With business in the City of London financial district and the relatively new Bankside district on the South Bank of the Thames, I spent a night recently at the Novotel London City South hotel.
The Novotel is just south of Southwark Bridge along Southwark Bridge Road, a main artery just south of the Thames, and it looked like the ideal location for my overnight.
(Bear in mind that this isn't the Novotel near London City Airport. The name confuses even London's normally invincible cabbies, so say "the Novotel on Southwark Bridge Road" if arriving by cab.)
Location & Impressions
The hotel is within walking distance of London Bridge, Southwark Mansion House and Cannon Street rail and underground stations, though it's probably too far if you have heavy luggage, if it's raining (not unheard of in London) or if it's late at night.
Apart from that, it's well located, with PwC, Ernst & Young and the London Assembly in the vicinity, and the enormous Shard tower rising nearby, plus all of the City of London (the old financial and business district) just across Southwark Bridge to the north. This area will grow in importance for business travellers over the next year and in the future.
On arrival, the lobby was modern and bright, although the pointedly upbeat music was a bit loud. I checked in around noon, and the process was swift.
My Executive Room on the third floor was small, with a king bed (UK size, which is a queen elsewhere), two-seater sofa, desk and chair.
A separate toilet (by the door) and bathroom (with bath, separate shower and sink) plus an odd cupboard-nook near the door meant that the layout was strangely constructed and didn't really gel together.
A small flatscreen TV and a little luggage ottoman rounded out the room.
The furnishings are last-generation Novotel and felt about ten years out of date, with veneer missing from some surfaces.
Since it was an executive room, it also came with a dressing gown and slippers, a Nespresso machine and complimentary bottles of water, but only two caffeinated and two decaf Nespresso pods.
So if you're a coffee fiend in the morning, ask for more to be delivered (and get some proper milk rather than the longlife stuff if you like your coffee white) before going to bed.
The lack of hanging and storage space was disappointing, with annoying theft-proof hangars (often banished from upmarket executive rooms) and a fiddly, poky corner to hang things. The ironing board hung in the loo, which was rather odd.
The bathroom was fine, with a bath and separate glass-doored shower. The shower (with detachable shower wand) had reasonable water pressure.
Toiletries in the bathroom were Novotel's standard shampoo, shower gel and soap. No luxury here, so if you're the least bit picky it's best to bring or buy your own.
Executive Rooms also get a vaguely citrus scented exfoliating scrub (brown liquid) and body milk (moisturising lotion). Also included in the upgraded Executive holder is a fizzy bath tablet and the usual little cleansing pads/cotton bud pac
With only a little luggage ottoman, it's a good job I didn't bring a large suitcase -- I'd never have got it open and still been able to walk past.
The bed itself was rather firm, with just a single doona (duvet) and basic sheets, but was reasonably comfortable apart from the lack of air conditioning (see below).
The soundproofing (with double glazing plus an extra layer) was excellent, and I didn't hear a thing in my third-floor room despite flashing lights reflecting off the buildings opposite on the main Southwark Bridge Road. Top marks.
Top marks also for normal light switches in sensible places and a useful full length mirror as part of the bathroom door.
A failing grade, however, for the lack of air conditioning. Only "air cooling" (which was explained to me as pumped air) with very little air movement is available. Let's be clear: a four star business hotel in a city that regularly sees summer temperatures of 35+ degrees should have air conditioning, and I've stayed at other London Novotels that do.
Unbelievably, there's only one single power point available in the entire room, behind the TV. So make sure you bring a power strip and a plug adaptor.
The desk setup cuts down on the space available, with the working-height desk surface neeting to swing out into the room to make a T shape.
Disappointingly, only wired Internet is included in the Executive room rate (it's £15/A$23 a day for everyone else), and it's slow, with speeds a sluggish 0.5Mbps down and 0.1Mbps up.
The cable is short, too, so if you want to be able to catch up on the news back home on the sofa, you'll need to bring your own travel router to set up a wifi hotspot. (My AirPort Express worked a treat.)
Around 11pm (8am in Sydney at this time of the year) the wired Internet slowed to an unusable crawl.
There is an Orange wifi network available in the hotel for €10 (A$13) a day, but the staff told me that they were unable to provide access to it even when the hotel broadband was down.
This trend -- where hotels completely disclaim responsibility or helpfulness for a basic utility installed by another company in their hotel -- leaves a bad taste in business travellers' mouths.
The menu is the same for the hotel's bar, restaurant and room service, and it's pretty good food, especially for a hotel. Room service costs just an extra £3 (A$5), and since there's not much of an ambience in the bar or restaurant, you might as well relax with dinner in the room.
I enjoyed a smoked chicken salad (£6.50, A$10) and rump of lamb (£16.80, A$26) one lunchtime, and grazed on one of the tasty (but sparse) sharing plates for dinner.
The wine list is particularly good, with a delicious elegant Sancerre French white and fruity Ravenswood Zinfandel Californian red that I'd recommend, with prices around the £6-9 (A$) mark.
Breakfast was disappointing, with greasy bacon, overcooked sausages, rubbery scrambled eggs and fried eggs that had been sitting in oil for quite some time. Well below the usually excellent Novotel breakfast par.
The sofa (actually a sofa bed) was firm and not comfortable for relaxing or reading. I ended up lying on the bed instead. I did take the opportunity to have a good soak in the bathtub, which was relatively large and deep for a London hotel bath.
The Bose iPod docking station was a welcome addition, although it's not iPhone compatible. That didn't pose many problems for me since I had brought my old iPod with me, but if your phone reverts to 2G signal while using it you'll get that signature 2G dit-dit-da-dit-dit blipping noise. It doesn't have an Aux In jack to connect to a non-iPod connector device, which is an unfortunate omission.
All in all, the Novotel London City South was only just okay, with below-par Internet access, only one power point in the room and no air conditioning all fairly significant problems for the business traveller.
The location is good if your business destination is within walking distance and you're not arriving with much luggage, but there are more modern and better equipped hotels (even in the same Novotel brand) around London.
Our reporter was a guest of the Novotel London CIty South