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Opening Night at The Belgraves Was Not Without (Quite) a Few Teething Problems

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  Site Where: 20 Chesham Place, London, United Kingdom, SW1X 8HQ
February 6, 2012 at 12:57 PM | by | Comment (1)

So BelgravesThompson’s first hotel outside of the US – opened Wednesday night, and we were seventh to check in on opening night. What to expect? Well, according to the hotel:

Belgraves interprets the Thompson luxury experience in London, joining an ongoing creative movement in design, dining and art that is currently forging the “new Britannia”

Them’s some big promises. Anyways, we brought you pictures of the rooms and the public areas last week; this week, it’s time to talk our experience. Did it live up to our (high) expectations?

Check in
Check in on the first night is always going to take a while, so we put down the fact that it took 15 minutes, and that staff didn’t seem too sure of what they were doing, as teething problems. Plus, we threw a curve ball at them. See, a few days after we’d booked our room for £207, the hotel had introduced an opening offer, which raised the starting price to £209 but threw in two free cocktails and a subject to availability upgrade. So, at check in, we asked whether there was any chance of geting the benefits of the deal. The woman checking us in deferred to her superior, who studied the computer intently before announcing that no, it wasn’t possible, because the rate we’d paid was less than the opening rate offer. Yes, we said, but only £2 less. Might it be possible to pay the extra £2 and upgrade to the offer? He hummed and hawed, grudgingly said yes, and handed us the keys to room 604, a King Deluxe.

Room reaction
The first thing we noticed about room 604? The big round door knocker and the taupe-colored, deep grained wood for the door – loved both. The second? Opening the door to find the wood continuing as the closet door and a sliding door to the bathroom. We also liked the large basin area, which was out in the hallway. Marble, yes, but a thoroughly modern looking marble with large flecks of dark looking like slashes of a paintbrush. We liked! To the right was the huge bathroom, its walls covered in the same dark-slashed marble.

And then the third thing we noticed was that this was a disabled room. So the “shower” was a shower hose in the corner with a wall-mounted chair and a drain in the floor. The toilet had bars and handles around it, and there was an emergency cord hanging over the bed.

The bedroom walls were butter colored with no artwork – nothing to break up the monotony other than a giant Ralph Lauren mirror (pinstripe fabric frame) the width of the bed sitting over the headboard, and the TV on the wall opposite. Under the TV was a small chest of drawers; next to it was a small purple chair. The room was lit by two small lamps either side of the bed and one weak standalone one in the corner of the room. It was very dark and felt pretty bare.

Beyond the bed, past a pair of net curtains, was the desk, sitting in the bay window. Great position if you’re here to work! Just one thing – of the electrical sockets, there was one US plug, one European, one UK and one supersmall socket, to fit some brands of lamp. Sadly, the lamp on the desk took a standard sized plug, so was occupying the UK socket. Since we have UK equipment, our choice was either to work in the light and run off battery, or accept the darkness and charge our laptop or mobile phone. Not well thought out for a London hotel.

We returned to the check in desk to request a non-disabled room, and after a slight kerfuffle (see below) and a 15 minute wait, were given the key to room 704. Here’s where it gets interesting.

Although the two rooms were the same category, the layout was totally different. You enter 704 down a corridor lined with that same taupe, grained wood. Through wooden sliding doors, on the right, is the bathroom (with that same large-flecked marble). At the end of the corridor is the bedroom, with the same butter-colored walls, mirror above the headboard, and Thompson-standard bed linens.

In this room, the desk was opposite the bed, under the TV, meaning the bay window was filled with a couch. Fab idea, but just one problem – the windows hadn’t been properly insulated, and the air con was located in the corridor, so it was too cold to sit in the window. In fact, the whole right side of the bedroom was freezing – we sat, fully clothed, on the (not amazingly comfy) bed to work, and still shivered. We called down for a blanket, and were sent an engineer, who couldn’t get the heating to go above 22 degrees (though it was meant to go to 24) and, in the end, just handed us another duvet to sleep under.

