The Royal Horseguards Hotel has one of the finest locations in London – but how does the rest of it stack up? We went along to find out.
Location, location, location. Ever since cavemen first started picking out which cave they wanted to sleep in, it’s been the essential, indispensable mantra when deciding where you want to lay your head. It’s important in a home but doubly-so in a city hotel: if you’re spending a weekend at the heart of the action then a 25-minute cab ride back to your bed is the last thing you want to worry about.
And as locations go, it’s hard to imagine a better one than that enjoyed by the five-star Royal Horseguards Hotel, situated within a couple of minutes’ walk from Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall and Charing Cross Station – the latter being the point from which all distances to London are measured across the country. Happily, however, it’s just about round enough corners from any of those hotspots that the street itself feels quiet and tranquil.
The hotel is housed in Whitehall Court, a gracefully-constructed building modelled on French châteaux architecture. It’s an interesting building, and was once the spot where Sir Mansfield Cumming created and ran the modern British intelligence services. Ian Fleming even gave his fictional head of MI6 the name ‘M’ in tribute to Sir Mansfield.
The lobby and the rooms
Entering the hotel you encounter a lobby that’s just as grand and impressive as the façade: an enormously high ceiling with a chandelier dangling down, with large sofas surrounding a fire. The scale of the place changes beyond that, however, with the restaurant and bar areas feeling pleasantly intimate. This is a place that essentially feels cosy rather than coolly sophisticated – and despite the fact that there are 282 rooms, the layout stops it from feeling vast and impersonal as large hotels sometimes can.
Our room up on the seventh floor was high enough up to avoid anything more than a faint background hum of city noise, and also high enough to give lovely views across the Thames to the London Eye and South Bank. The bed was enormous, and the room was very nicely fitted throughout, with a fine bath (which even had a waterproof TV, should you go during the World Cup or Wimbledon), lovely Elemis toiletries and a complimentary mini bar.
There were occasional rough edges here and there – a slightly wonky shower head, for example – and while very nice the room didn’t feel huge, or as sleek and luxurious as some of London’s very best hotels do. Then again, a room at the Royal Horseguards comes in at less than half of what you’d pay at the Savoy. As for the room size? Well, how big do you really need your room to be in hotel whose location means you’ll more than likely head straight out and not return until it’s time to sleep?
Food and Drink
Afternoon tea was a real highlight – particularly for the huge choice of unusual teas, of which the hotel’s staff are rightly proud, and none more so than the ‘strawberries and cream’ blend. It sounds bizarre but is genuinely more than just a curiosity: a fine, Assam-based tea that really has to be tried. Scones, sandwiches and sweet treats were all excellent, and the service was incredibly friendly.
The hotel’s One Twenty One Two restaurant – it’s named for the famous phone number of Scotland Yard, whose original location was right across the road – is, like the Equus Bar, a plushly-decorated place, and has a reputation for superb food. Sadly we didn’t get a chance to try it out, but it’s won several awards and if the quality of food at breakfast is any guide, we’d expect top-notch food. Speaking of breakfast, though, while the quality of the food was good, the service was lacking. Yes, it was a busy Sunday morning, but it took several long minutes and a lot of trying to grab attention before we could find a waitress who could bring over tea, coffee and toast.
One final thing to add: the hotel’s terrace garden is a very pleasant little spot joy, and while it’s too low down to have a river view it’s a welcome bit of outdoor space. They’ve recently opened a Secret Herb Garden area, where you can sip gin and tonics while having lunch cooked in the outdoor pizza oven.
Things to do
Right in the heart of London you’re spoilt for choice for things to do. Trafalgar Square, The Strand and Covent Garden are just a couple of minutes away on foot, while the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall are almost on the doorstep. It’s hard to imagine a much better location for sightseeing, galleries, shopping, dining and generally soaking up central London life.
It’s also well-located if you’re heading across to the South Bank’s many attractions, being almost in the shadow of Hungerford Bridge, whose footways straddle the railway tracks over the river from Charing Cross to Waterloo.
Royal Horseguards Hotel, 2 Whitehall Ct, Westminster, London, SW1A 2EJ. Double rooms cost from £210 – see www.guoman.com/royalhorseguards for more details.
Our columnist Jason Goodwin headed to London expecting to have to dig deep to keep himself and his wife entertained.
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