When in London I chose to stay in hotels for only a few days each, so I could try many different ones in different areas. I enjoyed spending several days in each area, walking the streets for hours looking at the buildings and shops, the cafes and restaurants and the people going about their lives. My choices of hotels ranged from budget to luxury, and included an eccentric bed and breakfast style hotel called Miller’s residence and a private club associated with the Quakers called the Penn Club, which offers accommodation to non-member guests when it has spare rooms (such as in the quiet January – February period).
My criteria for measuring hotels have evolved from previous travel for business and pleasure. Luxury is not an end in itself; I rarely care for the corporate aesthetics of commercial hotels, and do my best to avoid chain hotels as much as chain restaurants and cafes. I want the quirky and original, not the pre-packaged and generic. I care far more about things like real coathangers (not those stupid ones that you can’t remove from the wardrobe), whether the shower is big, whether the wifi is fast enough for video skyping, and whether there is a corkscrew in the room so I can open a bottle of wine while watching television or reading in the evening. Here are my hotel reviews and recommendations.
The Sanctum hotel in Soho (below) is crap and their customer service is a nightmare. Avoid. See my separate review. Overpriced minibar: yes. Real coathangers: yes. Big shower: yes. Safe big enough for laptop: yes. Ridiculous attitude from staff: yes. Customer service: fail.
Miller’s residence in Notting Hill (below) is sensational and delightful and is highly recommended. See my separate review. Overpriced minibar: no (open access to the well stocked bar in the drawing room is included in the rate). Real coathangers: yes. Big shower: no, shower over bath. Safe big enough for laptop: no. Ridiculous attitude from staff: no, they were lovely. Customer service: excellent.
Base2stay in Earl’s Court is a very good basic hotel with very reasonable rates. It’s a very short walk to the tube station and is near lots of cafes and pubs. It’s clean and quiet, has very friendly and professional staff and offers cheap phone calls (only 40p per minute to Australia). My single room (below) was compact, with a single bed, a flatscreen tv with integrated services including free music server (filled with mainstream albums you can listen to on demand), many free channels and free internet access via a bluetooth keyboard if you don’t have a laptop.
There’s free wifi, a corkscrew in the mini kitchen, a big shower with room for two if you like it like that (below), a heated towel rail (excellent for drying handwashed underwear on), and a safe to keep your valuables in (though it was too small for my 15 inch laptop). The only things I did not like were the security coathangers and the lack of an alarm clock.
The wardrobe was only half height and too short for my coat, and I could not take a coathanger out of the wardrobe to hang it on a doorknob, so I had to drape it over the furniture to dry. Hotels must now assume everyone that has a mobile phone with them and so no longer needs a clock. I was travelling without my phone, so I needed to book wakeup calls on some days.
Overpriced minibar: no, but there is a fridge in the mini kitchen. Real coathangers: no. Big shower: yes. Safe big enough for laptop: no. Ridiculous attitude from staff: no, friendly and professional. Customer service: excellent.
The Myhotel in Bloomsbury was poor. I would avoid it. When I checked in and went to my single room (below), I discovered the bed frame was broken. I sat on it and it wobbled. I inspected it and it looked like it was about to snap and send me crashing to the floor. The bed head had been pushed hard up against the wall in the presumption that the next customer (in this case me) would not notice, but I did.
I called reception and asked for another room. The member of staff who came up with a new room keycard had no interest in the problem, and appeared to have no intent to do anything about it other than move me to another room (which was a double).
The bathroom of the single room (below) was reasonably spacious but the bathroom of the double room I was moved to was ridiculous, with a shower over a tiny narrow bath and no room to move. Also, unlike the single room bathroom, the double room bathroom had no heated towel rail (although it did have a central heating unit for draping clothes over to dry).
In my double room the cd player was broken (but I had already given up on them and did not bother complaining about it). Phone calls were a ripoff at £1.50 per minute to Australia. Annoyingly there was no bottle opener in the room, and I had a bottle of wine I wanted to open. I called reception and asked for one to be sent up. They told me there was one in the minibar, but I had already looked and there wasn’t. A staff member soon arrived with a beer bottle opener.
I apologised for not being clear and asked for a corkscrew. First, we established that I was correct that there was not one in the minibar. Then, when he realised I planned to open my own wine, and not the screwtop wine in the minibar, he gave me a dirty look. He went away and returned soon after with a corkscrew. I opened my bottle and he took it away again.
Overpriced minibar: yes. Real coathangers: yes. Big shower: no, shower over narrow bath. Safe big enough for laptop: yes. Ridiculous attitude from staff: yes. Customer service: fail.
The Ambassadors in Bloomsbury was even worse. I stopped in at reception on way back in from dinner one evening, and asked for corkscrew so I could open a bottle of wine in my room. Instead of doing what the staff at Myhotel did, which was say ‘one will be sent to your room shortly Sir’, they refused to help me and sent me to the hotel bar across the lobby.
I went to the bar and asked the same thing. They refused to lend me one! They told me I had to bring my bottle down to the bar to get it opened, so I went back up to my room, got it and came down again.
