Newest Review: ... Another point of note is that you can get to the hotel by car without having to go into the congestion charge zone. We arrived a little to... more
A Three Star Hotel At A Five Star Price
Holiday Inn Express (London)
Member Name: Hishyeness
Holiday Inn Express (London)
Advantages: Convenient location. Clean and comfortable rooms. Courteous Staff
Disadvantages: Mediocre food. Can be noisy. Few amenities. Less than salubrious area.
A RELUCTANT OVERNIGHTER
Although my daily commute from home to our offices in the City takes just over an hour, there are occasions, due to pressing work commitments, when it makes more sense to stay in London than to go home. Recently, this has happened more frequently than I would like - to the extent that I now keep an overnight bag handy.
I work on the fringes of the City, around Liverpool Street, so there are no shortage of hotel rooms available in the area. However, as a Priority Club member, I prefer to stay at Intercontinental Hotel Group properties (Crown Plaza, Holiday Inn & Express by Holiday Inn), especially when my employer is footing the bill.
As such, the Express London City - which is a five minute walk from the office - is usually my first choice. Unfortunately, I usually end up booking quite late in the day, which is hardly conducive to getting the best rates, so the prices I usually pay are not representative of what is normally on offer to those who can plan further ahead.
The Express London City is very close to the busy road intersection at Old Street Underground (Northern Line - Bank Branch) and train station (served by First Capital Connect) and is on a number of major bus routes (to Paddington, London Bridge, Waterloo, & Oxford Circus amongst others) so it is best accessed by public transport.
It is handily placed for access into the City and points North, and can be used as a convenient base from which to explore London. The property is within walking distance of the City's financial district, Hoxton, Shoreditch and Brick Lane, and is also convenient for the Eurostar at St Pancras, Kings Cross and Liverpool Street stations.
Arriving by car is not a good idea. The hotel is within London's Congestion Charge zone and has very little parking on-site (nine spaces for its 224 rooms, available on a first come first served basis and charged at £25 per day). There is a public NCP car park close by at Finsbury Square (a five to seven minute walk from the hotel), but like all London car parks, it is eye-wateringly expensive at £36 a day.
This part of London - on the Hackney and Islington borders - is not going to win any prizes for aesthetic appeal, and sadly, the exterior of this hotel does nothing to improve the neighbourhood. The front of this five floor property has a small, shallow "in/out" driveway that's serves as a drop off area for cabs, and shelters the entrance a bit from the proximity of the street. The immediate area around the hotel is home to the usual eclectic mix of dubious takeaway establishments, off licences, small food shops (convenient given lack of room service), vacant lots, cab offices and the occasional "character" bars and pubs that only a local could love. Being a confirmed and lifelong suburbanite, I tend to find it all a bit grubby, daunting and uncomfortable.
Fortunately, the clean and bright interior belies this initially negative impression, and leaves the visitor feeling like they have stepped into an oasis of civility and relative calm. On my last visit, I arrived at 10pm to find reception fully staffed, and was seen to immediately. The downstairs area is open plan, featuring the reception desk, a bar area, and a lounge with an extra large flat screen TV. The breakfast area is screened off at night with a set of accordion type full length floor to ceiling doors, creating a smaller space in the evenings, but given the austerity and contemporary feel of the décor, it is not particularly welcoming and feels a bit like a transit lounge.
Given its noisy city centre location, it's best to try and bag a bedroom at the back of the property (even numbered rooms last I checked). I have stayed on the Old Street side and the exterior noise is definitely more noticeable than on the other side of the hall. The key card is a completely white with no markings other than a strip on one side and it took me a minute or two to figure out which way to swipe it to open the door.
Once inside, I was pleased to find a relatively large room with a generously proportioned double bed, a small couch, an open "wardrobe", and a combined desk and TV stand which also houses the basic tea-making facilities (which featured an impressively scale-free kettle). A full length mirror is mounted on the wall opposite the bed, with a hairdryer fixed in a holder on the wall next to it.
A fold-out luggage rack is provided, but, otherwise, the room is not blessed with an abundance of storage space. There is a fan and a wall-mounted radiator, but no central heating or air conditioning. At the time of writing, the hotel is undergoing a floor by floor refurbishment and will be completed (and fully air conditioned) by July 2011.
The TV is the old CRT type - a bulky black presence squatting obtrusively and noticeably in the corner of the room. Around twenty channels are provided (most of the free to air stuff you normally find on Freeview) but the picture and sound quality is average at best. The hotel entertainment package also offers pay-per-view blockbuster movies (Toy Story 3 was the advertised feature) as well as "adult" channels for those requiring a different kind of entertainment, both priced at a rip-off £9.95 per film. These channels need to be activated at reception before you can tune in.
