Wednesday 18th October, 2017

The Strand Palace

I've stayed at this central London hotel many times, so was comfortable in telephoning direct for a reservation. It was off season and I was surprised at the rate offered at 124 pounds room only. I went to the Metrostar.com Web site, which does online hotel reservations, and was quoted a rate of 82 pounds including breakfast. I opted for that and made a two-night booking. After arriving at Heathrow I caught the 15-minute express to Paddington in the centre of London, and I then took the subway to Temple station, and then walked the approximate two hundred metres to The Strand Palace. This very large hotel is one that has emitted a great deal of character over the years. Previously run by London's Forte group, the hotel's personnel became well known to me. The receptionists, porters, concierge and restaurant staff I came to know on a first name basis. So it was like returning home on this trip, as I had not been to London for 4 years. I breezed into the hotel, past a much smaller porters desk, a new concierge desk, and up to reception. I was fairly quickly checked in to Room 209 on the second floor. I caught the one of 3 lifts to the second floor. Normally I would say three lifts to service a hotel of 783 rooms would be a big ask, but I must admit it has never stood out as a problem, probably because the hotel is based over only nine floors, and guests on the lower floors regularly access the ground floor by stairs. I entered Room 209 and was not surprised by the smallness of it. Most London hotel rooms are quite small, as this is the way they were built centuries ago, and most of the major hotels in London are centuries-old. The room had a small two-door wardrobe, which contained a luggage rack, and a trouser press, a small dresser with mirror, and two drawers, a lamp and information booklets about the area, and the hotel's facilities. There was a single bed in the room, which couldn't have been smaller. There was a small bedside table, which housed the only phone. The table consisted of two open shelves, the top one containing a bible. The carpet was bright, the room was freshly wallpapered, and the timber furniture neat and intact. There was a print on each main wall, and a picture window overlooking a side street. The window was double-glazed, but you could still hear traffic noise. I must admit though the noise was not obtrusive. There was a heating duct in the room, just under the window, with a control knob. The lighting was fine. The remote-controlled TV in the room was a smaller screen size, but this fitted in with the overall ambience. It was situated on top of a wooden cabinet, which housed a shelf with a tea and coffee making tray, and two drawers. The channels on the TV included the two BBC networks, ITV, Sky News, and a selection of satellite channels, including foreign language channels. There was also a facility for in-house movies, which included latest releases. The cost of these was 7.96 pounds per film per day.The bathroom sparkled, with most parts tiled, a smallish, but reasonably spaced bench, excellent lighting, and a combined bath/shower. I was told previously the second floor rooms in the hotel have been modernised, and are considered superior to other rooms in the hotel. Nonetheless when I went to access the Internet, I had difficulty getting a connection. I had to use an extension lead with a different connection point, as UK telephone connection points differ to most of the rest of the world. Whatever the problem I couldn't connect, and I soon went down to reception. They opted for me to try another room, so I was switched to 312 on the third floor. I went up again, shifted luggage etc., and arrived at 312. The room was shabbier than the second floor room, the carpet older, and the general condition run-down, or tired. The AC power point on the desk had cracked badly, but in general terms the room had a similar lay-out, size and appearance of 209, but for the condition of the room. I tried again, but had the same difficulty, so I went down to reception again. They asked me to try a connection in Room 287, which had a separate data access point above the dresser desk. I tried this with the same result. I was then directed to a Club Lounge on the second floor, which had a standard data access point on the phone and instructions to connect to the Internet. I did this and it worked fine. One word of warning in terms of Internet usage in the UK, and for that matter telephone usage in hotels. You are charged by the minute, not by the call. In this hotel for example, on a note near the phone I saw that local calls were charged at 35 pence per minute in London, and 60 cents per minute for the rest of the UK. Overseas call rates were so outrageous, and yet on the foot of the card it said in bold letters, these rates were Value for Money, and were better than rates in use at other London hotels. At the club lounge the rate was 20 pence per minute for the UK, which is a touch more reasonable, but still extremely expensive.

In any event that's enough on the Internet access side, which was not a good start to the stay. When I last checked out of the hotel I left a bag, so I went down to the Porters/Concierge desk top retrieve it. It was then I noticed the porters desk was unmanned, and this was the case throughout my stay. The hotel has dispensed with porters. I also saw a notice on the wall saying luggage would be stored at a cost of 2 pounds per day. I hurriedly did the calculation on what it would cost to retrieve my bas, after 4 years! I then walked along to what is a new Concierge Desk on the right hand side. It was then I noticed this was a separate company operating the desk. In other words the concierge services at the hotel had been outsourced. There was a tariff list on the side of the desk which indicated reconfirmations by concierge cost 1.50 pounds, off-premise restaurant reservations were 1.50 pounds, information given with the use of a phone was 1.50 pounds, use of electrical or computer adaptors or connection points was 4 pounds. The desk is operated by Concierge Services London Limited, and while the costs sound over the top, it is only because you normally expect the hotel to provide these services. This hotel now does not, and obviously the concierge company needs to operate profitably. I can only assume the situation is probably not unusual for London, but I have never encountered this elsewhere in the world.

