minute to the US), as many movies as you want for £7.50 a day, £5 for the use of a local gym and swimming pool, and a 24-hour lobby shop at retail prices.
Beecham's method of selling his rooms is bold, too - the earlier you book, the less you pay. Which means that almost every night at least five people are paying just £1 for their room. The next stage up is £29, then £59, then £79, gradually up to a maximum of £149. Most people will pay around £100: pretty good value.
If the list of freebies didn't leave me gasping at The Hoxton, its appearance did. The huge, buzzing ground-floor space, which incorporates reception and shop, sitting-room, bar, restaurant and internet café, includes two faux-medieval fireplaces, with blazing fires and a papier-mâché eagle, or rather five models of the same bird as it takes off from a perch above one fireplace and lands above another.
25 Courtfield Gardens, SW5 (0845 262 8000; www.base2 stay.com). Doubles from £99 per night, excluding breakfast.
Opened a few months earlier than The Hoxton in a salubrious corner of Earl's Court, this pillared, white stucco townhouse offers a mix of rooms, from singles and bunk-beds to superior and deluxe doubles (£175).
Most have soothing views over the gardens or a pretty mews. Each one has clean lines and a feeling of freshness, with a neat little kitchenette that is useful for extended stays.
No restaurant, public spaces or room service, but there is a directory of takeaway meals and other services available in Kensington. Best for business people who need to be up and out, but good value nonetheless. Breakfast, should you want it, can be delivered in a box to your door for a fiver.
64-66 Ebury Street, SW1 (020 7259 8570; www.bb-belgravia.com). Doubles from £99 per night, including breakfast).
In a prime street for budget establishments, this diminutive hotel is easily singled out for its fresh appearance and laid-back approach, with a stylish sitting room (wire mesh Bertoia chairs, leather sofas, eye-catching wall clock) connected to a friendly open-plan kitchen/breakfast room by a glass walkway. Bedrooms are compact and neat, in the usual earth tones, with small but attractive glass-partitioned bathrooms.
2 Montagu Place, W1 (020 7467 2777; www.montagu-place.co.uk). Doubles from £99 per night, including breakfast.
With a pleasant location in Marylebone, the bedrooms at Montagu Place are hard to distinguish decoratively from those at The Hoxton, Hotel 55 or B & B Belgravia, employing the usual and by now monotonous palette of brown and cream.
They are distinguished, however, by being part of a Grade II-listed townhouse, and some have original features, such as fireplaces. Choose between "comfy" (the only category that could be considered cheap) "fancy", and "swanky". Downstairs, the bar acts as reception desk, helping to create an air of friendliness and informality.
26-28 Trebovir Road, London SW5 (020 7370 0991; www.mayflowerhotel.co.uk) Doubles from £89 per night, including breakfast.
With the same Anglo-Indian owners as Twenty Nevern Square, and located round the corner in a rather busier street of dignified, once-smart houses, the Mayflower is the cheaper of the two. Most of the rooms are compact, and some are frankly minute. But the care and flair of their decoration, employing Indian artefacts, carved wood bedheads, pretty cushions, wooden blinds and sweeping curtains, shows the same commitment to standards and to creating an attractive environment. An excellent breakfast, a juice bar, and pretty garden (train noise notwithstanding: the railway line runs at the bottom) help to lift the hotel above the rut.
Twenty Nevern Square
20 Nevern Square, SW5 (020 7565 9555; www.twentynevern square.co.uk). Doubles from £99 per night, including breakfast.
It's not often one can honestly say that a stylish and exotic boutique hotel in London represents good value for money, but this converted Victorian town house in Earl's Court certainly does, and what's more, it offers peace and tranquillity close to the centre of town (with a garden of its own).
Natural materials and colonial, Italian and Asian influences create a stylish and cosy haven, with the more expensive rooms (such as the Pasha Suite, with private terrace) done to delicious excess. The cheapest rooms are very small and the slightly more expensive ones are probably better value.