There was no electrical socket in the bathroom (apparently that’s on the orders of UK health and safety rules) so we had to kneel on the bed to dry our hair in the mirror. The other major problem was that it was very dimly lit, and while those dark wood walls look chic in photos, in person they felt oppressive. The combination made sleeping in a coffin come to mind. Also, we couldn’t help finding it just a little sparse and, dare we say it, boring. Sorry, Thompson.

Amenity madness
Small bottles of Penhaligon’s shampoo, conditioner and body lotion. In a move unheard of for a European hotel, no body wash. No robes, but there were slippers. Two chocolate truffles and a large bottle of water at turndown.

Internet connect
WiFi costs £15 a day. We didn’t use it.

Public areas
See our pictures from last week. We loved the lobby – as you can see from the gallery we posted Thursday, it’s big enough and cozy enough to hang out in, with several sit-down areas and (unlike the sparse rooms) plenty of art. The bar, too, is slick – and we love the coffee table books spread around it. Just a shame there aren’t more seats.

The only issue is the vibe. Surrounded by embassies and homes to the uber-rich, the immediate area doesn’t have any character, so we were intrigued as to how things would feel in the hotel. Sadly, if the clientele on opening night is anything to go by, it’s bad news – all men in suits, young women with shiny Kate Middleton hair frowning at other women, and middle aged women in fur coats, leather leggings and plenty botox. It’s a snob scene rather than a fashion scene – think Chelsea, only less fun.

Customer service
Obviously there were lots of teething problems, but discounting them, the service wasn’t up to scratch for this level of hotel. Confusion is one thing in a new hotel; giving five different answers as to whether a guest can get a reservation at the restaurant is another. Slow room service is one thing; cold room service, another. More on both of those sagas tomorrow and how the Thompson staff rectified them.

Then there was the bizarre reaction of the guy on the front desk when we requested to move from the disabled room to a non-disabled room. “That is not a disabled room,” he said. Then, before we could say anything, he changed tack and told us that although it was configured for a disabled person, able-bodied guests were allowed to stay in it, and it had all the amenities of a standard room. To which we said we hoped the standard rooms had better showers than a hose over an open drain. He gave a rictus grin, told us he wasn’t sure he had room for us in another room (having already said that just seven out of 85 rooms were occupied), and asked us to wait in the bar. It took a good 15 minutes to get the key to the new room.

Finally, the disabled room had had turndown service, but the second one hadn’t. According to the hotel notes, housekeeping is on call until 10pm, yet when we called, about 9pm, they’d gone home. The woman on the front desk said she’d bring up the relevant stuff, but five minutes later, the guy called to tell us that room service would bring our turndown stuff. Sure enough, they added a bottle of water and two chocolates to the tray. Nice! For a three star.

What we liked
The marble bathrooms. The public areas.

What we didn’t like
The bar staff were very friendly, but reception staff (with the exception of the night manager Jermaine, who found us an extra duvet) veered between clueless and patronizing. We weren’t fans of the room decor, personally, finding it a bit bland – aside from the heating issues, both bedrooms felt a little lackluster and boring. We found the amenities were lacking, too.

Bottom line
We’ve been looking forward to this opening for months and had high, high hopes for Belgraves (which promised “traditional British elegance meets ultimate New York attitude”) but overall we felt it doesn’t cut the mustard. London’s an exciting city, the hotel scene here is going from strength to strength, yet Thompson isn’t so much bursting across the pond with a this-is-how-we-do-things-in-America bang, as with a sorry-we’re-trying-really-hard-to-fit-in-and-not-be-brash-Americans whimper. And with so much competition around, that doesn’t really cut it.

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Keeping the faith

I actually quite like room 704 there. The bathroom is gorgeous and I love the bay window. I wish all hotels had them! But I cannot handle the cold. I hope they figure that out insulation issue out soon.

The rest of the issues I am going to pass off as opening night problems. I will keep the faith and hope that Thompson steps up in the days, weeks to come. This is London after all! They cannot be anything but their best here.

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