by Lotte Jeffs, The Telegraph, October 18, 2017
Time is ticking, quite literally, on your chance to be face to face with the Houses of Parliament’s iconic Elizabeth Tower, often incorrectly referred to as Big Ben (all Londoners and Pub Quiz fans know that’s the name of the bell inside it). Scaffolding for long-overdue restoration work is creeping further and further up the structure and is now just about obscuring the clock face. Restoration works on the tower will continue until 2021, and more extensive renovation works on the Houses of Parliament are expected to commence in the future.
With so much change in store, now's the time to take in the view from the Westminster Suite at the Marriott Hotel County Hall, directly beside the London Eye. On the building's sixth floor, the hotel's best suite offers a full London money shot - sunset, Thames, Westminster Bridge, 'Big Ben' and the Houses of Parliament are all beautifully laid out for the couples in situ.
The suite: All of the hotel's 12 suites are Thames-facing, but this 135sq metre one-bedroom abode is the most impressive. You can’t see out of the high porthole window in the bedroom, but a shadow behind its frosted glass hints at the exterior’s Edwardian Baroque details. Royal-blue padded fabric lines the bedroom’s main wall lending it an air of relaxed grandeur and frames containing origami art add a cooler, modern touch. The large antique vanity table provides a stylish space in which to get ready.
The suite's living dining room is the most inviting space – afforded as it is with a view that stretches from Westminster Bridge to the Golden Eagle memorial statue. The dining table seats 10 (with the city's official fireworks display directly outside, it's hard to think of a more ideal place in which to spend New Year’s Eve in London), while a mezzanine area hosts an office desk, comfortable central seating arrangement and coffee table, and a snug TV zone with an L-Shaped sofa and large Samsung screen. There’s a spacious kitchen with microwave and grill, Nespresso coffee machine and large fridge containing the minibar – two bottles of Nyetimber and a couple of bottles of fine wine (La Compaigne, 2016, Viognier pays D’oc) complement the usual accoutrements. A separate guest toilet near the entrance is wallpapered with a historic map of the city – a nod to the London-centric design trope that was introduced the hotel’s recent multi-million pound renovation.
The hotel: That renovation has added playful decorative elements - think quirky curtains embellished with a brolly and bowler hat motif, armchairs sheathed in bright orange leather - to what can seem a rather officious, listed buildings. Opened by the royal family in 1922, the building was until 1998 the London County Council building and original interior décor elements still on show include vaulted ceilings and wood panelling. Since the revamp, the 206 rooms and suites have been modernised and furnished with work by London artists.
The hotel's Gillray’s Steak House and Bar is the kind of imposing British restaurant in which one could imagine ruthless politicians deciding plots over rib-eye and red wine. When transformed for breakfast, it makes a pleasant space from which to watch the shuttle boats chugging in and out of the pier below. In an effort to bring some humour and personality to the establishment, the team at London Marriott County Hall have employed a ‘meteorologist in residence’ who will suggest local activities which suit the day’s weather.
What to expect: A masseuse can be arranged to perform in-suite treatments, and I would recommend the hotel’s personal trainer, who can also be booked at short notice for a session in the large and well-equipped gym. There are also various complimentary studio-based classes on offer each day. The pool is a good size, but somewhat dated in appearance. But the Westminster Suite is a pleasant, extremely comfortable place to spend a day and large enough not to get under each-other’s feet if you are residing with a guest or two, so you’d be forgiven for not venturing further than the kitchen.
Stand-out feature: The Westminster Suite’s panoramic vista is breathtaking, particularly at sunset, and the suite has been elegantly designed to capitalise on the light and views in the living-dining area. The constantly changing cityscape makes for fascinating viewing, and it's easy to lose time simply watching the activity across the Thames and below. Rather than eating out, plan on ordering room service so you can observe the bustling Embankment grow still as night falls.
Not so keen: Suite guests are given access to the Marriott Executive Lounge Bar - which offers a complimentary beverages and snacks but is not dissimilar in ambience to an airport lounge. Despite the setting offering arguably better river views than the 6th-floor suite, the hotel's main bar is far more appealing.
Location: In London’s institutional heartland at the foot of Westminster Bridge. The Southbank Centre is minutes away and many of London’s most iconic monuments surround. You’ll have to fight hoards of tourists to get to the hotel itself, but with its enclosed entrance courtyard away from the main road and largely ignored by passersby, calm descends as soon as you turn into the property.
The Details: The Westminster Suite costs £1,500 per night including breakfast and M Club Lounge access. London Marriott Hotel County Hall also offers 12 smaller luxury suites including seven 'Big Ben View' Balcony Suites and four one-bedroom Executive Suites starting from £450 to £950 per night.