My choice of hotel in London is largely dependant on the length of my visit, the purpose of my visit and how much time I intend to spend in my room. My last visit was staggered across two days such that I had a larger part of the afternoon, an evening and part of the morning to kill, which meant that I wanted somewhere comfortable, in which I could really relax. It has to be said that such a specification could cost you a fortune in London, but I was determined not to go with one of the major chains, and set about looking for a smaller, possibly independent hotel. Due to proximity to Euston station and meeting locations in Angel, Old Street and Holborn, I tend to stay in the Holborn/Bloomsbury area, and decided to try out one of the Bloomsbury town house hotels that I have walked past so many times.
ABOUT THE HOTEL
In line with its rather picturesque name, The Montague on the Gardens occupies a prime location in the heart of Bloomsbury, amidst one of the streets of gorgeous period townhouses. The building is extremely elegant, with period features throughout and a high standard of décor and fittings throughout. The name is entirely accurate, as the hotel overlooks a rather tranquil garden terrace to the rear, and some of the rooms have views out onto the square (for an additional £10 premium.)
Euston station is about ten minutes walk away Kings Cross is probably about twice that. I normally jump in a taxi but if you prefer. the nearest Underground station is Russell Square, which is literally five minutes away, although you could also use Holborn station if convenient. There are plenty of buses to nearby Russell Square, including a direct service from Heathrow airport, and there is an NCP car park just around the corner for car drivers. The area is very well connected for public transport, but is not horrendously busy, and this is one of the reasons that I tend to go for hotels in the region.
WHAT A WELCOME
As soon as I climbed out of my taxi, a hotel porter rushed to help me with my (two small) bags and held the doors open for me. The reception area was quiet, small and intimate, but as soon as I approached the desk, the receptionist appeared to greet me. The service was unconditionally superior to any other that I have received, with a genuine air of warmth and friendliness evident with everyone who rushed to help me. As soon as I had been checked in and issued with my room key, the porter directed me towards one of the lifts and escorted me up to my room. If Im honest, I was rather taken back by the whole experience, which was greatly removed from anything Id ever experienced in a London hotel before, so I really thought I had found hotel paradise.
Sadly, the room wasnt quite up to those exacting standards of paradise. I had booked an executive double room, but the dimensions of the room were actually far smaller than those of most standard double rooms that I have taken in other hotels. The décor was fairly elegant, and certainly in keeping with the period, but in such a small room it was also rather oppressive. Both the carpet and curtains, as well as the wall paper were heavily patterned and all different. Above the bed were patterned, fabric drapes and the complete package was quite overwhelming. The room was also very warm probably due to the fact that the air-conditioning was on hot and the space was so confined. To be fair, all the fixtures and fittings were in excellent condition, and the room was very clean but really not to my tastes at all.
The bed was located in a recess, with a small cabinet to either side and a minimum of space to move. Immediately in front of this was a desk unit and chair, just big enough to accommodate my laptop and a glass of wine, as well as the portable television. There was a small round table and chair in the corner, which added no real use to the room and could realistically have been taken out to free up some space. The desk unit rather neatly housed all the bits and bobs a mini bar, hair dryer, tea, coffee and telephone directories. There was also a medium-sized wardrobe that was used to store an ironing board and the trouser press. In retrospect, everything was quite carefully considered within the very compact size, but it was still cluttered.
The bathroom was similar in size to the bedroom, in that things were arrange with just enough space to be described as adequate. The bath was a fair size, and also had a shower, but the toilet was very strangely positioned and if you sat on it, you virtually ended up peering over the edge of the bath. The shower was a proper power shower, and the water pressure was such that the bath filled up rapidly a watery disaster was only narrowly avoided. Free toiletries were provided as well as bath robes and plenty of towels.
Overall, there was nothing particularly wrong with either the bedroom or the bathroom but space was a bit too tight for me alone, let alone if a couple were using the room.