The next morning I wandered down to 373 The Strand, the main restaurant in the hotel for a traditional English breakfast. On previous stays there was an older lady who ran the room, and who was extremely popular with guests. Her husband also worked in the restaurant, but on this stay they were nowhere to be seen. The restaurant opened at at 6:30am and I was the first on board. The buffet breakfast housed an assortment of cereals (no bircher muesli), yoghurt, cheeses, ham, fruits, juices, and hot dishes, which included baked beans, mushrooms, bacon, sausages, and hash brown potatos. Hot toast, tea and coffee was available via table service. The food wqas excellently presented, and the service very good.

Later during my stay I tried the same restaurant for their very famous carvery, which was as I remembered it: first class in every respect. Roast potatoes, parsnips, brussel sprouts, carrots, mashed pumpkin and carrots, gravy, and a choice of roast turkey, beef and lamb, with the usual condiments, mint sauce, horseradish, apple sauce (when pork was on), cranberry sauce (for the turkey). Again the food was extremely tasty, well presented, and the service excellent.

The hotel also has two other restaurants, which I have tried on many occasions, and both are also very recommendable. Johnson's Cafe & Bar is a more casual, split-level cafe offering grills, burgers, salads and sandwiches, and delicous desserts. Biancone Restaurant and Bar is an Italian bistro, with a variety of pastas, pizzas, pastries, and authentic regional specialties. The Biancone bar, which is available off the lobby, has a variety of draught beers on taps, and the bar attandants are lively and very attentive.

There is also the Mask Bar, which also comes off the lobby, come to think of it all the restaurants and bars surround the lobby. The Mask Bar is more a cocktail bar for pre-theatre and pre-dinner drinks. There's also the Hops! Bar which provides a pub atmosphere, with more lively music and a sports screen.

The best thing about The Strand Palace though is it's location. Just steps from Covent Garden, where there's a host of meeting places, pubs, taverns, restaurants, shops, arts and crafts centres, and a square where musicians, comedians and others (buskers) peddle entertainment for donations.

About 100 metres away is Charring Cross Station, which is opposite of course Trafalgar Square. Just a short walk away from there is Piccadilly Circus in one direction, Whitehall, Number 10 Downing Street, and Buckingham Palace in the other. If you're heading down near Number 10 you must visit the War Museum, where you can see the original rooms occupied by Winston Chruchill and his war cabinet during the second World War. Hear original news broadcasts, and track the history of the conflict in the very rooms where much of the planning was carried out.

The Strand Palace still has a lot going for it, but alas in many respects it has had it's day. The hotel is very tired, and the condition of the rooms barely holds up the hotel's three-star rating. In bygone days it's rating was probably closer to four-stars, with all the porter and concierge services provided by the hotel. These days the emphasis is clearly on cost-cutting and this is evident by the lack of maintenance in the hotel, let alone the absence of any major refurbishment. The dispensing of porters and complimentary concierge services is clearly a negative, and the hotel should install new phones with data access points, to remedy the issues with Internet access. The penalising of guests for using hotel phones, or Internet usage, is almost scandalous, but it would seem this is an industry issue in London, and possibly the UK, and not isolated to The Strand Palace. (No not quite right. I've since established that telephone services in the UK have been privatised and all calls (whether in hotels or elsewhere) are charged by the minute).

I will leave it up to readers as to whether they would be comfortable in staying at this hotel. It is economically driven, so perhaps at a reasonable rate it would represent value. In all frankness I think, after more than a decade of staying at this hotel, I would venture to say it is the last it has seen of me.

You can visit the hotel Web site at www.strandpalacehotel.com.uk

Telephone the hotel at 44 (0) 20 7836 8080 or fax 44 (0) 20 7836 2077

There are separate numbers designated for reservations. These are 44 (0) 20 7379 4737 (telephone) and 44 (0) 20 7257 9402 (fax)

You can also email the reservations department at reservations@strandpalacehotel.co.uk

GDS Codes for travel agents are: UI-Galileo 5452, Sabre 11002, Worldspan 5925, and Amadeus LON002

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