Things then got even more bizarre. The woman opened the bottle (a pleasant £8 Rioja – a $15 Spanish tempranillo) then made a sarcastic performance of smelling the artificial cork, which of course has no scent as, unlike a real one, it cannot absorb the flavour of the wine. WTF? This was very poor service and I told them so. I’m paying them to look after me and they refused to fulfill their side of the contract. Unacceptable.
The room was spacious (above) and the bathroom clean and functional (below). Unfortunately, they stocked the cheapest nasty scratchy tissues and toilet paper.
The Ambassadors is poorly managed and staffed by unhelpful, uncaring people. One day the soap in my bathroom was taken away and not replaced. I called reception, explained this and asked for some to be sent up. I had to explain this three times before the staff member understood and made it happen.
The Ambassadors was also the only hotel I stayed in that had no environmental policy. By this I mean the usual ‘hang your towels up if you are happy to reuse them’, or ‘leave them on the floor if you want them replaced’ notice in the bathroom. I’d hang mine up, only to find the whole lot replaced regardless. I took to hanging the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door all day to stop them from over-servicing my room.
The wifi at the Ambassadors was flaky. It was fast but dropped out regularly. They had multiple routers or repeaters throughout the building whose signal strength fluctuated by the minute. You’d join a fast one and it would soon become slow. They all dropped out each night about 10.30pm and I had to call reception every night to get them to restart the router. When I checked out the man at reception asked me to fill out a survey form, and I refused. He seemed to understand.
Finally, they have a policy that does not allow guests to have visitors in their rooms – how very antiquated. Overpriced minibar: no (the hotel has an overpriced bar and restaurant). Real coathangers: no. Big shower: yes. Safe big enough for laptop: yes. Ridiculous attitude from staff: yes. Customer service: fail.
The Hoxton hotel in Hoxton / Shoreditch is fantastic. It’s a big modern hotel with a casual informal atmosphere. It has the only hotel bar and restaurant I’ve been in that is fun and has a good atmosphere instead of the usual characterless space you’d prefer to avoid. And the prices were not outrageous: a single Ardbeg was £5 during the day and £7.50 at night.
My double room for a single occupant (below). Amazing bed, big desk, flatscreen TV, a desk tray with a shadow board outlining where every item goes, good tea and coffee making facilities (the only hotel to have those coffee bags that are decent, and real milk in the minibar fridge).
Administrivia is dealt with via humour at the Hoxton.
The bathroom was enormous. Big shower, basin with plenty of space around it to store your toiletries, and a hook on the wall conveniently placed to allow you to hang a shirt up to drip-dry (using a real coathanger). They have thought of everything. There was no heated towel rail but the building was warm throughout and handwashed clothes dried quite quickly.
Included in your rate is 1 hour of phone calls a day to many countries including Australia (presumably VOIP but it was good quality), wifi, and a mini breakfast consisting of a bottle of orange juice, a small tub of yoghurt and a banana.
Overpriced minibar: no, but you have a mini fridge with real milk for your tea. Real coathangers: yes. Big shower: yes. Safe big enough for laptop: yes. Ridiculous attitude from staff: no, they’re excellent. Customer service: calm, organised and professional.
The Penn Club was a late addition to my list of London hotels due to a schedule change. I needed 3 more nights in London and its Bloomsbury location is perfect – literally around the corner from the British Museum. It’s a private members club associated with but not formally a part of the Quakers. It is simple, quiet and old-fashioned, and is quite charming in its own way.
I was easily the youngest person by about 10 years staying there. In your room you have a bed, a wardrobe, a desk, bedside tables, a chest of draws, lamps and chairs. You don’t have a television, a phone, a clock or any other modern convenience (below).
This is part of its appeal. As an undergraduate studying medieval history, I lived life according to the schedule of a Benedictine monk for a weekend at the New Norcia monastary in Western Australia. Living the life of a modern Quaker is far more civilised. It’s about simplicity, authenticity and quietness in which to engage in personal reflection, with time and space for social interaction, such as during breakfast, when guests chat over tea and jokingly steal each other’s marmalade. Of all the places I stayed, the Penn Club had the best view out of a bedroom window (below).
As a private club in a Georgian terrace building, most of the rooms do not have ensuites and there are shared bathrooms and toilets. I booked one of the few ensuite rooms. The facilities are basic but clean (below, the shower is small and out of shot to the right).
At £110 inc VAT and a freshly cooked to order full English breakfast, an ensuite room at the Penn Club is a bargain for its location (it is surrounded by very expensive hotels).
Excluding the Penn Club and Miller’s residence (both of which are really bed and breakfast guesthouses, not standard hotels) all these places offered the same broad features but for very different prices. Price had very little to do with quality or service.
The most expensive hotel, the Sanctum, provided the worst customer service. The cheapest, Base2stay, was outstanding in providing a safe, comfortable and convenient place to stay that was also exceptional value for money in an expensive city. They also had (along with the Hoxton) the most helpful and friendly staff.
Accommodation need not be formulaic. If you’re willing to pay for it, one of the eight rooms at Miller’s will provide a unique experience. If you’re looking for genuine goodwill and to be treated like an individual at a more modest price, try the Penn Club. To be near Kensington chic on a budget, Base2stay is fantastic, and for some east end action the Hoxten is modern, fun and vibrant.