THE FACILITIES AND EXTRAS
What sets this hotel out from the competition, and probably contributes to its apparent popularity, is the range of facilities available to guests. For such a comparatively small hotel, the Montague has a considerable amount at its disposal. Adjacent to the hotel is a bistro, with a traditional ambience and menu there is even a piano player most evenings. The bistro was being refurbished on my last visit, but I am assured that the food is of an excellent standard and the bistro is very popular with theatre goers for pre-show dinners. I liked the lounge bar, in so far as it was comfortable and quite atmospheric, although if you were looking for something a bit lively, you would be disappointed. There is also a conservatory, which looked like a real sun trap to me, and served afternoon tea as well as evening drinks. Im sure that in the summer the garden terrace would be extremely pleasant certainly something that youd struggle to find in many other London hotels.
Downstairs, there is a small gym, which is free to guests. There isnt a vast array of different pieces of equipment, but the outlook into the garden is quite nice and the gym is well-fitted. Mirrors are used cunningly to make the place look bigger to be avoided if youd rather not see yourself sweating away on the exercise bike. They also have a little desk under the stairs (I kid you not) with a PC on it that you can use to go online. At £5 per hour its not cheap though.
The Montague also has an established reputation for hosting social events. Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night they have a happy hour with live jazz music that seems to go down a treat. Theyre all geared up for Valentines Day, but things are not cheap. A romantic candle-lit dinner will cost you £40 per head - £94.50 if you want a room to go with it.
The bistro has a relatively formal setting, and as such is not the sort of place that I think lone guests would feel comfortable in. I toyed with the idea, but when I poked my head round the door it was all candle-lit suppers and soft music, so I changed my mind. There was a good room service menu though, and my food was fresh and well prepared (if not on the pricey side). The menu in the restaurant sounded delicious though all sorts of dishes and specialities to be found. The chef even uses his own herbs grown in the garden (allegedly). Id happily eat here if I was part of a group.
VALUE FOR MONEY
The Montague is not cheap, and if Im honest I do question whether its tariff is justified. A standard single room is £175 per night, and a standard double room is £200. Nonetheless, all is not lost. If you log on to www.laterooms.com there are normally some pretty good discounts to be had. I travelled during the week and obtained a double room at £124. Ive just nipped over to have a look now and if you were to stay there tonight, they have rooms for £69 not bad at all.
The standard of service was truly excellent so I have absolutely no complaints there whatsoever. The rooms and the building in general were clean, well fitted and stylish, but rather cramped. Im afraid the size of the room didnt justify the price tag even at £124, thats a lot of money for such a small room. Id have to consider coming here again quite carefully, and the price on offer would probably be the motivating factor for me.
Recommended but dont pay more than £100, because its not worth it.
The Montague, which describes itself as a Deluxe Boutique Hotel, is located in Montague St. Bloomsbury. I chose it because it was adjacent to the British Museum but it is conveniently situated for other West End attractions. The hotel is very elegant and beautifully decorated in a country house style. The entrance lobby has an opulent tented ceiling and the helpful smartly uniformed staff immediately offer assistance as you arrive. This, of course, makes for a very good first impression and on the whole the rest of the stay matched my first impression. Check in time is at 2.00pm but I had phoned to ask if I could leave my luggage earlier. I arrived at 9am and was told that the room was ready which was a bonus. ~ ~ ~ Accommodation ~ ~ ~ My room was rather small but nevertheless very comfortable. Matching counterpane, curtains, drapes over the bed and tissue box covers in floral fabrics made for a feminine feel. Little complimentary extras included bottled mineral water, both natural and sparkling, jelly beans (a fun touch), The Independent newspaper and bathrobes. The toiletries by Gilchrist & Soames were also very nice and included conditioning shampoo, hydrating body lotion, and skincare bar with aloe vera. Another rather nice touch, from my perspective at least, was a leaflet offering 50 tips on safety points for the female traveller. The other usual facilities were available such as trouser press, hairdryer which unusually actually worked well, pay movies, shoe shine etc. The room service menu included some interesting variations at reasonable prices and although I didn’t sample them I did see some being prepared and these looked better than average room service offerings. The bed was comfortable, including the pillows which I’m quite fussy about, and the shower worked beautifully. My only complaint was that my room overlooked the road and I was woken a couple of times by traffic noise but I am used to the quiet of
