Despite walking by London County Hall several times in my life, I had no idea the Marriott occupied a vast amount of the building. Obviously, the glistening Thames and the bright lights of the South Bank are such show-stealers but it feels like the Marriott has decided to keep a very subtle riverside presence. That is until you walk through the hotel’s arched entrance on Westminster Bridge, follow the topiary-lined drive and open the doors to early 20th century grandeur at its best.
Dotted along the grand corridors of the Marriott are wonderful pictures of County Hall when it was swarming with the political movers and shakers of 1920s London. Make sure you sneak a peak at the old Council Chamber of the LCC as it really puts the building in to perspective. The majestic wood-panelled chamber is lined with luxurious green leather benches and it’s this style that inspires the rest of the hotel. It’s traditional but the furnishings are pure opulence.
The theme continues in to Gillray’s, the hotel’s bar and restaurant. The lounge resembles a members club that Bertie Wooster might have frequented but the colourful Chesterfields keep it contemporary. However, what gives this bar the extra edge is its breathtaking vista of Big Ben, Westminster Bridge, the London Eye and the Thames. When you’re sipping cocktails in a stylish setting like Gillray’s, you start seeing London from a new perspective. Or was that just the gin talking? Their impressive cocktail menu has to be consumed to be believed. It is incredibly patriotic, with drinks categorised in eras such as Georgian, Victorian and Modern Britain and some are like Heston Blumenthal concoctions. I can confirm that the Gunpowder and Smoke cocktail will blow your head off.
My friend and I could happily have spent the day working our way through the decades of drink but we didn’t want our rejuvenating trip to the Hotel Health Club & Spa to be a complete shambles. The moment we donned our white robes, we knew we’d made the sensible decision. While the pool is for all spa guests, the jacuzzi, steam room and sauna are single sex so it’s not a particularly sociable experience for hetero couples but it’s perfect for chilling with the girls. After lolling around from one hot room to the next, we were relaxed and primed for our Murad facials. I’m a particular fan of this brand as it’s so effective at treating specific skin woes while still being a pampering experience. After a consultation, I was advised to go for the Clarifying Enzyme Facial (£85) to spring clean my clogged-up city skin. The hour went too fast for my liking but my revitalized complexion inspired me to do a few lengths of the pool afterwards. Eight lengths to be precise but honestly, it was enough to work up an appetite for our return to Gillray’s Steakhouse that evening.
While the lounge is decorated with bright statement sofas and an ornate bar to compliment the bar’s dramatic panorama, the restaurant fully embraces its Jazz age roots. With its floor to ceiling oak-panelled walls, parquet floors and huge art deco chandeliers, it’s exactly the place you envisage being when you say you’re going to be dining on the Thames. If you’re thinking Aberdeen Angus when I say this is a Steakhouse, think again. These meats mean business and are from 35 day Dry-Aged Yorkshire Hereford Cattle from the Duke of Devonshire’s Bolton Abbey Estate. We both opted for the fillet, one with tarragon butter and one with stilton. The staff couldn’t be more knowledgeable about their menu and guided us through all the cuts, sauces and wines to pair up with our choices. I was almost tempted by one cut called the “Bull’s Head” which is 1Kg of beef on the bone but the waiter informed us only 46 people have managed to finish this since the restaurant opened last year. I usually love a challenge but I’d already consumed Cornish Oysters for a starter and one of Gillray’s epic cheese-filled Yorkshire puddings with Horseradish. And no way was I compromising dessert.
I don’t say this lightly (I could do nothing lightly after this meal) but this was without doubt one of the tastiest steaks I have had the fortune to consume. The gluttony escalated as I’d committed to their signature dessert of Traditional Sherry Trifle. Rustically presented in a jam jar so you can see all the trifle’s layers, you can choose whether to have the accompanying sherry poured over the trifle or sip it as you go. The recipe is even tied to the jar but I’d rather not desecrate the memory by attempting it myself. We had to be rolled back to our deluxe bedroom suite overlooking the Thames that night. These huge rooms have everything you could possibly want including a very luxurious wide bed but design-wise, there’s nothing very imaginative about them. Essentially, you’re paying to have Big Ben as your wake-up call and open the curtains to one of the world’s most famous views.
You could not ask for a more inspiring or iconic location from a hotel experience. I have since returned to the hotel, the first time for Afternoon Tea in the exquisite Library Lounge. As hoped, it was a very English affair. And the second visit was for a roast dinner which at the time of writing is very reasonable £17.37 (as 1737 is the year James Gillray, the satirical caricaturist whom the bar is named after, was born). This includes a glass of vino with your roast beef, cheesy Yorkies and all the trimmings. Though I must confess, I do look up longingly at the room I stayed in and think, “Ah, my old Thameside apartment.” I may have been forced to give up the room in the Marriott but I’m practically a permanent resident at Gillray’s.
Room rates start from £270 per room, per night – standard rate for a Deluxe room only (breakfast not included).
London Marriott Hotel County Hall, London County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7PB, www.londonmarriottcountyhall.co.uk, 0207 928 5200.