The desk offers a hard broadband connection, but WiFi is also provided throughout the building at a charge of £12.95 per day. The bedding was clean and smelled very pleasant and fresh and the bed itself was very comfortable to sleep in. The room lighting was a little harsh and bright for my taste, but the halogen bedside lamps make a refreshing change from the dim, power-saving lamps I am now used to having in similar hotels (a shame then, that one of them wasn't working). The room and side lights can be turned off from the bed. I wasn't sure what to make of the complimentary ear-plugs, but in any event, I had no reason to test how effective they were. There wasn't much ambient noise and I slept quite soundly.
Oddly, but surprisingly efficiently, the door to the bathroom also doubles as the door to the toilet, allowing one occupant to use the facilities without bothering someone else using the bathroom. The shower enclosure is quite large, but suffers from a lack of downlighting, so that it gets quite gloomy when the curtain is drawn. Water pressure is fantastic, providing a powerful showering experience guaranteed to blast you awake in the morning. All-in-one hand soap, shampoo and shower gel is provided wall-mounted dispensers (one in the shower and the other next to the sink).
Lighting above the one-piece Formica sink unit is very good and the three mirrors, arranged around the sink both increase the lighting and sense of space and make shaving a doddle. The towels provided were a little stiff and scratchy, but were more than adequate for one guest. There are no toiletries provided, but basic things like a toothbrush, disposable razor and soap can be obtained from reception for free.
Breakfast was included in the room rate and is served from 6:30am onwards in the main restaurant on the ground floor. It is a self-service affair - you just turn up, grab a tray and avail yourself of the limited facilities. The room has a distinct cafeteria feel to it, seating is first come first served and you will find yourself eating with various service staff disconcertingly and enthusiastically buzzing about, picking up and clearing trays and wiping down tables. I am usually by myself, and its common to find your breakfast has disappeared after coming back from topping up your juice.
The "hot" part of the offering (usually lukewarm at best) is sausages and scrambled eggs. The sausages are cheap, taste bland and have a mealy texture - best avoided. The eggs are not much better - a bright yellow, crumbly, watery mush that would have most laying hens weeping into their bird feed. However, the croissants are passable, as is the fresh bread for toast, and, along with yoghurt, fresh fruit and an array of popular cereals, it is possible to put together a passable and satisfying breakfast. Coffee is the machine-dispensed kind and, given the proximity of EAT, Pret and a host of independent coffee shops in spitting distance, its not worth stripping your stomach lining for the sake of a couple of quid.
PRICE & PAYMENT
As my company picks up the bill for my overnight stays, I am not normally particularly fussed about the room rate. However, I do like to keep an eye on expenses and was a little peeved to have to pay £169 for my overnight stay in what is, basically, a three star City "budget" hotel. The Crowne Plaza in Shoreditch - a chain two rungs up the IHG ladder - was advertising a rate of £209 a night, which, in my view, showed up the Express as being particularly bad value. My mood was not improved when I found out the price, as of 1st October 2010 is quoted ex-VAT, which made my ten-hour stay (10pm to 8am) a whopping £198 all in. That's £20 an hour.
To be fair, their rates are normally much more competitive, but having booked on-line at 2pm the same day, I would have expected better room rate than a "walk-in". Express accept most major credit cards and check-out (the bill notwithstanding) was otherwise quick and relatively painless. An express check-out facility is available in your room, but I needed an invoice for my expenses claim, so opted to do it in person. I also wanted to hand in a maintenance form (provided in room) so that the bedside lamp and a minor leak in the shower hose could be fixed for the next guest.
On the plus side, the property is conveniently placed, the staff are courteous, efficient and friendly, and the rooms are clean, comfortable and, on the whole, usually well maintained. However, as a hotel supposedly aimed at the budget end of the market, the rate I paid was ludicrously expensive. It remains to be seen what value, if any, is added by the refurbishment programme, but I doubt very much that it will justify a rate of nearly £200 a night.
I would venture that half that price is about the right value given its amenities and location in London. Breakfast was mediocre at best, there are no on-site facilities to speak of (a "Guest Pass" is offered at a nearby gym for a discounted £7), and the immediate area around the property is less than salubrious. This is not a place I would chose to stay if I was paying myself, but the proximity to work makes it a viable solution.
Express by Holiday Inn
275 Old Street
London EC1V 9LN
Front Desk: 0207 300 4300
Website: www.hiexpress.com/hotels/us/en/london/lonct/hoteld etail
© Hishyeness 2010
Summary: Good location. Clean rooms. Exorbitant and unjustifiable room rate.