a village and this might not be a problem for people used to hearing traffic. ~ ~ ~ Public Rooms ~ ~ ~ The lounge, decorated in deep red, is furnished with antiques, voluminous drapes and crystal chandeliers. There is a good selection of magazines and newspapers and in spite of the elegant surroundings a sense of relaxed informality. The terrace bar is furnished in gentleman’s club style with leather sofas and plaid walls. Early evening between 5,30 and 8,30 live jazz is performed with some quite impressive musicians on occasions. I had a quick drink in there and was amazed that the excellent music had not drawn in more people. Along with my drink came a tray containing a diverse selection of bar snacks including olives, nuts, cheese straws and other nibbles. Later, after dinner, there was another musician performing – this time a pianist/singer. There are two conservatory areas either side of the bar, which overlook the barbecue and garden terraces which in turn overlook the private formal gardens. I can imagine this is quite a delightful place to be in the summer. ~ ~ ~ Other Facilities ~ ~ ~ Downstairs the hotel provides conference and banqueting facilities and these looked quite impressive. A computer terminal is available for e-mail and internet access and fax and other business services were also available. There is also a state of the art gym and sauna and steam shower. I would normally have used this facility but discovered that the sauna is not on permanently but you have to book it allowing an hour for it to heat up. Apparently, not many people bother to use it and this is why they use this system but I suspect it is not used because of the system. I did find this a little inconvenient as I had no idea if or when I would feel like using it. However, it was a very nice arrangement and here too bath robes and mineral water were provided. ~ ~ ~ The Restaurant – The Blue Door B
istro ~ ~ ~ This restaurant is also beautifully decorated and a pianist provides musical accompaniment to the evening meal. There are two separate rooms in the restaurant: one smoking and one non-smoking. The menu is what I would describe as modern international and is temptingly interesting. I had booked a special DBB offer through Lastminute.com and this caused some confusion concerning dinner. The offer stated a 3-course meal and they didn’t actually have a set menu to choose from. This problem was swiftly resolved and on the first evening I was offered the pre/post theatre menu and a choice of desserts from the a la carte menu. The meal begins with delicious home made breads accompanied by butter and, more unusually, olive oil with balsamic vinegar. Having eaten two filling courses I couldn’t manage a pud which was really sad because, having seen a few pass by, they looked really delicious. I asked if I could have an Irish coffee instead and they didn’t mind at all. The next evening I was offered an additional choice of one course from the daily specials as an alternative to the set two-course menus. As I wanted to leave room for a pud this time I gratefully accepted this offer and chose roast rump of lamb with fondant potatoes and baby aubergines (£10.95). This comprised two large portions of tender lamb cooked to pink perfection served on a bed of assorted vegetables including baby aubergines surrounded by a rich sauce. There was a new main menu that evening and the extremely friendly waitress said the new strawberry dessert looked good so I went along with that. Wow- it was superb. It was served on a large square glass dish and consisted of a beautiful presented arrangement of four individual strawberry deserts: 3 whole strawberries in a heap of thick cream, a portion of moulded home made strawberry ice cream, an individual strawberry shortcake and an individual strawberry tart. Perhaps it was just a little over in
dulgent for one person but nevertheless a delight to the eye and taste. I think it was priced about £6. I found both the food and service excellent and would recommend this restaurant whether staying at the hotel or not. Breakfast was buffet style with both a hot and cold selection. The cold selection was particularly inviting and had some quite unusual foods on offer. The fresh fruit salad was perfect with a wonderful assortment of ripe fruits and there was also a selection of various exotic fruits arranged on plates. Many bowls of ‘extras’ were provided to serve with the cereals or yoghurts. The hot selection was fairly standard but did offer American style crispy bacon which I love alongside the normal stuff. Other items were available on request. I found the table a little cramped at breakfast especially as I would have liked to read the newspaper during breakfast but there really wasn’t enough room. ~ ~ ~ Conclusion ~ ~ ~ All in all I enjoyed staying at the Montague and would certainly recommend it. It has a far friendlier atmosphere than the larger and more impersonal hotels such as Holiday Inns etc. I would imagine that the other hotels in the Red Carnation chain are equally good too.