Beds are a feature, some being sleigh beds, others four-posters, all with Egyptian cotton sheets. A generous buffet breakfast is included in the price, and Café Twenty, an airy conservatory, serves tempting light food.
High Road House
162-166 Chiswick High Road, W4 (020 8742 1717; www.highroadhouse.co.uk). Doubles from £100 per night, excluding breakfast.
At the new London venture of Nick Jones (of Soho House and Babington House), the term b & b means bed and brasserie, for the 14 small, all wood, all white, bedrooms are located on the upper floors of his popular all-day restaurant and private members' club in the heart of Chiswick.
Both the popular ground-floor brasserie, with very good food, and the rooms are open to non-residents: "playpens" at £140 per night, larger "playroom" at £160, with "last-minute" rates from £100. Hotel guests are free to use the airy members-only area as well, with bar, dining room, quiet corners and meeting facilities.
181 Cromwell Road, SW5 (020 7244 2000; www.therockwellhotel.com). Doubles from £150 per night, including breakfast.
Opened last year, this is a beautifully designed, full-service hotel that offers excellent value for money (worth every penny for its sense of calm sophistication), with small doubles at £150, standard ones at £160 and deluxe ones at £180.
Compact, shower-only bathrooms help to account for its lower than average prices, but otherwise the rooms offer style and quality, with attractive wallpapers, oak fittings, plasma TVs and free internet.
There's a laid-back courtyard garden for warmer weather, and a chic, intimate bar and dining room, plus friendly service. Very little edited luxury here: a proper breakfast, elegantly presented in your room if you wish, is included in the price. An oasis in the Cromwell Road, usefully placed for central London, Heathrow and the west.
111a Westbourne Grove, W2 (020 7243 1024; www.millersuk.com). Doubles from £150 per night, including breakfast.
A tucked-away, deep-red door in Notting Hill leads amazed first-time guests into a bygone age, and a different, richer, more exotic world than the one they've left outside, courtesy of owners Martin and Ioana Miller and a lifetime's collecting of antiques, baubles and the most curious of curios.
At night, the wonderfully rich drawing room glitters with dozens of candles and in the morning guests gather at the dining table for pleasant conversation over an excellent breakfast. Bedrooms and suites are more restrained, but no less lovely. Prices start at £150, but bear in mind that they include breakfast and free drinks in the evening.
A surefire way of keeping your bill under £100 per night in London is to opt for a chain hotel, but they are hardly hip and often dire. There are, nevertheless, a few notable exceptions. As with most London hotels, prices vary according to the dates you require, and when you book. These are my favourite three:
Premier Travel Inn, County Hall
Belvedere Road, SE1 (0870 238 3300; www.premiertravelinn.com). Doubles £99 per night, excluding breakfast). The location is the main selling point of this branch of Travel Inn: in the old County Hall building right next to the London Eye, opposite the Houses of Parliament and close to Waterloo. Public rooms are reasonably smart and well-presented, and the larger-than-average bedrooms have comfy king-size beds and spacious desks. The flat rate of £99 includes single and family rooms as well as doubles.
Holiday Inn Express, Southwark
103-109 Southwark Street, SE1 (0870 400 9670; www.hiexpress.co.uk). Doubles from £89 per night, including breakfast. Another useful location, handy for the Tate Modern, the South Bank and the City, this purpose-built, well-run hotel has splashes of warm colour in both public rooms and bedrooms, with good lighting and comfortably-sized shower rooms. Though breakfast is complimentary, Wi-Fi costs extra.
Ramada Encore Gypsy Corner, W3 (0870 0667 123; www.encorelondonwest.co.uk). Doubles from £69.95, excluding breakfast. The poor location on the A40 (note, though, that North Acton Tube station is close) is balanced by the attractive appearance of this modern hotel, with its striking red exterior walls and expanse of glass. Rooms are bright, spacious and stylish, with power showers in the bathrooms. If you are forced to eat in the hotel, there's a café/bar and a fusion restaurant, Wok Around the World, with kitchen open to view. Despite the location, definitely a cut above.