There’s something pretty special about central London. Tower Bridge, the London Eye, all those red buses. It’s no surprise millions of tourists flock here every year, and I understand the attraction, I really do. However, hailing from this fair city, I’ve seen the sights hundreds of times, and walk past little pieces of architectural history on my way to work every day. So when I say that the view from London Marriott Hotel County Hall made me scream; this was no mean feat.
Yes, the scream was partially down to the fact that I was half undressed before I realised a pod from the London Eye was a few metres away from the window. And full of tourists. With cameras. But partial nudity aside, the view really is breathtaking, even for a hardened Londoner like me. With the aforementioned wheel to the right of my window and a crystal clear view of the Palace of Westminster to my left, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed. There are few city sights that can rival London at night, and the Marriott has a prime spot in the centre of it all.
Spectacular views notwithstanding, the hotel does rather well from the inside too. It’s easy to see why tourists would head here – a grand entrance complete with a doorman, traditional décor and an old-fashioned English feel to things – but I’m surprised more Brits aren’t booking all the rooms up. It’s like being in an episode of Downton Abbey, one of the racy ones where they go to town and listen to jazz. Perhaps it’s the proximity to Parliament and the history of London that brings on the period drama feel, perhaps it’s the history of the hotel itself (it opened in 1922 and is a landmark listed building); either way, I’m wondering if I have a dinner outfit Maggie Smith’s dowager would have approved of.
I needn’t have worried, of course, since the hotel has a thoroughly modern edge to it; a spa, a 25-metre swimming pool, and the usual mod cons in the rooms (which contrast nicely with the historical paintings on the walls). I always imagined I’d be out enjoying the buzz of the city until dawn if I had somewhere so central to stay, but the hotel is so cozy, the food so good and the staff so pleasant that I don’t bother leaving at all. And, as I stroll over Westminster Bridge the morning after cocooning myself away at the Marriott, I suddenly understand why there are so many tourists here, taking snaps of Big Ben. In fact, I hate to admit it, but I whipped out my camera and joined them.
Food and drink: The food at Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar is so English you can imagine Winston Churchill scoffing similar fare at the Palace of Westminster (which, incidentally, we have a view of from our table). The menu includes delightful, nostalgic old favourites, but keeps it interesting by serving things with a modern twist. Yes, there are Yorkshire puddings, but here they come filled with heavenly melted cheese and are served pre-starter instead of bread. Yes, there is a traditional lemon meringue, but it comes on a glass plinth and is delivered to the table with more than a little posturing.
The mains are – as the restaurant’s name suggests – rather meaty. And oh, the meat. As a former vegetarian, I can confirm that a visit to Gillray’s well and truly nailed me to the dark side. Splendid starters, including smoked salmon, grilled prawns and oysters, plus absolutely faultless service completed the meal, but the steak took centre stage. At one point I would have happily abandoned my dinner date if the chef agreed to run away with me.
Although you may be tempted to ditch dessert in favour of a second main course, don’t. The puddings really are wonderful, although I struggled to finish mine after two hearty courses and the delicious Yorkshire puddings. Top off your meal with wine chosen with the help of the staff and the snazzy iPad menu, or plump for one of the cocktails beforehand at the bar (or, indeed, do both. It’s what Churchill would have wanted).
Breakfast, served in the same restaurant, is a combination of buffet-style (wonderful bread baskets are bought to the table, while a selection of cereals and healthy muesli and fruit options are available) and a hot food menu, offering traditional English breakfasts with American-style superb hospitality.
Price: Rooms start at £199
Address: London County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road London SE1 7PB, 0207 928 5200, www.marriott.com/hotels
Radio Times travel rating: 9/10 A classic, polished hotel in central London with James Bond views and fantastic food.
Radio Times Travel stayed as a guest of the hotel in 2014. For more details about this hotel and to find the latest room prices, please visit the official website.